Applying to medical school is a long, complicated, and arguably soul-sucking ordeal. For many students, this process brings into focus the time and money they have spent preparing for medical school and the stress of wondering whether they did enough to get accepted.
The application process is a rollercoaster ride with many highs and lows along the way. With so much riding on this process, it is no wonder that many applicants feel overwhelmed and anxious. If you are applying to medical school and are feeling stressed, burnt out, or feeling low, here are five tips for maintaining your mental health during this exceedingly difficult time in your life.
1 | Spend Time With People Who Make You Feel Good
When you are applying to medical school, you need plenty of time alone to prepare and focus on your work, but don’t completely shut out the people you care about.
Who are the people in your life that make you feel good? Who makes you feel comfortable? Who makes you feel safe? Who makes you smile and laugh? This might include a significant other, family members, or close friends.
It can be incredibly cathartic to have someone to listen to you vent, make you laugh, and bolster your confidence with words of encouragement and acts of kindness. Make sure to explain to your close network just how difficult a task applying to medical school is and how much you would appreciate their support throughout the process.
The application trail can be filled with crushing disappointments and anxiety about whether you will get in or not, so having a social safety net is of paramount importance.
2 | Avoid Comparing Yourself to Others
Comparing yourself to others is a slippery slope that can lead to anxiety, jealousy, and/or overconfidence. While it is true that getting into medical school is notoriously competitive, this does not mean you should focus on how much better (or worse) your peers are doing.
Everyone, including yourself, is unique and has a different path to follow. Avoid bringing up application-related topics in casual conversation with other applicants. For instance, don’t ask other applicants how many interviews they received or if they have heard back from X medical school.
If you need advice or information, ask people who are already in medical school or close friends who are also applying. Doing so will insulate you from the dangers of comparing yourself to your direct competitors.
Furthermore, avoid websites like Student Doctor Network and social media. I found that SDN is corrosive to one’s confidence; the site is frequented by people who post ridiculous statistics and statements. If you do go on websites like SDN to read about rumors and the like, do so with a huge grain of salt.
In terms of social media, some people enjoy posting about their successes and failures online. While it is completely within the rights of others to celebrate their successes, it can be disheartening to see that someone got into their dream medical schools while you are stewing on waitlists or have been outright rejected from every program.
If you are feeling stressed about the application process or worried about your results, avoid social media altogether. This advice is twofold; avoiding social media will save you time and aid your productivity, and it will improve your mental wellbeing.
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3 | Practice Mindfulness and Meditation
Being mindful and practicing meditation is the foundation of success for applying to medical school, being a medical student, and, ultimately, being a physician. Mindfulness is a valuable defense mechanism against stress and anxiety, both of which are found in abundance in the medical profession.
Make a habit of meditating every day. Ideally, meditate at least twice a day—once in the morning, and once in the evening (even if it’s only for five minutes). This can be as simple as sitting or lying down, closing your eyes, focusing on your breath, quieting your mind, and centering yourself. I found meditation to be particularly helpful when I had writer’s block drafting my personal statement and secondaries.
Beyond meditation, mindfulness can take the form of many different activities. Instead of turning to social media, the news, or a TV show when you take a break, choose a mindful activity to calm your brain and reset your focus. Mindfulness activities include going for a walk, sitting in your yard or a park, drawing, coloring, stretching, or light exercise.
4 | Plan Ahead
A major source of stress during the application cycle is feeling overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work it takes to apply to medical school. This stress can be somewhat alleviated by having a clear plan and schedule in place.
You must commit yourself to creating and constantly updating a detailed plan for the application year. Create checklists, timelines, and spreadsheets so that you are organized and aware of deadlines for each phase of the medical school application process.
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel or try to tackle everything on your own. Follow our Medical School Application Timeline and Monthly Schedule, which includes a breakdown of what you should be working on each month leading up to medical school.
As the saying goes, proper planning prevents poor performance.
If you need help navigating the complex tasks associated with applying, make sure to check out our application consulting services.
5 | Avoid Procrastination
Procrastination is the enemy of productivity, and it can exponentially increase the anxiety and stress associated with applying to medical school. Procrastination can make your life more difficult at every phase of the medical school application process. Plus, the more you procrastinate, the more behind you will get, and the more difficult each phase will become. Your chances of acceptance will decrease too, which will further contribute to your negative mental state.
Due to medical school’s rolling admissions, if you procrastinate on asking for recommendations or perfecting your personal statement, you risk pushing your AMCAS submission date backward and hurting your chances of acceptance. If you procrastinate on writing secondaries, schools will assume they are not high on your list and will respond accordingly. If you procrastinate preparing for interviews, you risk being uncomfortable and unrehearsed on your interview days.
If you procrastinate on writing a letter of intent during the waiting period, you might miss your chance to push yourself over the line towards an acceptance. If you procrastinate on figuring out where you want to go for medical school, you will have to scramble at the end and make a hasty choice that will affect the next four years of your life.
The early bird gets the worm, so make sure to minimize procrastination as much as possible throughout the entire application process.
Applying to medical school is a gargantuan task that can mentally strain even the best of us. The five tips listed in this post are designed to build up the defense mechanisms needed to curtail or relieve this strain. Just know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. You are not alone in feeling stressed throughout this difficult and draining process.
For more practical advice, study strategies, and application guides, follow the Med School Insiders blog. We continually add new content to help you optimize your life, get accepted into medical school, and succeed in becoming a doctor.