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 just how much they want to become doctors. Applying to medical school can be a rollercoaster with many highs (e.g., getting your first acceptance) and lows (e.g., getting rejected from your dream schools) 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 feeling stressed out, here are five tips for maintaining your mental health during this trying process.
1 | Spend Time with People Who Make You Feel Good
When you are applying to medical school, it is preferable to be in close proximity to people who care about you and make you feel good when you are around them. This can include a significant other, family members, or close friends. It can be incredibly cathartic to have someone who can hear 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 that 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; thus, 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, I would advise against asking other applicants how many interviews they have gotten or if they have heard back from X medical school. If you need advice or information, I would suggest asking people who are already in medical school or friends that you are really close to that are also applying. Doing so will insulate you from the dangers of comparing yourself to your direct competitors.
Furthermore, I would recommend avoiding certain websites (e.g., Student Doctor Network, SDN) and social media. I have found that SDN is corrosive to one’s confidence and that the site is frequented by trolls that 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 on Facebook and the like. 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. Thus, I would recommend that you avoid scrolling through your newsfeed if you are feeling down about your chances of getting into medical school.
3 | Practice Mindfulness, Possibly Through 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. Try to make a habit of meditating at least twice, once in the morning and once in the evening (even if just 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.
4 | Plan, Plan, Plan
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 assuaged by planning out every detail of the process. 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 (detailed below). Lastly, make sure you follow best practices when applying 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 highly-rated application consulting services.
Phase 1: Create your list of med schools, ask for recommendations, write personal statement
Phase 2: Write secondaries
Phase 3: Interview season
Phase 4: The waiting game
Phase 5: Figure out where you want to go
5 | Avoid Procrastination
Procrastination is the enemy of productivity and can exponentially increase the anxiety and stress associated with applying to medical school. Procrastination can make your life more difficult at each of the five phases listed above. If you procrastinate asking for recommendations or perfecting your personal statement, you risk pushing your AMCAS submission date backward and hurting your chances of acceptance due to medical school’s rolling admissions. If you procrastinate writing secondaries, schools will assume that 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 writing letters of intent during the waiting period, you might miss chances to push yourself over the line towards an acceptance. If you procrastinate 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 and possibly your entire medical career. The early bird gets the worm, so make sure to minimize procrastination as much as possible.
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 and that you will all end up exactly where you are supposed to be. Good luck!