Overcoming Burn Out and Staying Motivated in Medical School

One of the most common questions I have received these past two years is, “how do you stay motivated during medical school?”

I have never answered this question because I never knew how to articulate my answer. However, my class was given a lecture today on wellness in medical school. It touched on tough subjects like depression, burnout, fatigue, and how to deal with these issues. It reminded me of a time when I felt those feelings, how I overcame them, and how I pushed myself to stay motivated. I believe by sharing how I overcame burnout may answer the question of how I stay motivated during medical school.

If you have been following me these last few months, you may remember that I became engaged in November. It was such an exciting time for me and my fiancé. I was being flooded with congratulatory messages and heartfelt words of encouragement. However, something strange was also happening to me during this time and I only noticed it a few weeks afterwards.

During this time, I’m not sure if I was also depressed, but I was 100% burnt out. It didn’t make sense to me then, and honestly it doesn’t make sense now as I write this. How could I be in the absolute happiest time of my life, just being engaged, meanwhile also being depressed or burnt out?

Looking back now, I believe the root of my problem stemmed from wanting to plan my wedding like a normal person rather than a med student. I wanted to spend hours on Pinterest and researching venues while I was being pulled back by the demanding schedule of second year. This created such a conflict within myself that I started to dislike school. I am normally such a positive and grateful person, always loving school and viewing challenges as opportunities. But during this time, I hated school. I was angered by teachers and sloppy powerpoints, frustrated whenever I had mandatory school events, and so easily annoyed by things that would usually roll of my shoulder.

I didn’t even realize the change that was happening in myself until my fiancé told me that I wasn’t being my normal positive self. It was such a light bulb moment for me. It clicked in my brain that I truly was being much more negative and cynical. I became frustrated with myself, not understanding how I could let myself get into such a dark hole. How could I ever get out of this negative spiral I seemed to be trapped in?

Once I realized I was burnt out and acting in such a negative fashion, I obviously wanted to get back to my normal/positive self. But this didn’t happen over night. I motivated myself with little goals that I set to get me back on track. It helped that it was New Years once I had my little light bulb moment, so that each goal was almost like a New Years resolution. I put little mantras and encouraging notes around my apartment. I made daily goals to get through the lectures of the day and would give myself rewards if I completed them. I started eating healthier and made an effort to exercise more. I designated time throughout the week to plan for my wedding.

My school offers free psychologist appointments, so I signed up for one of those. The psychologist gave me some tips to help see things more positively. One of my favorite tips was to find five things on the way to school that made me happy. Usually on my walks to school, I would stress about what I had to do that day, what I was missing, or what was due. I shifted my thinking to appreciating what was around me, where I was in life, and how grateful I was to be in medical school in the first place.

All of the little things I described above, helped me get back on track. But I would not have even had my light bulb moment without the help from my fiancé. Having a support system is HUGE in medical school. Friends and family to check in on you seriously makes such a difference. I don’t know what would have happened if I remained isolated in that negative spiral and I don’t want to find out.

For those of you about to start medical school, or are in medical school, remember to check in on your friends, classmates, peers. Check in on them when they seem to be changing their attitude or missing events. A support system makes a world of difference during such a stressful time.

I don’t know if every medical student will feel burnt out in there career (I certainly hope not), but if they do, talking to someone may help – it surely helped me. Making little goals and rewards for each success also helped me greatly. A lot of my motivation came from within – my own desire to return to my grateful self. If you are having trouble motivating yourself, use your friends to bring you back up or try to remember why you started medical school in the first place!

I hope my experience can help anyone reading who might be burnt out or feeling depressed! I shared a blog post called How to Actively Fight Burn Out when my burn out was getting the best of me, before the worst of my burn out even happened! Check it out on things you can do to fight it!

Thanks for reading!!



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