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How To Find Balance When You’re a Student

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How To Find Balance When You’re a Student

As a doctor, I know it’s nearly impossible to find balance as a medical student and resident, so when I was asked to lead a webinar for medical students about finding balance during your medical training, I nearly choked on my green juice. What? Balance in medical school? Hogwash!

Certainly, if it exists, I never attained it. I mean, I tried to have a life. I had season tickets to the theater. I got married (and divorced) and married (and divorced). I attended four funerals and a wedding within one year and tried to honor the dead without pissing off my teachers. And I tried to be there for my sister, who was struggling through some teen angst issues that led us to family counseling.

As a medical student, I took watercolor classes at the night school. I rollerbladed. I went dancing at gay night clubs to let off steam from time to time.

So I wasn’t a total nerd.

But pretty much.  Did I live a balanced life the way I do now? No. Was I happy? Absolutely not.

Looking back, I realize that I made the mistake of defining my worth based on what my superiors thought of me. How would I know I was a good person/good doctor? They would give me excellent evaluations and I would make straight A’s. Which means that I wasn’t a very good daughter/wife/friend/sister/independent being. When I look back, I don’t think acing that biochemistry exam changed my life today, but missing my sister’s graduation in order to study for it certainly did. At the time, going through “The Match” with my class so I could score my #1 residency program (I was #2 in my class, so I knew I could pretty much write my ticket anywhere) seemed like the most important thing in the world. But it required being separated from my med student husband – who was a year behind me – for a whole year. And we got divorced shortly after that. In retrospect, did it really matter that I forged full steam ahead in my career? Probably not. Did it matter to my marriage? Absolutely.

I did the best I could at the time, but had I known then what I know now, I would have done some things differently as I struggled to find ways to stay sane amidst the trauma, chaos, family upheavals, and academic/emotional challenges of learning to be a doctor. And I suspect that what I learned applies beyond training to be a doctor. Probably any graduate student goes through similar challenges, so this post is for anyone in pursuit of a dream who wants to stay sane in the process.

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Lissa Rankin

Lissa Rankin, MD is a mind-body medicine physician, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute training program for physicians and other health care providers, and the New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself.  She is on a grassroots mission to heal health care, while empowering you to heal yourself.  Lissa blogs at and also created two online communities - and She is also the author of two other books, a professional artist, an amateur ski bum, and an avid hiker. Lissa lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and daughter.


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8:28PM PDT on May 13, 2012

Too much school gets in the way of life.

10:32PM PDT on May 10, 2012

thanks :)

8:25AM PDT on May 9, 2012

This article should be aimed at medical students specifically. I think students in other colleges have it easier.

8:22AM PDT on May 9, 2012

Being a medical student myself, I COMPLETELY feel this article.. Luckily, I've figured out that perfectionism is overrated in medical school. Everyone will turn out to be a doctor in the end. Everyone will have to pass the board exam. That's all that matters. Besides, the regular B in medical school is equivalent to an A grade in a non-medical course. This is due to the difficulty of the courses and system. I am not belittling other majors, but medicine consists of HEAPS of information as well as a busy schedule.

7:46AM PDT on Sep 15, 2011

you mean you're allowed to have balance as a student?

7:51PM PDT on Sep 14, 2011

Thank you.

2:48PM PDT on Sep 14, 2011

oh, and one more thing: if you are a student, allow yourself to focus on YOU. It is a time for you to relish and allow yourself some of that luxury because after school is over, its not about you any longer. Enjoy everything, in every step of your life.

2:47PM PDT on Sep 14, 2011

absolutely, don't put priority on things that, in the end, don't really matter. Family, love, relationship, fun, health--so much more important. Forgive yourself when you fall apart and can't even wash the dishes---they will get washed. Figure out who can help you when you need it and accept help. Life goes on, and you will stand where you bring yourself to stand.

9:12AM PDT on Sep 14, 2011


8:43AM PDT on Sep 14, 2011


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