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.

If I knew then what I know now, I would have lived those years differently. Here’s what I’ve learned:

Tips For Finding Balance As a Student

  • Choose your mentors carefully
  • Release perfectionism – it will only bite you in the ass
  • Don’t forget to nurture your creativity, spirituality, physical and mental health, relationships, sexuality, and all the other aspects of how you Own Pink
  • Choose love over grades
  • Stand up for yourself
  • Be authentic
  • Get out of your own way
  • Make time for YOU
  • Prioritize happiness over success

What about you? What have you learned about finding balance as a student? If you’re a student, what’s working? What’s not? Help us figure this out!

Choosing love over A’s – finally,


Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of OwningPink.comPink Medicine Revolutionarymotivational speaker, and author of What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.

Learn more about Lissa Rankin here.



Marie W.
Marie W5 years ago

Too much school gets in the way of life.

Angela N.
Angela N5 years ago

thanks :)

Sarah Helper
Sarah Mussa5 years ago

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

Sarah Helper
Sarah Mussa5 years ago

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.

Kamryn M.
Kay M6 years ago

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

Debbie L.
Debbie Lim6 years ago

Thank you.

Camila K.
Kamila A6 years ago

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.

Camila K.
Kamila A6 years ago

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.

Magdalena R.
Magdalena R6 years ago


Hege Torset
Hege Torset6 years ago