Three diverse medical students in various colored scrubs, smiling in classroom

Med School Success Guide: Taking Care of Your Physical and Mental Health

Being a medical student is tough, but these insider tips can help you maintain your physical and mental health so you can survive and thrive in med school.

Did you know there are nearly 200 medical schools in the US? According to Med School Insiders, there are about 155 allopathic (MD) and 38 osteopathic (DO) medical schools as of 2023. These numbers imply that colleges and universities are seeking to accommodate students interested in medical and health science courses and education. And while getting admitted to med school is hard enough, keeping up with it is another story. So how do you ensure you succeed as a medical student? In this three-part series, we’ll share how to stay healthy, achieve academic success, and collaborate with others in med school. First up: Fostering your physical and mental health. 

Pressure on medical students

The world of medical school is an uphill battle. It takes years of professional training, health knowledge, skills, and expertise—which makes sense since you'll be responsible for taking care of patients’ health and lives. But as a medical student, you should be holistically prepared before you become a health professional. Doing so is never easy. About 82%–84% of all four-year medical students will graduate, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges; the drop-out rate is between 7%–35%. However, there are practical ways to survive and succeed in every aspect of your life.

Maintaining your physical and mental health

It’s essential to protect your physical health and mental well-being in med school. Here are some important recommendations for busy and overwhelmed students.

Keep a balanced diet

Many medical students get so preoccupied with their studies that they order fast food to save time or rely on canned goods to save money. But remember: A healthy mind starts with a healthy body. You must eat properly to boost your immune system and improve your cognitive function. And it all starts with a healthy, balanced diet!

Quick healthy eating tips

  • Eat whole fruits and green leafy vegetables.
  • Consume foods from animal sources like lean meat, fish, eggs, and milk.
  • Regulate your sugar, salt, and fat intake.
  • Limit canned goods and preserved foods.

Related: Stress, Burnout, and Emotion Management Tips for Health Care Students

Drink plenty of water

Not only do medical students often overlook their food consumption, but they also tend to neglect hydration. Even worse, some students depend on caffeinated coffee, carbonated drinks, and flavored juices to stay awake. We’re all too familiar with the popular advice: Drink eight glasses of water a day! However, according to the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, the recommended daily fluid intake (DFI) is as follows:

  • 3.7 liters of fluids for men (about 15.5 cups)
  • 2.7 liters of fluids for women (about 11.5 cups)

Note that the DFI includes water, other liquids, and food—with about 20% usually coming from food and the rest from beverages.

Quick water consumption tips

  • Set reminders on your phone to drink water at regular intervals.
  • Purchase a reusable “motivational” water bottle with time markers to track how much you drink throughout the day.
  • Swap soda and juice for water infused with fruit or electrolytes.

Exercise regularly

Most medical students don’t have time to work out; you get busy with classes, internships, and after-school reviews. But staying physically active is key to physical and mental wellness. You can make exercise a lot easier and more fun in college as part of your routine—plus, it will help you sweat out all the stress!

Quick exercise tips

  • Walk at least 30 minutes every day.
  • If you jog or run, go early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
  • Go to the gym regularly or enroll in fitness programs for extra motivation.
  • Explore yoga and meditation.
  • Try a bar workout or calisthenics at home.

Get enough sleep

One of the major complaints of most medical students is they don’t get enough sleep. Aside from classes and internships, you have to review lessons, read hundreds of pages, and more. However, sleep is vital for your physical and mental functions. It’s essential that you hit the sack and get a full night of restful and restorative sleep regularly—at least seven hours each night, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Quick rest tips

  • Stick to a sleeping schedule to maintain your circadian rhythm.
  • Make your bedroom quiet, dark, and a comfortable, cool temperature.
  • Put away electronic devices one hour before bedtime.
  • Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before going to sleep.

Related: How Important Is Sleep to Academic Success?

Practice self-care

Unfortunately, many medical students tend to neglect (or even abuse) themselves to keep up with their academic lives, from pulling all-nighters to surviving off energy drinks. That can have negative repercussions on your health in the long run. Practice self-care to promote your health and overall well-being. Start with the first four tips outlined above as part of your best practices, and consider these other self-care recommendations as well.

Quick self-care tips

  • Socialize with other people (yes, friend time is important!).
  • Set time aside for yourself.
  • Find time to pursue your passions and hobbies.
  • Motivate yourself in a way that works for you.

Maintain a good work-life balance

It’s easy to get absorbed in academics as a med student. This is expected with the pressure to graduate on time and become a working health professional. However, stressing yourself out academically to the point that it affects your health is a problem. The key here is to maintain a good work-life balance. Doing so is one of the most practical tips to be more successful in college overall.

Quick life management tips

  • Find a way to separate your academic and professional lives.
  • Find time to pursue your hobbies and interests.
  • Spend time with your family and friends.
  • Take regular breaks and go on a vacation.

Related: The Importance of Finding Balance as a Graduate Student

Remember, a sound mind and body can make a huge difference in your life as a medical student. But prioritizing your health is just part of the overall equation. Learn how to achieve more academically in part two of this series, coming soon!

Being a medical student can be stressful. Check out this Insider Advice on How to Be a Successful Graduate Student to make your life easier! 

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