Amana Qayum, a fourth-year from Manchester, on the importance of rest, hobbies and a social life throughout medical school.

As a fourth-year medical student, I'm constantly learning and still finding my feet. In fact, it feels like only yesterday I was dreaming about studying medicine – now here I am!

I wouldn't be where I am without the encouragement of my wonderful family who have supported me every step of the way and allowed me the opportunity to enter the medical profession.

With their support and through my own personal experiences, I’ve acquired numerous skills and lessons that have helped me create a healthy work-life balance. As such, here are my top work-life balance tips.

Build a supportive circle

Creating a good social circle allows peers to share their thoughts, notes and advice with one another. It also gives people the opportunity to speak up about any aspects of the course that are worrisome, rather than keeping it to themselves and becoming stressed or anxious.

Personally speaking, I find it a little difficult to understand things at first glance because I’m dyslexic, so I often have to break down information to understand it properly. When I’m in these groups and social circles, it gives me and others the chance to learn, explain and absorb information in our own way.

I believe this is where the doctor in me comes out – as I just want to help others, and for my colleagues to help me.

In my third year I was so focused on my course that halfway through the year I’d burnt out.

Allow your mind and body to rest

There comes a time when you must put studies, work, and other commitments to the side and look after yourself. This includes your mental and physical wellbeing. Your body and mind need to rest and refresh.

You’re human, running on a limited amount of fuel for your body. After that fuel is depleted, no amount of coffee, energy drinks or pills will keep you going, because your body requires rest and peace.

In my third year I was so focused on my course that halfway through the year I’d burnt out. I felt like a robot – I’d wake up, spend a full day at university, come back and revise until my eyes closed. Revision would often be spent procrastinating.

So, make sure you take time out to relax and enjoy yourself, whether that's going out or just a good old movie night or lazy spa day. Focus on your health and on your mental peace. As soon as I get an opportunity, I go and see my family, or they come and see me. This is my favourite time because there is no place like home.

Organise your day

As students, one thing we can forget to do is organise our day – and that leads to us wasting time!

In my experience, organisation of your work and studies is a must for you to have a peaceful and successful journey into the profession. Before finishing up for the day, I’d advise everyone to sit down for an extra 20 minutes and plan the next day. This will push you to be more efficient, better organised, achieve more goals and get your tasks done rather than sit and procrastinate.

Make the most of your hobbies

One of many things I’ve witnessed is that a lot of medical students with amazing hobbies and interests in the first year have since abandoned them due to the demands of medical school. I understand the pressure and demands of the course, but it's important to take out at least some time to enjoy your hobbies.

One day during my many procrastinating episodes as I sat down to revise, I reached for my paintbrushes and an empty canvas – instead of my books and pens. I started to paint whatever was on my mind, and I could feel a rush of joy as the stress and tension began falling away.

I knew from that day on that I needed to give myself time to rest and create a space that was truly my own – where I could indulge in my hobbies. It helped my revision as I started incorporating it into my painting and really enjoyed myself.

For me, a stethoscope and a paintbrush are the same thing – one is designed to save a life, another helps bring ideas to life. Your hobbies can teach you a lot without you even knowing. They help reduce the stress and pressure that you’ve built in a beautiful way.

Watercolour brain drawing

Photo credit: Amana Quayum

Don't be afraid to push yourself

It can be a good thing to push yourself out of your comfort zone and to question your decisions. Accept that there will be times in your life where you won’t always know what the outcome will be but stand strong when you feel it’s the right thing to do.

Often, our biggest and most life-changing decisions are the ones where you’re scared to push yourself.

This can allow opportunities for growth and development regardless of whether your plan is successful or not.

This page was correct at publication on 17/01/2022. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.