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Maintaining Mental Health and Personal Balance While Pursuing a Medical Degree

The healthcare field is a rewarding job that puts you in the ideal position to make a difference in the lives of others. However, it’s also full of challenges that can easily lead to burnout if you’re not careful.

When pursuing a medical degree, this is a vital concern to be aware of. Studies show that since the COVID-19 pandemic, physician burnout has skyrocketed. Before COVID, the burnout rate was about 38%, but after the pandemic began, this number rose to a staggering 63%.

Because of the prevalence of high levels of stress in the healthcare industry, today’s medical students are encouraged to pay close attention to their mental health. It’s notoriously challenging to stick to a work/life balance during med school, but it’s crucial to try as best as possible. Let these tips guide you as you focus on your course load and maintaining your mental health, too.

1. Recognize the Key External Burnout Factors

Burnout is the result of both external and internal factors. As a physician-in-training, you’ll have substantial pressure and responsibilities. On top of the academic courseload and professor requirements, you’ll also deal with the realities of working in the healthcare field. 

As cumbersome and frustrating as it may seem to try to treat patients while fighting against inefficient systems, obstacles to treatment due to administrative policies, and juggling regulations, this gives you a clearer picture of what you’ll face when you’re working independently. 

However, you’ll need to factor these external factors into your workload as you try to keep your mental health in check. You may have ideas that could work better, but you’ll need to weigh the benefits of fighting against these systems for a short-term clinical rotation versus working through them and moving on.

2. Recognize the Key Internal Factors of Burnout

Knowing what you’re going to be facing from your professors, attending physicians, and healthcare systems can help you get better organized and prepare your expectations. From there, the next step is to watch for the warning signs that, even with preparation, you’re still on the downward slide to burnout.

We all get cranky and irritable occasionally. But if you notice changes in your mood that last more than a day or two, start paying attention to your attitude. If you’re starting to detach from your patients or you view them without empathy, it may not be them that is the problem. You could be overwhelmed and emotionally exhausted. 

Another warning sign is your inability to recognize any personal achievements, big or small, in your life. If you think nothing you do is important, there’s a problem — you’re in one of the most vital professions in history.

Finally, watch for changes in your behavior. Yes, you’re busy, and yes, you have to study. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a personal life. In fact, it’s crucial that you keep doing some of the activities you enjoyed before you started medical school and spending time with your friends and loved ones. Even an hour a week could be enough to recharge you and reset your mental health.

3. Plan for Your Money Needs

Paying the bills when in school and doing clinical rotations is something that almost every med student faces. If you are taking out student loans and on a limited budget, lack of money may be your biggest deterrent to a strong mental state.

When you reach your residency years, you’ll earn a small salary. While it’s better than working for free, it’s still probably not going to be enough to cover your bills and have a disposable income.

Between the stress of your residency and money worries, your ability to maintain a personal and work balance is impacted. Depending on your schedule and the skills you offer, you might consider moonlighting as a side gig. This article by Physicians Thrive discusses options that might fit your schedule and your skills.

Whether you use the extra money you bring in to cover your bills, start paying off student loans, or save for your future, having the option makes you feel better about your situation. If you can squeeze a few hours into a side gig while still watching that careful work/life balance, your mental health will improve.


Medical students have a degree of pressure and responsibility most people will never face, making it crucial for them to monitor their mental health bandwidth. Use these three simple but vital tips to ensure you’re able to give your best to yourself and your patients because you’re staying far off the path of physician burnout.

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