Can a Med Student Have a Life?

June 23, 2024


If you’re a medical student, you might already know that summer is here. You may even have had an old friend or family member call to tell you about their plans.

Truly one of the hardest parts in becoming a doctor is achieving balance in your life. After the fun times in high school and college, medical school can feel like jumping off a cliff, but you never land and just keep falling.

Due to a negative mindset, you may be questioning whether or not you are really cut out for medical school. After all, this summer thing really sucks!

Now that it’s here, like many students, you may have already pushed certain studies forward to catch up on later, and that’s going to take time. Plus, you’ve barely been getting average grades as it is, and that included burning the midnight oil more than once. Looks like you might miss some summertime parties and hanging out with old friends.

So, we asked the doctor: “Can a med student have a life?

When Dr. Hans Wolf, the founder of the Physicians Achievement Concept Course, was asked if a student can ever have a life in med school he replied, “Of course they can. They get to live a long and prosperous life as a practicing physician. This summer at medical school is a great time for them to learn more about how a professional would balance his or her time, studies, and life outside their practice.”

While there will always be times during medical school that you will feel like you don’t have a life, it’s very important to remind yourself that you do. Doctors have almost no free time, yet they’re able to have a social life, spend time with family, and do their best every day to provide compassionate medical care to their patients. Remember, that as challenging as it might seem, most med students will become doctors regardless of the obstacles they encounter along the way.

Med school is hard on the body…

You may have heard that medical school is hard. That’s true; and your residency can be even more of a challenge to your time. Now you understand why less than ten percent of pre-med college freshman will actually become doctors. The good news is that you’re already in medical school, so your chances of having a career in medicine is much higher.

A study of how hard medical school is on the human body was conducted at the University of Michigan and published in the journal of Biological Psychiatry. Researchers measured the telomere length both before and after the 250 volunteer interns from around the nation faced the intense stress of training during residency. Telomere length has become an accepted marker of health risks.

After telomeres data was collected following the interns prolonged exposure to residency stress from one summer to the next, researchers looked at the results of the yearlong DNA testing and concluded there was a clear link between telomere shrinkage and the number of hours the interns worked each week. By contrast, the comparison group of first-year undergraduate students reported no telomere shrinkage despite completing their freshman year of studies at the University of Michigan.

SUMMARY: The study implicates telomere attrition as a biologically measurable consequence of physician training, with the magnitude of attrition associated with an intern’s workload. Identification of an objective, biological sequela of residency stress may help to facilitate the development of effective interventions.

Develop a Mindset for Managing Time

Experts in the field of time management say that embracing a growth mindset can help a med student to better manage the constant demands on their time. Although a busy learning schedule and long hours present their own unique challenges, developing skills of resilience and focus can help students stay motivated, even during the long, hot summer months. Here’s how a growth mindset can help any med student develop their innate talent:

  • 1) Pursue Your Goals – Most medical students spend between six to twelve hours in class or studying every day, so if you don’t enjoy learning, you should have second thoughts about your choice to pursue goals of becoming a doctor. Goals help drive a growth mindset.
  • 2) Create Your Plan – With the heavy academic load of medical school and residency, it is important identify activities that help you relax. Create a weekly, monthly and annual plan, then schedule activities along with your studies to get the most out of your free time.
  • 3) Focus on the Process – For anyone wishing to become a doctor, there is a process. You begin as a med student and then progress to intern, resident, and fellow. Once you’ve passed your board exams, you’re an attending physician.
  • 4) Embrace Failures – To learn from the mistakes you make, you must embrace a growth mindset that supports a willingness to admit that mistakes happen and that you’re willing to learn from them. Med students have much to learn in how to communicate effectively with patients and other providers.
  • 5) Learn from Setbacks – Remember, medicine isn’t a one-man show and neither is medical school. Whereas most medical professionals you meet are ready to help, they may not do so unprompted. Be eager to seek help, so you academically address and learn from your setbacks.
  • 6) Hang with People Like You – Free time can become a thing of the past in med school, so you have to accept a new life filled with unexpected demands that interrupt your plans. Fact is, many of your old friends are also moving on. So develop new friendships with those who surround you.

Studying medicine is filled with learning vast amounts of information about sicknesses, diseases, cures and treatments, so you have to enjoy learning to be successful. By now, you’ve likely learned that success looks different for different people, so stop comparing yourself to others who are not pursuing a career in medicine. As a medical student, you need to develop a strong, clear-cut growth mindset to prove a med student can have a life.

Don’t Compare Apples to Oranges

As previously mentioned, the long work hours associated with an intern’s first year of medical residency suggests DNA aging that’s up to six times faster than what was experienced by a freshman starting their undergraduate studies. Although life as a practicing physician may not be as intense, medical students can benefit by not comparing themselves to the general population. After all, the interns who participated in the study worked on average 64.5 hours a week.

“Real progress comes once the student learns how to prioritize the tasks that truly support their goals and objectives,” says Dr. Wolf. “Every medical student has a vision of their career in medicine. The first-year of med school is an ideal time to make adjustments that support his or her commitment for the next five to seven years of study. While there are moments when you may feel like you have no free time, it’s imperative you accept the fact that a practicing physician also has more time commitments than their non-medical peers.”

Smart Prep for Your Board Exams

With everything else on your plate, completing each Step or Level of the USMLE and/or USA-COMLEX exams is necessary to become a board-certified medical doctor. You may have heard that this step is universally considered to be the hardest part of medical school. But to get into med school, you’ve already had to perform at a higher level. You got good grades, earned a degree, had an impressive MCAT, and devoted spare time to some clinical experience.

Now all that’s left is to prepare yourself for the next leg of your journey. That starts with fine-tuning your growth mindset. It is a medical student’s beliefs and attitudes that shape how they will handle the stress of their studies, internships and residency. These are more stressful situations than most people ever have to face. But, it can be an invigorating experience for those who learn to manage cortisol levels by developing healthier coping strategies.

Heavy academic loads in medical school can lead to symptoms of depression and anxiety, so you need to identify available activities that can help you relax. For a med student to have a life, it all boils down to prioritizing the things that mean the most to you. If you came from a close family, then seize every opportunity to spend time with loved ones. A growth mindset will allow you to focus on those things that have real value in helping you progress towards your goals and objectives.


At WOLFPACC, we believe a med student can have a life as well as become a confident clinical physician. Our team will do everything we can to help you understand the material presented and to assist you in passing your board exams with an impressive score. Dr. Wolf looks forward to personally working with you to ensure your available time is well spent. Call today and learn more about our strategic approach to preparing for medical licensure examinations.