Finding Your Motivation for Studying Medicine
26 May, 2022
Hopefully, you are aware that being a medical student is a long and challenging road. Before even getting into medical school, you need to work hard to ensure good grades in your high school and/or undergraduate subjects, get a good UCAT or GAMSAT score, and undergo a rigorous interview with challenging questions. Once in medical school, you’ll spend many hours getting to grips with biochemistry, anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, microbiology, immunology, and more, all while getting to grips with history taking and physical examination skills. Clinical years present their own challenges, often with ever-changing schedules and assessments that are graded inconsistently from one marker to the next. As you progress through this journey as a medical student, there will inevitably come times when you will find yourself wondering, is this worth it? Do I really want to be a doctor?
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In challenging times, it can be very difficult to find your motivation to study medicine. In this blog post, I will give some suggestions for how you can get yourself back on track when it all seems too hard.
Reconnecting with your initial motivation to be a medical student
Unless you were pushed into the medical field by your parents or other important people in your life, chances are that there was some reason why you considered going to medical school in the first place. What was that reason? Perhaps it was because of your own experiences with illness, or because of the experiences of loved ones with illness. Perhaps you have people you look up to in the medical field, who you aspire to become. Or perhaps you simply find medicine to be intellectually stimulating.
Whatever your initial motivations were, you need to remind yourself of them when things get tough. It may help to have a poster or even a phone background that you can look at to remind yourself on a regular basis. For example, during my Honours year, I put a picture of my cousin next to my desk, because he was my main motivation for wanting to learn about cerebral palsy. Every time I felt demoralised, I would look at the picture and see him giving me a thumbs up, and then return to work.
Participating in medically relevant activities at medical school
Before getting into medicine, and while studying pre-clinical content, it can be hard to link what you are learning to your future goal of becoming a doctor. Taking part in medically relevant activities can be one way to overcome this.
Most universities have a medical or pre-medical student society, so that could be a great place to look for relevant activities. For example, many universities have a chapter of Teddy Bear Hospital, a program where university students go to primary schools and act like doctors for the kids’ teddies. The student societies may also hold events that are suitable for pre-clinical students such as suturing nights, or “Day in the Life of a Medical Student.” Having exposure to content that is closer to your goal will help you to see the direction that you are heading in, which in turn will help with motivation.
Another way to participate in medically relevant activities is to look at volunteering activities at your local hospital. Be aware, however, that volunteering activities differ widely, and not all roles will involve working with patients. If you’re lucky, though, you might get the chance to take ballet lessons from four-year-old oncology patients or be a human bed for febrile seven-month-old babies, and that might be the motivation that you need to continue. If you’re considering volunteering to boost your medical school application portfolio, check out our article about Pre-Med Volunteering.
Taking a break from studying medicine
Sometimes, feeling low on motivation is simply a sign that you’ve been at it for too long and need to take a break. Taking a break will allow you to regroup and recover your energy. Additionally, it will give you the time and space to think about what you want out of life. Hopefully, this will solidify your intentions to become a doctor, but you may find that there are other careers that would suit you more. That is perfectly fine too!
The length of break that you will need will depend on the situation. If you’re just feeling burned out from a long day of study, perhaps spending the next day or even half day relaxing will likely be sufficient to help you feel refreshed and motivated to get back to studying. If, however, you’ve only just started your undergraduate degree and you already hate every minute of it, it might be worth deferring a semester or a year to think about what you want to do.
Medical school is a long and difficult journey, and it is inevitable that you will find yourself struggling with motivation along the way. During these times of low motivation, it is important to think about why you were motivated to enter the medical field in the first place; it may help to participate in activities that get you closer to the field. Alternatively, do not underestimate the power of taking a break as a medical student, because that rest and recovery may be just what you need to restore your motivation to study medicine!
Want more helpful tips about everything from preparing for the GAMSAT exam to medical school applications and life as a medical student? Check out our GAMSAT To Med School Podcast!