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Balancing work and medical school

Working While Studying Medicine

by , 13 June, 2023
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The mythology surrounding Australian graduate medical school usually includes the implicit rule that you are unable to hold any kind of job while studying. However, not working while you study is inconceivable to most of us who do not have familial or other fiscal support, and working while studying medicine is unfortunately a crucial necessity in our current political economy to eat, pay rent, and afford other daily necessities that are crucial for successfully getting through medical school!

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This blog will address some of this mythology around medical school, which is typically focused on the lack of time to do anything else except study, and reveal that it is easily possible to hold a job while studying medicine – I’ll also bring in some of my own experience here!

Further, it is also important to address these issues while plainly acknowledging that the structure and discourse of, and surrounding, medical study is one that favours students from upper class backgrounds. It would be non-controversial to state that a majority of medical students are supported by their parents or other family members during their study (a majority because entering medical school in the first place is easier for those with abundant resources, time, and support) while a minority do not have this luxury and must labour. As such, this blog will help to encourage medical students who are required to work during their studies, and illustrate that it is not an impossible task, though arguably an unenviable one. Finally, and still unfortunately, this conversation is especially relevant in the context of an ongoing reduction in student financial support under successive Australian governments – so relying on Centrelink payments is quite untenable.

Working While Studying Medicine During the Non-Clinical Years of Medical School

Firstly, it is much easier holding down paid employment in the non-clinical years of medical school, when lectures and tutorials are the norm. This structure will be very similar to most/all undergraduate study programs, which might include ~20-25hrs a week of face-to-face teaching (not inclusive of study!). For myself, I took this opportunity to try to find work during medical school that was vaguely related to my studies, which I could also complete during business hours. For example, I worked as a research assistant in the School of Dentistry (after emailing every staff member in the faculty asking for work!), an anatomy demonstrator in the School of Medicine (again, harassing the anatomy faculty!), and finally as a general tutor with the broader university to help students from diverse backgrounds. This experience also helped me become a GradReady tutor who helps students prepare for the GAMSAT exam.

Research assistant and tutoring work are probably the best gigs that you can get – it is high paying, often very flexible, and will also enhance your intellectual curiosity. Outside of harassing academics and departments directly, it is definitely worth perusing the university-specific employment system for jobs at their institution (importantly, there is often a ‘student’ job online board, where members of the public can employ university students for various tasks). It is much simpler to work while studying medicine during these pre-clinical years, where you will have a greater scope of employment, as you can labour during working hours.

Working While Studying Medicine During the Clinical Years of Medical School

However, when you progress into the clinical school, securing a job is much more difficult. You might be used to putting a lot of effort into your studies, for example when you were studying for the GAMSAT exam, but these years (often the last two) require students to be in clinical placements full-time, often matching standard business hours (but can also be over-night shifts in the emergency department or maternity ward). Thus, it is vital to find employment that can work around these hours (i.e. you need to work outside standard business hours, typically).

From my own experience, I found employment as a football coach and waiter. The football coach gig was a very lucky one, after contacting all of the local high schools to enquire if they needed any tutors or sports coaches, and I stumbled across a football (soccer) coach opportunity at a local girl’s private school! I was also employed as a waiter at a hotel in the city (in a different city, mind you! I studied on the Gold Coast and worked in Brisbane, which meant very, very late train trips). Hospitality work is probably the best type of work to get during the clinical years at medical school, as it is often after-hours – though it is usually difficult work in challenging conditions, and usually not that well paid. These were indeed very tough years as I scraped through with money, whilst also getting through medical school, with a level of sleep that was probably clinically unsafe!

For those of you looking to start medical school, or about to start, you really must plan ahead to get some reasonable employment in the area of the medical school prior to commencement! There are plenty of other atypical jobs to think about too, such as polling staff for elections, enrolment jobs at university, or Christmas jobs at shopping centres. You might need to be very creative in searching for appropriate employment, but it will help you survive and thrive during medical school! Until there is enough effective social support for struggling students, we must all keep struggling to survive, and help future generations have a chance to study without the stress we faced! Working while studying medicine is not impossible. Though it was not easy, I’m glad that I went through that invaluable life experience!

If you’re currently preparing for the GAMSAT exam while working full time, check out our next blog article Balancing Full-Time Work & Studying for the GAMSAT for useful tips to help you manage your workload and study effectively.