It’s no secret that the premed journey is rough. The stress of exams, managing time, and making life decisions can take a huge toll on you. Furthermore, these things all happen during some of the most important years of your life. It is during this time that you will be away from your parents and begin to establish your own foundations. You will pick up habits (good and bad) that will ultimately make or break you. There is so much information out there pertaining to how premeds should study, how to do well on exams, and how to get into medical school, but we often neglect what is arguably the most important aspects of the premedical student’s life, his or her personal health. Bad health equals bad future! Here are a few suggestions to help you stay healthy:
- Maintain a healthy diet. Multiple sources predict on average a college freshman will gain somewhere between 10-20 lbs in that year. If you are like me during college, your diet probably consists of ramen noodles, ravioli, hot pockets, pizza, sandwiches, and plenty of soft drinks. This is a very unhealthy diet. It will serve you well to begin adapting to a more balanced diet, even if you have to set aside a little time to incorporate this. I suggest you be very thoughtful while grocery shopping. If you have access to a stove, spend 1 or 2 days in the week preparing a cooked meal and save your left overs in the freezer or in Tupperware for the week. Buy nuts, granola bars, and fresh fruits for snacks. Limit or avoid soft drinks all together. Taking a stance on this will not only improve your health but also allow you to set a strong example for others around you as well as for your future patients.
- Work out. It is recommended by the World Health Organization that adults age 18-64 should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or an equivalent combination of this. Doing this can improve heart and lung function, keep bones strong, and reduce risks of noncommunicable diseases and depression. I have always found this to be one of the best stress relieving techniques out there.
- Pay mind to your mental health. This unfortunately is one of those areas that has been swept under the rug for far too long. There remains a stigma that keeps this issue from being dealt with appropriately. Doctors and med students are human beings who witness emotional loss of lives and failures which may lead to PTSD. Doctors offer a lot of time and emotional sacrifices for their patients day-in and day-out and some may feel this is not reciprocated. This is partly why the depression, divorce and suicide rates are higher for medical doctors than the general population. I recall two medical students taking their lives while I was a student. So does this trend hold for premedical students? Unfortunately, it does. Based on a study by Fang et al. looking at 647 premedical students at University of California, San Diego, there was a significantly increased prevalence of screened positive major depressive disorder in premedical students than their non-premedical counterparts. The pressures placed on you by friends, family, and even yourself can be overwhelming at times. Remember to take time for yourself, take care of your health and get professional help if you need it. You must be your biggest advocate because no one else will know exactly how you feel.
- Don’t do drugs. I cannot stress this enough. It is again very unfortunate that statistically, doctors are more likely to suffer from substance abuse problems significantly more than the general population. We are much more vulnerable to this due to easier access to these potentially harmful agents but this dependence tends to start while in college. Drugs are anything that alters your normal state. This does include alcohol in excess, stimulants, and sedatives. The pressure of school can get to many students so much that they eventually begin to rely on external agents to function and to sleep. We have all seen the TV show’s Dr. Gregory House of House M.D. and his reliance on pain meds to get by. I have witnessed too many students and doctors damaging their futures this way. It would be best not to start any potentially addicting agents unless medically necessary and if so, only while under the care of a medical profession.
- Don’t neglect your spiritual health. Often times this is put on the back burner for many premedical students when times get tough. However, I can attest to the benefits of spending time in prayer and attending church service. Sometimes, it is helpful to see past the premedical trees to appreciate how beautiful life is and how grand is the world in which we live!
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