by Lorien E. Menhennett
Since starting medical school, the word “priority” has taken on a whole new meaning, on so many levels.
I’m a morning person, have been for years. Consequently, some of my best brain time occurs before lunch. Nearly all of our lectures are also before lunch. As someone who has always gone to class, missing lecture wasn’t initially on my radar. But I quickly realized that sitting (passively) in a lecture during my mental peak was not the best use of my day. So I use morning and early afternoon for active studying on my own, unless there are mandatory sessions. Watching the other nonmandatory lectures—which are videotaped and available to us 24-7 online—happens late afternoon or evening. I’ve prioritized my time and my use of mental energy in a way that works best for me.
And then there are my lists. I love making to-do lists. (As an aside, I highly recommend the Evernote app for Mac, iOS, or Android. It allows you to create lists with a digital “checkbox” next to your items. You can “check off” this box with a click of the mouse. Highly satisfying, let me tell you. And no more scribbly papers or post-its haphazardly strewn across your desk. At least, fewer of them.) In days gone by, I would frequently complete all the items on my to-do list. These days, I’m lucky if I finish half. I had to develop a strategy to make sure the essentials got done, and nothing critical fell through the cracks. So I’ve learned to group my items into categories. There is a list of “places to be.” There are morning, afternoon, and evening must-dos. There are miscellaneous items that would be great to work on if I have time. (Those frequently get shuffled to another day.) There are also lighter activities that I know I can do when I have less energy, like place my Amazon Pantry order or write simple e-mails. At the end of the day, I make sure the fires are put out. But I’ve come to terms with the fact that I don’t finish my to-do lists anymore. Unless, of course, I edit the list at the end of the day to cut and paste things I didn’t finish onto another day’s to-do list. Sometimes I do this. And I let myself, because I’ve decided that if looking at a completed list relaxes me, it’s really ok.
Even before I started medical school, I knew it was impossible to learn every detail on every syllabus of every course. At some point, especially as an exam draws near, I have to decide: what to study, and what to let go. Because if I don’t make that choice, I’ll fall down a never-ending rabbit hole. Medical school is not just about learning—it’s about learning what to learn.
But no matter how much there is to learn, no matter how many lectures are left to watch or muscles to study or to-do list items still unchecked, I remain a priority. My well-being, that is. I take frequent walks, cook lots of vegetables, and sleep as regularly as is possible while living on a corner that’s constantly noisy, either from traffic or construction. I also spend time with other people who remind me that I am a human being, not a medical student machine.
I do my best. That’s my priority.