Study Tips

Staying Motivated as a Medical Student During COVID-19

Trey Tosetti
Published on May 23, 2020. Updated on Sep 15, 2020.

The lives of medicine and health students all over the world have drastically shifted to absorb the impact of COVID-19. Today on the Osmosis blog, Osmosis Medical Education Fellow Trey Tosetti shares simple solutions to maintain your routine, as well as encouraging words for anyone who has doubts about their future careers in health.

I spent one week exploring Disney World and taking a very-needed exhale before my school was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemicjust 10 days later. With classes cancelled and no reason to stay near campus, I packed up my car and headed back home to Colorado. Now, I find myself in a new long-distance relationship with my medical school. 

I’ve made a concerted effort to maintain some normalcy throughout this crisis—maybe these simple techniques could benefit you, too. 

Osmosis illustration of a student attending a medical lecture online.

Establish and maintain a solid routine

Creating a productive environment in an unfamiliar place 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I spent months developing a routine based on trial and error. Just as I was getting into stride with my medical studies and board preparation, everything came to a halt. 

Within a week of returning from spring break, our school went from business as usual to complete shutdown, and it was decided that all further learning would be remote. Until then, I had studied exclusively at school; having to keep up with my class and exam prep remotely was going to be a difficult adjustment. 

Coming to terms with these new circumstances, I realized I had to take control of the things I had power over. I have continued to wake up and start studying at the same time each day, as I did when I studied at school. I purchased a whiteboard (albeit a smaller one than I had access to on campus). I continue to group study with friends via Zoom, and that’s very helpful: we can all bounce thoughts off of each other while maintaining our social ties. These habits have helped me maintain the same level of productivity I was experiencing at school. 

Study focused

Studying back home in Colorado means dealing with many distractions that I didn’t have to deal with on campus. I’m not used to studying medicine while living with my parents. While I love to talk and spend time with them, it has become a new hobby that I must manage appropriately to avoid falling behind studying. Being at home rather than in the library means I can get up at any time to watch TV, make a snack, or even take a nap—the temptations are real. It is important to check myself when I find myself spending too much time at leisure. For me, simply acknowledging the new distractions helps me to stay diligent and focused.  

Osmosis illustration of a medical student being distracted by his parents as he tries to study.

Finding healthy outlets during the stress

What to do to manage stress

For me, the most important stress management tool has been my self-care routine. Despite the chaos we are seeing in our grocery stores, I have made it paramount to maintain a healthy diet. Although the gyms are closed, I have kept up with exercise by hiking, running, and doing at-home workouts. I have also leaned on others during this time, and they have leaned on me. This is where the benefits of living with family are most apparent: being together has greatly helped us all deal with the hard realities of our current state of affairs. 

What not to do to manage stress

There was life before COVID-19, and that is something to remember as every news story, TV channel, and social media platform reports on the virus. It is important for us to stay informed about the events happening around us, but we must not become obsessive

Early on in the pandemic I was checking the news multiple times a day to see what was changing, and it was simply not good for my stress levels. I made an effort to check the news less often, watch sports reruns more often, and focus on my studies so that I can remember the things that were important to be me before COVID-19. Living under the shadow of a pandemic can be overwhelming at times, and it’s important to remember that it’s okay to step back and just not think about COVID-19 for a day or two

Keep the big picture in mind

Don't worry, fellow medical students: our time will come

It’s hard as a medical student to sit back and not be on the front lines during a global medical emergency. Every person entering the medical profession wants to help care for others, and there has never been a time in my life when the world has needed that most. As much as we all want to be assets during this time, we must stay grounded. At this time, first- and second-year medical students would be more of a liability than they would be of help in the clinic. But there are things we can do. We can help raise the line by donating blood, organizing PPE drives, and by social distancing and practicing the measures we know will help flatten the curve.

What can history teach us?

During this time, instead of only thinking reactively to how to care for others, we can also think proactively. For me, I have gone back and read articles that were written during other epidemics that have occurred during my lifetime. After reading about SARS, MERS, and H1N1, I have come to this conclusion: this is far from the last time the world is going to need heroes in the healthcare field. These events will continue to come, and it is important for us to be ready for whatever comes our way. 

We may not be the ones providing care for COVID-19 patients, but our time will come soon enough. I use this as my motivation to study hard and prepare for things yet to come, as much as I want to help with our current situation. We must also remember that it isn’t just during times like these we need to be dedicated to our work. Everyday of our medical careers there will be people in need, desperate for help and care. It is not just during the worst of times that we need to have passion for our careers: it is every time we step into a patient's room, and ask, “How can I help you today?

About Trey

Trey "Everett" Tosetti is a first year medical student at the Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine, and is currently participating in the Osmosis Medical Education Fellowship program. He loves hiking, skiing, and any excuse to be outdoors. Trey's life goal outside of medicine is to climb the tallest mountain on each continent.

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