How to Deal with Stressful Situations in Medical School

Elizabeth Armenis
Published on Jan 14, 2021. Updated on Jan 12, 2021.

All of us in health professional school deal with stress—it’s inevitable. We are busy students, trying to get through these tedious, long years alive. Along with the stress of school, we have a life outside the powerpoints that creeps in demanding our attention. Today on the blog, Regional Lead, Elizabeth Armenis, will share ways she has managed her stress during medical school. 

If you’re reading this, you’re probably stressing about how not to stress. I can definitely relate! I can’t count the number of articles and blogs I’ve read about combating stress in medical school. We're on a taxing journey to help people and it’s not supposed to be easy—and life doesn’t have a way of helping. Let me share with you my stresses during medical school:

  • Constant moving: During the span of three years, I’ve had to move six times.

  • Comparing myself to others: Being a non-traditional student, I went from teaching kindergarten to becoming a medical student. I knew little to nothing about healthcare compared to classmates that worked as paramedics, nurses, and technicians. 

  • Wedding planning: I got married while transitioning to clinical rotations and studying for Step 1!

  • Injuries: I sprained my ankle four times in one year. I dissected the GI tract on crutches! 

  • The global pandemic: You knew this one was coming. Like most current medical students, COVID-19 got in the way of my hands-on clinical experience (and caused me a boatload of additional stress, too).

Osmosis illustration of a medical student planning her wedding.

Stressful situations are inevitable, especially in healthcare, but what makes a difference is how you ride the stress wave. Do you use it to your advantage, or let it drown you to the point of burnout?

Personally, I think stress all comes down to the way you handle and manage your good and bad habits and the environment around you. 

Here are the ways I handled the various sources of stress I've encountered in my medical school journey so far.

Stresses of studying

Make distractions disappear and make your priorities appear 

Priorities: Keep a list of to-dos on your nightstand, tape flashcards to the kitchen wall, keep the Osmosis tab open on your computer, always. Maintain healthy habits by keeping workout clothes visible, and healthy snacks close by. 

Distractions: Put the phone in another room. Don’t study in bed. Hide your PlayStation. Set boundaries with mom and tell your friends to call at set times. Keep junk food on the highest shelf! 

Stick to a schedule

Create a schedule (Osmosis helps with this!) to help you stay organized and manage your time wisely. 

Study in 50-minute work and 10-minute rest blocks with an hour rest every three blocks. (Use Pomodoro or any app that helps you track time).

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Stresses of clinicals

Remember, it's not your emergency—it's your patient's

I literally chanted this in my head whenever we are going through stressful clinical simulations or dealing with difficult patients. It calms me down immediately. You must show your patient that you are there to help them and not look like you’ll be their next emergency. 

Commit to a set of questions, videos, or flashcards a day 

Create a playlist on Osmosis that will help you tackle 2–3 videos a day to stay on top of material during your breaks at the clinic or downtime at the hospital.

You won’t be able to study as you did in basic sciences, so it’s important to have a reasonable schedule of what you think you can accomplish with one to two hours of studying. 

Stresses of personal life

Clear and straightforward communication with family friends

If your family is like mine, trust me... You’ll get a couple of laughs, but thank me later! Let them all know at once via email or text that you can’t talk every day or attend Aunt Margaret’s cat's birthday party!

Keep a journal to write down things in your routine that stress you out

This is one is cool because sometimes you may feel like the stress cloud is hovering over you but you cannot put a finger on what's the cause. Try this for a week to strategically tackle what's stressing you out. 

Surround yourself with positive people or subscribe to encouraging notifications

If you have no friends, that's totally okay! The Osmosis platform includes the best pop-up encouraging notes with illustrations and quotes that will keep your momentum going! 

If you have time to read for fun, I recommend reading Atomic Habits by James Clear. It will definitely help you create the habits you need to be successful in any aspect of life and reduce some of the stresses. Because let’s face it: stress is inevitable. With the right habits and mindset, you can turn stress into elevator music. Best of luck out there and know you're not alone in this journey!

About Elizabeth

Liz Armenis is a third-year medical student at Ross University School of Medicine. She is currently completing her core rotations in Miami, FL. When she's not pacing the wards, she enjoys a hot cup of dirty chai with almond milk, taking dogs to the dog beach, and cooking. 


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