(Re)Discovering Life Outside of Med School + Tips for Studying at Home

Osmosis Team
Published on Nov 21, 2022. Updated on Nov 17, 2022.

While it can be easy to let other interests and passions fall by the wayside while you’re in medical school, Osmosis Medical Education Fellow, Andrea Celeste Velez, chose to embrace her desire to become a healer and express herself through dance. She shares her story, some helpful study tips, and advice on how staying mindful can keep you on track.

“You’re in medical school? You must have no life.” Ah yes, we’ve all heard that at least once. But I am proof that doesn’t have to be true. 

In the months leading up to my first year of med school, I felt everything from happy, excited, nervous, scared, and an inescapable sense of impending doom. Yep, I was one of those “I’m gonna have no life” people. A million thoughts bombarded me throughout the months: “What about my family? Friends? Theater? Dance? I love medicine, but I also love all this other stuff,” I told myself. By the end of my MS1 year, I had been cast as an ensemble dancer in the Puerto Rican production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, kept up with my classes, and succeeded at both. Hopefully, my experience and advice can motivate you to find your balance and (re)discover life outside of med school. And, yes, even at home during quarantine (I included some special tips for that).  

Turning my passion into my tool 

My stomach twisted into about a hundred knots whenever someone close to me or a friend I ran into heard my news of medical school. A typical conversation went something like this: “Congrats!” immediately followed by a remark along the lines of, “So, you’re going to stop dancing, right?” Apparently, everyone had come to the conclusion I had to stop my dance training except me. 

I have been dancing since I was three years old. Dance is what brought me to medicine and has made me who I am today (cheesy, I know, but true, nonetheless). I cried myself to sleep more times than I can count, thinking that part of my life was over. This great achievement in my life – being accepted into medical school – turned bittersweet over the next few months. 

A month into my first year of medical school, I got a call for an audition with a Puerto Rican production company I worked with the year before. They were casting for the first-ever Spanish-language production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella.

I asked some of my family and closest friends what they thought about me auditioning. But, if I’m being honest, I knew that whatever they said didn’t matter – I had already made up my mind. I knew I wanted to audition, so I did. And about a week later, I was part of the cast. I knew this was my chance to prove to myself dance wasn’t going to hold me back in my studies but propel me to do better and be better.  

Before long, my days began in the anatomy lab and ended with late-night rehearsals. Studying was hard on my mind, and dancing was hard on my body, but it seemed the perfect marriage. Thinking about and applying ballet technique – the rotation of my turn-out, hips squared, shoulders back, stomach in, and lifted arches – doesn’t leave much room for thinking of anything else. So, I worked out a system: I used my dance training as my time for wellness and as a strong motivator for my studies. 

By the end of the semester, I finally realized I had forgotten a crucial piece of my own advice, “Don’t get too carried away by someone else’s experience until you have experienced it yourself.” I decided to make my own way, and now I knew I could pursue my two passions. I began my second year of med school with a brand-new mindset and got to work on both my clinical skills and my dance skills – all in the middle of the COVID pandemic.

‘Rona can’t stop the beat (sorry, had to)

It is no secret our lives have changed drastically due to COVID-19. The hardest thing though, personally? Adapting to the change in routine, along with the lack of a change in scenery (except from my room to the kitchen to the living room), was rough. Still, finding time to “disconnect” in this fast-paced world is vital.

Here are some of my tips for a more productive study (or work) day at home:

  1. Don’t study where you rest and vice versa. If you have no other option, make sure to tuck away school or work stuff at the end of your day to get in the mindset of resting.

  2. Set a routine and stick to it. Pretty basic, right? But often we struggle with maintaining routines when we feel overwhelmed or tired. 

  3. Set realistic goals. Start small and create your to-do list as the day goes by. By the end of the day, you’ll have accomplished more than you set out to do. And if you’re a visual learner like me, checklists always work.

  4. Prioritize. This was a HUGE one for me. Have a creeping deadline? Work on that first. Is Physiology your most challenging course right now? Get to that subject when you’re nice and fresh at the beginning of your study day.  

  5. Allow yourself to have a bad day. I cannot stress this one enough. We are mere mortals and life likes to remind us of that sometimes. Take it day by day, and remember that you get a chance to start over every 24 hours.

Bonus: Sleep hygiene (yes, it’s a thing). Get into a routine before bed to prep your mind and body for a good night’s sleep. Avoid large meals, coffee, and alcohol before bed. Turn off your phone notifications, and use the night light setting. If your phone has one, this setting turns off the blue light, which mimics daylight, thus telling your brain it’s not time for sleep yet. Otherwise, dial down the brightness by turning off all electronic devices with screens at least 30 minutes before bed. 

A final piece of advice

Make your own way. That doesn’t mean you have to ignore everyone’s recommendations. It means to take every piece of advice, analyze it, and live your own experience. Do not hold back because someone else told you to. Explore your potential outside your comfort zone and allow yourself to grow outside of your career. And finally, find time to breathe comfortably, explore another passion, fall in love with your career all over again, and (re)discover life.

Did you find this article helpful? Get more Lifestyle Medicine tips on our blog.

About Andrea Celeste Velez

Andrea is a third-year medical student at Universidad Central del Caribe on her home island of Puerto Rico. She was involved in the Osmosis Medical Education Fellowship program starting in August 2020. Andrea trains in ballet and, most recently, ballroom and jazz. Her desired medical specialty is physical medicine and rehabilitation with a sub-specialty in dance medicine. She sees herself working alongside dancers and performers to promote healthier dance training practices. Fun fact: Andrea is a licensed open-water scuba diver.