Staying Motivated in Medical School During a Pandemic

Student applying suggestions on how to stay motivated in medical school during a pandemic
Here are three ways students can keep things in perspective and remain focused amid the crisis.

We are living in unprecedented times with the global COVID-19 pandemic gripping the U.S. and many parts of the world. Against the backdrop of this troubling crisis, it can be challenging to stay focused on your goals. For some of you whom the pandemic has personally affected, this crisis may even be traumatic. So, how can you protect your sanity during such times? How can you stay motivated in medical school during a pandemic? How can you focus on completing the journey? Here are a few suggestions we hope might help.

1. Think About the Big Picture

As a medical student, you understand that the journey through medical school is a marathon, not a sprint. The endgame is for you to become a medical doctor, one of the foremost essential professions in the world. Think about what a global pandemic, which could happen again in the future, means for you as a future physician. The fact is that the demand for medical professionals will continue to grow, perhaps at a faster pace than ever. There has arguably never been a stronger sense of urgency in the field of medicine than now. At the onset of the pandemic, some medical schools reported graduating their students early so they could help in the COVID-19 fight. As one medical student said in a Time magazine article, “Starting our career in the middle of a global pandemic isn’t exactly what we signed up for, but helping people navigate really scary times is what we signed up for.”

As a medical student, you also understand that the profession will likely expose you to several unexpected scenarios. At some point in your career, you may face the rebirth of an old virus or disease and have to come up with new ways to treat affected patients. You may even confront the outbreak of a novel disease like COVID-19 and have to navigate its treatment on the fly. Now is the time to pay special attention to the medical community’s response and think about the role you might get to play yourself one day. In the medical profession, there is little doubt that the future will come calling. If you commit to seeing your medical journey through, despite the ongoing crisis, you will be there to answer the call of duty.

2. Reflect on Why You Want to Practice Medicine 

Like every aspiring professional, physicians are human and have various reasons for choosing a particular profession. Some of you are motivated by the respect and prestige that comes with being addressed as “Doctor.” For some, you appreciate that you will be well compensated and make a successful living for yourself and your family. For others, becoming a medical doctor is a rite of passage because you come from a family of physicians or healthcare professionals. And for some of you, becoming an M.D. will be a lifelong dream fulfilled. There is no right or wrong reason since each individual is different and motivated by a unique frame of reference. But whatever your primary reasons for choosing this profession, now is the time to reflect on one above all: the opportunity to help and to heal.

Many people believe that practicing medicine is a calling, and that has never been more true. Healthcare professionals are risking their health and life on the frontlines today, saving lives when the world needs them the most. One day, you will fill those shoes, answering the call to save the world in times of crisis, perhaps at your own risk. While immense, that responsibility can also be a reminder of why it is even more critical to reflect on why you are choosing medicine. In the long run, the world that needs you may be a world on fire. So, no matter your initial drivers in the pursuit of medical practice, whatever it takes, get through medical school. The future needs you.

3. You Owe it to Yourself to Complete the Journey

Few are more self-motivated than medical students. Many of you were top-performers in undergrad. For starters, you excelled in the MCAT. You have a tenacity that is almost superhuman because you must go through a long and arduous journey to reach your final destination. You can finish what you started because the same mettle and resolve you need to finish is the same as you needed to start. Having come so far, you owe it to yourself to complete what you started, even during a pandemic.

No one knows what the future holds or when this global pandemic will be behind us. This uncertainty means that you may get the opportunity to join this fight. Believe it or not, you may even become a key player in searching for a vaccine. Even if the fight against COVID-19 ends sooner than expected, there is always the potential next epidemic or pandemic for which the world will require your medical expertise. Remind yourself of all the reasons why you ought to stay in the fight. Ultimately, you are a self-starter and have what it takes to finish what you’ve started.

So, there you have it. We hope you’ll keep these suggestions in mind to stay motivated in medical school during this pandemic.

Check out our USMLE learning platform, the go-to choice for medical students preparing for their high-stakes Step exams.

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