The Key to Maintaining Relationships in Medical School
Sometimes it’s not until we’re forced to slow down that we realize what’s most important.
Between studying, clinical rotations, research, and extracurriculars, I think it’s safe to say that one thing medical students usually don’t have enough of is time. Before starting first year, most of us ready ourselves mentally (or at least attempt to) for the all-encompassing nature of medical education. However, until you’ve experienced it yourself, you can never truly be 100% prepared for the sheer volume of material medical students are expected to learn, digest, and apply within a limited amount of time.
From first-year basic sciences and second-year organ systems to third and fourth-year clinical responsibilities (with Shelf exams as the icing on the cake), finding time for yourself and the loved ones in your life can be a challenge.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not always the greatest at immediately responding to text messages (or think that I have, only to eventually realize it’s still hanging out on ‘read’) and sometimes I even turn my phone and chat applications off for hours at a time in order to focus on studying.
Sound familiar to anyone?
In light of shelter-in-place orders, in-person medical education has come to a screeching halt. While quarantine and social distancing have been an adjustment full of highs and lows, the silver lining has been having the opportunity to pour more energy into my relationships.
Here are a couple of tips I’ve picked up during quarantine to help facilitate effective communication and maintain meaningful relationships. I fully intend to continue using them once school resumes and hope they can be helpful for you along your journey in medicine as well.
Share your “G, F, Ts”
This is a communication skill I’ve adapted that challenges you to share a goal, how you’re feeling, and one thing you’re thankful for each day to help keep you connected to those you care for the most.
Here’s an example:
G - Knock a few items off of my to-do list and make a Step 2 CK study plan
F - Refreshed! (It’s been a while since I got 8 hours of sleep in a night)
T - This bright and sunny day - it’s been pouring down rain for the past few days and I’ve definitely been missing the sunshine!
Some days your messages will be short and to the point and on others they’ll require more detail. Some days my friends will initiate the text message and on others I will. Some days there will be immediate responses and on others it might take a few hours. Nonetheless, whether it’s 8 a.m. or 8 p.m., my friends and I make time to learn about each other's day through sending a quick text message outlining our G, F, Ts.
Weekly Check-In Texts, Calls, or Emails
Although you may chat with your close friends and family everyday, it may not always involve significant depth due to time constraints. I know this may sound a little forced, but many of us schedule almost every aspect of our life when it comes to medical school and we should be putting in the same effort and organization when it comes to relationships.
By scheduling a chunk of time every week (I set a calendar reminder on my phone, so I don’t forget!) to really check-in and communicate with your loved ones, you’d be surprised how much you’re able to learn about them, their weekly triumphs, and their weekly struggles.
This strategy is particularly important if you are maintaining a long-distance relationship while in medical school!
A few questions you can consider asking include:
- What is your personal weather status today (cloudy, foggy, sunny breaks etc)?
- What did you learn this week?
- What brought you joy this week?
- What’s your biggest challenge right now?
- What steps have you taken this week to get closer to accomplishing your goals?
- What are your plans and priorities for the upcoming week?
Time management is truly an art form and I know I’m not the only one who sometimes struggles to balance all of the dynamic components of my life. However, a perfect balance isn’t realistic. I like to think of it more like a seesaw analogy - sometimes school has to be prioritized, but sometimes your family, partner, and friends take precedence.
Hopefully these quick communication tips will help you to make the most of your free moments and truly invest in building and maintaining the relationships in your life.
About the Author: Hailing from the Sunshine State, Victoria Humphrey is a rising fourth-year student at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine who has a passion for educational equality, increasing diversity within the house of medicine, and working with medically underserved communities. Follow this retired pageant queen and foster cat “mommy” on Instagram.