Wayfaring MD

I am a family medicine resident who likes to highlight the hilarious in medicine as I write about patients, medical school, residency, medical missions, and whatever else strikes my fancy.

HIPAA is for reals, folks. All of my "patient stories" have been changed to protect patient privacy. I will change any or all identifiers, including age, location, race/ethnicity, sex, medical history, and quotes. Also, I am an anonymous internet person. Why should you trust an anonymous internet person to give you medical advice? Don't ask me, ask your doctor!
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Posts tagged "motivation"
Asker Anonymous Asks:
Any advice on motivation? Also, did you ever doubt yourself or your decision to go to medical school while you were in undergrad, even just a tiny bit? Any advice on how to get past that? I really do want to become a doctor and I cannot see myself doing anything else, but I also have moments of self-doubt....
wayfaringmd wayfaringmd Said:

I’ve written a lot about motivation in the past, so here’s all those posts. I think a big key to motivation is to enjoy what you’re learning and working toward. 

Honestly, in undergrad I’m not sure I ever doubted the plan to go to med school. I had backup plans, certainly, but med school was sort of the logical next step for me in my long-term plan. A few bad grades made me wonder if I’d actually get in, but I didn’t second guess my decision at all. I’ve always been the kind of person who had half their life planned out already, though.

I doubted my decision heavily in the first week of med school, and again on the day of my first test, but after that I figured that if Jesus got me in to school and got me through the first test, he could continue to get me through the rest. And he did ;). 

All that being said, some doubt is normal. Even though I didn’t doubt my decision, I realize now that I had NO IDEA what I was getting myself into. So considering it from the other side of things, I think it’s perfectly ok and normal to not know 100% what you want to be when you grow up (even when you’re already grown up). 

I am wondering whether you know of anyone who has taken a personal leave of absence from medical school due to reasons such as burn-out. I’ve been feeling a lack of motivation lately with medical school and I feel like I am wasting my years of learning. I’m barely passing my courses and I’m not taking away from medicine what I had hoped to. I really want to take a leave of absence but am scared of potential consequences. Do you have any advice for me? Thanks so much. - anon

Absolutely! People take leaves all the time. One guy in my med school class took a year off after second year because he was so burned out he was actually suicidal. 

Just as an FYI, I remember Dr. Cranquis mentioning that he also took a year off in medical school—not because of burnout, I believe, but a year off nonetheless. He may be a good one to ask about this too. 

You are right to consider the potential consequences of taking time off, such as:

  • you get to rest
  • you can re-discover your love of medicine
  • you get to work on your life without the added stress of enormous loans and insane tests
  • you could potentially discover something else you love more than medicine
  • you could be a much better student (and subsequently, doctor) when you start back with a fresh perspective and motivation
And consider the consequences of NOT taking time off:
  • you fail / burn out and are forced to take time off of school, which looks worse than voluntary time off
  • you start hating medicine before your career ever begins
  • you potentially have to repeat a semester or a year, and incur another year’s worth of student loan debt
  • you trudge through and never really get a good grasp on the material you’re supposed to be learning
  • you potentially make it through school ok but your emotional/spiritual/physical health suffers

You’re not doing yourself or your future patients any favors by going through school half-@$$ed. Talk to your advisor at school, your family, and a non-medical mentor you trust. With their advice and your own knowledge of yourself, you should be able to come up with a solution. 

Some very competitive residencies and specialties may look down on time off, but it depends on why you took time off. If you had to repeat a year or failed out, then that’s not very favorable. But people take a year off for lots of reasons including family issues, personal stress/burnout, new marriage or new baby, mission work, traveling, research, and joint degree programs, and those reasons don’t usually get in the way of a decent residency match.

How can I make myself care enough about my undergrad classes (chem, ochem, physics, bio, etc.) to do well in them so that I get into medical school? Right now I’m having trouble getting motivated enough to study them. –amputatedwings

Motivation is a hard thing to find. You can’t just create it out of thin air. It’s something you have to continually work on to be able to keep it.

Before I get into how to grow and maintain motivation, let me strike down some misconceptions. 

  •      “I hate this biochemistry stuff, but when I get into studying things I’m interested in in medical school, it will get easier.” 
     When I got to medical school, though, the motivation was no easier to find than in undergrad. I couldn’t go off of pure curiosity, because curiosity wasn’t enough to make me excited about the function of the alpha subunit on the cholera toxin molecule (which I learned in my first week of medical school). It wasn’t interesting to me. There’s TONS of stuff in medicine that is boring to me. Case in point: eyeballs. Gluconeogenesis. Toenail fungus. Biostatistics. Rhinoviruses. I could go at this all day. The point is though, if you hate pre-med, you very well may hate medical school. Figure out what you really love and do that. 
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  •  ”My future patients/sick grandma/history of childhood illness will motivate me.” Heh, not so much. I love my patients, and I love patient care, but it was definitely not on my mind at midnight while learning the bleeping histologic appearance of the terminal ileum or about the 500 different foramina and fossae of the skull (both tidbits of knowledge which I have yet to use in my clinical work, btdubbs). image
  •  ”My significant other / mommy / puppy will keep me going.” Son, yo mama doesn’t have a CLUE what med school is like, unless she’s a doctor, and in that case she will probably have even less sympathy for your butt. I had friends with extremely supportive families and significant others, but at the end of the day, many times they’d be calling other med students saying, “I’m ready to quit. I’m putting in an application at Starbucks.” 
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Ok, so where do we get motivation from?

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Asker Anonymous Asks:
What is your motivation to keep going when classes/life gets hard?
wayfaringmd wayfaringmd Said:

Well, I guess I’d have to say that when life gets hard (as it currently is), I have to remember my purpose. That purpose is my motivating factor. I know that I have been put in this profession for a reason, and that God will get me through the tough times. I have to remind myself that I do these things for God first, then for myself and my patients. That really helps, because there are MANY times when I don’t want to keep pushing for my sake or my patients’ sakes. But I know that if I’m pleasing God, he’ll get me through. 

Do you have any tips on improving studying endurance? -anon

Advice for getting over procrastination? Thanks! Love your blog!!! :D -anon

I put these 2 questions together because I feel they address pretty much the same issue. 

For improving endurance: start small and build as you go. I was a big fan of breaking down my reading into small bites (literally like 5 page bites) that I could mark off. Ticking things off a to-do list—even tiny things—kept me on track. And after doing so many pages, it didn’t feel like a huge undertaking to just do 5 more pages.

A counter-intuitive strategy to help with study endurance is to schedule frequent breaks. I’m talking things like 50 minutes on, 10 off or something like that. That way you focus more during the 50 minutes because you know you get a 10 minute break soon. If every 50 minutes is too often, go 2 hours on, 15 minutes off or something like that. I was also a big fan of just setting goals for the day—like 75 pages or something—and I couldn’t do the fun stuff like go out to eat with a friend or watch tv with the roomie until I was done. That improves endurance and efficiency. 

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Asker dearlambie Asks:
Hi wayfaring! Senioritis has hit me pretty early and pretty hard. Inknow you have to do it, but how difficult was transitioning between college studying and medical studying?
wayfaringmd wayfaringmd Said:

Transitioning from college to med school studying really wasn’t that hard because the prospect of failing medical school and owing basquillions of dollars to the government pretty well keeps you motivated to study hard. 

In the first couple of weeks of medical school, I was motivated by pure fear:

  • Fear of failing out of school
  • fear of owing all that money for nothing
  • fear of looking stupid in tutorial group
  • fear of failing my first test
  • fear of letting myself and my family down

these were huge motivators in that first block.

Then, once you pass the first test you realize that all that work was totally necessary, and when you’ve gotten through it once, it’s slightly easier to do it all over again. 

Of course, picking up the pace and doing study marathons EVERY DAY for 2 years is hard to adjust to, but you get through it. 

How do you stay optimistic, lively and happy despite all the problems and negativity around? How do you turn negativity to positivity? I guess this really boils down to … how do you find your sense of purpose?  - follower who requested to say anonymous

First off, let’s get one thing straight: WayfaringMD has bad days too (more on that in a post to come). What you see of me on this blog is just a small part of who I am. 

Now, about your questions. The “sense of purpose” question is the easiest one for me to answer. My purpose comes from Jesus Christ (hear that noise? That’s the sound of 100 followers clicking unfollow). My purpose is to bring him glory, simple as that. I love helping people, but if I tried to do this job just to please people (or myself), I’d go crazy. I would never feel adequate, and I would feel like a total failure when I tried my hardest and people didn’t appreciate me. This is a big reason why doctors burn out. They try to get their worth from paychecks, smiling patients, or accolades, but it’s never enough.


But Jesus is different. I get my worth from him. He chose to love me when I was unlovable. If I’m following his will for my life, I know he’s pleased, regardless of how inadequate I feel or if other people don’t appreciate me. When I forget this fact, the negativity and feelings of inadequacy come creeping in. 

So there you have it. I wish I had a formula or a Joel Osteen-type 10 step program to outline to help you find your purpose, anon, but I don’t. My only answer is Jesus. 


Hi. I’m really struggling with studying for USMLE Step 1. I know all the generic advice. I basically have zero fun or moral support, and lots of pressure. Correction - there are a few random people who I have never met in my life - either through gtalk/forums… but that hasn’t helped me in any way whatsoever. I hope this isnt inappropriate or out of place in any way. To avoid rambling that could be off-putting, can you give any suggestions to peak motivation and focus? I think I’m losing it. -doctumbl

First, on the pressures of med school life: having internet buddies is great (I have plenty, for sure), but they are no substitute for good, supportive, in-the-flesh friends. Are there any fellow classmates / upperclassmen / professors you can vent to? (If not, you can always Skype me @ WayfaringMD). 


On motivation and focus: the best thing for me was to set short term goals. Find something fun and stress releasing you want to do every day during your step 1 study. It can be exercise, sports, tumbling, going to the movies, going out to dinner, etc. Set a goal of X amount of material (reasonable amounts, of course) you need to cover before you can go do that fun thing. You’re stressed out, of course, and you really want to go have fun, so that will motivate you to stick to your studies and get your work done. 


If a goal for the end of the day is not enough, set even shorter goals. For example:

- I’m going to get through 20 pages of First Aid by lunch and then I’m going to make the best grilled cheese sandwich ever made and eat it outside


- I’m going to do 100 World questions and then call my best buddy (make sure you schedule phone dates if your friend is also studying!)

- Just 5 more pages and I’ll have a 5 minute dance party


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