Walking a Tight Rope in a White Coat: What a Year of Medical School Taught Me About Balance 

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As a medical student, I like to wander around on interview days and answer some of the questions the interviewees have. When they find out I am married with two kids, a common question I get is, “How do you balance medical school and family time?” 

It’s a good question — not only for medical students, but for anyone who does, well, anything really. 

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A lot has been written about how to stay connected with a spouse or significant other. I’ve heard a lot of good tips about scheduling time together; advice on keeping open communication and aligning your goals. 

With a bit of first-hand experience to reflect on, I want to give a few thoughts of my own on the subject of the home/medical school balance.

Find Your Own Balance Point

I could write out my entire family schedule for a typical month, detailing what activities I do, and for how long, with my wife and kids, then let you copy exactly what I do. Does that sound appealing? Probably not. That’s because that is my balance point. 

I have a good idea of what my family expects and needs; about what kind of cycle we thrive on. I tailor my schedule accordingly. 

Do you need to go to frozen yogurt every Wednesday? Do you need to attend church and avoid studying on Sunday? Do you need to have Pizza Night on Fridays? Maybe. Maybe not. 

Instead of sharing my schedule, I’ll offer one simple piece of advice: Find those things that are important to you and your family, and then work to make them happen. 

The Ever-Changing Balance Point

The only thing that is constant is change. 

The balance that was right one week could be ludicrous the next. On weeks that don’t have an exam, I’ll often be home for dinner, then study at night after the kids are in bed. On weeks with several exams, I’m not surprised to find my wife already asleep when I finally get home. You could argue whether this is an effective studying strategy (it’s probably not), but it’s indisputable that your home and school situations are both constantly changing. 

“Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape.” Remember that saying. You’ll be better for it. 

Balance Together

You aren’t alone in this balancing act. 

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Balancing is a family affair. Discuss what each of you expects and needs. Talk about this often. These discussions don’t need to be long or formal. You could send a text message with an update on your day’s plans, or ask during dinner how a family member is doing and what you can do to support him or her. 

Sometimes, in the crushing stress of medical school, it’s important just to let your family know that they are still on your mind.

Accept That You Can’t Have It All

I guess I shouldn’t say that in such absolute terms. I know that I can’t have it all. I’ve known students who have a spouse and multiple kids, yet still make medical school look like a cake walk. 

I am not one of those students. 

I know that I can spend a few extra hours with my kids, but it may cost me a few points on an exam. That’s where I choose to balance. The same goes for time spent in volunteer work, helping at church, or sleeping. You only get 24 hours in a day, so choose wisely how each will be spent.

And there you have it: the entire depth and breadth of my wisdom on school-life balance. Find your balance point, adapt it when necessary in collaboration with your family, and acknowledge that there will be tradeoffs. I hope that these ideas will help you to walk this medical school path without losing those things that are most important to you. 

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Ashton Dyck

Osteopathic Medical Student - 2nd Year (OMS II)
Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences

Ashton Dyck