7 Ways to Increase Motivation for Medical Students

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About the Author

Chase DiMarco is the Founder of FreeMedEd.org and host of several MedEd Podcasts. He has a passion for medical education and the psychology of learning. For more information and research on optimizing one’s study environment and use of the MedEdge Method, consider downloading the free “Essentials of” PDF of Read This Before Medical School.

Or… you can buy the full book on Amazon!

Are you having difficulty motivating yourself to sit down and study? This is an exceedingly common issue for medical student’s education. There is a never-ending stream of information, updated, correction, and flat out memorization that takes place in medical school. This information overload and lack of motivation can continue on through medical residency and even fellowship.

The problem is that our levels of a student’s motivation can wax and wane through the hours, let alone the days. Sometimes the last thing a medical student wants to do is sit down for another review session. However, increasing study motivation is not out of grasp. There are a few techniques that all students should know to get through their next study session.

Intrinsic Motivation vs Extrinsic Motivation

First, we should discuss what “motivation” actually means. Most psychologists split motivation into intrinsic and extrinsic subcategories. Extrinsic motivation is caused by some stimuli outside of oneself. For instance, you may hate your job but are extrinsically motivated by your paycheck. Intrinsic motivations are generally considered to be done for one’s self and not due to external forces. There are plenty of overlap and debates in regards to this seemingly clear-cut definition, but it’ll suffice for our needs.

Intrinsic motivations are linked to increases in creativity and enhanced learning.

It is easy to picture an artist painting a mural that no one else’s eyes will ever lay upon or gardening just for the joy of doing so. It is less easy to imagine an individual freely working on a neighbor’s busted plumbing for the pure enjoyment the activity brings them. So how can medical students increase intrinsic motivation when studying?

In medical students, motivation has been positively associated with academic performance and learning strategies.

1. Increasing Interest in Your Studies

The mind is surprisingly pliable and often viewing our studies through a particular lens can help change our perspectives significantly. Increasing one’s interest in a particular topic is a great way to increase motivation. Luckily, there are many ways a medical student can try to add interest in an activity. With luck, this will raise the level of enjoyment received and prolong their study session or prevent study fatigue.

Sometimes studying is overly isolating and this can lead to a feeling of loneliness. Some activities can benefit from group studies or discussing interesting factoids of your material with someone else. Even if this is your pet or plant, sometimes speaking aloud can help increase the memory of the material as well. Find similar interests in both classmates and non-classmate peers that you can engage in conversation with. Not only will this limit the isolation that can hamper interest, but it acts as a review to make sure you really understood the material, to begin with. Even perceived social isolation can have negative effects on cognition!

2. Change Your Mindset

Try to set a positive attitude about the approaching study session before you even sit down. Going into a scenario with a negative attitude can decrease academic achievement. This mindset can relate to the discipline being studied, the reason the learner is studying, or even the school at which the student attends. Also, have a growth mindset, which will allow you to acknowledge your ability to overcome any obstacles that may arise during your studies. Having a Growth Mindset is likely correlated to positive motivation, and could provide significant benefit to a learner. Medical students that know they can conquer difficult situations may be providing the self-support needed to succeed.

Lastly, find engaging manners to relate to the material on a more personal level. Medical students might be able to find games associated with the topic or even find someone they know with a related disease or disorder to the current material. If these can’t be found, simply ask questions! Asking questions is a great way to stimulate creativity and increase motivation. Open-ended questions allow the mind to wander more and find unique solutions.

3. Increase Creativity in Your Studies

There are many other ways to try to increase one’s creativity in order to improve their studies. Medical students are often surprised how important creativity can be to their academic performance. It is a skill that can be trained and harnessed to increase motivation as well. Creativity can take many shapes and forms in your academic studies. You may want to consider a few easy implementations to improve your motivation level.

Medical students may consider utilizing arts and crafts within one’s study materials as childs play, but it can be a very useful creativity training exercise. For instance, instead of taking notes in class try implementing Mind Maps or Memory Palaces to remember your study material. These fun and visually creative activities are mentally stimulating and may increase your long-term memory of the material being studied.

Helping out the community is another manner in which medical students may increase motivation. Volunteering and other altruistic activities can help foster a sense of connection with the community (though benefits may be more likely in those with intrinsic motivation to volunteer). Increases in social support may also increase student motivation and may reflect positively on one’s peers and community leaders.

4. Focus

This may sound quite obvious, but medical students often don’t realize when they are losing focus. This can be an important factor when spending hours each day studying for an upcoming test or board exam. Lack of focus leads to inefficiencies in our day and halt our progress. To increase motivation for medical students, knowing when we lose focus and how to correct this can be vital.

Setting up the correct study environment can significantly benefit students that wish to focus for longer periods of time. This means setting up a place that you have all you need and nothing more. Some research demonstrates that increases in stimuli can negatively impact attention. Too many items on one’s desk or workspace can limit focus. Colors (too vibrant or too dull), noise pollution, and other visual distractions can all be considered when assessing the space. When noted, medical students should limit or eliminate these interrupting stimuli.

Scheduling time before or after school for certain tasks can help eliminate distractions and increase focus. For some tasks, setting short study periods or using the Pomodoro technique is a great way to achieve accomplishments in smaller increments. Of course, eliminating digital distractions is mandatory as well in order to keep on target. Setting phones to silent, turning off computer notifications, and placing all non-essential devices in a box or another room can aid in study success. Distractions and task-switching reduce our productivity and focus.

Eliminating digital distractions is mandatory in order to keep on target.

5. Increase Social Connections

As already mentioned, connecting to one’s community may increase certain types of motivation. However, closer social connections may play a significant role in improving student incentives to learn. Having strong family bonds or close peer relationships impacts our mental health. It is thought that these relationships may increase self-esteem, resilience, and decreases depression. It is likely that increased mental well-being will provide increases in student motivation and academic success as well.

6. Achieve Small, Consistent Goals

Setting SMART goals or using WOOP to plan ways around obstacles that may arise is a recommended task for all medical students. It is a mandatory aspect of academic organization and efficiency. On top of this, setting smaller, consistent goals may play a significant role in a learner’s motivation during their health education. Long-term goals are nice, but they do not have as strong of an impact on motivation because they are so far into the future. The animal in us wants immediate gratification!


  • Specific – target a specific area for improvement.
  • Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.
  • Assignable – specify who will do it.
  • Realistic – state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.
  • Timerelated – specify when the result(s) can be achieved.

Not only can smaller goals act as a positive feedback loop for students, but they allow for short breaks to be implemented. In fact, some argue that giving oneself little rewards throughout a student’s designated study session is mandatory. It might act on more ancient neurochemical responses that increase “happiness”, so-called Happy Chemicals.

7. Go Outside

Lastly, a frequently overlooked tool for increasing motivation is to enjoy the nature around us. Medical students all too often lock themselves up to concentrate on their studies. Too much screen-time, which I presume to also include studying on the computer, may decrease psychological well-being. We need sunlight to create Vitamin D and exercise (even walking) to simulate our cardiovascular and respiratory systems. We can also benefit from the simple fact that being in nature decreases anxiety and increases creativity.

Conclusion

We all hit a wall sometimes and need to utilize some techniques to increase our own motivation levels. Medical school is a rough period and any method to improve our mood, focus, and incentives in our studies can be greatly beneficial. Just remember that not all of these techniques will work all the time. Try them out in different scenarios and at different times to see what works best for you.

In the end, medical students need to remember they are only competing against themselves. Maximizing your own abilities and efficiencies is all you can do. Hopefully, with these motivation techniques, you can improve your focus, mental health, and achieve greater academic success.


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What’s the one thing most premeds lack?

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By: PreMedPlus

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I’m not a fan of prolonged articles that frankly take forever to get to the point so here’s my conclusion upfront.

Balance. Balance is the essential quality absent in the lives of the majority of premed students. I’m not talking about your cerebellum’s basic function here, I’m talking about an attribute that when lacking has the ability to dramatically decrease the quality of your life.

Hear me out here, I know that the FUNDAMENTAL quality of any successful premed student is dedicated and consistent work-ethic. However, it increasingly seems we’re living our lives primarily to complete each stage of requirements. We go from SAT, to MCAT, to USMLE, to Boards and on and on. We’re living to fulfill pre-reqs, fill up volunteer hours, and scouring for new shadowing opportunities. We’re in this endless race, in competition with our peers, to do the most. We put our bodies under immense stress- taking 18 credits a semester, doing research, and being leaders of clubs. We work really hard, and the people who may work slightly less than the absolute maximum are seen as wanting it less.

The problem with this culture of devoting our entire beings is flawed in many aspects. It’s not uncommon for people to routinely sacrifice their family time, time with friends, and health in order to get ahead in this field. I know the gut reaction of this sort of post- If I don’t prioritize my education then I’m going to fall behind and be an uncompetitive applicant. I’m not saying to de- prioritize your quest to medicine, but to build better habits that allow you to lead a healthier, more joyful lifestyle that allows you to prosper.

These years are supposed to be the best of our lives! By pursuing our own passions and dedicating time to personal development and socialization we can prevent burning out (which is officially a medical condition as recognized by the World Health Organization) and actually spur us to become better academics and future physicians. Below are a few applicable tips of how to gain more balance and lead a healthier lifestyle as a premed and beyond.

  1. Schedule time for yourself. No matter the circumstance, ensure that you have a small portion of time every week to do whatever you want to do. Make it a timed event. Put it on your calendar! Just don’t push it off to study or do other things, schedule it at a good time so you can reset and avoid burning out.

  2. Try new things! Try the things you’ve always wanted to do and the things you’d never thought you’d like. I personally tried hot yoga for the first time and despite being the only 20-something male there, I had an incredible time. It was a really great experience and one I want to continue for a long time.

  3. Cut out unnecessary time wasters that make spending time with family or friends feel like they’re wasting your time. Specifically, social media. We spend so much time on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook etc. throughout the day and right before bed. If we cut down social media use during study sessions and wasting free time aimlessly scrolling then we’ll find ourselves with ample time to do significant things in life. You know that hour of sleep you get during daylight savings? Imagine that every night! Just don’t watch YouTube videos that no one needs or scrolling through Instagram for ages (Unless it’s on my profile @premed.plus).

  4. Continuation of the last one- make sure you get good sleep! Sleep at the same time. Wake up at the same time. Every. Day. Your body needs a routine in order to thrive and it won’t do that when you pull all-nighters and feed it tacos and Mountain Dew.

All in all, living a balanced lifestyle will benefit you in both the short and long term. As a med student and beyond you’ll thank yourself for being able to budget time and have different reliable stress relieving activities. If you’d like to list some of the things you do to balance your medical lifestyle leave them in the comments below!


About the Author:

We’re PreMedPlus, a business oriented towards helping the next generation of doctors. We offer academic advise, productivity tips, and warn of common premed pitfalls on our Instagram page. On our Facebook page we offer personalized services for those who want one-on-one attention from a team of MD students. We know that being a premed is expensive and exhausting so we strive to make ourselves as affordable, accessible, and efficient as possible! Whether you want to enroll in our personal statement service or simply listen to how we got into medical school we’re happy to have you for either!

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Lifelong Mentorship

[Editor’s Note: This guest post was submitted by Jesse Tran who is a current PGY4 EM resident who is an avid reader of personal finance outside of world of EM. Currently trying to introduce financial literacy as standard education in residency. Believes in the mantra “A smart man makes a mistake, learns from it, and never makes that mistake again. But a wise man finds a smart man and learns from him how to avoid the mistake altogether.”]

Photo courtesy of evergladescisma

A mass of scales, tightly engaged in constricting manner with its fangs latched onto the owner’s terrified upper lip. The 8-foot Burmese python had unsuspectedly sized up its prey for the last several days, denying any form of feed from its owner. Before going to bed, the owner, a middle aged female, came to perform the nightly ritual of kissing her snake to sleep. Tonight, however, she was met with a return kiss followed by a vice like grip around the neck. With swift action, the owner was able to introduce her left arm into the mixture before it complete coiled around, giving her a barrier from complete suffocation. My attending, Dr. “Awesome,” came in with no hesitation, injected the snake with several milliliters of Succinocholine and with a serrated kitchen knife he preceded to cut the snakes head off. The listless head then began to release its fangs and fell to the ground. All this unfolded while I was an ER scribe, trauma room 2 to be exact. This and many more similar experiences helped solidify my resolve to become an EM physician.

            The power of mentorship is not to be trifled with, as over the years your professional relationships can help you navigate the new world ahead of you. As I progressed through medical school, the thoughts of which specialty I would pursue changed several times within the first 2 years of didactic education. You only have so much finite time in your premed years to experience the wide breadth of medicine. My exposure was mainly the ER. I knew nothing of operating room, primary care clinic or birthing center.  Though obtaining a glimpse of several specialties during my 3rd year clinical rotations did help me and probably the vast majority of my classmates solidify their decision into what residency fit them.

            To this day I still reach out to Dr. “Awesome” and along the way, I’ve developed strong relationships with my attendings to further facilitate life beyond medicine. My ultimate goal is to reach a life where I can live without the constraints that would inhibit my long term happiness. There are several things that must be done to obtain a good mentor:

  1. Have a strong passion or curiosity for the potential goal you want to pursue.
  2. Find a mentor who embodies the qualities that make them stand out to you.
  3. Ask questions.
  4. Get involved.

That relentless move to better yourself and avoid the prior mistakes of your predecessors will help you avoid the pitfall of having to correct your mistakes whether that saves you time or grief. We as a group are here to support the future medical professionals by becoming a resource for your ultimate goals.

Who is your mentor(s)? Comment down below or contact us for any questions.