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Unexpected, unspoken, super-secret lifehacks for surviving med school

Forget the usual advice—here are the real tips and tricks that will get you through your program with your soul intact

Run a quick Google search and you’ll find that there’s no shortage of articles and blog posts about how to survive your years at medical school. And if you read through these articles, you’ll find the same ideas repeated over and over again: be organized, schedule your study time, get exercise, find balance, make friends, appreciate the significance of becoming a doctor, etc. 

Which is all good advice. But maybe a little…obvious? So, while you’re staying organized and studying hard with your med school friends, there are some other, less obvious ways that you can do to keep your eyes on the prize while keeping it all in perspective.

Get your mindfulness on

Yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, mantras, tai chi, guided visualization—there are as many ways to practice mindfulness as there are tools, apps, and websites to help you do it. But one thing is for certain: it works—particularly for medical students. Whether you want to keep your brain focused so you can study effectively, or want to reduce stress levels so you can manage your workload, mindfulness practice can be a powerful weapon as you battle through the trials and tribulations of your program. In fact, mindfulness has proven so effective for med students that some med schools in Canada are making it mandatory.

Forget best friends…make a best enemy

Odds are you’ll make friends in med school. And they’ll certainly help you get through some of the toughest stretches. But sometimes the best motivation is a vicious sense of competition. That’s why you might want to trade in your best friend for a best enemy. Who is that person you just have to beat? Who are you determined to prove wrong? Having someone to compete against can boost your motivation, increase your performance, and force you to be innovative in your approach. Because the only thing sweeter than getting a good grade is getting a better grade than your arch-nemesis.

Daydream…but do it the right way

When you’re neck-deep in exams and papers and group projects it can be hard to remember why exactly you got yourself into this mess in the first place. A rich fantasy life might be the answer. Imagining an ideal future to help get you through the stress of the present. But be careful how you do it. Psychologists have found that positive fantasies can actually reduce future effort. The real trick is to turn your fantasies into expectations. What’s the difference? Expectations are based on past experiences; there is evidence to support them. Example: you expect to enjoy the latest Drake album because you enjoyed his previous albums. Fantasy, on the other hand, is based on hope—and we all know what a hope in hell gets you. So, when you need to retreat inside your head to gain a little perspective, make sure you’re doing it the right way: expect, don’t imagine.


Often your commute can feel like lost time. Same goes for jogging. Or cooking. Or cleaning. Or pretty much anything that doesn’t involve intensely cramming for your next exam. But you can make that lost time productive with a playlist of top-notch medical-themed podcasts to keep your brain engaged and your learning perpetual. Here at onboardMD, we’ve started our own podcast called MD Vitals where we discuss everything that’s vital to you on your path to becoming a physician. Some of the most popular medical podcasts include White Coat, Black ArtSawbones, ERCast, and the CMAJ Podcast—but don’t hesitate to ask your fellow students (and even your professors) about which ones they listen to. Because these days, podcasts are like opinions—everyone has one.

Embrace your inner vampire

The workload in med school is overwhelming. Which means that you’re going to be pulling a lot of all-night study/writing sessions. So instead of struggling against them, why not learn to make the best of your new nocturnal lifestyle? Because there’s something sexy and dangerous about being awake when everyone else is a sleep (see: every Ryan Gosling movie ever). It’s a time when true focus can be achieved, free from the distractions of the waking hours. And it doesn’t have to be painful: by doing your research, you can plan and prepare a healthy and effective all-nighter which won’t set back your energy levels for the rest of the week.

Supercharge your brain with sex

When you’re down and out, you may have gotten this lewd advice from a best pal: “You need to get laid.” But guess what—there’s a lot of science out there to support that statement. Studies have shown that daily intercourse can lead to cell growth in the hippocampus, where your brain regulates stress levels, and orgasms release the hormone prolactin, which makes you feel sleepy and relaxed. Add to that the fact that sex is a great source of exercise (if you’re doing it right), and keeps your immune system strong. So, maybe your friends are right—maybe to survive med school you do need to get laid.


Rebecca Breslin
An experimenter at heart, Rebecca is always looking for ways to express her creativity. As a knowledge-seeker and advice-giver, she is committed to helping Canadian medical students, residents and all Early Career physicians live their best lives today! When she's not working, Rebecca is a world traveller with a passion for reading, writing and yoga. As a certified yoga instructor she is always looking for opportunities to grow as both a student and a teacher.