Admissions Blog

Is it possible for a medical student to balance medical school with extra-curricular work and activities? To answer that, allow me to share an experience of mine.

A bird's eye view of the NUS High School of Mathematics and Science

I have been serving as a boarding counsellor in the NUS High School of Mathematics and Science since 2011 in its boarding school. Back then, I was a final year NUS undergraduate. I had decided to apply for the position as I found the opportunity to make a positive difference as well as free accommodation an attractive win-win option. As a boarding counsellor, my responsibilities include mentoring a cluster of 18 mostly international teenage students and facilitating and organizing various boarding school events.

A picture with some of my students during a laser tag fun outing

As I was no stranger to having to juggle both my studies and co-curricular commitments, I found the workload acceptable and student interactions fulfilling. Upon matriculation into Duke-NUS, I remember preparing myself mentally for the possibility of resigning as a boarding counsellor should I be unable to cope with medical school. Fortunately, that did not prove to be necessary. While I don't think I'm a work-life balance guru yet, here are 3 guiding principles I’ve come to find useful:

1. Be realistic - Don't bite off more than you can chew

Before deciding to take on any new responsibilities, it is important to be realistic. Beyond simple considerations such as time needed, it is also important to think about how taking on a particular new responsibility contributes to one's long term goals and perhaps general wellbeing. My position as a boarding counsellor, for example, is aligned with my experience and interest in counselling. Through mentoring and interacting with the students in the boarding school, I gain insights and skills that are potentially valuable in clinical practice.

2. Be resourceful - Work smarter

Taking up more responsibilities forces one to be more efficient at work as one needs to perform more work in less time. In order to do so, a process of continuous improvement, through thoughtful self-reflection as well as advice from successful mentors or peers, becomes useful. For example, I have learnt better strategies for studying from inspiring schoolmates at Duke-NUS, and that has helped in my efficiency.

3. Be gentle on yourself- Don’t burn out

There is always an element of risk in accepting more responsibility. In times of crisis, work that is required in one aspect of life may negatively impact our function in some other aspect of life. While some choose to sacrifice sleep for more time, I try not to do so because good sleep is important to avoid the negative spiral of burnout. All in all, when such events do happen, the best thing one can do is to persevere. Things tend to get better over time if we are able to accept and rise up to challenges.

So, is it possible for a medical student to balance medical school with extra-curricular work and activities? I hope that I have shared sufficient food for thought.

About The Author: 

Jia Loon's aspiration, penned at the beginning of his first year at Duke-NUS

Jia Loon is a 3rd year MD/PhD candidate at the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School. In his first year of medical school, Jia Loon was responsible for local community service outreach projects such as Christmas Carolling at KK Women's and Children's Hospital, as well as co-leading an overseas volunteer medical expedition (Project KAREn) to Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Carolling at KK Women's and Children's Hospital. In this picture, Jia Loon and his classmates were singing ' The 12 days of Christmas'

A group photo upon the completion of the final village health screening in Chiang Mai, Thailand during Project KAREn