How to Avoid Burnout as an MS3

29 Dec 2016

By Nina Shank

Most medical students have probably heard before at some point in their lives that it is always advisable to have a plan B. In fact, as a medical student, one can never be too careful while navigating medical school and then residency. Whether it’s having a plan B to medical school or to your ideal residency program, back-up plans can mean the choice between employment and unemployment. As a third-year medical student, when it comes to being as productive as possible, I have found that it isn’t enough to just have plan B, but to have plans C, D and E come along for the ride as well.

During this whirlwind of a year, medical students are incredibly susceptible to the “Mighty M3 Meltdown,” and reassuring oneself by setting realistic goals to avoid burnout can save a great deal of stress. For example, my plan A might have been to get honor evaluations on a rotation, ace the shelf, get to the hospital early and leave late, complete research projects on the side, exercise regularly, make all right dietary choices, keep up my hobbies and somehow also be the perfect, present spouse, and do it all with not a single hair out of place. Plan B is to do all of those things except perhaps the gym and the diet. I have to admit, trying to follow either plan drove me nearly up the wall when I began my year of clinical rotations. All that happened was that I soon ran out of steam. This year is a completely different beast from M1 or M2, when I was more easily able to stick to my plans A or B. This year medical students function in a manner determined by someone else’s, usually the medical team’s needs, and they have to be much more adaptable that they’ve had to before. Personally, if I am on surgery and finding myself running out of steam, perhaps that means I need to adopt plan C for now, which might mean being flexible on the diet for a little while, instead of plan A. In the end, I avoid burning out, and as a bonus, get to keep my sanity. Perhaps I’m on a rotation that no matter how hard you try, you just can’t seem to get those stellar evaluations you were hoping for. It’s in your best interest to accept this, be flexible and move on to plan D, which may entail forgoing the evaluations, instead crushing (or trying to crush) the shelf to boost your grade, keeping up your hobbies, spending time with your family and doing some research.

This year has really taught me that maturely dealing with perceived failures and allowing for some laxity in my ‘plans’ in the end has made me more proficient and protected me from burnout. As they say, this journey of ours from student to physician is a marathon, not a sprint, so I choose to embrace the imperfections and stay the course even if it means having a plan E day.



Nina Shank is a third year medical student at Tulane University School of Medicine, who grew up in Mumbai, India and came to America in 2008 to attend University of Virginia. After completing her undergraduate degree, she worked as an ER scribe and phlebotomist while applying to medical schools. She is currently working towards her MD as well as a Master’s of Science in Anatomy, and is very passionate about pursuing a surgical career. As a former leader of the Rudolph Matas Surgical Society student group at Tulane, she is most excited to be a part of the AWS student committee and help future female surgeons everywhere reach their goals.


Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.

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