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A WARNING to all incoming medical students: Productivity culture is a two-sided coin

Is being 'just a medic' enough? or should we push ourselves to be 'more'?

September 2020
Regwaan Choudhury
SGUL - 4th Year Medical Student


Four years ago when I started medical school, the term ‘productivity’ had yet to embed itself into medical student culture as it does today.

Once upon a time, productivity could be defined as ‘Yesss… I completed 3 lectures today, pretty productive if I say so myself 👌’, whereas today, an unproductive day would look like ‘Ahhh man, completed some OSCE practice today but didn’t manage to fit in some coding and video editing for my upcoming YouTube Channel 😔’.  

Okay, perhaps I exaggerated the last bit 👀. Not all medical students are like this. However, the example I give isn’t far from the mindset a growing number of medical students find themselves being pressured into: no longer is it impressive enough to be ‘just a medic’.

In fact, it wasn’t so long ago that I would count myself among them 😑.


My experiences with productivity

DISCLAIMER: Productivity in its essence can be life-changing if applied in a healthy manner. The reason I’ve decided to talk about about this topic is due to the toxic culture that has been and continues to develop around the world of ‘productivity’. I believe it's important for you guys as freshers to be aware this - particularly for your mental wellbeing!

Fresher Regwaan:

My issues with productivity mostly revolved around my studies. Rarely did I ever complete a day where I felt I’d achieved enough revision. Determined to be more than just the ‘average-performing medical student’, I continuously strived for top marks 🤓.

This led me to spend hours after lectures grinding away in the library, often till midnight, despite being nowhere near exam season! – big mistake 🤒.

During this time, I was under the false impression of being 'productive' whereas in fact I was doing the exact opposite 😴. In my mind at the time, the number of hours studying was synonymous with productivity. The more hours I put in, the more ‘productive’ I was being. In reality, I was getting fatigued and rarely got any decent work done; my brain could only work so hard for so long.

Looking back, those hours could’ve been much better utilised re-energising myself by either socialising with family/friends (perhaps through society events), taking up hobbies or simply enjoying my own company (perhaps with a nice book)!

When exam results came round, my peers who utilised their revision time much more proficiently not only achieved similar grades but did so with significantly less stress.

I had learnt my lesson 🤔. You don’t need to replicate those ‘Study with me for 13 hours’ YouTube videos uploaded by medics to be exam successful - it’s an unrealistic precedent of how some medical students study… rather inefficiently may I add. I also realised that, as hard as it may be, it’s extremely unhelpful to compare and replicate people’s study techniques (even if they seem to be effective for them)… everyone is very different!


Think about it … these students represent a tiny proportion of the total medical student cohort. They’re certainly not representative of all the study techniques out there and most high performing students aren’t dedicating their time to writing blogs or making YouTube channels so who knows what they're up to! The vast majority of us simply don’t take these approaches. If someone really was that ‘productive’ on a consistent basis (studying 8 hours a day all year round), they shouldn’t need to spend half the day in revision mode all-year round. Perhaps then it’s a question of efficiency rather than hours? 💁🏾

There's also the question of optics. If one medical student posts a video or blog about studying long hours and gets lots of views (perhaps by those being misled into thinking this is the key to success at medical school) ... what do you think the other medic YouTubers will do? More videos about studying for long hours. Shock!

*P.S. prevent yourselves from the vicious cycle I endured by adopting a study technique named the ‘Pomodoro Method’ – Google it if you are unaware. It helped me increase my efficiency with revision as well as freeing up time for my own side-hustles/hobbies. *

Early-Twenties-Crisis Regwaan (Year 3 of Medicine)

Ah yes, there’s nothing like having that mid-life crisis when you’re only 21 😒. Today’s buzzword that is productivity came back to ‘buzz’ me more than ever before. This time, in a different form.

I began observing a few of my fellow medic peers investing time into side-projects outside of medicine. These varied from business ideas and app development to research. On the outside watching in, I felt somewhat empty. Naturally, I was comparing myself to others around me asking myself, ‘What was my unique selling point? What can make me stand out?’.


On a quest to fill this void, I explored many ideas, sometimes as a result of conversations with others and others as a product of my own thoughts.

This took me down a few paths.

For example, last year I endeavoured on constructing a start-up (new business) with some friends – long story short, it failed 🙃. Not so much because the idea was unsustainable nor that our skillsets were below par, but largely due to the fact that our intentions were somewhat forced.

Arranging necessities such as market research and regular meetings felt like a chore. Our journey on this new venture didn’t feel genuine. We had no ‘side project that we could proudly look to as part of our identity and that was the only reason we wanted to create a startup. This was a problem … and it had a vicious cycle effect.

When it failed, we began doubting our qualities as medical students in the modern era of ‘productivity’ and ‘side-hustles’. The lack of self-worth all stemmed from the inability to see through a vision we were never keen on in the first place! Pretty dumb huh? 🤕

This is just one of numerous examples I could share on how striving to do more purely for the sake of becoming ‘more than a medic’ and more ‘productive’ can seriously dim your view of yourself as a medic.

Thankfully, after a period of reflection, it became more clear that the ‘aesthetic’ of looking productive would not result in success; it may sound simple, but what you really require is passion in what you are doing and everything will fall into place, naturally.

Quite simple but much harder in practice … particularly when you’re being pressured with the aforementioned social pressures of not being 'just a medic'.


Where does the ‘productive’ hustle culture stem from?

In all honesty, it’s difficult to pinpoint the sources of this semi-toxic culture. However, I mustered up my own lil’ hypothesis highlighting a few potential contributors.

Let’s take a look…:

a)    YouTube Medics (aka. ‘Productivity Gurus’)

Yup, we’ve all been there, ‘deeping’ how perhaps we need to do more to live up to that exalted title of ‘Medical Student’ we carry in the new world of productivity and hustle culture.

There’s nothing like watching an Ali Abdaal video and thinking to yourself, ‘Well, you being just a medic isn’t enough!’.

Don’t get me wrong, Ali Abdaal is ingenious in what he has achieved.

Yet, I can’t help but feel that the present trend in needing to be more productive in order to attain self-value has been contributed to by the likes of Ali by no fault of their own 🙇.

At the end of the day, these YouTubers are simply creating content that you, the viewer, wants to see. But why do we want to watch that content? Also, how many of us really end up implementing productivity techniques into our lives? 🙅🏼

Sometimes it’s helpful to remind yourself of the core reasons as to why you are at medical school in the first place … much of which you'd have thought about whilst applying!

Your responsibility is to be the best doctor you can be. Unlike perhaps most other professions, as 'student doctors', the duty isn’t just to yourself but also to your patients. Not only is this part of the GMC guidelines, it's also part of the all-important Hippocratic Oath. After all, your care will (often) have significant impact on patient lives.

Therefore, isn’t focussing on mastering the ability to do this well an extremely respectable and desirable aspiration?

Shouldn’t we really begin to consider having other ‘side-hustles’ outside of Medicine as a sort of ‘luxury’ rather than a necessity to fill our supposed 'deficiency' of being 'just a medic'? Importantly, shouldn’t those of us falling short of our medical responsibilities start to re-evaluate our priorities? Shouldn't we first and foremost focus on becoming the best doctors we can be?

I believe it's time to return some balance to the system.

Taking your responsibility seriously as a medical student and doctor is noble. Don’t forget that. Learning and practicing medicine is a privilege 🙏🏼. Everything else (in terms of side-hustles) should come second.


b)    #MedTwitter

For most of you, I presume you haven’t yet discovered ‘MedTwitter’. On the other hand, for many current medical students this world is all too familiar. It’s an environment that allows interesting discussions to take place and insightful thoughts to be shared. It’s also however the perfect breeding ground for developing a severe bout of Imposter Syndrome! As with many things in the world, it’s a double edged sword 🤷🏽.

You’ll find some medical students have promoted their CV through their bios and then some. Others will discuss topics within the ‘medic sphere’ which your imagination had never stumbled across.

Fear not however; like those ’13-hour study with me’ vids, the MedTwitter population is only a small proportion of all medical students. Never feel like you’re inadequate because you’re not spending your summer gaining internships at AI companies for instance. The early years of medical school should be all about exploration. Find the things that interest you.

As one tweeter puts it:

“Do everything one time until you find something you want to do twice.”

Don’t let what others are doing make you feel like you should be doing the same thing. Embody the quote above and begin by exploring all your options before settling and focussing on those you enjoy. And remember, there is never a right or wrong choice. Interests can range from the arts, to research, to tech, to reading, to travelling and so on and so forth.

Personally, I now take the approach of engaging in threads that interest me and ignoring those that don’t. It helps me avoid feeling like an alien in my own field of study.

Of course, venturing into the unknown can help open up your mind. The ability to approach it with a sense of curiosity and avoid any feeling of deficiency is a valuable mindset to develop early on.

In summary, ‘The Medical Student’ is not a single entity. We’re all humans with different interests and we should preserve the diversity of skills and pursuits that each medic embarks on.


c) Who do you surround yourself with?

Quite simply put, you are as good as those you surround yourself with. This extends to when adopting other habits and mindsets (consciously or sub-consciously). The more active your friends are, whether it be within medicine or outside, the more likely you will be too.

Once again though, this doesn’t mean you should feel compelled to do the same as them. It’s just worth considering how the people around you can influence you. Importantly, it's good to find a group that help each other grow in whatever space each individual wants to pursue.


Wrapping Up

I suppose the moral of the story is that we as medical students must accept that we cannot conquer all the fields and niches available to us.

Often, we feel as if we have to prove ourselves in all domains of life and edge our peers whilst doing so. Perhaps this stems from the fact that most medics are relatively high-achievers when compared generally across the education system. It’s in our DNA to tell ourselves that we’re capable and should be the best at anything and everything!

In fact, this is probably why other ‘non-medics’ think medical students are quite arrogant. To be fair to them, the fact we call them 'non-medics' (an us-and them mentality) supports this point and is perhaps a symptom of our toxic mindsets as medics.

Forcing yourself into situations that you’re not whole-heartedly interested in the first place just plays into a never-ending loop of diminishing your self-worth. Exit this loop as soon as you can and do what suits yourself – if you want to embark on coding (like I have!), do it. If you’re content on sailing through medical school riding each wave as it comes, do it. If you enjoy doing charity work and volunteering, do it!

Whatever you find yourself doing, just ensure it’s because you’re excited doing it.

The sooner you realise this the sooner you will thrive.

Live life through your own lenses and not through the lenses of others.  


My name is Regwaan and I’m a 4th Year Medical Student at St George’s University. If you’ve enjoyed my blog, let us know (!

Follow me on my socials to keep updated or to ask me any med related Qs.

Insta: @regchoudhury_97
Twitter: @r_e_g_w_a_a_n
LinkedIn: Regwaan Choudhury

Author: Regwaan Choudhury

Editor: Abdul-Rahman Abbas

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