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The Emotional Side of Medicine

How to manage stress and build emotional resilience as a medical student

May 2023
Iqra Ali

Being a medical student and doctor is no doubt a huge privilege. It is a rewarding career where individuals have the opportunity to make a huge difference to the lives of many. However, being in the medical profession can also be very stressful, tiring and draining. Often you will hear stories in the media about doctors burning out or unable to do their job efficiently. These stories can often put people off if they are considering the career. Sometimes you will also hear about medical students drop out midway through their degree because they find it too overwhelming. This post will cover how to manage the emotional side of medicine so you can be equipped with managing negative experiences and emotions.


Why does Medicine Require Emotional Resilience?


Medicine is a very long career which includes the application process, the degree itself and then the profession. It requires life-long learning, constant adaptation to change and a level of stamina to deal with situations such as death throughout your career. 


In addition, Medicine is quite different compared to other jobs in terms of timings and hours. Many specialties work antisocial hours such as nights, holidays and weekends. Quite a lot of other professions have a standard 9-5 schedule that you may struggle to find in Medicine. Increasingly, even specialties like general practice which were known for their '9-6' work days are requiring more long day on calls and weekend shifts.


Emotional resilience is required because you have to be able to deal with the pressure of all of these factors, which can be quite difficult sometimes. You may find that some people may not understand or be able to relate to your life and career. In the current climate of the NHS, without emotional resilience, being a doctor can be incredibly tough.

Why do Doctors Burn Out? 


There are many reasons as to why doctors experience burnout. These include:


It is important to note that burnout can be the result of a combination of these factors long-term. This can cause exhaustion and lack of personal satisfaction within the job. This can amplify burnout and make things worse.

How to Cope with Stress and Manage Emotions as a Medical Student and Doctor?

There are several ways to increase your emotional resilience and reduce burnout as a medical student and doctor. We explore a few below.

Days off

Use days off to your advantage. Unwind, relax and do things you enjoy. This applies to both medical students and doctors. Do hobbies you enjoy, catch up on sleep, go out and visit places you love. It makes a huge difference! Make sure you have a support network who are empathetic and understand your hectic lifestyle. Spend time with them and include them in all the fun things you do!

Prioritise health

Making sure you are eating healthy, sleeping and getting exercise is really important. Often with a hectic schedule this can be neglected or seems impossible to achieve. But making a point of prioritising this is the best way to ensure you are physically and mentally equipped to cope with your career. Tools like meal prepping and daily planning in advance can be useful for this.


Another way to reduce the burden and stress is to introduce mindfulness into your life. Meditating is a great way to be mindful. It does not have to be very long; 5 minutes can be highly effective in reducing stress. There are many free apps with guided meditation to help in case you find it difficult to do it yourself. Journaling is also a great way to release your stresses and collect your thoughts. They can also help manage emotions. You can even get some guided journals that provide prompts to help you structure your thoughts if free styling is hard for you. 

Talk to peers

It can be worthwhile discussing your concerns with your peers. This is because you may find that they also feel the same and can relate to how you feel, and therefore can share solutions/techniques they use to help them, or simply be a listening ear.

Discuss with supervisors

Talk to your supervisor if you feel you're not managing well with your stress or you're feeling burnt out. They can often signpost you to resources or help you get time off (or even go less than full time as a doctor) so you're able to get back some time for yourself.


Finally, spending quality time your friends and family and doing things you enjoy is the best way to keep you grounded and remind you that there are more important aspects to life than studying and working. This is an incredibly important point to remember, but is so regularly forgotten by medical students and doctors.

How can you start now?


With the current pressures in the NHS, it is now more important than ever to make sure we as college students, medical students and doctors are able to manage out emotions and deal with stress to reduce the possibility of burnout as much as we can. Start by taking baby steps to improve your life and prioritise your mental and physical health, in whatever way is best or you. Slowly but surely, this will have a transformative effect on your life.

If at any point it all feels too overwhelming, and you're struggling to manage, it's important to recognise this and reach out for help. Read our post on safeguarding your mental health in Medicine here to find out where you can get support:


Author: Iqra Ali

Editor: Dr Latifa Haque

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