How much time do you spend studying?

Med school is a full-time job. “Full-time” usually means 30-40 hours/week, but in med school I have heard of people claiming to work more than 90 hours/week. I just saw a survey* asking med students how much time they spend studying each week, and the results were a surprising bimodal curve with peaks around 30 and 65 hours. At first I assumed that one group of respondents was counting lecture time while the other was only counting independent study time, but with the advent of online lecture capture, the distinction is largely artificial. Another theory is that the 30 hour med students are just embracing pass/fail (D = degree). Obviously you can skate through with less effort if you aren’t averse to poor performance. In my experience, however, there is a third possibility.

What if some students have figured out how to be more effective during their work hours? I have never met anyone who could sustain 65 hours of focused study, but I can’t sneeze in the library without hitting someone checking Facebook or watching Netflix. Even studying in groups is often more social time than study time. This may be healthy and relaxing, but it isn’t an accurate reflection of time spent learning.

If you feel like you’re on the high end of the bimodal curve mentioned earlier, then I have a challenge for you. Keep a time-log for 3-7 days, performing the activities you normally would, but keeping a precise account of how you spend each minute. For example, your daily planner might say “3-hour study session at Starbucks”, but a time log will break it down into “9 min walk, 8 min ordering, 10 min bathroom break, 20 min chat, 25 min check email, 1hr 48 min studying”.

Logging for a week might seem like an inconvenience, but it can help you eliminate inefficiencies from your day or, at the very least, be more realistic about where your time is going. You are likely to find that the busier you feel, the more wasted time you are letting go unnoticed.

*This was an informal survey, not a scientific study (i.e. results may not be reproducible)

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