How Do You Focus on Your Health While a Premed Student?

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Session 290

Caroline is a second-year med student who runs the @carolinecooksclean Instagram account. As a former athlete, she tries her best to stay on top of her health. So her account is all about eating clean and eating healthy. Caroline shares all about how to prioritize health, eating right, and exercise before everything else, and why this is important.

If you’ve been struggling with eating healthy or exercise, listen to this episode. Remember, we can’t be there for our patients unless we take care of ourselves first.

The podcast is part of the MedEd Media Network, which includes The OldPreMeds Podcast, Specialty Stories, The MCAT Podcast, Ask Dr. Gray: Premed Q&A, as well as The Short Coat Podcast, a production of the Carver College of Medicine at the University of Iowa.

[02:00] An Interest in Becoming a Physician

Caroline has always loved science throughout school and her grandpa being a practicing OB/GYN back was a great inspiration for her. The town he was practicing in was where she also grew up so she knew his patients. And those patients telling her how her grandpa changed their lives has impacted her.

It was a collection of experiences that she had throughout her life that continually just made her feel like becoming a physician is exactly what she was set to do. In fact, she talked about her grandfather on her personal statement because that was her “seed.” She points how the personal statement is supposed to explain who you are so the admissions committee gets to know who you are. And not talking about it would just not be right.

Caroline adds that just because it’s cliche but if that’s what shaped you, then you should talk about it. That being said, she never second-guessed becoming a doctor. She was just so driven to becoming a doctor. Sure, it’s really hard and challenging but this never swayed her from the thought of becoming one.

[06:55] Major Struggles as a Premed and the MCAT

Caroline admits inorganic chemistry was the biggest thing she had to overcome. She didn’t put much effort on the first exam so she obviously didn’t do well, in fact, having the second worst score in the class. But it was great that she acknowledged it was a mistake on her part for having taken it for granted, thinking it was easy but it wasn’t.

Again, it’s a matter of figuring out where you went wrong and doing what you can to course-correct. So Caroline did a complete turnaround and worked on it 100%. So from the worst score in the class to getting 100% on the orgo 2 final was just incredible and from then on, she knew she could do anything.

This was also before her MCAT so she used this as her motivation to get a high score on the MCAT having gone thru failure and was able to get back up. Speaking of MCAT, she studied for four months for it, while she was still studying because she took it in January. It was hard for her to study the same stuff for that long and to see her first couple of practice scores to be pretty low or not near her goals. Additionally, she took a prep course which she thought really helped a lot. She even had a tension headache a week before the exam but she knew she had to relax but she took comfort in the encouragement from her friends.

[11:55] Clean Eating and Exercising on Her MCAT Journey

While taking her classes and studying for the MCAT at the same time, she completely dedicated her time to MCAT study. And for health was very important. That said, exercise was something she looked forward to during the day since it was the one time she wasn’t studying. It was something she set as her goal too that kept her motivated – both the MCAT goal and the fitness goal. So she found it helpful to separate herself from the MCAT while exercising, and that included eating healthy as well.

She finds that when eating a diet high in vegetables or more wholesome ingredients, she notices she gets to have a clear brain. This is very important when you’re taking an exam and trying to remember all those things. She also noticed that whatever she ate before practice exam, she had better stamina with the healthy meal. Caroline recommends you should find what works for you and focus on health during that time because it will definitely show in your score.

The truth is though is that students think that exercising would just take their time away from studying. But Caroline stresses that exercise helps in the consolidation of your memory, and this is proven.

Aside from memory, exercise does help keep you more sane and prevent burnout. In fact, it’s the number one thing to prevent burnout. Caroline adds, it helps reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases, which you should care about as future physicians. These are all good reasons to instill exercise in your daily routine. If you really feel the need to, then bike while reading. Nevertheless, it’s really super helpful to get away from the information for a small amount of time.

[17:30] Struggles During Medical School Application

Caroline emphasizes the importance of having a mentor as well as listening to podcasts like this. For her, she found essays to be a real struggle (as anyone would). Writing a lot in a small amount of time is very difficult, but you have to remember your why. Always talk about that and make sure you’re talking about things with passion. Additionally, Caroline initially struggled with finding words to express herself. She would have writer’s block with her secondaries, etc. And then just dedicate a little chunk for a day, like three or four hours to write them since it’s better to do it with a fresh mind.

Most definitely, don’t submit a secondary after just one sitting. Make sure your essays are going to be clear and succinct and actually describe who you are. You want them to know who you are. So make sure it’s explaining who you really are. Also, make sure you’re addressing the question and making it clear that this is the school you want to go to, not doing the copy-paste thing. Or you end up with the mistake of copying the wrong school name.

[19:55] Starting the Medical School Journey

In terms of exercise and eating healthy during medical school, Caroline already made a plan of what she likes. However, med school is a different ball game, she admits. Especially with the way their curriculum is set up, their first 8 weeks are anatomy. So you’re constantly in the lab and dissecting. You don’t get to eat when you’re there so when you come out, you’re scavenging for food. It’s hard to be healthy!

That being said, Caroline says she was fortunate to have friends who are also very health conscious. They fed off each other in a good way. She also packed her lunch to make sure she gets to eat healthy, not to mention it’s a cheaper option. You know what’s in them.

The biggest thing she’s still struggling with is the late night eating, as this is bad and can cause gastric reflux. She tries to go to bed around midnight every night. But if she has to stay up late, she tends to eat more than she should. And it becomes a cycle. So this is still something she tries to balance. What she does is eat her midnight snack when she has an exam the next day and then sacrifice that for her exam day since she’s able to focus better with snacks.

To add to this, she found planning to be very helpful. She buys her groceries and prepare her meals when she can. She has things on hand like frozen chicken burgers so she’s not tempted to eat pizza.

[23:22] Meal Preparation Tips

Caroline shares some tips to prepare your meals so you don’t have to prepare them every day. She recommends getting a Crock Pot which is helpful for her. You can also roast vegetables on Sunday or Monday or whichever night you’re free. Roast enough of them and put them inside your fridge and you can just microwave them. This is 45-min dinner turned into a 2-min microwave.

Also, be sure to make things that you like. If you hate broccoli and you meal prep it, you’re not going to warm it up afterwards and order a pizza instead.

Don’t compare what someone else is doing to what you actually want to do. Just figure out what works for you. Caroline guarantees there is healthy food that everyone likes. Just search hard enough for it especially, now with so many health foods out there. Just make simple things since less ingredients are better anyway and it’s easier to cook too. Salmon is also good.

[26:33] Taking Her Passion for Clean Eating into Professional Practice

Caroline says there’s not enough research right now on nutrition and practical applications to nutrition and stuff. The reason being is that it’s hard to get funding for it. And she hopes she could be a part of it in the future. But she wants to use exercise and nutrition recommendations as preventative measures with her patients. So it’s definitely something she wants to continue in practice because she knows how this is very important.

[27:45] Final Words of Wisdom

Caroline wishes to impart to premed students out there that exercise and eating well will help you with your grades. It also helps reduce stress. And sleep has a huge role in decreasing stress and maintaining wellness, and memory consolidation. If getting a good grade is your main goal, you should also think about the implications of living a healthy life and how that will help you reach your main goal. If you’re worried about your weight or struggling with that, don’t be too hard on yourself. You can’t judge yourself so hard, criticizing yourself so much because there is more to life than that. Don’t get hung up on it. Just find what works for you. Don’t take the MCAT so seriously that it would affect your health. We’re going to be better physicians if we do take care of ourselves.



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