How to Deal with Stress as a Medical StudentAugust 16, 2021
It is important for medical students to balance their academic schedule with mindfulness
and exercise. All photos were taken prior to the campus mask mandate.
For many first-year medical students, leaving their hometown and loved ones for the
first time—in addition to beginning a rigorous academic schedule with minimal social
activities—can be stressful and, in some cases, negatively impact mental health. In
the most recent PCOM Perspectives podcast, Jay Feldstein, DO ‘81, CEO and President of Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM) said it’s imperative that mental illness be discussed by students, faculty and staff.
“There’s nothing abnormal about being anxious or depressed,” he said. “People should
be able to talk about their health in a safe environment and not feel judged.”
He added that talking about mental illness is really the best way to destigmatize
it in society. He said, “Simone Biles has done more for mental health awareness in
the last week than anyone has done in the last 15 years,” referring to Biles’ decision
to not compete in the Olympics individual all-around competition in order to prioritize
her mental health.
Ann Contrucci, MD, FAAP, a board-certified pediatrician and assistant professor of
pediatrics at PCOM South Georgia has focused much of her career on mental illness
and speaking out on the importance of mental health. Medical students, especially,
face challenges when it comes to this topic.
“More than 20% of Americans are affected by a mental health illness,” said Dr. Contrucci.
“Depression is diagnosed in 15-30% more of medical students than the general population.
Additionally, suicide is higher amongst physicians. It’s 40% higher in male physicians
than the general male population, and 30% higher in female physicians than the general
With so many medical students dealing with mental health issues, Dr. Contrucci provides
the following tips.
How to Deal With Stress During Medical School
1. Have a proper sleep schedule
Medical students spend much of their time studying for tests, exams and boards. “The
brain is an organ, too, and it has to be treated as one. It’s proven that retrieval
of information can only be done with consistent sleep. Cramming only works briefly,
not for long-term retrieval,” Dr. Contrucci said.
2. Eat nutritious foods
“Healthy does not imply the latest fad diet,” said Dr. Contrucci. “Healthy means eating
all food groups in moderation. It also means being careful with things like alcohol
or other mood-altering substances and staying hydrated.”
Dr. Contrucci said that any exercise can be beneficial to students’ health. Further,
multiple studies have found that yoga helps with anxiety. Exercise can be as simple
as going for a walk daily or as consistently as possible. She added, “It can mean
putting some tunes on and dancing. Exercise should be enjoyable and something that
doesn't necessarily take hours to do. I know first-hand that medical students do not
have the hours for that!”
4. Have social support
The COVID-19 pandemic gave many people the realization that we, as humans, need support.
It highlighted the need for social support networks and having a “person” to confide
in and socialize with. Dr. Contrucci clarified that “texting and social media are
not support systems.”
5. Minimize social media and screen time
Multiple studies have shown the negative effect that social media and screen time
have on students. Dr. Contrucci encourages medical students to maximize mindfulness
and minimize mindlessness.
“Mindfulness can replace mindless scrolling on social media. This can be as simple
as practicing breathing techniques a few minutes a day, short guided meditations once
or twice a day or watching birds at a bird feeder. Baby steps help to turn something
into a sustainable habit,” she said.
PCOM's Office of Student Affairs offers free counseling services at all locations for its students and encourages open discussions on mental health
Listen to Dr. Feldstein and Dr. Contrucci discuss student mental health on the PCOM Perspectives podcast.
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About PCOM South Georgia
In 2019, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM), a premier osteopathic
medical school with a storied 125-year history, extended its commitment to the Southeast
by establishing PCOM South Georgia. An additional teaching location in Moultrie, Georgia, PCOM South Georgia offers both
a full, four-year medical program leading to the Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO)
degree and a Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences. PCOM is a private, not-for-profit
institution that trains professionals in the health and behavioral sciences fields.
Joining PCOM Georgia in Suwanee in helping to meet the healthcare needs of the state, PCOM South Georgia
focuses on educating physicians for the region. For more information, visit pcom.edu or call 229-668-3110.
Cindy B. Montgomery
Public Relations and Social Media Manager
Office: 229-668-3198 | Cell: 229-873-2003
Connect with PCOM South Georgia