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A medical student’s reflection on time, our scarcest resource

In this Stanford Medicine Unplugged piece, second year medical student Natasha Abadilla reflects on the importance of time.

One of the best bits of wisdom I’ve ever received is that you can tell a lot about someone by looking at how they spend their time. In medical school, time is our scarcest resource. We’re at this strange and exciting point in our lives, during which we’re responsible for learning an enormous amount of information in hopes that someday we’ll be able to quite literally save lives.

Many of my classmates and I are currently starting to study for Step 1 of the national medical board exam, and the breadth of information we’re expected to know feels like it could fill a bottomless pit. We’re all fighting against time and trying to figure out how to organize our time to absorb and retain as much information as we can before our exam dates.

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about how I spend my time, and feeling thankful for the people who choose to spend their time with me. I’ve been cutting activities and relationships out of my life that matter to me less but have managed to take up my time, and replacing them with things and people who matter much more.

A physician lecturer preparing us for being part of hospital teams during our clerkship years once made it a point to differentiate between patients who are “Big sick” versus “Little sick” — medical patients who are in the hospital for more serious conditions that need to be managed urgently versus patients whose conditions are stable and need less vigilant care.

When I think about how we spend our time as medical students, the same “big” versus “little” school of thought can be applied.

Big time: In medical school, much of our “big time” is spent on exactly what you might guess it’s spent on: things having to do with medical school. Whether it be time studying, time providing patient care or time doing research, we are students first and foremost, and most our time is spent being just that — students.

Little time: The things that you let fill up your “little time” in medical school should be the most important things to you. My med school class is comprised of some of the most interesting people I’ve ever met; they are writers, musicians, athletes, and philosophers. They spend time cooking exceptional meals, running daunting marathons, and composing the loveliest songs.

However, conversations during which we talk about how we wish we had more time for the things we really love to do happen far too often, and this should make us all think: if all the people and things you invest your time in were listed in order of time spent, would that list be the same as a list of people you hold closest to your heart, things that make you happiest?

With my Step 1 board exam date quickly approaching, I’ve been relearning how to prioritize my “big time” and “little time” on activities that are the most important for me, and on people who I know wouldn’t hesitate to do the same.

If you’re a med student reading this right now, I hope you’re spending your time on the people and things that you value the most.

Stanford Medicine Unplugged is a forum for students to chronicle their experiences in medical school. The student-penned entries appear on Scope once a week during the academic year; the entire blog series can be found in the Stanford Medicine Unplugged category

Natasha Abadilla was born and raised in Hawaii, graduated from Stanford undergrad in 2014, and spent two years doing public health work in Kenya before returning to the Farm for med school. She just started her second year of medical school, and she enjoys writing, cooking, eating desserts, running, and scrubbing into the OR. 

Photo by JESHOOTS

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