How To Hold Down a Job in Med School

Nov 19, 2020

Written by Nikita Devarajan

Nikita Devarajan is a MD3 student at the University of Queensland with a keen interest in global health and gender equality in medicine.

Getting into medical school is a dream come true for so many of us. Unfortunately, though, the elation is short-lived when you’re suddenly hit with the financial burden of having to move out of home, pay rent and bills, buy groceries, and study full-time for 5  years or more. I was one of those panicked students, unsure of whether I would have the time and energy for a casual job alongside classes and study, yet needing a source of income to sustain myself (and my love of eating out). Now, coming to the end of my pre-clinical years, I can confidently assure you that working whilst in this degree is entirely possible, so here are some tips to help you get there. 

Get Organised

I’m sure you have heard this a million times and will continue to hear it a million more, but I can’t stress enough how important being organised and mastering time management is in order to juggle your busy life. Having a digital calendar means that you can download and synchronise your timetable, and schedule your extra commitments around classes. By doing so, you can calculate exactly how many hours in the week you have available to allocate to work, and maximise productivity in your set study times. With this, make sure you don’t forget to schedule in your self-care between work and study, otherwise you risk burning out. Alongside a calendar, use a ‘to-do’ list to set tasks for your day the night before so you remember to complete any other ‘life admin’ jobs such as paying bills, grocery shopping and meal prepping. When scheduling tasks by the hour, it can become overwhelming if you struggle to adhere to the allocated hours, so make sure you are open to being flexible, re-adjusting your calendar and your to-do list as needed.

Find a job that is either close to home or on campus

The main reason for this is to minimise your commute time and maximise time spent either studying, working or relaxing. There are many casual jobs on campus, usually hiring at the start of semesters. Listings for such positions are often found on the university or student union websites. Employers of on-campus jobs are aware of class timetables and accommodate accordingly, allowing you to fit in shifts before, between or after classes. Similarly, a job that is close to your home minimises commute time, saving money spent on transport and the precious extra 30 minutes of sleep in the morning before your shift.

Tutor school and university students

Being a medical student, your academic prowess is an asset that parents of school students are in need of— utilise it. The most appealing aspects of tutoring, in comparison with casual jobs in retail and hospitality, are the pay rates and flexibility. Most tutors charge a higher hourly rate than what would be offered in the other industries and if you are tutoring privately, you are free to determine the hours you work and how many students you accept. Additionally, if you are in a post-graduate medical programme, you already hold an undergraduate qualification and may be eligible to tutor undergraduate subjects that you have completed. These positions are commonly advertised on faculty websites before the commencement of each semester, and also in residential colleges of the university, as many offer a free tutoring programme for their students and are in need of qualified tutors. The sole drawback of tutoring is the amount of time you invest outside lessons into learning and preparing content, so if you can set your own rate, factor in preparation time to what you charge.

Look for positions in the medical field

Whether that be as a clinic administrator or a medical research assistant, in my personal experience I have found that employers within the field of medicine and science are significantly more considerate of your study commitments and need for time-off during assessment periods. Consequently, having a supportive environment at work reduces the well-known stress that accompanies submitting an absence request during SWOTVAC, allowing you to channel your energy and focus into study.

Maximise working hours when you have more free time

I highly recommend increasing your availability at work and taking on more shifts when your study load is lighter. This can be during the holidays, first half of semesters before assessment periods, and even pre-clinical years before the demands of clinical placements. The intention is to save up as much money during these times in order to alleviate some of the financial strain you may experience during clinical years when you are on placement, effectively working near full-time hours and often unable to attend paid work.

Turn Your Hobby Into an Income Source

Whilst I cannot say that I have personally dabbled in this myself, I have many friends who have successfully combined recreation with earning a modest income, killing two birds with one stone. This is more suited for jobs such as sports coaching and music teaching, graphic design, art classes, dog-walking, baby-sitting and even selling plant cuttings if you are an avid gardener. The downside is that it is difficult to find sustainable, long-term positions in these areas and there is always a risk that turning your hobby into work may detract from the enjoyment it brings you.

I have held a vast array of jobs in my 5 years of studying full-time. From tutoring school and university subjects, multiple casual retail positions, being a research assistant in a laboratory, UCAT practice question writer and now freelance writer at MedicGuild. There have been times where I felt overwhelmed and unable to balance my study and work commitments and find time to relax too. But I have grown and learnt from these moments, formulating this list of what I believe is the key to successfully holding down a job while studying Medicine, and hope that you find it useful too. 


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