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How to Maintain Work-Life Balance During USMLE Step 2 Prep

8 min


Person balancing wooden blocks with the words 'WORK' and 'LIFE' on a seesaw, symbolizing work-life balance during USMLE prep.


How to Maintain Work-Life Balance During USMLE Step 2 Prep


Medical school is notoriously time-consuming and dedicated study periods for USMLE board exams (Step 1, Step 2) can be even more demanding. While your preparation for USMLE Step 2 CK can be stretched out over a long period during clinical rotations, this blog post will focus mostly on maintaining work-life balance during a dedicated study period (1-2 months). A large part of this is having a solid study schedule. If you are unsure about how to create a study schedule, contact us to set up a consultation. 



Before You Start Studying for USMLE Step 2


  • Think ahead: Look at the time you’ve set aside to study for Step 2 and write down other commitments (family events, weddings, volunteering, etc.). Create a Step 2 study schedule that will work for you during this time. 
  • Reflect on your past performance and exam goals: Consider how you did on clinical assessments from your medical school and shelf exams. Were you happy with how you did? What is your score goal for Step 2? 
  • Take a practice exam: Take a Step 2 practice exam before you start studying to identify a starting point, strengths, and weaknesses. How you do on this exam can help you decide how much time you need to study each day. 
  • Adjust your mindset: Dedicated studying requires you to temporarily sacrifice some of the time and habits you enjoy in your daily life. While you can absolutely achieve a healthy work-life balance during your USMLE prep, reorient your thinking and realize that it may be necessary to say no to some events or table some of the hobbies that you normally participate in to achieve your goals on this exam.



The Work Part


  • Be present: Put away your phone, close your email, put on your headphones (with or without study music). Get comfortable and work towards your study goal for that time. 
  • Set boundaries on your time: Determine your goals for your day or study period and do not significantly exceed those goals at the expense of your ability to study the next day. A dedicated study period is a marathon, not a sprint. Set a manageable study pace that you can continue throughout the whole period. 
  •  Have a dedicated workspace: Whether this is a corner of your room or an entire room dedicated to studying, have a space that you consistently use to study. Make this space comfortable for you and try not to mix this space with the space you use to relax or unwind. 
  • Remind yourself of why this work matters: When you lose your motivation to keep studying, remind yourself of your goals and why you are pursuing medicine. Take a moment to imagine the life you want and reflect on what you need to do to get there (including studying for this exam)! Remind yourself that this period is temporary and will end. 



The Life Part


  • Schedule your breaks: Schedule breaks into your study schedule to refresh your mind, grab a snack, and reset. For some students, the Pomodoro technique can help section off breaks and work time for maximal productivity. For longer study periods (1-2 months), consider taking a full day off each week.
  • Eat well: Put some thought into what you will eat and when. Make sure that you are getting enough to fuel your brain, which is working hard to study all day! 
  • Sleep well: Sleep is critical to learning and memory. Prioritize your sleep and make sure you are resting enough each day. 
  • Continue your hobbies: Whether you exercise, craft, read, or find joy in another hobby, use your break times to continue these activities. 
  • Stay in touch with your people: It can be easy to isolate and lose touch with the people you care about during dedicated study periods. While it might be difficult to spend long periods of time together, schedule time to eat meals with your friends, take your kids for a walk, go grocery shopping with your partner, or call your family. Even though you are spending a lot of time alone, don’t forget about the people who support you! 
  • Reward yourself: Disciplining yourself to sit down and study for hours at a time is no easy task. Make sure to find ways to reward yourself for the hard work you are doing! This could be something as simple as making cookies to celebrate completing the first week of your dedicated studying or scheduling a vacation after you take your exam. 



Take-Home Points on Work-Life Balance During USMLE Step 2 Prep


  • Dedicated studying for Step 2 is a marathon, not a sprint! Be honest with where you are at and pace yourself.
  • Take care of your mental and physical health. Make sure to eat well, prioritize your sleep, and stay in touch with your people.

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