Experts advise: Take life one responsibility at a time
Columbia, Mo.-It's the night before a test, and Michael Balkehas just three hours to cram.
The third-year veterinary student at the University of Missouri (UM)knows he needs more time to prepare, but all-nighters aren't an option.And another task won precedence that afternoon.
"We had just euthanized 30 pigs and it was my job to clean up theroom," says Balke, 24. "By the time I got home, I didn't evenhave time to take a shower. I had to go take the test smelling like deadpigs. It didn't go well. I think I got a C."
The lesson, he says, is to prioritize. "I guess I shouldn't havetaken the job. The test was more important."
Managing the hours in a day sounds easy, and undergraduate lessons usuallyteach advanced students to juggle responsibilities well, says Dr. SarahAbood, student programs coordinator at Michigan State University, Collegeof Veterinary Medicine (MSU-CVM).
But at the graduate level, the workload swells considerably. At the sametime, many students marry, have children or work part-time jobs, compoundingtheir daily responsibilities.
"For many veterinary students, the focus shifts in regard to extracurricularactivities," Abood says. "Now it starts to become choice managementrather than about time management."
To facilitate discussions and help students deal with mounting responsibilities,MSU-CVM officials hired a full-time staff psychologist. Dr. Joan Pfallersays stress control is an important tie-in to time management and maintainingoverall mental health.
"At this level, students already realize they can't let things slideuntil the last minute and take the whole idea of time management seriously,"she says, "but childcare and marriage issues can create a lot of stress.This is when students realize they have to manage time differently thanwhen they were an undergraduate."
Psychologists aren't on hand at UM's College of Veterinary Medicine,but Dr. Ron Cott, associate dean for student affairs, often plays the roleof staff counselor. "If you have a problem, he's the guy to go to,"Balke says.
That's because Cott relates first-hand to what students are going through.Like many training veterinarians, he too, married while in school.
"Believe me, it was stressful," he says. "There were alot of times I had to put the marriage on the back burner. Students mustmeet the curriculum requirements so most other things have to take a backseat. That's just the way it is."
Establish a system
To organize uncontrollable stress factors, students must develop routines,Cott says. "We encourage them to follow a timeline for work and anorganizational method. I tell students to get their priorities strait asfar as they're motivations and desires and to stick to a plan."
Because every student handles stress and time conflicts differently,Cott doesn't recommend a standard model to manage tasks. Instead, he encouragesstudents to find what works best according to their needs.
"We all do it differently," Cott says. "There isn't onesolution."
MSU officials take a more hands on approach. Beginning at orientation,students are invited to hear management experts speak and partake in programsdesigned to teach efficiency and organizational skills. Time managementtips and articles are featured on the university's Web site (see "Newkid on the block" Your DVM Career, November 2001).
But despite counseling and expert advice, Balke says experience is thereal key to successful time management.
"I've learned how to study and still find time to work out and participatein activities," he says. "Sure, responsibilities cut into yourfree time; that's just the way things go.
"I've learned to live on six hours of sleep a night. After tests,I take victory naps. That's what I call prioritizing."