Updated: May 5, 2020
By Salyha Mughal
My alarm is blaring next to my face. I’ve already snoozed it twice and by now I’m sure you can hear it too. I force myself up from the tempting warmth of my covers, my eyes remaining closed while I brush my teeth, pull a work shirt on and stuff a change of clothes into my already-overflowing bag. As I make a frantic sprint for the bus stop, apple in one hand, my phone illuminating today’s jam-packed timetable in the other, I wonder why I chose this life. But there is little time to contemplate. Before I know it, the comforting sounds of the student union coming to life surround me and I switch to my alter-ego. Swiftly tying my apron, I spin around to beam at my first customer of this 6-hour shift, “Good morning! What can I get for you today?”
Alongside my full-time studies as a second-year medical student, I have been working a part-time job as a catering and retail assistant (fancy title for I make coffee and sell food) at my university’s student union since last year. Before starting, I had already planned to work whilst at university to facilitate my income; the student life is a broke life and my loan unfortunately did not cover my necessities, so once I had settled into living away from home, I went job hunting. I was very lucky to find my current role on my university’s job vacancies page. I also take on occasional paid work as a Student Ambassador which involves representing my uni at events or holding guided visits for prospective students. Contrary to popular belief, though balancing a job and medicine is no easy task, it is far from impossible! If you, like myself, are energised by a tight schedule and enjoy powerwalking between classes and work, maybe a part-time job is for you! Here I’ll give you my top tips for how to survive juggling a stethoscope and a salary.
1 – Organisation is key
This is the main requirement for handling a part-time job. I work between 6-12 hours per week with super flexible shifts that I have to fit around my classes. This can be tricky given that my timetable can change quite frequently. For example, I could have a placement day one week, an extra lecture, meetings with tutors, not to mention socials and events! Despite being renowned for my (lack of) punctuality, I am, surprisingly, a meticulous planner. To maintain my sanity, I keep a detailed diary on my phone of all classes, work shifts and events (even just meeting my friends!) which I organise well ahead of time. This does mean that I sometimes have to crash into a lecture still in uniform or occasionally miss a spontaneous squad motive if I’m already due to work (but if you luck-out enough to score amazing friends like mine who reschedule every event so that I can make it too, then you won’t have to worry about that).
2 – Find a flexible job
Compared to some other courses, medicine is pretty intense, meaning aside from scheduled classes and lectures (which there are more than plenty of), you will be expected to spend a significant proportion of your own time studying, not to mention The Exam Season Stress. I would recommend finding a zero-hour contract with flexible shifts and hopefully an employer that will be cool with you dropping off the face of the Earth at the end of each semester like I usually do.
3 – Know your limits
I’m sure you are familiar with Domain 1, Section 7 of the GMC Achieving Good Medical Practice Guidance for Medical Students: know your limits! Medicine is an exceptionally stressful degree and it is essential for both your mental and physical health to take breaks and wind down. If you are looking to work part-time you will, of course, have much less free time which means you’ll have to be prepared to sacrifice some sports activities and socials. Again, this all comes down to how well you are able to balance your work and personal life. Given that I thrive off being busy, I still make time to participate in a few sports and societies, however, in exchange, you’ll find me cramming in the library later than most.
4 – Stop during exams
The anxiety I experience during exam season is heightened and it is therefore unsurprising that I find it necessary to completely stop working for those few weeks. Fortunately, my workplace completely understand and are able to replace my shifts relatively easily since most students on other courses are able to continue working during exams.
5 – Try a summer job
I know medical school comes with both academic and financial stressors and you may not be able to find an appropriate employer. In this case, I would suggest getting a summer job which are readily available. I spent last summer working at Pizza Hut and a lot of my friends also held similar gigs, many of the pharmacy post-grads I know work as pharmacists every holiday. Similarly, you may be able to find seasonal work such as at festivals, as exam invigilators or at summer camps.
While I have been very fortunate in securing the two roles I mentioned earlier, which are perfect for my personal work-life balance, there are many other work opportunities available. If you have a hobby, I would highly recommend trying to profit off this. For example, one of my friends is a badminton coach so she is able to enjoy the sport she loves whilst also making a solid income. Similarly, tutoring is very popular amongst medical students especially because, given the academic requirements of our degree, we have a good reputation in the public eye which is a great advantage (and tutoring pays very, very well 😳). Buying and selling is also popular amongst students because you can decide when and how much time you are able to put into it; you’ll find online stores like Depop, Etsy and Facebook Marketplace are loaded with student venders. Lastly, I would definitely urge you to check out your university’s job-shop which should be on your official university or student union website. Working at the SU is quite a high demand job so there is a bit of competition for it, however, its fairly easy to be recruited as a student ambassador to represent either the whole uni or just your specific department. Many of my friends work as medicine ambassadors and their role involves facilitating medical interviews, tours and talking to applicants, which is quite exciting.
Employment during uni certainly has its drawbacks. Medicine should be your priority and anything that takes up so much of your time and effort can ultimately affect your academic performance. My job does make me busy, but it has also helped me to improve in efficiency, dedication and my ability to compromise. I have found many close friends in my co-workers that I otherwise would have never met, and all the while I have been able to lessen my financial burden as a student. I’m a firm believer in the ‘anything is achievable if you put your mind to it’ mantra so with that said, if you really want it, then go get that bread!