Personal Development

AT THE TOP OF TWO HEAPS – And I thought I was busy!

Hedda Cooper is a 22-year-old from Melbourne, studying her first year of medicine at Griffith University. Not only does she continuously impress her profs and peers with her comprehensive grasp of first year subjects, she also, just as an aside, rows for team Australia…seriously.

Whilst some journeys are longer and more arduous than others, I think we can all agree that the mission to med-school is a difficult one. Countless hours of study and sometimes seemingly unbearable stress levels. This perpetual stress abates, if only momentarily for a blissful hiatus, between the point of acceptance and when our first medical exams start looming over us. One could argue that stress becomes an aspiring doctor’s ever-present accomplice; terrifying and motivating us concurrently.

As with most topics these days, we have an ocean of information at our fingertips regarding stress-coping mechanisms. In my personal dealings with stress, I’ve researched and then trialed (to significant levels of success) using exercise as an outlet. I dabble in some organised team and individual sports which satiate my desire for physical competition, and reduce my stress levels. Thank goodness, a solution (even if only a partial one) to my desperate desire to reduce my stress during the semester.

I think we can agree that if exercise and sports helped with stress and kept us fit, that’d be ample reason to partake, no? What if, instead of just an outlet for stress, your sport was your passion and you chose to pursue it full-time? Great, right? Like the study and practice of medicine, you spend countless hours practicing and training- endeavoring to be the best you can be! Kudos I say.

I wish I had the capacity to play competitive sport at an elite, professional level. Let’s put aside for a second that I’m simply not naturally gifted enough, but alongside med-school, I don’t have nearly enough time for that. It’d be impossible, wouldn’t it?

Well, apparently it’s not.

As I’m sure you can all appreciate, the workload for medical school is nothing to be scoffed at. Furthermore, I bet you can also imagine that the dedication and ever-so-precious time required to compete at such a level are tremendous. Hedda’s days, just like us mere mortals, are only 24 hours long – and yet, she somehow manages to dominate two, incredibly competitive fields: Medical school, and professional rowing!

Surely, science – nay -everybody (and most importantly you and I) can benefit from what Hedda has to say regarding time management and coping with stress.

Hedda’s day starts at 04:30 at which point she cycles 30 minutes to the boat-shed to meet her coaches and team-members. She then spends two hours on the water, after which she rides home to get ready for university- all before many of us have woken up in the first place.

Medical-School commitments, on average, span from 09:00-16:00 (and this, of course, doesn’t include the many hours of extra study required).

Hedda’s day is far from over at this point though, and she will then either cycle for another 2 hours or go to the gym. This regimen is only broken up by a rest day on Sunday- though this ‘rest’ usually includes a run or swim (and a whole bunch of study!). This year, Hedda has prioritised her studies, but still trains at this elite level, aiming for selection for the National Training Centre – a rowing program with the purpose of rearing the Olympic team for the 2020 games in Tokyo.

Hedda attributes her success to having established a clear set of priorities and passions which fuel her formidable drive. She says that being stagnant at any point triggers a feeling of wastefulness. When I asked her what advice she could offer for those of us that aspire to make better use of our time, she said that ‘implementing habitual processes, though potentially difficult to start with, will help with stress, time management, and consistency”.

Perspective is a beautiful, albeit often humbling thing. I know that I regularly feel as though there’s not enough time in the week to get all my study done, take care of household chores, eat healthily, exercise, stay in touch with family and friends…well, the list goes on!

After having gained a better understanding of Hedda’s motivation and seeing first-hand what she accomplishes on a weekly basis, I feel inspired to maximise my potential. What’s more, Hedda is one of the most cheerful and approachable people I’ve met. Her schedule, which many might consider “too much” or even a tad crazy, allows her to simultaneously pursue two of her passions and smile widely along the way.

Where will I start? What steps can I take to build and retain habitual patterns that enable me to feel as if I am in control- not constantly trying to catch up with myself? I can see that this is the cause of much of my stress. Organization and commitment is what I need! Scoot over Hedda, I want to get aboard.

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Jonah Parenteau

Jonah Parenteau

Jonah is a first-year medical student at Griffith University currently aspiring towards neurology. In his future practice of medicine, he'll continue to draw inspiration from the notion that "...there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon's knife or the chemist's drug" (Hippocratic Oath)