Students race against time
Columbia, Mo.-It's the night before a test, and Michael Balke has 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 the room," says Balke, 24. "By the time I got home, I didn't even have time to take a shower. I had to go take the test smelling like dead pigs. It didn't go well. I think I got a C."
The lesson, he says, is to prioritize. "I guess I shouldn't have taken the job. The test was more important."
Managing the hours in a day sounds easy, and undergraduate lessons usually teach advanced students to juggle responsibilities well, says Dr. Sarah Abood, student programs coordinator at Michigan State University, College of Veterinary Medicine (MSU-CVM).
But at the graduate level, the workload swells considerably. At the same time, many students marry, have children or work part-time jobs, compounding their daily responsibilities.
"For many veterinary students, the focus shifts in regard to extracurricular activities," Abood says. "Now it starts to become choice management rather 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 Pfaller says stress control is an important tie-in to time management and maintaining overall mental health.
"At this level, students already realize they can't let things slide until 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 than when 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 role of 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 a lot of times I had to put the marriage on the back burner. Students must meet the curriculum requirements so most other things have to take a back seat. 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 an organizational method. I tell students to get their priorities strait as far 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 encourages students to find what works best according to their needs.
"We all do it differently," Cott says. "There isn't one solution."
MSU officials take a more hands on approach. Beginning at orientation, students are invited to hear management experts speak and partake in programs designed to teach efficiency and organizational skills. Time management tips and articles are featured on the university's Web site (see "New kid on the block" Your DVM Career, November 2001).
But despite counseling and expert advice, Balke says experience is the real key to successful time management.
"I've learned how to study and still find time to work out and participate in activities," he says. "Sure, responsibilities cut into your free 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."