Office of Academic Support & Counseling

Dealing with Study Burnout

Study burn out is a reality in medical school. Factors leading to study burn out are piles of school work, lack of sleep, poor eating habits, concurrent family demands, limited or no physical exercise, poor time management and unrealistic goals. Study burnout results from emotional and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress of all or any of these factors. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest or motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place. Study burnout reduces your productivity and saps your energy, and may leave you feeling increasingly hopeless, powerless, cynical, and resentful.

Because study burnout does not  happen overnight — and it’s difficult to fight once you’re in the middle of it, it is important to recognize the early signs of burnout and head it off. Study burnout usually has its roots in stress, so the earlier you recognize the symptoms of stress and address them, the better chance you have of mitigating burnout.  


Become familiar with the symptoms in advance. They include:

  • long term fatigue
  • intellectual exhaustion
  • inability of the brain to absorb more information
  • an unwillingness to study further
  • a decline in academic performance
  • apathy toward educational topics

The earlier you are able  identify your own  warning signs of study burnout, the better because then it will be easier to handle the situation especially if there is an impending deadline just around the corner.

Practical Tips to help in avoiding study burnout and extending academic performance

  • If the course textbook is 800 pages long, don't try reading the whole thing if you don't have time. Understand what the teacher or professor wants and focus your studying on that. Studying unneeded material could cause you to study less on the required information and overly fill your brain as the brain has limits.
  • Pay attention in lectures and take notes you know will become useful when you study. Taking overly messy notes won't help. Just write down what you think will be on exams and useful in term papers.
  • Try not to procrastinate and leave everything to the last minute, it can be overwhelming to cram and learn everything in one night.
  • Ask other students and the professor what tests will be on. Try to squeeze out information from them in a polite way. This will save you much time in studying.
  • Get adequate sleep. There is no point studying when overly tired as the information won't be retained as well. Coffee can be helpful in moderation after which it can become counter productive or simply ineffective. Drink coffee within reason to extend study time but don't push for too long.

Time management is essential!

  • Pace yourself. Trying to do it all at once is too much. Your mind and body will inform you of this. So, take breaks. For example, if you study for 2 hours, take a 15-minute or so break. Get out of the room. Go for a walk. Eat something healthy. If you prefer to study for 4 hours take an hour off and eat something healthy. In either case, if you find that your break time is not enough, take an extra 5 or 10 minutes per break.
  • However, you study you have to break the rhythm so that your head can clear and rest. Don't allow yourself to be persuaded to abandon study during the breaks. Always set a time limit and stick to it.
  • Begin studying early. Start studying for tests as soon as you move into new material.
  • When possible study with someone who is committed to academic success. This will keep the person for always trying to get you to quit studying and go out somewhere. It also will assure that he or she brings good notes and materials to the study sessions that should complement your own.
  • Be realistic in your expectations from study.
  • Medical students need to take time to look at what is realistically possible versus what they would want in an ideal situation.