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My Problem With ‘Smart Work > Hard Work’

Considering you’re in medical school, you’ve probably heard everything you ever need to about passion, initiative and perseverance. And you’re probably thinking, what more could anyone (especially a novice medic) say on the matter. Is Smart work better than hard work? Or is a combination of both better? Well, the short answer is: It’s both…obviously it’s both. And my longer answer might explain why. I think by now, it’s a universally accepted truth that the more passionate you are about a certain subject or a job, the less it feels like 'hard work.’ I think it’s nearly impossible to disagree with that. But I think with such a massive field like Medicine, where it’s hard to find anyone who’s equally as passionate about all the different medical subjects, hard work is inevitable. Eventually, we’re all going to have to do the boring and difficult stuff in order to graduate and hopefully specialise in something we enjoy/are good at. The story of my life so far has been a story of me learning how to learn and learning how to work hard. During primary school and most of secondary school, I’m not sure I even knew what hard work really meant. As with most students in medical school, as a child, I almost exclusively relied on my so called ‘natural intelligence.’ There was no necessity to work hard until the final secondary school examinations (A-Levels in the UK), so up until then, you could say I was just coasting in 2nd gear. And if you would allow me to continue using this car analogy, before the age of 18, I didn’t think my vehicle even had a 4th or 5th gear. After some failures at the end of my secondary school education (a well-deserved by-product of coasting for too long), a fresh start was needed. In medical school, I had to prove to myself, that I was capable of achieving that ‘potential’ that all my teachers were always reminding me of in after-school detentions. For the 1st two years of my pre-clinical studies, I finally managed to bring myself to a level of discipline that would translate to success in final examinations. I’d attend lectures, review the topics at home, and took hand-written notes while highlighting almost every work in the summarised textbooks. And even though, I wasn’t always on top of the workload, I’d manage to catch up and do whatever it took to cram all the information I needed to barely pass. I thought I cracked the code. After being enlightened by some very popular self-improvement YouTube channels, I discovered I was doing it all wrong. A certain video of Professor Marty Lobdell’s lecture on ‘Study Less, Study Smart’ came to me far too late for my liking but not too late for me to turn things around. Studying smart basically means to be more organised in the way you study. Like someone famous somewhere said ‘Effort is important but knowing where to make an effort makes all the difference.’ Apparently, hard work wasn’t required as much because you’ve already set up a framework for inevitable success. You already know all of these things; obtaining only useful information, active over passive learning, Feynman’s technique, understanding concepts more than memorising facts, and most importantly not cramming. As with most You-Tube study advice, the easy part is to watch the video, the hard part was to apply it. But I set out to do it. 2020. My 3rd year in medical school. Work smart. Work less. Also, it was lockdown, so no excuses like ‘Oh, I had this lesson to go to and this assignment to finish.’ I finally put into action every bit of advice I learnt in those videos. And unsurprisingly, for the first time ever, I wasn’t stressed for an exam, I had complete confidence in my knowledge, and I had more free time during examination period than ever before (even though most of that wasted indoors). There’s no doubt in my mind that working smart in order to finish work in an efficient amount of time improved my educational performance. I am convinced that learning how to learn should be the first thing that’s taught to children worldwide. But here’s my problem with a common misconception. Or at least my initial misconception with smart work. Just because I was working smarter didn’t mean I was always working less. In fact, it felt like I was initially doing more work and the hard work was just dispersed. It wasn’t like I didn’t work hard at all. I still spent the same amount of time, memorising content as I would have done if I hadn’t organised my work. Smart work didn’t replace the hard work, it just made it less stressful. And while I would recommend these study tips to all future students, it wouldn’t matter how smart you study, nothing beats out good-old-fashioned hard work. No point in fancy new tires if you don’t have an engine (sorry for all the car analogies – I’ve been bingeing Top Gear). But all of this has only been based on my experiences so far, maybe I did it wrong, maybe hard work is for losers and the smartest of the human race consider ‘hard work’ a relic of the past.

Arnav Kakar is a 4th-year Medical Student at Palacky University with a keen interest in Orthopaedic Surgery. He is also interested in working with cutting-edge technology in Medicine.

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