Where are those knitting needles, again?

Where are those knitting needles, again?

Harry D’Souza
President, Western Australian Medical Students’ Society

Friday 6 September 2019


It’s two months from exams, and I’m in the library being taught valuable skills from a fellow classmate. It involves two needles and plenty of patience. No, it’s not phlebotomy. It’s the art of making a blanket.


The technique is simple. You wrap the wool around the needle, spinning it as it goes until the hook catches it to make the next chain. To make corners, you do three throws, and then skip two, until the wool bends slightly towards you.


Some may say that making blankets is not a good use of study time. I think otherwise.


Hobbies and entrepreneurship abound in the medical course.


Tom Carello (MD4) hopes to open a dessert shop after graduating and spends his spare time creating masterful dishes that would fit right in on the set of MasterChef.


Shin Thian (MD4) capitalises on the Perth vogue for vintage clothing by purchasing and re-selling shirts, and has become somewhat of a local celebrity amongst boutique stores throughout the city.


Emma Lu (MD3) and Georgia Hirsch (MD4) are halfway through creating blankets, which they will donate to family members after they’re made. 


In a course as intense as medicine, why are so many students picking up the needles, cutlery and keyboards when they should be hitting the books? Do the procrastinators know something we don’t?


Research supports the procrastinators. Hobbies have been shown to protect against stress, foster social connectedness, and can lead to improved productivity by helping us structure our time more effectively.


In fact, studies have even shown that spending time on hobbies has no adverse effect on grades among medical students. Improved mental health with no hit to grades? A win-win by all accounts.


Yet despite the benefits, the reality is that many students don’t have hobbies outside the classroom. With 58.5 per cent of male and 68.3 per cent of female medical students in Australia agreeing with the statement that “studies control my life, with little time for other activities”, maybe we should be investigating why students feel this way.


From my perspective, I often feel too busy to maintain interests outside of medicine. I’m probably not alone. Fulltime placements are time-consuming, and that’s before all the extra study, compulsory tutorials, volunteer work, paid employment and extra-curriculars come in. Then there is pressure to not only pass exams, but to do well, and before long, we are left with a difficult choice of how to spend our leisure time – do we sleep, socialise, or pursue a creative interest? Pick one.


Are we right to believe that medicine is all work, no play? Parkinson’s law states that “work will expand to fill the time available”, and I question whether most of us are as busy as we think.


More likely, we give ourselves inefficient timelines to work on that give the impression of busyness at the cost of productivity. I’ve spent many nights slowly working on projects that could have taken me half as long if I’d only planned my time better.


From my experience, the belief that we have no time for leisure activities is not only inaccurate, it is harmful, and we should challenge it where we can.


Navigating the many facets of student life is a difficult and time-consuming process. It’s deceptively easy to become absorbed in the conveyor belt of career progression. Yet having a life outside of medicine is critical to our general wellbeing. With time, we may come to realise that our trivial pursuits are actually the most important parts of our busy lives. If so, we should nurture these interests with the same level of careful love and attention that we do our medical training.


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