A Medical Student Guide On How To Set Up S.M.A.R.T. Goals


“A goal without a timeline is just a dream.” – Robert Herjavec

Successful students have motivation and ambition, but most importantly, they have goals. 

The reason behind their high achievements and future career benefits is the crucial skill for setting and achieving goals. 

But why is this so important? 

Medical students who have a long term vision for their education and career see university as just one step towards fulfilling their dream. They see each course as a part of a greater whole that will help them in future. 

Defining an end target usually leads to creating a detailed plan with medium and short term goals. This approach will help you make better decisions regarding your future. Working through small goals and accomplishing them will keep you inspired, self-driven, and soon you will make your dream a reality.

Prioritising tasks and creating your plan for the future is challenging and quite burdensome. 

This is why we are introducing you to S.M.A.R.T. goals. It is a proven way to clarify your ideas, focus your efforts, use your time wisely, and increase your chances of success. 

  • Definition of S.M.A.R.T.

S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym for a formula that you can use to guide your goal setting. 

In 1981 Management Review published a paper by George T. Doran introducing the new to the world idea – “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives”. In the document, he describes S.M.A.R.T. goals as a tool to create specific criteria and guidelines for improving the chances of success in accomplishing a goal. 

  • What does the S.M.A.R.T. acronym stand for?

S.M.A.R.T. goals are goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. 

  • Specific

As a student, you need to clarify your goals. Otherwise, you won’t be able to focus your efforts and manage your time. To specify how you will accomplish your tasks, you should answer the popular “W” questions:

  • WHO: Who is involved?

Think about who needs to be involved or who can help you achieve your goal. 

  • WHAT: What do I want to accomplish?

Define what you want to accomplish. It will be in your interest to be as detailed as possible.

  • WHERE: Where is it located?

This question may be not relevant if you are settings a personal goal. But if your wish is connected to some particular location, be sure to include it. 

  • WHICH: Which resources are involved?

The answer to this question will help to determine if your goal is realistic or not. You should write down all the requirements and obstacles connected to your goal.

  • WHY: Why is this goal important to me?

It is essential to know the exact purpose of your goal and how it will benefit your future. 

  • WHEN: What is the deadline?

In the “time-bound” section, you will get more specific about the time frame of your goal. However, it will be good practice to include some time-related restrictions in this section too.

Example: “I want to study medicine in English in Europe starting from next year and become a qualified doctor, so I can help patients and have a promising career. ”. This is an example of a long-term goal that should be broken down into multiple medium goals, such as “Finding a medical university in Europe with affordable tuition fees and quality education”.

  • Measurable

This section is dedicated to establishing requirements for how you can measure your progress. So, you need to find out what metrics you will use to determine if you meet your goal. This way, you can keep track of your small steps and be sure that you are following the original idea. 

Example: Let’s say your end goal is to get at least a C on your next Biology exam. You have to set some milestones, such as taking notes of each lecture, review them at least two weeks before the exam, quizzing with my study group once a week, etc. 

  • Achievable

To set unrealistic goals will harm your studies as much as not setting goals at all. It would be best if you are rational and logical about what you want to achieve this semester. Check your resources and be wise with your free time. 

Example: Check the prices of these medical books that you need to buy to pass the exam. Research free online tools and resources that may help you. After that, make sure that you can fit these expenses into your budget.

  • Relevant

Ensure that your goal is addressing your needs. You must see personal and academic benefits from achieving a particular goal.

  • Time-bound

It is best if you set your medium goals for a year or semester, and your short-term goals should be on a weekly/daily basis.  

  • What are S.M.A.R.T. objectives?

S.M.A.R.T. objectives are created based on the 5 major parts of the formula – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. 

By following the established order, you will draft your S.M.A.R.T. goal and be able to break it down into simple tasks that will guarantee your medical degree. 

If you desire to study medicine abroad, the S.M.A.R.T. objectives will be your best friend. Because applying this approach will guide your research. 

In advance, while doing it, you will be prepared for challenges ahead of you, such as accommodation, curriculum, living expenses, and insufficient time to study.

  • How to set S.M.A.R.T. goal

To set a S.M.A.R.T. goal, you need to follow 3 simple steps:

  • Reformat your goal using the S.M.A.R.T. formula
  • Simplify your objective into simple tasks with concrete deadlines
  • Go for it!

Let’s read some examples:

Simple goal: I want to stay healthy during my study medicine abroad journey.

S.M.A.R.T. goal: Medical education is challenging and time-consuming, but I will practice healthy habits to stay as healthy as possible each day. I will go to fitness 3 times a week, and if I don’t have time, I will work out at home for at least 30 minutes. I will take one day during the weekend to buy healthy food and meal prep for the week to keep my diet as healthy as possible. 

Simple goal: I want to have a quick and easy way to study and memorise.

S.M.A.R.T. goal: I will make flashcards with essential information from my notes. On one side of the card, I will write a brief, comprehensive answer, and on the other, the question.

Simple goal: I will pass every exam.

S.M.A.R.T. goal: This semester, I will study and reread every lecture. I will take detailed notes. If I don’t understand some topic I will ask my professors or fellows. Every day I will spend at least two hours reviewing my notes from the previous lectures.

Long-term objectives (MD degree) lead to midterm goals (by semester), which can be further broken down into short-term goals (completing an assignment). Making a list of your objectives might help you think more clearly about what you want to accomplish.

The single most effective approach to stay focused and motivated to achieve your objectives is to plan ahead. Goals help you prioritise your goals and stay focused on your studying medicine education.


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