How Grey’s Anatomy Can Get You Ready for Finals

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CTC medical assisting students Millicent Flannel, right, and Greg Parker alternate taking each other’s vital signs during a training exercise at the program’s facility on Barnette Street in downtown Fairbanks.

I need to start this post with a full disclosure: I have no background in medicine nor do I watch medical procedural dramas (no stomach for it!). But when faced with a deluge of tasks, I often turn to the practice of medical triage as a helpful metaphor to start getting things in order–and to head off skyrocketing blood pressure that comes with end-of-semester stress. 

Basically, triage is about finding the best way to allocate time and resources when they are limited. For doctors, that means prioritizing patient care when there are limited physicians and supplies available, often tending to those who need attention the most and where medical attention will likely have a meaningful outcome. 

Ok, let’s not get too deep into the details of this metaphor because it can get very grim (not what we need while we’re facing down finals). But the basic idea can be transferred to an overwhelming end-of-semester to-do list to great effect. 

Finals and the end of the semester present a time-and-resource limited situation. Our time is limited (only a few weeks to go!). And we only have so much energy and ability to focus on the tasks at hand. It’s not uncommon for there to be many more tasks available than time and resources to complete them. So prioritization is essential to making it through to the end while maintaining our health and wellbeing. 

The “End of Semester Triage” Process

If you really want to dive into this “triage” process, I do have a guided worksheet you can use. But the main idea is to: 1. Account for all the tasks that need to be tended to before the end of the semester. Write them all down or draw them out. Don’t skip this– you need to account for all the “patients” in the room; and 2. Categorize them in order of priority, accounting for how much attention they need and how impactful they are. You can come up with your own categories, but here’s how I like to think of them: 

Critical Tasks: Critical Tasks are the tasks that are absolutely necessary to your success this semester. To determine which tasks are critical, consider which are absolutely key to your learning, as well as achieving the grade you are aiming for.  

Important Tasks: Important Tasks are tasks that will make a major contribution to your success this semester. What tasks will move the needle on your learning and grade? Which tasks are particularly time sensitive? 

Ideal Tasks: Ideal Tasks are the tasks that you would “ideally” like to get to, but are lower priority than critical and important tasks. Ideal tasks will be all of the tasks remaining after you have determined your critical and important tasks. To prioritize your ideal tasks, think about how much time they will take versus the payoff of the worth.

Further Treatment

Just capturing and prioritizing your tasks will set you up for an excellent end-of-semester. But I want to share a couple other refining points: 

What about impossible tasks? 

Unlike medical triage (I assume–again, not a doctor), as university students, “Incompletes” are a thing. If a critical task simply cannot be completed before the end of the semester, the university does have a policy that will allow you extra time. You should definitely be aware of Incompletes as a tool for success, but also be cautious and realistic when considering this option. Will a task that is impossible now truly become possible during the next semester? There are certain requirements you’ll need to meet to be eligible for an incomplete grade and your instructor will make the final decision. This is a really good thing to check in with your advisor about before pursuing. 

Don’t forget to take care of yourself. 

Don’t make the mistake of trying to buy yourself extra “resources” (energy and time) by overloading on coffee (this one I can speak from experience on!). When you are making a plan for your end-of-semester, make sure that you include in reasonable time for sleep, good food, fresh air, and relaxation into your calculations. 

Remember that the end of the semester is also a time to spend time with friends, reflect on the school year, and get excited for things to come. All these “triage” strategies will ideally help you prevent stress from getting in the way of that.Need another tool? I hear some people find a few episodes of Grey’s Anatomy to be “the Ultimate Coping Mechanism.”


  • Elle Fournier

    Instructional Designer
    Elle Fournier is an instructional designer and has been working to increase inclusivity in higher education for over a decade. She holds a Ph.D. in English Rhetoric and Composition and regularly teaches courses on writing, rhetoric, and the digital humanities.

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