There comes a time in every medical student’s life when they realize that the prized study techniques they touted in high school just aren’t cutting it anymore. After the initial honeymoon phase of medical school wears off, you might discover, without warning, that suddenly nothing makes sense. Perhaps you have trouble envisioning how the different subjects you study fit together, or maybe you just never guessed that there could be so much Latin involved in anatomy— as if it wasn’t hard enough already! Getting into the rhythm of medical school can be tough so if you’re struggling to revise and consolidate your knowledge, don’t despair. All you need to do is throw out those old study habits and master a few key skills that will have you acing those dreaded midterms in no time.
Bring out your inner artist.
Anatomy is all about conceptualizing the structure of the human body in an immense amount of detail. While it might initially seem like a mammoth task to have to remember so many fine details, rest assured that a few well-constructed diagrams are the perfect way to bring to focus your blurred theoretical understanding of the subject. If you’re a traditionalist, you may prefer to hand-draw diagrams on paper, but it may be good to occasionally switch things up and try out an online drawing app instead. Many online anatomy apps like Complete Anatomy let you view anatomical models online and then draw directly on them as you revise. Unfortunately, several of the most helpful anatomy and drawing apps can be a little expensive, but it’s worth contacting your medical school to find out if they have subsidized packages for students.
Be an active learner.
It’s no shocker that physiology can seem like one of the most daunting medical school subjects, especially since it involves laws of biophysics and calculations. This subject calls for putting into practice what you learn by attempting practice questions/calculations without looking at your notes— it’s not something that can be rote- learned but, rather, a class that requires active reviewingsion and practical application. So no matter how attractive procrastinating may appear in the moment, resist the urge and put your hours into reviewsing physiology. Go over your notes after each class and don’t forget to also flick through your old notes once in a while— spaced repetition and active recall can work wonders, I promise!
Analyze anything and everything.
Histology is a medical discipline that requires careful analysis and observation. This means that, to secure the top histology grade, what’s most crucial is practicing your analysis skills whenever the opportunity arises. Going over histology slides may seem like a tedious way to spend your time but it will pay off in the long-run. Eventually your eyes will recognize that the tiny dots and squiggles you see are actually macrophages and networks of connective tissue. And if you don’t feel like looking through more histology slides over the weekend, consider analyzing other images or text instead— everyone knows that the best histologists are ‘Where’s Waldo?’ savants. In short, the more you practice your analysis skills, the easier histology will become.
To master pathology, you need a good grounding in other foundational medical school subjects such as anatomy and physiology. This is because you first need to learn how the body functions normally before delving into what can go wrong. So keep reviewsing, draw links between your subjects, and think holistically and broadly as opposed to focusing on one specific disease process or body system. One of the most efficient ways to revise pathology is to draw up mind-maps connecting the different disease states you learn about to changes in normal anatomy and physiology.
Prescribe your way to success.
Pharmacology is, once again, a subject that involves practical application of theoretical concepts, and involves graphs, calculations, and general patient-based questions. One of the most important tenets of pharmacology is that each patient is different in terms of drug absorption, metabolism, and excretion. Essentially, this means you need to take into account their personal health conditions and what you know about potential relevant pharmacotherapies to prescribe your way to success. Remember that you also have access to many online resources like MIMS and the University of Liverpool drug-drug interaction tool if you need extra help.
Have real conversations.
The main way to improve in your medical school psychology/psychiatry courses is to have real conversations with anyone who is willing! Attempt to apply the concepts you learn in class to real life and try your hand at offering some real-time advice. This could simply involve giving your friends or family advice about any problems or challenges they face, or even just offering them some support. The more you are exposed to people from different backgrounds and with different sets of experience, the higher your psychology grade will climb (disclaimer: this is not a scientifically backed correlation).
It’s all in the detail.
Biochemistry can, at the best of times, be painstaking and requires a lot of attention to detail. To pass this course with the best grades, you need to commit to looking at the finer print and learning about discrete processes in a way best suited to your study habits— unfortunately, there is no way around some degree of memorization in this course! The good news is that there are several videos and online learning tools you can use to enhance your understanding and test your knowledge. Maintaining a comprehensive set of notes and thoroughly going over relevant Anki decks might further help consolidate your biochemistry knowledge.
Read the news.
Public health is a medical course that often gets a bad reputation for being “soft.” However, regardless of any preconceived notions you might have, don’t discount the importance of public health. You’ll learn a lot about the principles underlying public health just by reading global health news and staying up to date with medical research. Seeing examples of public health principles applied in real life is probably one of the best, and also easiest, ways to better your grade in this course. Alternatively, if the news is too slow-paced for you, try listening to global health podcasts or joining a public/global health club at your university.
So there you have it! Hopefully these unique and, somewhat unconventional, habits will get you out of your study slump and back into acing medical school.