Imagine a 5-year-old driving a car on an icy, sloppy, mountain…during an avalanche. Well, that was me years ago, 2 months into med school. Thinking I would pass exams with the same effort I had put into schoolwork previously, I quickly realized that I was setting myself up for failure. In the midst of an avalanche, I had to readjust and integrate hard-to-swallow truths into my life. Some of them came naturally, and some, I had to learn the hard way. Here are a few:
- You’ll be overwhelmed with the amount of information
- Strategy of learning
- Your education, your responsibility
- Support yourself and your peers
- Make mistakes
- Medicine is not everything
- Have the right vision of what type of physician you want to be
1.You’ll be overwhelmed with the amount of information
Learning medicine is not easy, but it most certainly is do-able. With the overwhelming amount of information you have to learn in a fast-paced environment, efficiency is key. In my first semester, I bought books that were worth thousands of dollars. However, I quickly realized that I wasn’t getting the information I needed digging through complicated, hard-to-read, reference books. I found myself reaching for student-centered resources that made the material digestible and enjoyable to read!
With that being said, it’s important to realize that you’re surrounded by students who have been there before. Your seniors know which resources fit your curriculum best, so don’t be afraid to ask for help.
2. Strategy of learning
By the time you’ve reached med school, you probably have an idea of what type of learner you are. You can adjust how you learn, but do not throw away the methods that work best for you. I was so consumed by how everyone around me was learning that I changed my study methods trying to be like everyone else. I needed to be true to myself: I am a visual learner. By that, I mean, I have to draw biochemistry pathways several times and watch videos with drawings/animations and voice-overs so it can stay in my memory. Some of my friends were audio learners, so they often listened to podcasts and taught the material to other fellow students. This wouldn’t have ever worked for me. If you don’t know what your learning style is, don’t worry. Experiment throughout the first couple of months of school, you’ll eventually find the one.
3. Your education, your responsibility
I started med school at the tender age of 17. I know, young. In my country, studying medicine requires 5-7 years of education. Throughout the first few months of med school, I had to evolve from that teen who ran home to catch up on Grey’s Anatomy, scrolled endlessly through Tumblr, and re-read as many Dan Brown, Percy Jackson, and The Hunger Games books as humanly possible to a well-rounded, competent student.
Don’t get me wrong, now that I’ve graduated, I would still sit down and rewatch all 17 seasons of Grey’s anatomy if given the opportunity. However, I learned early on, that signing up to study medicine is a huge responsibility and the oath to deliver the best care to your patients starts the very first day of med school. I urge you to make sure to allocate sufficient time and effort to understand, learn, and apply medicine correctly. After all, you are a future physician and you will be making life-changing decisions for real-life patients! So for the next few years of school, put medicine as your priority for the sake of your future patients.
4. Support yourself and your peers
Unarguably, you’ll be spending the majority of your time around your peers and colleagues during the next coming years. It is important to have a supportive environment where you can be evaluated fairly and thrive. Now, granted, while you can’t predict what kind of work/study environment you’ll be in, that shouldn’t stop you from creating a comfortable space around you and your peers. For instance, a cup of coffee to your senior intern at the hospital could certainly brighten their day. Or, offering a hand to help your colleague when needed during rounds. In a field of studies that require so much mental energy and emotional support, these small acts of kindness can go a long way.
5. Make mistakes
In med school, you’re competing with above-average students, just like yourself. You’ve all put the work to get in, but this means the competition is on a new level. With that being said, you shouldn’t be afraid to make mistakes. You’re meant to make them, this is how you learn. You’ll have bad grades, you’ll mess up presenting your patient’s history to your team, you’ll make the wrong diagnosis and suggest the wrong treatment. But dwelling on what you should and shouldn’t have done is not productive. Instead, acknowledge your mistakes, learn from them, and most importantly, be kind to yourself and move on.
6. Medicine is not everything
Although easier said than done, try to explore your interests outside of medicine. Now, I may be biased, but I’ve always said doctors have the best personalities and are the most passionate about their hobbies. For instance, my family doctor loves photography. I know that because in one of my appointments I casually mentioned that I’m going on an overseas trip with friends. His eyes lit up, and told me to make sure I capture as much as I can of the trip on camera..preferably on a polaroid…the manual one not the app on your phone, you know, because it’s more authentic, and tangible handheld photographs are more cherishable and because-
nevermind you get it. Find a hobby you love!
Now, I understand, while studying the ins and outs of anatomy and tracing biochemistry pathways for the millionth time, it’s hard to find the silver lining sometimes. It’s important, though, to learn how to take care of yourself; especially now, as a student, before you become an attending, or else you will not be presenting the best version of yourself to your patients who need you the most!
I say this because we often overlook the mental health topic in the healthcare community. Although now it’s not so much of a taboo subject, the conversations are not enough. I encourage you to always find a moment of solitude in your day. If you’re religious or not; pray or meditate, center your mind, and bring yourself to ground level whenever you feel overwhelmed. Find your way to getting rid of negative energy whether it’s writing it down or paper, talking to a friend, or a therapist.
7. Have the right vision of what type of physician you want to be
Early on in med school, one of my surgery doctors always said “create the right vision of the type of doctor you want to be, and work towards that”. For the first few semesters, I thought he meant to find what specialty we should consider, but after observing him in rounds and the little hints he would drop on us, I realized he was teaching us how to be compassionate doctors. Now, to be compassionate means many things to many people, but it all boils down to this quote by Francis Peabody, “The secret of the care of the patient is in caring for the patient.” Whether it’s empathy or going the extra mile to make sure your patient is receiving the best care, the outcome will always be favorable to both ends. Observe closely your doctors’ manners and attitude around patients, you’ll discover the most humanitarian people.
Finally, medicine is a wonderful journey. The ride may be bumpy at first but the journey is rewarding. So, create a solid foundation, build the right intentions, and enjoy the ride!