If you’ve been here before, you know I have a penchant for all things analog.
Starting with my fourth grade pen pal and spilling over into everything else – my love for handwritten letters, taking notes with pen and paper and reading actual textbooks instead of eBooks – I remember being worried when I started medical school that this wouldn’t be something I was able to maintain. How would I take notes for so many classes? Would I really be able to read and highlight all my textbooks? How would I even afford all of these textbooks so that I could read and highlight them? I shuddered when I thought of the sheer quantity of reading and lectures that I would have to get through each week.
So I didn’t even try! What? I know. For all my pretty words and insistence on handwritten everything, I gave in to the peer pressure and believed every article I saw written on reddit and medical school and brought my laptop into my first few classes. I found I was disgruntled. There were days my word processor didn’t want to load. There were times that the PowerPoints or notes weren’t editable, so I’d end up having to switch back and forth on screen. And the worst days were the days that I absentmindedly left my charger at home or couldn’t find an outlet to plug into. You don’t have to charge notebooks and pens, I thought to myself after that first week. And so, I gave in to my first love and began the next week in earnest, awash in my love of analog. If you still don’t believe me, here’s why I still (even after taking my licensure exams) take notes on paper.
#1 It forces you to be more mentally present
Personally, I’ve found that writing on paper gives me less of a chance to zone out. Typing and staring at a screen have an air of routine to them – you type, you don’t have to look at the keyboard, autocorrect changes your spelling mistakes for you and you essentially can go back and edit whatever drivel you typed in your frenzy to catch up to your lecturer! I find that because I’m actively thinking while I write, I’m listening with greater attention and that I retain more at the end of every lecture!
#2 It gives you a greater conceptual understanding of what you’re doing
In terms of the bigger picture, writing has often helped me attain a greater understanding of the concepts that I’m working on. Especially in classes that require you to “see” things – like biochemistry cycles, biostatistics graphs, anatomical relationships – drawing them and writing them down helps me to form a mental picture of that concept. It helps me process spatial relationships that I can’t just imagine and gives me the chance to pick apart parts of these concepts I don’t understand. It’s like having my very own mental zoom, in order to look at the parts of a problem or a concept that I’m having difficulty comprehending and though it takes a little extra time, it is always worth the investment!
#3 It helps you to create your own study system that is consistent
My note-taking really helped me to curate my own consistent study system and study habits because I wanted to make sure that I took my notes in the same way for each class so that they remained organized and retained the ability to be used as references as I advanced in my career. A consistent study system and habits really helped me build my mental stamina and tolerance for the hours I needed to put into studying for the Step examinations and I credit a lot of that to this mental note-taking practice that I put myself through in my early years of medical school.
#4 It allows you to mentally organize information and form a strong knowledge base
When you create your own system, you end up, inevitably, with your own method of organizing this information and storing it in your brain! One of the most important things in our development as young doctors is the formation of a strong theoretical foundation and creating these notes for ourselves, reading them and reviewing them allows us to do just that. When we create a system that’s wholly our own, we are familiar with its ins and outs and in essence, become the most familiar with our learning style and how our brain uses, stores, applies and synthesizes information. This translates well even into clinical practice, as we accrue information about our patients and have to continuously add and adjust our knowledge regarding their cases while we simultaneously adjust our treatment and management. Start strong, finish stronger!
#5 It makes you intentional
When I write, I’m more cognizant of what I’m doing. I have to be intentional about what I’m writing down, I make sure to spell things correctly and arrange things in a way that I can understand them better. Even more than the practical applications, I think there is even a greater intentionality when I’m writing because I’m creating these notes in my notebook with the intention of being sure that I’m able to review them later. What I’m writing has a purpose. What I’m doing has a purpose. And in the end, I know that what I’m creating with my pen, pencil and paper is being made in order to help me become the best physician that I can be. That intention carries through and really helps me focus on my why, which I believe really lends to my moral and my attitude towards studying – it becomes less a chore and more an art.
Still don’t believe me? Pick up your favorite pen and pencil. Write down something you want to accomplish today. Write something you are grateful for. And write down your goal for the year. And then watch as you make it happen.