Imagine: Medical school is about to start. You are excited to embark on a journey that has been your life’s passion, but at the same time nervous about how you are going to do all of it. Here is what you should know before going into medical school.
- Enjoy Your Summer before Medical School
- College is Different from Medical School
- Adaptability is Key
- Seek Advice
- Focus on What Truly Matters
- Make a List of What you Need
- Be Comfortable of Not Knowing Everything
- Balance Your Life
Enjoy Your Summer before Medical School
It was one of the first pieces of advice I got when I asked what I can do to prepare for medical school. And I agree with it because after medical school starts, your time off will be limited. It is important to not get overworked before medical school, otherwise you might risk the chance of getting burned out early. In addition, your holidays will be limited, so it is best to make the most of your spare time before the start of the school year. Here are some ideas:
- Spend time with your family and friends, especially if you are going to medical school far from home.
- Start a creative project
- Start a new hobby or revive a old one
College is Different from Medical School
Be prepared to change your study strategy because college is different from medical school. In medical school, the sheer volume of material is a lot and it can become easy to fall behind. There is a common phrase called ‘balancing your pancakes’. I remember walking out of my first day of anatomy lecture brain shocked by the amount of content in just one lecture.
During undergrad, my study strategy was different. I spent a lot of time taking handwritten notes and a week before an exam my friends and I would go over the material together everyday. When I entered medical school, I quickly realized that this was not enough. I had to add active learning strategies like practice questions and daily study buddy sessions in order to help me absorb a lot of information in a short amount of time.
Adaptability is Key
A lot of times, things will not go according to schedule. Especially during this pandemic, many students can relate to this. For each class and professor, your study strategy may change. For me, especially in my first year, it was common to have a new professor each month. I had to adjust based on the advice of my upperclassmen and each professor’s teaching style.For some classes that were more challenging, I had a peer tutor.
Upperclassmen are a valuable resource with the ins and outs of medical school. They can be valuable resources. That being said, take every advice with a grain of salt. For example, for biochemistry, some upperclassmen explained that they just used the Kaplan videos to study for the exams and they did really well. Although Kaplan videos are helpful, they weren’t enough for me. I needed to go to office hours and discuss the material with the professor. I am grateful that my professor was enthusiastic and loved it when students came to his office hours.
Focus on What Truly Matters
Everyone has their own priorities. As a medical student, your physical, mental and emotional health should come first. This is essential, as having a healthy mind and body will help you learn and retain in medical school. Please do not sacrifice your health.
That being said, you are bound to make sacrifices. You may miss friends and family special occasions, and you may feel others back home are moving on in life while you are stuck. You are following your own path. Focus on learning as much as you can in the next four years because your only job is to study to become the best possible physician. Take advantage of the time you have to learn, as this is time you may not have in residency or as an attending.
Make a List of What you Need
There are certain things you may need to get or know off before medical school. Here are some of the items that can be helpful to get before medical school starts:
- Blood Pressure Cuff
- Ipad/tablet (a lot of my classmates used it to take notes, but I didn’t need it. It is truly a personal choice)
- If you are not using a tablet/ipad, bring some notebooks and multiple colored pens and highlighters. My favorite pens are the 0.25 Pigma Micron ones which are thin enough to annotate in your notes or books
Be Comfortable Not Knowing Everything
Usually the person who thinks they know everything doesn’t. Medicine is a learning process. It can be overwhelming when there is so much information and little time to absorb it.
Take each day step by step and keep going. Ask the right questions and have discipline in your routine. Out of observation, I have noticed that the people in the top of their field are still reading and keeping updated on new research. The learning never stops. But it is up to you to find a strategy that works for you to find the best way to learn and absorb concepts throughout the journey.
Balance your Life
Balance looks different for everyone. It is important to know that you will be studying hard and there is no shortcut into the work you have to put in to succeed in medical school. That being said, it is a myth that you need to be studying all day without breaks. In fact, studies have shown that interval purposeful breaks between five to sixty minutes enhances productivity more than studying for long periods of time in one go.
Find something to do outside of medicine during your breaks. It could be as simple as going for a walk, enjoying a hobby or catching up with friends. Anything that can get your mind interacting with the world in a different way will help refresh you for when you go back to studying.