With my first year under my belt, I’ve found myself in a weird situation: people are actually asking me for advice about med school (I can’t believe I started a year ago). I decided to start this series based on my own journey, since I was always fortunate enough to have mentors tell me about how best to prepare for an exam, or what to watch out for in a class with a reputation for being difficult. It’s only fair that I share some of the things that I believe led to my success this year.
As the year progresses, I’ll be posting guides specifically for each block and how to go from White Coat Woes to White Coat Wows (ba-dum-tch). The posts will be based on my school’s block schedule, so it will most likely vary for your school. Disclaimer: most of the study tips and tricks are applicable to different blocks and I will try to be as specific as possible regarding study strategies, but you should to find your own style and figure out what works for you. Additionally, I’m planning to post some guides for pre-med students as well. Many of my friends from high school and college are in various stages of their medical careers (from premed to med school to residency), so I’ll try to include their perspective whenever possible. The first post, however, is for those who are starting right now.
- How much should I study? – This is entirely dependent on you, but no matter how smart you are or how little you studied in college, med school is exactly like the old adage “like drinking out of a fire hose.” Ask Peter Griffin. If you have poor study habits, fix them. If you have great study habits, make them better. Like fellow med school blogger Mary Ella Wood states, “medical school is like having to eat 10 pancakes a day. If you eat 10 a day, it is manageable. However, if you skip a day and have to eat 20 pancakes the next day, it starts to get difficult.” Procrastinating will catch up to you; believe me, I am a serial procrastinator and I have to actively try to keep up. Study a few hours each day and it will be a piece of (pan)cake. If I can do it, you can do it.
- Do you still have a social life? – Contrary to popular belief, med students are allowed to have fun. Yes, it will be truncated significantly, but there is still time for hobbies and things that make you happy. If you treat school like a full-time job and actively pay attention for the hours that you are in school, you won’t need to play catch up at home. Some people, myself included, take advantage of our lecture recordings and study at home at our convenience. Just make time for your mental health and well-being, too!
- How do you find time for yourself? – Serial procrastinator and over-committer that I am, I thrive on checklists and Google Calendar. One app that I could not live without is Wunderlist, a checklist app that helps me keep track of everything. Both my day-to-day goals and long-term goals go in here, everything from grocery lists to errands to study topics. I get a little dopamine rush from checking things off, so find what works for you.
- What is a typical week like? – Depending if it’s M-W-F or T-Th, the day usually starts with mandatories like our case-based small learning groups (former) or our doctoring class (latter). Those are followed our main block lecture, our biostats/critical appraisal course, or service learning time. Afternoons are spent in “lab” sessions which can either be a second lecture, a practical session/team-based learning assessment, or time in the anatomy lab for dissections. From 3pm onward, you have free rein, more or less. Once a week I’m either in student clinic seeing a patient or at a satellite rotation at an outpatient affiliate. Other afternoons, I might be at a service learning site. The other time that’s blocked off is “self-directed learning” which you can use for studying *ahem* or for completing other tasks. I confess to using it for gym time, cooking, and the occasional Netflix, but as long as you stay on top of studying, it’s a nice time cushion to have.
- What did you find was the hardest thing to adjust to? – The rigor of med school is no joke, and even for someone with good coping mechanisms, the stress can sneak up on you. For those who are entering straight out of undergrad or who are coming back from the workforce, adjusting to the pace can be difficult. Most med schools offer student support services like peer tutoring or counseling, for free or at a low cost. If you feel like you need these services, use them. You don’t need to be a hero. Outside of that, find time to enjoy yourself and do things that make you happy. Sometimes, that means taking the afternoon off to call your parents or friends, or go for a run, or watching a few episodes of your favorite series. Here’s an article from the AAMC about stress and suicide in medical education. It’s only going to get more stressful from here, so please make sure you’re taking care of yourself.
- What other advice do you have for a new med student? –
- Stick to a budget. Don’t buy useless crap. Ice cream is ok.
- Stay in your lane. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. There is no golden bullet for med school!
- On top of academics, try to learn something new every day/practice a skill every day. Like, you should really learn to cook.
I don’t know if this is sending mixed messages, but don’t stress too much. You made it this far and you should celebrate your accomplishments. Just be sure to self-monitor and ask for help when you need it. Best of luck to the incoming class, welcome to med school!