Whenever you ask someone about medical school, you tend to walk away feeling down and hope you never have to be in their shoes. For those of us who are committing to a future in medicine, let me first tell you that medical school is quite manageable. In fact, I had more fun in my first year then I did all of college! Here are 5 tips that I’ve used to help in succeeding in medical school and make it an enjoyable experience.
1.Routinely revisit your priorities:
Never let the busy lifestyle of a med student force you to distance yourself from your priorities. Plan ahead on how you’ll incorporate them into your day. I’ll list examples of priorities I had and how I managed to fit them in.
Priority 1: Family and Loved One
Medical school was the first time I moved away from home. It was odd not seeing my family every day, but I addressed the distance apart by making sure to Skype home every night. Along with using Skype, I would preschedule, often on a bimonthly basis, to go home to Austin for the weekend. I know my family and loved ones appreciated seeing me on a routine basis. More importantly, these trips back home and the nightly Skype calls always reinforced the kind of support system I had in my corner.
Priority 2: Hobbies
I love fitness and sports. Thus on Sunday mornings I would schedule my workouts for the week. Once it was on my Google Calendar, it would require something extremely important for me to move it. Similarly, when there was important NBA or NFL going on I would block off the time. This continued to allow me to enjoy my hobbies without the feeling of guilt that I should be studying. (This feeling will never go away)
Priority 3: How well did I want to do in school?
Now I add this as more of questions vs. a priority, but the answer to this helps shape how you approach your priorities. I’m fortunate enough to attend a school that is Pass/Fail, instead of being on A/B/C/F grading scale, for the first 1.5 years of school. This means that during my first year I was less concerned about getting an A and instead trying to learn the material as best I could. My approach was simply to evaluate any discrepancies between how well I thought I understood the material and my grade. For example, I thought I grasped the information during our cardiology block well, but my score did not reflect that. After reviewing the questions and answers, it was clear that I needed to make some changes to my studying methods. (I managed to do better on following blocks!)
2. Schedule the fun things first!
This is one of my favorite tips for anyone struggling emotionally during school. The routine thing to do in med school is to figure out what parts of the day you’ll be studying and then try to find time for you. Why not instead schedule time for you first?
Enjoy running? Then schedule an outdoor run before you plan out your studying?
Does thinking about running make you sick and you rather study instead? Well perhaps schedule time to read or watch your favorite TV show!
Going back to my hobbies, I enjoy going to the gym and working out. Thus I would schedule my workouts before I would schedule my school work. This allowed me to wake up and look forward to something vs. feeling like I had no other choice but to hit the books. On certain days of the week my favorites show would be on. Tuesdays would be The Flash, Thursdays would be The Big Bang Theory, and Saturdays would always be Longhorn football (Hook em’!). I would put these in my Google Calendar first, and then figure out when I would study.
Replace working out and TV with whatever you wish, but you should never wake up not having anything to look forward to.
3. Have 6 hours to study? Finish it in 4!
If you know me well, then you know me as someone who values productivity and efficiency. This is where the idea of Parkinson’s Law comes into play.
Parkinson’s Law states that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. A fancy way to say that the more time you allow yourself for a task the more complex and time consuming it seems.
First judge how long it’ll take you to review the day’s lectures or to finish your flashcards. Then take away anywhere from 0.5-2 hours from the time allotted. You’ll find that you’ll stray away from the inefficient study methods that filled that extra time.
In the end, the goal is to have more time for yourself!
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4. Give yourself time off:
Sometimes the best thing to do as a med student is to not be one for a day of the week. This could be all of a Friday, a day during the weekend, or even the entire weekend! Select a day or a few evenings and refuse to let yourself feel guilty for not studying. These are magical days to recharge!
Everyone will also come across a day where all motivation is lost and you notice yourself not making any progress. Sometimes the best way to get out of a slump is to walk away, do something else, and return with a fresh mind. Always take care of yourself and be aware of your mental health.
5. Apply what you learn:
A common complaint of the preclinical years is learning medicine from books instead of patients. In addition, we feel like we’re just memorizing information. When will possibly every apply all that information?
A great way to find out what’s useful is to volunteer at local clinics. Many medical school have student-run clinics and allow med students to take a history, do an exam, and come up with a plan for the patient.
I’ll likely never forget how to do a neuro exam after performing one on a patient with a severe concussion or a patient likely developing Alzheimer’s. More importantly, I learned how to explain the medical jargon to my patients and give them confidence that they were under the care of a great medical team. I truly believe that books teach you medicine, but patients teach you how to become a doctor.
Finally, here is an extra tip that I highly suggest and urge you to at least try:
6. Wake up an hour or two early:
Wait what? Am I saying that you need to learn to live on less sleep? No – although this is a side effect of being in the healthcare field. Hear me out first. If you tend to wake up at 7:30 every morning, then try to wake up at 6:30 or even 5:30!
The reason? You’ll have an hour or two extra at the start of the day to get work done that you otherwise would be doing at the late hours of the afternoon or evening.
Now at the end it’s the same amount of hours worked. But what I found amazing about the early hours is that I accept being a little sleepy and get work done. If I was to do the same work in the afternoon after classes, I would become convinced I’m tired enough for a nap.
Now the effect? I’ve found myself being able to finish studying often at 6 or 7PM (sometimes even 5)! That was an extra 3-4 hours to enjoy my evening! It’s definitely worth a try, and has helped me better incorporate the tips listed above.
Hope you enjoyed this post about succeeding in medical school.
If you managed to make it this far you deserve a medal! 🙂 Try to incorporate each of these tips and see how they help you! The goal is to not only succeed in medical school, but also enjoy it. I’ll continue to post advice about making the most of medical school, so be on the lookout! Comment below and let me know what you think.
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Hope you enjoyed this post!
Until next time my friend…