How I optimized my life as a medical student

How I Optimized My Life As A Medical Student

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Life as a medical student was brutal with the number of hours required for studying and the information expected to be mastered. Test after test was coming my way, and stress levels were through the roof.

I heard about scary stories coming into medical school and I thought I could beat them. I was wrong. My first semester absolutely sucked. That is until I fixed these things.

In this article, I’m going to talk about how I optimized my life as a medical student in the most efficient way possible. I hope you can use these for your medical journey as well.

Let’s get into it!

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My name is Lakshya, and I’m an internal medicine board certified physician, and now currently a cardiology fellow. Here at TheMDJourney, we make content to help people like you succeed and crush it on your medical journey, but doing it with less stress.

I’m going to share the core things that made the biggest difference in terms of optimizing my overall performance as a medical student.

The first and the last thing that I’ll talk about are things I still do to this day as a cardiology fellow.

Tip #1 Turn Your Weaknesses Into Systems

Every student, regardless of what journey they are on, face some big challenges. For most students, especially the ones that I work with, it happens to be some form of issues with studying or learning.

It’s tough to take in a bunch of information and remember it all for tests or exams.

But while studying and learning are common weaknesses for most students, it’s not the only one. In fact, there are students who do really well in terms of retention, but suck at other important aspects of being an effective medical student.

These are things like time management, motivation, managing your stresses, as well as taking care of yourself.

One of the most important things to do early on as a medical student is to identify the things you’re not so good at, and what would make things easier if you were a bit better at it.

And yes, most students will say that they consider studying as something they are weak at. Maybe you wish you could memorize the chapters of the syllabus better, or you wish you could go into test day with less anxiety. If that got better, your grades would too.

Ask yourself: What simple systems should I implement to make the syllabus chapter more digestible and the anxiety go down?

Here’s an example of  how I implemented this for my studying:

About three months into medical school, my typical system was going to lecture, writing things in an outline, making my outline look a little bit prettier, and then coming home and trying to review my outline as best as possible.

How I optimized my life as a medical student (studying)

During the first semester of medical school, I had multiple classes, including anatomy, biochemistry, cell biology, and histology. Thus, I had more outlines than I actually had time to review.

I knew I needed to improve that system. I thought if I could find a quick and easy way to remember stuff instead of writing and reading those crazy long outlines, my learning would improve.

That is how I switched to the flashcard system that made my medical school life a lot easier. Using flashcards or Anki is actually the most popular episode that we have on YouTube. If you’re interested, you can watch it here:

That is just one example of me figuring out where I was struggling in my studies. For me, it was about taking information from the lecture and turning it into something I can review later. I found a really effective and easy way by making flashcards.

For some students, it’s about struggling to review and remember what they learned a couple of weeks later when there’s a quiz or a test. Ask yourself what skills and techniques would help you with that.

Being a good medical student is not just about studying well. When you’re identifying your weaknesses, ask yourself questions such as:

  • How good is my time management?
  • How well do I plan ahead to make sure that things on my to-do list are always getting done?
  • How well am I keeping up with my motivation and minimizing my stress levels?
  • How well am I managing outside stressors in my life?

Those are all big boulders in our medical school journey that we need to tackle to keep moving forward.

Here’s another example. Just like most medical students, I struggled with motivation within the first few months because I feel like I had no time for myself.

So, I came up with a simple system: I made sure to do things I cared about at least once a day before diving into studying.

I scheduled my workouts at 6:00 AM or 7:00 AM before going to school. That way, I got my workout in and felt like I was taking care of something important to me before focusing on medical school.

That was some simple shift right there, but both my motivation and my physical fitness went up. That’s just another simple implementation of how I turned a weakness into a system that allowed me to be an effective student and stay fit.

[Free Download] Want to have everything you need to be a top student on your medical journey? Get FREE access to our Med School Success Handbook to get 60+ tips including the best study, time management, mindset tips you need to be a top student. Download it here. 

Tip #2 Get Wins In The Morning

The second tip is understanding how important it is to get wins in the morning.

Most medical students follow a routine: they wake up, go through their morning rituals, go to school or watch online lectures. They get the information through typing notes, highlighting, and writing things on flashcards or on PowerPoint. However, their day doesn’t start until about 3:00 PM or 4:00 PM when they get home and attempt to review that information, or prepare upcoming quizzes or tests.

From the time you wake up to the time that you get home and get ready to do some actual work, there’s a lot of room for error or things that could derail you.

You may have a quiz or test in the morning that just drains you and demotivates you from wanting to study, or just any unpleasant experience within the day.

You may come home hoping that you’re going to be productive and achieve your optimal results, but you’re just so dependent and at a whim for that first half of the day. It could be very boring for most students because it’s very lecture heavy.

On the flip side, one simple thing that I did as a medical student was simply to ask: Can I wake up 30, 60, or 90 minutes earlier and get some wins done for the day?

I already talked about how I scheduled my workouts before going to school and be a medical student. I was able to workout and get my fitness in the first 20 to 60 minutes of my day. And that was one win.

Morning routine as a cardiologist fellow (workout)

And then usually I would go into the most effective study strategy that helped my retention. Again, for me, that’s flashcards.

If you are interested to know the exact technique that I used with flashcards, check out this article: How To Use Anki In Medical School

It didn’t need to be crazy. With just 10 to 20 minutes of flashcards, my retention went up and I learned things better.

Maybe I would also review materials that I missed the night before, then hit my workout, and finally, dive into studying or attending lectures.

Even if the rest of the day was utter crap, the lecture sucked and I was demotivated when I got home, I knew for a fact that I achieved something in the morning. 

This helped me build momentum for the afternoon, reminding me of what I’d accomplished and spurring me to keep going. Why not continue to do that and feel high from the experience?

Even if the day doesn’t go amazingly well, you’ve already become victorious by all the work that you’ve done before most students wake up for the day.

If you find yourself immediately diving into medical school mode upon waking up, consider adjusting your wake-up time slightly to squeeze in a few wins before fully immersing yourself in your studies.

Tip #3 Be Reflection Focused

One of the most important things that I felt helped me on my medical journey is being reflection focused.

If you’re going through a journey as tough as medicine where you have so many tests, stressors, and years of sacrifice, you might as well make sure that the experience is not just defined by the next exam or the next grade.

Personally, how fondly and positively I see my medical school experience not only depends on accolades or grades, but it is much more dependent on the experiences and reflections upon them.

These could be cool interactions with patients and building rapport with them, learning about remarkable diagnoses and actually seeing them in the clinics or on my rotations, seeing some amazing surgeries, and memorable experiences with my colleagues, friends, and mentors.

How I optimized my life as a medical student (reflection focused)

I wanted to remember those moments and I made a conscious effort to cherish them. These are the experiences that remain etched in my memory to this day.

But even with that level of reflection, the takeaways, and how positively I see medical school, I recognize there were still missed opportunities.

Like many students, I sometimes found myself focusing on the wrong things, whether it was the next exam that ultimately didn’t matter or the accolades that I thought were going to look good on my CV.

In reality, there are so many missed opportunities that would have made the experience richer, like focusing more on the patients that I interacted with and the pearls that my attendings taught me.

So, take a moment each day to ask yourself:

  • What are the big takeaways from today?
  • What are the experiences that I want to remember, both good and bad?
  • What adjustments can I make for tomorrow?
  • How could I make every day as a medical student a little bit richer?

And if you do this, more often than not, I promise you that regardless how hard the journey may have been for you, how hard it was to become a doctor or to learn medicine, all those reflections and those experiences are going to make you feel that it was worth it.

[Free Download] Want to have everything you need to be a top student on your medical journey? Get FREE access to our Med School Success Handbook to get 60+ tips including the best study, time management, mindset tips you need to be a top student. Download it here. 

Tip #4 Weekly Optimization

Now, I want to talk about something that I used to optimize my life both as a medical student back then and a cardiology fellow today.

Most students, myself included during my early days in medical school, often focus on day-to-day tweaks or minor adjustments that ultimately don’t move the needle significantly.

For instance, you might struggle in a tough class, switch to a different resource, and hope for improvement. But in reality, the problem is not the resource, but the fact that you don’t get enough repetitions to truly retain difficult information.

But if you’re so into the day-to-day, you can’t see the forest from the trees. This is why having a weekly optimization system is crucial as a medical student to make sure you’re always making progress.

How I optimized my life as a medical studnet (progress)

For me, this meant setting aside time every Saturday to reflect on the following questions:

  • What went well?
  • What things do I need to improve?
  • What are one or two small actions I can take this upcoming week to make that improvement?

Usually, this meant that if I didn’t get a grade that I wanted, maybe I could adjust the study resources, my learning methods, or increase repetitions. I’d implement these changes for a week, then reflect again.

But if I was struggling with other aspects of my life like time management or relationships, I would identify two things that I’m going to try in the upcoming week to make improvements, and then reflect the next week.

Imagine doing this for four years.

You can easily surpass not only your aversion from the week before, but all of your other classmates who are only focused on the next exam, quiz, or evaluation.

You’re asking questions not only about tomorrow or the next week, but you constantly use each experience you’ve had from the weeks and the years behind you to become a version of yourself that you might not even recognize in two to three years.

The biggest takeaway for this entire article is to always be looking for progress.

It doesn’t matter how far behind or ahead you think you are from the rest of the pack, there is always room for improvement.

And if you will compare yourself to one person, make sure it’s the version that you were yesterday.

Ask yourself:

  1. What small improvements can I make, whether in studying, motivation, physical health, etc.?
  2. What systems can I implement to get wins at the start of the day?
  3. How can I ensure I’m optimizing myself on a weekly basis?
  4. How can I become more reflective of my experiences?

With each passing day, aim to approach life with a bit more motivation than you had a month or two ago.

And the final thing that I’ll leave you with is that sometimes there’s a frustration when you’re trying to optimize something. Maybe you’re studying but things are still difficult.

Remember that if something is hard, it doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. It just may mean it is a tough task in general.

Climbing mount Everest, regardless of the amount of training you do, is probably never going to get easy for the majority of us. And that is okay. You acknowledge that it’s going to be a difficult task.

Understand that the medical journey is exactly the same.

Optimize as best as you possibly can. Focus on that progress. If it’s tough, just go ahead and grind through it just like you’ve done in every aspect of our life thus far, and enjoy the results!

Whenever you’re ready, there are 4 ways I can help you:

1. The Med School Handbook:  Join thousands of other students who have taken advantage of the hundreds of FREE tips & strategies I wish I were given on the first day of medical school to crush it with less stress. 

2. The Med School BlueprintJoin the hundreds of students who have used our A-Z blueprint and playbook for EVERY phase of the medical journey so you can start to see grades like these. 

3. Med Ignite Study ProgramGet personalized help to create the perfect study system for yourself so you can see better grades ASAP on your medical journey & see results like these. 

4. Learn the one study strategy that saved my grades in medical school here (viewed by more than a million students like you). 

If you made it to the end of this article, go ahead and drop a comment with your questions or thoughts about this post.

If you enjoyed this post, then you’ll love these other helpful med school journey articles:

Until the next one, my friend…

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