Clinical Years in Medical School

How to Find Time to Study During Clinical Years in Medical School

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There are many things that are different during your clinical years in medical school. One of the biggest is finding time to study after a full day at work. 
What is there to study for? Along with a national exam you take at the end of each major rotation, you’re also expected to learn more about the patients currently under your care.
I know that my clinical experience has been brief, but I’d like to share the tips and techniques I’ve used thus far.   
Update (2021) – If you want an updated step-by-step method on how I study in clinical rotation click here. This is a technique I’ve developed after spending over a year in clinical rotations. The tips in this post are important before referring to that post.

1. Understand Your Service Schedule:

Most clinical rotations are typically 4-8 weeks. But within those weeks you transition between different services.
For example, on my pediatric rotation, I spend two weeks on a subspecialty service (Hem/Onc), two weeks on general pediatrics, one week in the emergency department, and one week in the newborn nursery.
Each of these services are very different but they also require different time commitments.
My 4 weeks of inpatient pediatrics are often long hours (6:30 AM – 5 PM) including weekends. My ED week, on the other hand, only required me to work 4 out of the 7 days.
Thus it would be smart to plan most of my studying during my ED week. (Luckily I take my own advice)

2. Pick Your Resources Early:

Know what resources you plan to use within the first week of a new rotation.
Many rotations have a variety of recommend texts you can study for. It’s best to ask an upperclassman or the Internet (this blog for example) on what resources are best. 😀
Pick one (maybe two) texts and stick with them. Combine these texts with the UWORLD Qbank for Step 2. Boom, easy!
Determine how many pages and questions you have to complete. Then space these out throughout the rotation.
Ideally, you can load a bulk of your study during “lighter” areas.

3. Do a Little Bit Every Day:

I get it, some days you will just want to come home and sleep.
Clinical years in medical school, especially as a new student, can take its’ toll. Still, it’s important to avoid cramming in the future by studying a little every day.
For my pediatric rotation, I made a list of each chapter in the textbook I’m currently reading.
On days I’m particularly motivated, I read a chapter that is denser or I’m weak on.
For days I’m rethinking medical school (not really), I pick a few pages of an easier chapter.
Using this simple advice, I’m almost complete with my designated text (500 pages). I still have three weeks left in the rotation! 😀

4. Sleep In When You Can:

This may not seem that appropriate for this post but I assure you it does.
Clinicals will drain you and you’ll try to cling to any free time you can. Along with free time, you’ll wish you could sleep in for just one day.
So take advantage of any days off or short days to catch up on sleep.
This is coming from someone that typically wakes up at abnormal hours. While I don’t find it difficult to be at the hospital at 6:30 in the morning day after day, I take full advantage to sleep 11+ hours on my days off.
How does this apply to finding time to study during your clinical years in medical school? With more sleep, you will be well rested and more motivated to put in the extra study hours.
Burnout is real. Avoid it whenever possible!

5. Take Advantage of Down Time:

You won’t always be working during the full time you’re on service. Sometimes you’ll be begging your interns and residents to give you something to help with.
I’ve made it a habit to help when I can and study when there is no help needed.
You can have your preferred text in your backpack or have an eBook on Google Drive or a USB like myself.
Don’t expect to finish a chapter but getting through 5-10 pages is doable. This makes your evening studying much easier.
If you struggle reading and focusing in public spaces, try doing some flashcards or questions instead.
Obviously, use your intuition on how appropriate it is for you to study on your service. Don’t hurt yourself by appearing uninterested to your attending and residents, but have things to work on while still being available to help. 
So there you have it. I’ll surely expand on this as I become more creative in how I study during my clinical years in medical school.
Hopefully, you enjoy your clinical years as much am I currently am!
Read my previous post about my experience working with kids with cancer here and about my entire clinical schedule here.

If there is something specific you’d like me to address in a future blog post, comment below or email me at [email protected].

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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. 

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

Until next time…


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