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Top 5 Tips For Starting Medical School | Medical Student Advice

It is important to reflect back on the journey and give advice you wish you had. As a resident now, I look at the medical students that come through and work with me sometimes. I try to tell them things I wish I had known at their level and this post is that, just on a bigger scale I suppose.

Here are 5 things I wish I knew as a Day 1 medical student:

1)Learning Resources

It is easy to get overwhelmed by all the information you need to learn, in such a short period of time in medical school.

The “drinking from the fire hose” analogy is worn out, but still true.

The key is to figure out what works for you and your learning style and stick to it. Don’t try to use every single resource out there, because other people are doing this and that.

You won’t have the time for it and it will leave you overwhelmed and not actually learning anything.

Watch this video on how to actually study, which will give you a solid framework.

For my learning style, I like videos and audio to learn and initially understand the information.

For this I would use Online Med Ed, Ninja Nerd for the most part. Other YouTube videos if these guys don’t cover it.

I didn’t go to class. But at the end of the day, the school is making your exams. So I would either watch them at 2x speed or read through the slides to make flashcards of the relevant information.

For clerkship, the above resources and Case Files for practice.

That’s it. No overloading for no reason.

Find your learning style and use resources associated with it.

2) You Will Forget

Trust and believe that you will feel like you know nothing. This is completely normal. You will learn things, memorize them for the exam then seemingly completely forget about them the day after.

But you haven’t truly forgotten. It’s back there somewhere.

Make sure you learn it properly the first time around. That way, you build up a foundational understanding of things and don’t rely strictly on memorizing random facts.

Keep up with your due Anki cards (my preference) or intermittent review of your notes for the foundations, not the exam-relevant details.

As long as you learn it the right way, and review intermittently, the foundations, which are the important part any ways, will be somewhere in your head.

Then as you start seeing things in person during your third and fourth year, you will make real life connections to the information which further reinforces understanding and memory.

Exams suck, but also help to force you to review the information and apply it.

Trust the process, do it the right way, and it will come, believe me.

Sometimes it may feel like everyone knows stuff and you don’t. Just stay true to your process and use every mistake as a learning opportunity. That is what you are in school for.

3) Anki/notes/studying

As I mentioned above, Anki is my preference for studying. There is a ton of info, it is easy to forget and you need to memorize it for exams.

Anki helps with all of these things.

There are plenty of YouTube videos on how to use it. Get familiar with it. Befriend it. Get the app for your phone.

I don’t play with the settings but you can if you want. I leave it at 100 new cards per day, and unlimited reviews. It works for me.

We have other videos on how to specifically study and you should definitely watch those, but bottom line is Anki is a staple in them.

Its algorithm takes care of the spaced repetition for you, so it will show you cards when you are likely about to forget them.

You can replicate that with notes, it is all about what works for you.

In any case, make sure you are doing your cards or reviewing notes to keep the information fresh in your head, specially the foundations.

Along the way, quiz yourself and try your best to apply the information to what you are seeing in clinic to make sense of it and test yourself. Practice questions, old exams, all of that goes here.

Whatever you decide to do, you should have a solid study strategy, that works for you, one or two blocks into med school ideally.

4) Imposter

We have a video on this, but essentially when you get to medical school, you go from being one of the best in college to a sea of people where you are just one person among the many, who were also the best in college.

People start feeling like they just got lucky to be there and don’t actually belong. That everyone else is so much better than them, and they are the bottom of the barrel (speaking from experience here). It seems that everyone else is so much smarter, and better in just about every way.

You can get caught up in comparison games and trying to one up other people. Don’t. There is nothing good that comes out of that.

Stay in your lane, do your work, live your life. Find people you get along with, be kind to everyone, don’t get involved in garbage.

As long as you are taking care of doing the work, the knowledge and ability will come with time, trust the process.

Don’t put yourself down for not knowing it all right now. You are not supposed to. That is why you are here.

Don’t worry about who is doing what. Stick to your plan and work towards your own goals.

You will find your routine and way as time goes on, but be proud of getting this far, and keep putting in the work to go further. When you take care of the inputs, you don’t need to worry about the outputs all that much.

5) Self Care

Another thing you will notice once you get into med school is that you just finished one marathon and unknowingly signed yourself up for another longer, more challenging one.

You will come to accepting the reality of matter, which is that the process never really ends in medicine.

There is always more to learn, always another exam, always another application, interview and on and on.

You may have been living your life to now, checkpoint to checkpoint. Get this class done, get this volunteer activity done, get this exam done etc. You may have even been neglecting other areas of your life to accomplish these things.

You should understand though now, that this is not a sustainable way to approach things. As I said, the process never truly ends, and you have to stop waiting for some imaginary “end point” to begin enjoying your life and giving attention to the other areas of existence.

Your health, your relationships, experiences outside of work. None of this is going to take care of itself. It requires time, energy and attention just like your studying has.

You need to find your own “balance” whatever that means for you.

Work efficiently, have solid routines and systems that free up time and energy in your day. Then use that to take care of the other areas of your life.

The process is all there really is, so you need to find ways to enjoy it the best you can. Time will pass, and as long as you are taking care of your work, you will get to your result. Might as well enjoy it along the way.


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