Being a doctor isn’t easy, and nor is the path to reach that esteemed position. You’ll learn just how little sleep you need to function, you’ll despair at ever passing that one class with the hard grader – and you’ll feel elation when you finally do. But, in my opinion, it’s all worth it. There’s nothing comparable to getting up each morning and knowing that you’re using your skills and education to help others. If you’re considering medical school after graduating from college, keep the following tips in mind. They’re what I wish I’d known before I started my journey.
1. Remember Why You’re Doing This
Most people enter the medical field with a desire to help others. Others wish to unlock the myriad secrets of the human body. Some wish to challenge themselves daily, by solving complex medical riddles. No reason is better or worse than any other. The important thing is why you’re doing this. Figure out the source of your passion. Define it. Write it down on an index card. Keep that with you, in your wallet or taped to the bathroom mirror. When things seem like they’re getting too hard or overwhelming, refer to that card. Believe me, you’ll need plenty of reminders. Above all else, don’t lose sight of your core reason for taking this journey.
2. Find Your Study Groove
Some students learn best by doing drill after drill after drill. Some enjoy creating artistic flashcards and find the creation as much a study tool as the doing. Lots of medical students do well in study groups where members challenge and support each other. Some students find they do best with the solo study. Figure out what method works for you, ideally sometime during your first term. You’ll need to do a lot of studying to be the topper in studies, so coming up with a plan that works with your preferences and inclinations is crucial. Don’t worry too much if your study style isn’t like everyone else’s. If it works, it works!
3. Make a Plan
They say that planning too much invites us to become playthings of the gods. There may be something to that. After all, as the song goes, “life is what happens while you’re making other plans.” That being said, there’s value in establishing a plan from the outset. Sketch out the courses you want to take, and the order in which to take them. Not just finals and boards, but important tests like the USMLE and clinical evaluations. Having a guide can help keep you on-track when something unusual or unexpected happens.
4. Drink Enough Water
You think I’m joking, but I’m not. “Physician, heal thyself.” You can’t take care of anyone if you’re dehydrated and underslept. Some self-care tips:
- Your ability to retain information decreases the longer you stay awake. At a certain point, six hours of sleep becomes far more valuable than an extra two hours of studying.
- Seriously, hydrate. It’s a lot easier nowadays, with fancy water bottles everywhere. Get one, and use it. Drinking enough water improves every other aspect of your life.
- You’d be surprised at how many med students rely on nicotine to get through school. Don’t. Don’t even vape. We know cigarettes are bad, we don’t even know the long-term effects of vaping. Use coffee, use chewing gum, use whatever else you need. Just don’t use nicotine.
- Have at least one non-med school friend. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in your studies and your campus community. But you will need an outlet. Set up a regular lunch date with a friend or family member who has nothing to do with medical school, and enjoy some time away from Krebs cycles and pharmaceutical naming conventions.
- Resist the temptation to rely on fast food. A high-fat, high-sugar diet doesn’t help you at all. If you’re too exhausted to cook, skip the drive-thru for the deli. Should you have a communal living situation, set up a meal rotation. Cooking one meal week is worth the time investment for the other six days.
5. Read the Syllabus
And not just once, either. Your professors layout every due date, expectation, textbook, and workaround on the syllabus. Stay familiar with what’s there, including if your professor updates it. Make sure you get the right textbooks and do the correct assignments. Medical school isn’t just about teaching you differential diagnoses. It’s also about teaching you to be detail-oriented and punctual.
Not to mention, nothing drives a professor up the wall so much as the students who ask questions answered in the syllabus. Don’t be that student. You’d be surprised how easily impressed your professors will be if you read and incorporated just one to two pages of information.
6. Know When to Ask For Help
Help comes in a variety of different ways.
7. Mental Health Help
Don’t think you’ve got to be a tough cookie to get through medical school. You’re still only human, and going through one of the most stressful experiences a person can take on. If you start to feel depressed, overwhelmed, anxious, or just off your game, don’t feel guilty of reaching out. You need to deal with depression and sadness to keep yourself on track. Sometimes just a long talk with a friend can make everything better. Sometimes you might need to talk to someone more long-term. Both are fine, and you aren’t failing at anything if that’s what you need to keep yourself on track.
8. Academic Help
And don’t be afraid to ask for help with your grades, either. Remember that the genius doctors on TV are just that: TV characters. Most doctors struggle at some point in school. If you hit a snag, ask your professor for help. Or go to your school’s tutoring centre.
If you get stuck, there’s a whole world of academic support resources out there for you. These can come in handy for meeting challenges not necessarily covered in class. A good example of this is the United States Medical Licensing Exam or USMLE. This is a three-step medical exam taken throughout school, and are a requirement for passing your board exams. The USMLE can be even more stressful than taking the MCAT.
Most universities don’t offer specific USMLE prep courses, so you may have to venture off-campus to find help. Fortunately, there’s a wide variety of online resources like the one offered by Lecturio; packed with useful exam tips, and all the Questions are continuously updated and based on the latest NBME standards to help you prepare for the exam.
Tip! If you’re still an undergrad and wondering if medical school is right for you, these prep courses can often be crucial in pointing you in the right direction. Even if you haven’t committed to a particular path yet, try giving these courses a spin. Worst/best case, you figure out that medicine isn’t for you while you still have time to change course.
9. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
If I could make sure every new medical student understood one piece of advice, this would be it. Some things matter a lot. Some things matter a little. Some things don’t matter at all. Remember, they still call someone who earned C’s throughout the medical school ‘Doctor.’ Do your best, don’t let small setbacks become big ones, and always remember why you’re doing this in the first place.
Good luck, doctor!