Tips for New Medical Students

If you’re a new medical student, major congratulations on achieving this huge milestone, which you should be extremely proud of and grateful for. Now it’s time to begin the work that will take you to the promised DO land.

After finishing my first and second years of medical school, I put together the following tips for today’s new med students. Above all else, I’d advise you to be true to yourself, remember those who helped you make your dreams come true, and try to enjoy this journey as much as possible.

Tips for new medical students

1. Learn how to study for medical school.

What worked for you before might not suit the high-volume and fast-paced curriculum of med school. Learning what works best for you now will provide a confidence boost and help you create a great foundation of knowledge.

Begin by figuring out if you’re an auditory, visual or kinesthetic learner. For some people, replaying recorded lectures at double speed helped them memorize facts. Others may rely on drawing out concept maps or making colorful illustrations. Some learn well in the classroom, while others learn best by going at their own pace.

Remember to always study smarter, not harder. If you catch yourself re-reading the same sentence more than twice or if you can tell your mind is not fully into it, go take a break, a power nap, or watch a quick episode of Friends. 

2. Don’t compare yourself to others.

Remember that you’ve made it this far because you proved yourself to be the best of the best. People around you will want to share how they’re studying, how many notecards they’ve memorized and how they’ve already read all of Harrison’s Manual. That’s OK, be happy for them, but don’t compare yourself to them!

People often exaggerate, and what works for someone else might not work for you. Make a plan for yourself and try your best to feel confident in your efforts. Going into exams knowing that you prepared the best that you could have will take you very far academically and significantly help your mental health.

3. Get to know the staff and administration.

They’ve been around longer than you think, know the ins and outs of the school, and will teach you lessons you can’t learn in the classroom. Personally, some of the staff at the Alabama College of Medicine became my go-to people when I wanted a good laugh, a shoulder to lean on and a friend to confide in. 

4. Seek out older med students.

They’ll be your best source of advice on specific professors, course systems, logistics to expect on practicals and where to celebrate after acing your first med school exam. They can also share the mistakes they (and their classmates) have made so you know what to avoid doing. 

5. Make time for and actually do the nonmedical things you love doing.

It is way too easy to fall down the hole of only studying. Avoid losing yourself in the craziness of medical school by prioritizing your outside interests as much as possible. If you’re a theater geek, make sure you watch at least one play each semester (no, during breaks doesn’t count). If you love basketball, look into making a team with your classmates or even doing a friendly competition between classes.

6. Type everything. Control F will be your best friend.

The amount of lectures and material you’ll cover by the end of your first two years will be tremendous, meaning it will get increasingly harder to keep track of your notes. Especially when studying for boards, CONTROL + F was a lifesaver when I wanted to look something up really quickly (which was always).

7. Prioritize your mental health.

Eat well, exercise, spend time with your loved ones and try to get enough sleep whenever possible. Cultivate a support system at your school. If you’re starting to struggle with anxiety or depression, get help.

8. Nourish meaningful friendships.

Your classmates are some of the most diverse, dedicated, intelligent and impressive people you’ll meet, and their goals and interests will align closely with yours. They’ll be a major source of helpful information on cultural awareness, study materials, professional interests, extracurricular activities and networking.

Make the extra effort to get to know everyone in your class; you’ll be surprised who may become your next best friend or group of friends.

P.S. Remember to be patient with your loved ones who may feel you’re more distant/removed – a quick check-in every now and then could be a good break for you, and it will definitely brighten up their day.

9. Don’t be afraid to seek help.

You’re not expected to know everything about everything, especially right away. If you’re struggling with a topic, there are tons of people who are available to help you: professors, TAs, fellows and even your own classmates. Don’t wait until it’s too late for you to benefit from their assistance.

10. Embrace professionalism and begin acting the part of a doctor.

Whether you like it or not, as a future physician, society now views you in a different way. You’ll have a stronger presence in the room, people around you notice you more and your actions and words will have a stronger impact than ever before. Embrace this honor and privilege starting now! Carry yourself with more professionalism at all times in and outside the classroom.

Dress to impress (the old T-shirts and sweats were fine for undergrad, but it’s time to step up your wardrobe game), watch your language, be kind and courteous to everyone around you regardless of who they are, and be particularly careful with your social media posts (it doesn’t hurt to go back in time and delete those questionable selfies). Most importantly, stay humble.

Every medical student has their own study strategy when it comes to organizing the volume of study material per hour and per day. The material presented in medical school is much more difficult than many challenging undergraduate courses because it requires active learning.  Active learning involves making decisions about the material such as “what is most important?” and “where does it fit into the bigger picture?”. Passive learning, on the other hand, involves reading pages of text or going over notes in hopes of absorbing the information faster.  Changing one’s study habits is not easy; however, the most fundamental principle of efficient studying in medical school is active learning.

There are four active processes of studying

They can be used in any active study pattern and include the following:

  1. Identifying important information – the first step involves answering the eternal question “what is most important here?”
  2. Organizing the information – the second step involves creating a framework that facilitates memorization.
  3. Memorizing the information – the third step involves frequent review of the information in order for it to become absorbed by the brain.
  4. Applying the information to more complex situations – the last step involves answering quiz questions, practice questions, clinical applications, and more.

Every student will start to develop their own “high volume” study method sooner or later. The majority of medical students benefit from a starting strategy which entails five basic steps.

The basic steps of your starting strategy

  1. Finding the bigger picture by skimming the material before class. It is important to be able to identify four or five major topics.
  2. Creating a rough draft of the material based on the lecturer’s slides. Notes can help emphasize the context in the textbook.
  3. Creating lists or diagrams that help organize the needed material. This approach can help emphasize patterns that facilitate memorization.
  4. Actively memorizing the material through lists and diagrams. It is important to be able to incorporate the information quickly and efficiently.
  5. Practicing applying the material through practice or quiz questions during the study process.

Few simple revision tips for new medical students

  1. Break up study schedules into 20 to 30 minute segments
  2. Create a study timetable
  3. Keep hardest topics for the morning
  4. Create colorful notes and mind maps
  5. Practice old exams and papers
  6. Start assignments sooner rather than later
  7. Get plenty of sleep
  8. Learn to speak with confidence and structure
  9. Read plenty of articles and medical blogs. Learn what medicine is all about.
  10. Set aside a day to relax and be with family and friends

To be a good student, dedication, work-ethic, and self-confidence are three aspects that are required. However, in medical school, almost everyone has that. For this reason, it is important to create a successful study method. The students who have the best methods are called geniuses. The students who fail to implement proper study methods flunk out or barely pass. It is important to realize that in order to be successful in medical school, reviewing study material over and over again is a must. Volunteer experiences are just as important and give medical students a wider perspective on patient care.

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