You’ll quickly realize your pre-clinical years of medical school are like drinking from a fire hose. The shear amount of knowledge you gain in these two years is intense to say the least. In hindsight, I don’t think I made the best of my first two years of medical school. I constantly felt behind and was stressed out day in and day out. So if anything, I’m hoping these tips can prevent you from making some of the same mistakes I did 🙂
Establish a work life balance; I cannot stress how important this is! It is so incredibly easy to fall into the trap of spending every waking moment studying, and spending every moment not studying feeling guilty. From an outsider’s perspective it sounds ridiculous to say you don’t have to cook dinner or shower, but it was not unheard of amongst my classmates. I realized I hit rock bottom when I ended up in urgent care from dehydration. How embarrassing to call my parents and let them know how sick I had made myself from not taking care of my body, very unbecoming of a future physician. Aside from taking care of the basics like nutrition and hygiene, make time to do things you enjoy. For me, I learned I couldn’t focus late at night so if I utilized my time during the day I allowed myself to take the evening off to watch TV, paint my nails or skype my parents. One of my attendings requires any medical student on her service to work out with her daily after work. When asked her what the reasoning behind it was, she said “if you can’t figure out a work life balance while in medical school, there’s no hope for you once you move on to residency”
Figure out what works for you: If I had to sum up my first year of medical school in one word it would be overwhelming. Very early on, it seemed there was an endless amount of recommended books, study guides, powerpoints and study tips from faculty, upperclassmen, and classmates. Not wanting to get behind, I attempted to take on every resource that was thrown my way. Pretty soon I was floundering under stacks of notes and books that weren’t necessary.
Find a study buddy: This is one of those “do as I say, not as I do” moments. Throughout college I studied alone and I figured it worked for me then so it should work for me moving forward into medical school. Maybe it was my stubborn self, but I preferred to study immediately after I got out of class whereas my friends and roommates would work out and take a break after class and tackling studying later in the day. It wasn’t until the end of my first year that I found a group of people that my study habits jived with. There are several reasons to find a study buddy early on. One is to establish accountability. You’re much less likely to skip a study session to binge on Netflix if someone is waiting on you to arrive at the library. Another reason to find a study buddy is for the social aspect. Medical school coursework consumes an excessive amount of time, and studying along can really isolate you. Lastly studying with someone else can
Ask for feedback: At my school, we were assigned an advisor which we were required to meet with once a month. I waited and waited for my advisor to contact me about when we should meet. After a couple weeks I decided to stop by his office to introduce myself. He was very kind and told me that I could stop by his office whenever I had any concerns, but he didn’t require mandatory scheduled monthly meetings. I never went out of my way to stop by his office and as a result I went through my first two years without having someone to discuss my progress with. Now that I’m on rotations and I have a new preceptor every 4 weeks, I don’t have the luxury of waiting to receive feedback. I now make an effort to ask for suggestions on what I can improve of once a week. The attendings appreciate when you take an active role in your own education and it hastens your own professional development.
Find an upperclassmen: Every professor has their own testing style, and the only way you can understand what to study for an exam is to ask those who have been through it. My professors tended to emphasis the same topics year after year, so knowing that I should focus more attention on a particular pathway or pathology was hugely beneficial. Also second years are preparing for Step 1, so they may be able to review
Don’t limit yourself to one specialty: I’ve been dreaming of being a general surgeon for the past 8 years since I first stepped foot into an OR. Throughout the years when people would ask me what I wanted to do when I grew up, and when I quickly answered “surgeon” I was always warned to keep my eyes open to other options. Now that I’m on rotations, I’m beginning to see I fit in many other specialties (and the hours and lifestyle of a general surgeon aren’t ideal!). My advice? Take advantage of any opportunities that come your way, whether it’s shadowing a physician in a field you wouldn’t have previously considered or volunteering for a club in a specialty you are unfamiliar with.