Reflecting back on my medical school career, here are five things I wish I had known before my first day. Having these down will make the transition much easier.
1. Know Your Study Style
This is the most important factor for your sanity and success, but also the hardest to pin down prior to medical school. In college we are able to get away with poor study habits since the academic rigor pales in comparison. Once you start med school and drink water from the proverbial fire hose, you’ll quickly realize that optimizing your study techniques is the only way to succeed and have any balance in your life. You can learn more about these study techniques in the following blogpost and video. Looking back, I wish I knew how to study in college. I would have had so much more free time to pursue other interests with the greater academic efficiency and time savings. I’m not saying I did not study hard, because I certainly did. I just didn’t study smart, and chances are you could be studying more effectively too.
2. Discipline is Your Best Friend
Discipline is a muscle requiring regular exercise. The more discipline you use day-to-day, the easier life becomes. Difficult tasks aren’t so difficult anymore when you have self control and restraint. While this wasn’t as crucial in college, discipline is paramount in medical school where you feel like there aren’t enough hours in a day. Something as simple as going to the gym every day at the same time will translate into an easier time maintaining good study habits, healthy eating, and an appropriate sleep schedule.
3. Prioritize Your Free Time and Don’t Spread Yourself Too Thin
Figure out what are your top two or three activities that bring you joy and be sure to make time for them regularly. Bonus points if they are forms of exercise. My three were going to the gym, cycling, and cars. I then created habits to incorporate these activities into my regular life. I would lift at least four times a week, cycle to and from class whenever possible, and occasionally go on a longer bike ride with friends on the weekend. I also made it to as many Cars and Coffee and autocross events as possible to fuel my passion for cars. I initially spread myself too thin in medical school, trying various activities that ultimately didn’t make me all that happy. Sometimes that exploration is necessary, however, to find where your passions lie. Once you figure out what brings you joy, cut out the rest.
4. Make Time for Your Own Wellbeing
Yes it is possible; again the answer here is to study smarter not harder. Many people write off medical school as these four dark years where you lock yourself in the library and do nothing but study. While you will have to learn more information than you did in college, realize that a happy and balanced life is possible. Some blocks and rotations are tougher than others, but you are in the same boat with all your classmates. Don’t forget to have fun with the people around you and reach out for help if you’re ever in a bad place. It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing you should grind day in and day out and push off seemingly less important aspects of your life. Remember you can only be a physician and take care of patients if you first take care of yourself.
5. Efficiency is the Name of the Game
Time is your most precious asset and squeezing the most out of every minute will serve you well – both in medical school and in life in general. Taking a study break? Use the 10 minutes to do something you have to anyway, like shower. Picking up groceries? Since you’re heading to the store offer to pick up your roommates as well and hopefully they’ll return the favor. Waiting at the bus stop? Crank out some Anki cards or respond to those emails from earlier in the week. Being efficient goes hand in hand with being deliberate with your time. If you set the next two hours to study, be sure to focus and study. When you allocate time for exercise or relaxation, be fully present and enjoy the activities. There’s no point trying to combine work and play. You end up not getting much done and not feeling refreshed in the end.
Hope you found these tips useful. The sooner you can incorporate all five, the quicker medical school will feel less like medical school and more like college part two.