Medical school is a completely different animal than college. You’re jumping into a new world and learning a new language—it’s a difficult transition to make.
If you gained an acceptance this year, here are four things you need to know before starting your first day of medical school.
1 | Perfect Your Study Habits
Even if you were a top student in college, your study habits will more than likely need tweaking. Trust me, I’ve been there. From active versus passive learning to time management to study planning and more, learning the material in medical school is unlike anything you’ve ever done in college.
It’s crucial to understand your personal study style—what works for one person may not work for another. Are you a morning person or a night owl? How is your focus after meditation or working out? Are you most effective studying with stimulation at coffee shops or the library, or are you better off at home where you can study alone?
Building strong habits early on will be your key to success, as it doesn’t get any easier after the first year. The habits you build before and during your first year, including a personalized morning routine, will aid you as you progress through medical school and residency.
We have a number of guides on the Med School Insiders blog dedicated to helping premeds build strong foundational habits. Check out How to Change Your Behavior and Master Your Habits and 7 Evidence-Based Study Strategies.
2 | You Will Doubt Yourself
Imposter syndrome is common in medical students. “What am I doing here? Do I really belong? Am I good enough?” This tends to come up particularly for students who are not performing optimally in their first or second year of medical school.
To overcome imposter syndrome, remind yourself of the reasons you went into medicine and are becoming a doctor. Have compassion for yourself—no one is perfect, and we all make mistakes and struggle at some point. The key is staying resilient and learning from every setback.
How will you address your struggles? Will you be proactive and actively create a solution, or passively feel sorry for yourself? Reach out for support, critically assess your study strategies and work habits, be honest about what is and isn’t working, and make the necessary adjustments.
Everyone is dealt a bad hand at some point. How you play your cards is the secret to success.
Learn more about the various causes of imposter syndrome, why it seems to disproportionately affect doctors, and how you can mitigate it in your own life: How to Cure Imposter Syndrome (for Premeds & Med Students).
3 | Mind Hierarchy and Be Respectful
At each stage in your education, you’ve started from the bottom and slowly worked your way to the top. In high school, you started as a freshman, and by the time you were a senior, you felt like you ran the place. Similarly, in college, freshman year was a significant adjustment, but by the time senior year came around, things were smooth sailing.
Medical school is similar but even more pronounced. You’ll again be at the bottom of the hierarchy, which goes something like this:
attending physicians > fellows > residents > medical students
For better or worse, medicine is a very tradition-bound profession and hierarchy is closely adhered to in teaching hospitals. Know your role and excel at it before moving to the next phase, and don’t get ahead of yourself.
Be sure to respect the hospital staff and your colleagues. I have too frequently seen overzealous and arrogant medical students disrespect the nursing staff or other healthcare workers. Not only is this an ineffective way of carrying oneself, but those nurses will make your life a nightmare.
You’ll soon realize residents and medical students who are respectful of their peers and, more importantly, the nurses, physicians, and other hospital staff, tend to fare better than those who don’t. This holds true for life in general, but even more so in medicine. Again, you’re in a traditional, hierarchical profession, where those above you control several aspects of your training—so be respectful!
4 | Your Specialty Choice Will Waiver
There are a few people who know exactly what specialty they want to pursue and even fewer who stick to that specialty by the time they reach residency.
I thought I was one of those people who knew exactly what my path would be. I loved the idea of being a gastroenterologist, and… I ended up matching into plastic surgery. You can learn more about my story of going from GI to plastics in a video on the Kevin Jubbal M.D. YouTube channel.
It’s totally fine to change your mind or to not even have a clue what specialty you want to pursue. That being said, the only way to truly determine if a specialty is a good fit for you is by spending time in that setting. Read about it, speak with others, but more importantly, get hands-on experience in the form of shadowing, clinical research, and an appropriate selection of third year clerkships and electives.
For those of you just starting, remember you most likely won’t know your speciality until you do your clinical rotations. And if you think you do already know your specialty, be prepared to change your mind. If possible, get exposure early on before med school begins, but make sure you still dedicate enough time to getting stellar grades, becoming a competitive applicant, and matriculating to medical school.
The transition into the first year of medical school will be a difficult one, but you will not be alone. Get comfortable leaning on your classmates and learning from one another; after all, every one of you are going through something similar and may be colleagues one day. If you’re struggling, don’t be afraid to reach out for help from friends or campus resources.
And if you need help studying, acing your exams, or choosing an ideal medical path, Med School Insiders can help. Learn more about our long list of application services as well as Medical School Preclinical Subject Tutoring.
Let me know down in the comments what you are most concerned or apprehensive about regarding medical school. For those of you who are already in medical school, what do you wish you knew on day one?