How to Succeed in Medical School
Surviving the MCAT and gaining acceptance into a medical school is a battle all in itself, but once you’ve gotten in, you might find that the process of getting there was much easier than actually being there. Medical school is a very intense and difficult feat, but with a lot of focus, study skills, and determination, you can be successful in your pursuit of becoming a doctor.
1. Establishing New Study Skills
Find which learning methods work best for you. Even though you already have a few years of college education under your belt, medical school will be a very different challenge. Using the same study skills you used through your earlier undergraduate years may not suffice anymore. You may need to experiment with different studying methods and see which works best for you as a medical student.
Make sure you are learning and studying actively rather than passively. Active learning requires you to ask questions about the material you are learning. You might consider: “What about this section of material is important? How do I fit this piece in with the larger picture of what I’m studying? What is the exact meaning of this?” Passive learning, on the other hand, might entail simply re-reading notes or going through the textbook with a highlighter.
Incorporating studying into other daily activities can be helpful, as well. Try listening to recorded lectures a second time on your phone while working out at the gym, or while doing chores around the house.
Success in medical school is often tied to how much time can be devoted to learning a topic, and trying hard consistently.
Develop more effective approaches to studying. In addition to better understanding your own learning methods, you also need to work on studying smarter and more effectively. Use lectures, textbooks, and notes in varying ways until you find the way that works best for you.
Pay special attention to the diagrams and figures in your textbooks. These are great visual representations of the reading, and understanding these images can be crucial to getting a full understanding of the concepts. This is quite important that you correlate concepts and structures in the anatomy atlas.
Use textbooks as a reference point when going over lecture notes or handouts. If you are having trouble understanding something from class, use the textbook to clarify things.
Spend time each day writing a brief summary of your lectures. Make sure you understand the key points that your professor wanted you to take away from it. Write down questions you still have and see if the textbook can offer some answers, and if it can’t, discuss these points with your professor or classmates.
Avoid pulling all-nighters, even if that may have worked when you were an undergraduate. Tests in medical school are going to be a lot more in-depth and more complicated, and they are often cumulative. Studying steadily over the course of the week will be more effective.
Stay organized. Medical school is notable for an exceedingly large amount of information to be learned, and at times much of the information will seem unrelated. You will need to constantly integrate information between textbooks, lecture notes, labs, and lecture slides that do not always consistently integrate in real time.
Try tutoring. Either end of the tutoring equation can be helpful; you can gain insight and experience from being tutored just as well as doing the tutoring yourself. If your school has a tutoring center, visit it and see what kind of opportunities exist there.
Tutoring and study groups serve a great purpose during medical school, as they can help you remember that you are not going through this difficult process all alone. There are other students just like you, and just having that support group can help ease some of the pressure and stress.
Attend class consistently. You may have already learned this lesson as an undergraduate student, but in medical school especially, attendance has a great deal of influence on the level of success a student can achieve. If you are not present to learn the material through instruction, your success will most definitely begin to diminish.
Not only can poor attendance affect your grades and success, it can also reflect poorly on you as a professional. As a medical student, you are in training to become a medical professional, and you need to begin working on your professional demeanor and establishing professional habits—which includes being where you are meant to be, and being there on time.
Set a schedule for schoolwork. Try to schedule time both before and after each class to preview and look back over notes and material for that class. This will help you get engaged with the material prior to the lesson beginning, and then help it settle into your memory more by looking over it again after the lesson ends.
Make sure you schedule important or difficult tasks, like studying or schoolwork, for periods of the day when you know you will be the most awake and ready to work. For example, you won’t want to schedule time to study for a test right before bed when you are likely to be tired and ready to sleep. Schedule these difficult or challenging things first, and then plan to do less taxing things later on.
Set a schedule for personal time. Planning a set schedule for the time you will spend outside of the classroom is just as important as following your class schedule. Setting a schedule for things like study time, personal time, and appointments will help you maintain good habits and be less likely to forget to complete or work on something important.
Use an online calendar or an app on your smartphone to maintain your schedule. Mark in appointments, group classes at the gym, and lunch with friends. Having these personal things marked will help you better out your studying schedule while still maintaining time for yourself and taking care of things you need to do.
Be mindful of your strengths and weaknesses. Everyone has things that they are exceptional at, and other things that they have to work a little harder on. As a medical student, you probably have had a pretty successful academic career so far, so getting a low grade on something in medical school might feel a bit discouraging or upsetting. But, rather than focusing on these weaker areas and letting them consume you, try your best to better yourself in them, while still recognizing and playing off your strengths in other areas.
Don’t lose sight of the subjects you really excel at in an attempt to pour yourself into the subjects you are struggling in. Keep a balanced study routine and do your best in all subjects.
To succeed in med school it’s important you keep a good attitude and remain enthusiastic. This will help you stay motivated and being interested in the material will help you retain it better.
2. Making the Most of Medical School
Seek out a few mentors. Most schools will likely have a mentoring program you can enroll in to be matched with older students or established medical doctors that can advise you and help you along your way through school. If your school doesn’t have one, try networking around your program. Professors might have suggestions for mentors in the community that they can help you connect with.
Establishing a relationship with a few mentors can bring some great benefits. You will know other established doctors upon your graduation and you will have a handful of people to call on when you might need recommendation letters for residency applications.
Be willing to branch out and explore. This includes exploring different medical fields as well as exploring the world around you. Some programs might offer study abroad opportunities that can give you a chance to learn about other cultures and the medical professionals that serve them.
Even if you want to specialize in a certain field, learn as much as you can from other fields as well. Taking on a research project in another specialization or taking classes outside of your specific field can help give you a well-rounded education while it’s available to you.
See your advisor often. Just like you did through your undergraduate years, you will have a faculty or department advisor through medical school who will help you direct your course of study and keep you on track academically. But more than that, she has likely been through medical school herself, and will have a clear idea of how to help you succeed, as well as being able to offer valuable advice and insight.
Your advisor is another very important professional relationship you should work on fostering and maintaining through medical school. She can be of great assistance to you both while you are in the program and after you finish and are working on residency applications.
Take advantage of campus resources. Student organizations are great opportunities to bulk up your residency applications, as well as gain some practical experience in the community. Your program/campus likely has a few established organizations specifically geared towards medical students.
Most universities have a great deal of other valuable resources for students, as well, including counseling centers, health clinics, and recreation centers. You will likely be paying a student fee for these things anyway, so you might as well take advantage of them!
Engage in volunteer work. Just like you probably sought out volunteer opportunities when working on your medical school applications, you should keep doing so through medical school. They can help enhance your residency applications, but they can also enrich your learning experience by giving you valuable and practical experience with members of your community.
Volunteering is yet another way to find a mentor if your program doesn’t have a mentorship program. It can connect you with doctors in the area and help you establish relationships with people outside of your program.
Prepare for what comes next. Medical school is just a step on your way to a residency, and taking the licensing exam. After you pass your exam and get matched with a residency, you will need to be prepared for the hectic, exhausting schedule that often comes with your first year as a resident.
Start preparing for your licensing exam in your first year of medical school. Passing this exam and landing a residency should be your goals for med school, so you should have both of these things in mind through the entire process. Work with mentors and professors to decide where you might fit best in a residency, and for help with your applications when the time comes.
Take practice licensing exams and attend any seminars offered at your program to prepare for the test.
Residency often entails long hours and work weeks, so make sure you get into the habit of taking care of yourself and maintaining your personal wellness through medical school in preparation for residency.
3. Maintaining Personal Wellness
Take time for yourself. Medical school can oftentimes feel all-consuming; it takes up so much of your time that you may feel like you have none leftover for yourself. This is why it’s important to make time for yourself, even if you have to schedule little moments to yourself here and there. You want to balance your academic and personal life so you don’t end up burned out or too overwhelmed.
Have an activity that you enjoy doing that you can resort to when you need a break. Whether it’s reading a book for fun, going for a bike ride or taking a jog, or even just making yourself a home-cooked meal, make sure you allow yourself the luxury of personal time now and then.
Have friends that are not medical students. In medical school, it can be easy to settle into a kind of social bubble with the other students in your cohort. You might find that these people become your only friends, as you spend most of your time with them. But, it’s important to keep friends that are not doctors, or training to be doctors. You want to give yourself a chance to disconnect from it now and then and have conversations that don’t revolve around what you’re working on or learning in school.
Taking time away from campus and the people you are constantly around will help you gain some perspective on the whole experience of medical school. By taking a step back, you can get a better idea of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, so taking time away now and then is really important.
Exercise. Make sure you work regular exercise into your schedule. There are ways to incorporate exercise without neglecting your studies, like reading a textbook while you walk on the treadmill, or listening to a lecture in your headphones while you work out. Exercise can help you stay physically healthy, while also helping to reduce stress.
Getting adequate sleep goes hand-in-hand with getting exercise when working towards maintaining good physical health. Especially as a medical student, you need to make sure you are getting enough rest so you can perform your best academically.
Eat well. Try your best to eat fresh foods rather than processed. Rather than grabbing that sugary snack on the way out the door, grab a piece of fresh fruit instead. Make time to eat a properly balanced meal as often as you can each week.
It may seem like processed or sugary foods are the easiest option, especially as a busy (and probably a bit financially strained) medical student. But, working in fresh foods when it’s possible can make a big difference in your overall health and well-being.
Live off campus. Staying as close to campus as possible might seem like the best option when taking on a demanding medical school course schedule, but living outside of campus housing will probably be the better choice. You will limit the distractions that often come with living in dorms and student housing, and give yourself the physical and mental space you need to unwind each day from the stress of school.
If you need to take on a roommate to help pay the rent, try to room with another medical student. Not only will you have a built-in support system with someone who understands the stress you’re dealing with, but they will likely have similar study habits and ambitions, so you will likely have far less distractions.
Avoid taking things personally. Medical school brings about an entirely new hierarchy that you will need to adjust to. Don’t be offended if older students or doctors brush you off. Try not to let yourself get too discouraged if you aren’t at the very top of your class right away. Medical school is an immense challenge, and it will take time, practice, hard work, and dedication to succeed.
Remember to periodically take inventory of all the successes you have had so far. Remind yourself that you have already done an immense amount of hard work to get to where you are, and that alone is proof that you are capable.