Your first year of medical school can be intimidating. But don't worry, there are plenty of ways to navigate the ups and downs.
Studying for a doctorate in medicine is by far one of the most challenging advanced degree programs a student can take on – both intellectually and emotionally. Indeed, beginning medical school is nothing like your undergraduate years in college and it is significantly more difficult than most other graduate programs. After all, you are there to learn how to treat patients and save lives. The knowledge and best practices you acquire carry serious real life consequences, so it should come as no surprise that the courses are comprehensive and involved.
Given that medical school is often a considerable step up for most students, it's easy to become overwhelmed, overworked and just generally burned out. While highs and lows for most people are perhaps unavoidable, there are a number of simple steps you can take to ensure that you not only survive your first year of medical school, but also thrive!
1. Assess your study habits
Did you feel overwhelmed by how many papers and how much studying you had to do as an undergraduate? Now take that feeling and multiply by at least 10. In terms of workload, you'll be required to learn a vast amount of facts and concepts, and the number of assignments will feel endless. That's why it's imperative to cultivate effective study habits as soon as possible. Studentdoctor.net advised taking a long hard look at how you studied throughout your undergraduate career. Whatever method worked best — studying alone, making notes, or studying in groups and so on — is likely going to be the best approach in medical school as well. As the source noted, once the course begins and the work starts to pile up at a rapid rate, there will be little time to adjust to a new system. Establish good study habits early on and stick to them.
"It's imperative to cultivate effective study habits as soon as possible."
2. Organization is key
It's hard to study well if you can't find your notes from that important lecture last week or the email attachment from your professor directing you on your next assignment. As Picmonic asserted, that's why organization is key. If you're a bohemian at heart and live a carefree and unorganized life, now is the time to change, at least temporarily, or consider whether or not medical school is actually for you. A student with great organizational skills will be more in control of their workload and life in general and will be considerably less stressed as a result. Organization tips include keeping a digital calendar, making notes in online documents and then storing them in one place, keeping a binder full of information for each topic and so on. If organization doesn't come naturally, ask for assistance from a friend. You'll soon find yourself developing good habits.
3. Build friendships
Medical school is challenging, so it helps to have a network of friends that are going through a similar experience. Given the intensity of medical school, you'll likely make some deep friendships while there and such relationships will usually form organically – after all, you're all in the same boat together. If you do struggle to make friends though, the Guardian explained that most medical schools have social clubs for students, such as sports societies or just general meet-up groups. Be sure to get involved and have some fun. A healthy work-life balance is key to success.
Similarly, it's a good idea to maintain friendships with those around you who are not in medical school. Grabbing coffee or lunch with that old college roommate is a great way to unwind and escape the stresses of medical school, if only briefly.
4. Work hard
This may seem like an obvious tip, but it's surprising how many students don't put in enough effort in their first year of medical school. Picmonic explained that medical students should ideally be spending at least 60 hours a week studying. As mentioned above, while some work-life balance is encouraged, in medical school most of the weight should actually be placed in the work column. This isn't undergrad anymore – you won't be able to party on a Tuesday night or take a three day weekend and still expect to do well. Be wise, be sensible and put your studies first.
5. Keep an open mind
While you may already have an idea of the specialty you want to go into, be sure to keep an open mind and explore every possibility. As the Guardian pointed out, medical school is a four year window in which to learn and discover new ideas. It's quite likely that you will enter medical school with one specialty in mind and then leave with another, and that's okay. Now is the time to truly discover the kind of doctor that you want to be.
6. You'll be fine!
As long as you study hard and keep going, there's no reason why you won't be fine. After all, you made it this far! Enjoy yourself and remember why you're doing this in the first place – you want to help people and potentially even save some lives. As long as you keep that in the back of your mind, you'll be able to push through when the going gets tough.