Words of wisdom

10 tips for new medical students

It’s time to begin the work that will take you to the promised DO land. Here are 10 ways to set a solid foundation for your medical education.

If you’re a new medical student, major congratulations on achieving this huge milestone, which you should be extremely proud of and grateful for. Now it’s time to begin the work that will take you to the promised DO land.

After finishing my first and second years of medical school, I put together the following tips for today’s new med students. Above all else, I’d advise you to be true to yourself, remember those who helped you make your dreams come true, and try to enjoy this journey as much as possible.

Tips for new medical students

1. Learn how to study for medical school.

What worked for you before might not suit the high-volume and fast-paced curriculum of med school. Learning what works best for you now will provide a confidence boost and help you create a great foundation of knowledge.

Begin by figuring out if you’re an auditory, visual or kinesthetic learner. For some people, replaying recorded lectures at double speed helped them memorize facts. Others may rely on drawing out concept maps or making colorful illustrations. Some learn well in the classroom, while others learn best by going at their own pace.

Remember to always study smarter, not harder. If you catch yourself re-reading the same sentence more than twice or if you can tell your mind is not fully into it, go take a break, a power nap, or watch a quick episode of Friends. 

2. Don’t compare yourself to others.

Remember that you’ve made it this far because you proved yourself to be the best of the best. People around you will want to share how they’re studying, how many notecards they’ve memorized and how they’ve already read all of Harrison’s Manual. That’s OK, be happy for them, but don’t compare yourself to them!

People often exaggerate, and what works for someone else might not work for you. Make a plan for yourself and try your best to feel confident in your efforts. Going into exams knowing that you prepared the best that you could have will take you very far academically and significantly help your mental health.

3. Get to know the staff and administration.

They’ve been around longer than you think, know the ins and outs of the school, and will teach you lessons you can’t learn in the classroom. Personally, some of the staff at the Alabama College of Medicine became my go-to people when I wanted a good laugh, a shoulder to lean on and a friend to confide in. 

4. Seek out older med students.

They’ll be your best source of advice on specific professors, course systems, logistics to expect on practicals and where to celebrate after acing your first med school exam. They can also share the mistakes they (and their classmates) have made so you know what to avoid doing. 

5. Make time for and actually do the nonmedical things you love doing.

It is way too easy to fall down the hole of only studying. Avoid losing yourself in the craziness of medical school by prioritizing your outside interests as much as possible. If you’re a theater geek, make sure you watch at least one play each semester (no, during breaks doesn’t count). If you love basketball, look into making a team with your classmates or even doing a friendly competition between classes.

6. Type everything. Control F will be your best friend.

The amount of lectures and material you’ll cover by the end of your first two years will be tremendous, meaning it will get increasingly harder to keep track of your notes. Especially when studying for boards, CONTROL + F was a lifesaver when I wanted to look something up really quickly (which was always).

7. Prioritize your mental health.

Eat well, exercise, spend time with your loved ones and try to get enough sleep whenever possible. Cultivate a support system at your school. If you’re starting to struggle with anxiety or depression, get help.

8. Nourish meaningful friendships.

Your classmates are some of the most diverse, dedicated, intelligent and impressive people you’ll meet, and their goals and interests will align closely with yours. They’ll be a major source of helpful information on cultural awareness, study materials, professional interests, extracurricular activities and networking.

Make the extra effort to get to know everyone in your class; you’ll be surprised who may become your next best friend or group of friends.

P.S. Remember to be patient with your loved ones who may feel you’re more distant/removed – a quick check-in every now and then could be a good break for you, and it will definitely brighten up their day.

9. Don’t be afraid to seek help.

You’re not expected to know everything about everything, especially right away. If you’re struggling with a topic, there are tons of people who are available to help you: professors, TAs, fellows and even your own classmates. Don’t wait until it’s too late for you to benefit from their assistance.

10. Embrace professionalism and begin acting the part of a doctor.

Whether you like it or not, as a future physician, society now views you in a different way. You’ll have a stronger presence in the room, people around you notice you more and your actions and words will have a stronger impact than ever before. Embrace this honor and privilege starting now! Carry yourself with more professionalism at all times in and outside the classroom.

Dress to impress (the old T-shirts and sweats were fine for undergrad, but it’s time to step up your wardrobe game), watch your language, be kind and courteous to everyone around you regardless of who they are, and be particularly careful with your social media posts (it doesn’t hurt to go back in time and delete those questionable selfies). Most importantly, stay humble.

Related reading:

Skipping class is the new normal. What does it mean for med school today?

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