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When you look back, you always think about the things you should have done differently that could have made your life so much easier. This is no different in medical school. Here are the top things I wish I did during my first two years or medical school and top things I’m glad I did during my first two years.
What would have made my life easier for boards
I wish I would have tried harder to make Anki work for me. I’ve seen the long-term benefit for so many people using it as a constant review for them making studying for boards a lot less painful. Anki is a flashcard application that uses an algorithm for space repetition for maximum information retention. If it didn’t work for you the first time, try it again!
I wish I would have used Pathoma throughout my coursework. It’s a great tool. Pathology isn’t my best subject, but Pathoma makes it very digestible. He breaks it down to the most basic levels and it is very interactive with having a book and lectures that you can follow along with.
I wish I would have done a few board-style practice questions every day. Test taking hasn’t been my best skill previously and I think I would have been better at board exam style questions if I had slowly introduced it over the two years. Good sources for this are USMLE-Rx and AMBOSS. I recommend waiting to use UWorld only during dedicated board study time.
I wish I would have reviewed subjects throughout the years. Coming to boards now I don’t remember anything from first year hardly. This is the key reason why Anki’s continuous review is so great. However, if Anki still doesn’t work for you, you should pull out a study guide/Quizlet deck every day from something old and review it. You’ll thank yourself later.
Things that would have helped with my life
I wish I would have cut back and enjoyed my life a lot more the summer between 1st and 2nd year. I worked a lot instead, but the extra money was nice to have for the nice vacation I did take though. Research will always be available during the year, and this is your last summer ever! You do not want to come into 2nd year burnt out. (You should still do a little review through summer even if it’s 30 minutes a day!)
I wish I would have set a time every day that I was done. While my school has mandatory attendance until 4/5:30, I still should have stopped at 9pm every night for my sanity and to have some balance. Watch a show, relax for an hour, it helps more than you think! You will be happier, more efficient, and less stressed.
I wish I would have bought my EcoTank printer sooner. If you’re a super printer like me who prints anything, and everything save yourself SO MUCH MONEY and get an EcoTank. My goodness, seriously DO IT. It’s more money up front, but I have spent maybe $40 on ink for the 10,000 pages I’ve printed where I was replacing cartridges left and right with the old printers.
Things that would have helped my performance
I wish I would have participated in more skills labs. While it’s an optional club at my school, I think I could have benefited if I went more often for the simulations! I realized this very late when I practiced my first intubation on a dummy and cracked the teeth and intubated the stomach on accident. (Whoops!)
I wish I would have put more emphasis on the knowledge I was gaining rather than cram for a certain grade. While yes, an A looks better than a B, I think I would have been better off board wise and performance wise to stop panicking about every point on weekly exams and just learned the material well. And I’m not saying that I didn’t learn it. It’s just there is a difference in cramming as much taught info to get max points than sacrificing some points to maybe learn things not taught that were in first aid but really understanding the material fully because of it.
While there are many errors I found through my first two years, I also found several things I’m extremely glad that I did. I know these will help me in the future and definitely contribute to my success.
I started an excel sheet at the beginning of 1st year to document everything. Every position, volunteer event, research, etc. is listed on this document. This allows for an easy document to refer to when applying for residency. Each entry has when I did it, how many hours, what I did, who I did it for, where it’s published and more. This is difficult to remember years down the road when you need to enter these details into ERAS, the residency application website.
Getting involved! I’m super glad I got involved in class E-board and multiple organizations on campus. I’d recommend having 1 or 2 positions you really enjoy whether that be a specialty club you’re interested in or class government and just generally join some clubs you enjoy like running club. Also, I would recommend joining clubs that help you like SOMA. You can also get involved state or nationally. This isn’t for everyone but I’m happy I did it! The connections you make across campuses if it’s a student organization is great and talking to docs and residents to progress towards something is fantastic too if you join your state committees!
Getting involved in research early. If you have even the slightest feeling that you want something competitive this is to your advantage to start early. If you change your mind, you just have an above average research CV for a not research heavy specialty. It’s very difficult to go backwards however and discover you want a research heavy specialty and not have a single poster/publication with only six months to make up for it.
Find a group of friends that are supportive and not competitive. I had a great group who shared resources, helped explain concepts, shared notes, etc. You don’t want to surround yourself with people that want to see you fail.
Have mentors. Key here is the plural. I have mentors just a year ahead of me, interns, docs several years out and even peer mentors. They all have a useful part in my life and helping me grow! They see things you don’t see.
Having mentees! I know this seems weird as something that helps yourself, but this has allowed me to look introspectively to see what I could do better to improve myself, my application, or things to help in the future when you’re thinking for someone else.
This may not apply to everyone but for those who take loans I’m so glad I took out more than I needed. I had to pay 6 months of rent in advance for my rotations move because loans weren’t considered as income. Also, boards are expensive! Don’t forget to calculate for step 1/level 1 and hotel costs if you don’t have a testing center close.
If you’re able to, go to a conference! If you’re paying to go, make sure you’re also presenting a poster there. Make it a bang for your buck! You make so many connections and friends across schools and programs. I know money can be a factor here, so I recommend applying for conference scholarships and ask your school. Many schools give a stipend to attend conferences per year or if you’re on the E-board will sometimes pay for it.
Speaking of scholarships, many students think there aren’t any in med school. This is false! First, see if your school has academic scholarships, look at your state medical board association, hometown/county, national organizations, etc. less people know about them so less people apply than you’d think! This is the easiest way to help finance your medical education.
Lastly, find a not super time-consuming hobby that makes you happy. I crochet and have plants. I can start and stop crocheting at any time and plants are super not needy. This has given me nice happy breaks.
Overall, I have learned a lot in my first two years of medical school. There are things I would have done differently and things I’m glad I did. Hindsight is always 20/20 though! If I had to do it all over again, I absolutely would.
I have no affiliations with any of these companies and have no incentive to advertise them. These are my personal recommendations.