Updated: Sep 20, 2019
Are you pre-med and starting medical school this fall? Are you a new medical student wondering how to navigate the waters of medical school? Student Doctor Briana Christophers is sharing some advice in this three part letter to incoming medical students. Be sure to not miss the part 2 and part 3!
Dear incoming medical student,
First off: congratulations on starting medical school! The process leading up to this point can be pretty uncertain, so take a moment to celebrate that and to reflect on all that you have accomplished.
This letter is meant to give you a few points of advice that I wish I had received prior to starting medical school almost a year ago. No two medical school experiences are the same, but I do hope that some of these comments are helpful to you.
Taking Care of Yourself
I start with this subject because it is easy during first year to forget about yourself when you are being bombarded with so much new information and responsibility. Try to prioritize yourself as much as you can in this new adventure. Life does not stop because of medical school, so remember that things will come up and you will have to make some sacrifices and difficult choices to live it while you’re training.
Make a list of the things that you will not give up during medical school: these will be the practices that will keep you grounded throughout your training. It could be practicing an instrument, running, yoga, journaling, reading, staying up to date with your favorite show – anything. You may not have endless amounts of time to dedicate to these activities, but they will bring you joy and scheduling them in for yourself is important for your well-being. Take some time before you start school to build this list so that you have an action plan before you get caught up in school activities.
Do some soul-searching before you start: medical school is intense in a lot of ways, including academically and emotionally. You will be in new situations, stretching your personal limits, all while being expected to help with the care of individuals at their most vulnerable. Make sure you are clear with yourself about what you want to get out of medical school. Some people may find it useful to write out a personal mission statement that you can come back to as you are making big decisions about what opportunities to pursue. Having a sense of your values will make it easier to make decisions in line with your values and goals rather than what others may be telling you to pursue.
Set expectations with your family and close friends: those who have never experienced medical school may not understand the demands on your time and what training looks like. Sit down and talk with the people in your life about what the curriculum looks like. Make it clear that, although you may not have as much time in the coming years, you still care about them, and you may need to find a different way to check in with each other that may not be as often. It may even take the shape of a flowchart or list showing how many years of school you have ahead and then further training for residency/fellowship.
Find emotional support: feeling supported can look very different for different folks. As a future physician, start thinking about building a community for yourself that helps you process what you are going through. In some cases, friends (both within your program and outside of it) will help you get through trying times. But sometimes, you may not want to share experiences with them or you think they may not understand what you are going through, and this is where it becomes helpful to seek out professional resources. Find a therapist or a psychiatrist that you can check in with periodically and make sure that you are well throughout this process. Public medical schools are required to provide access to psychiatric and psychological services and some private institutions also offer similar opportunities. Take care of your own well-being to make sure that you can continue living your life and serving your patients.
Create a practice of self reflection: find some time in your schedule to reflect on what is happening throughout the year. Being in the clinic or hospital is very different than everyday life, and you will need to find ways to process that. Find a way that works for you: long journal entries, poetry, art, daily meditations or monthly reflection sessions. It will help you see how much you are growing during medical school.
Schedule your health check-ups: you need to make sure to also take care of your own body, not just others’! Find and schedule an appointment with your primary care provider, do a reproductive health checkup, and see the dentist. Take advantage of your school’s student health resources, if they offer them. Not only will you make sure that you are in good health, but you also will have fun reviewing all of the history and physical skills that you learned throughout the year.
Be okay with taking time for yourself: you do not need to nor should you spend every moment studying. Be sure to take some mornings, afternoons, evenings, or days off. Plan a fun trip, go take a walk in the park, or watch some TV. However, make sure you are familiar with your institution’s attendance policy to make sure you do not miss anything required. We all need some time off to reset, so do not feel guilty about making the time for yourself.
Start building up a business casual or professional wardrobe: you will need it whenever you are in the hospital and patient settings. You will thank yourself for slowly accumulating a wardrobe when you will need to be dressed up every day on clerkships, rather than having to overhaul your wardrobe all at once. Make sure that the outfits are comfortable, professional, and fit appropriately under your white coat!
Think about your financial wellness: seek out resources to help you in setting a budget, saving for the future, and understanding your loans. See if your institution’s office of financial aid offers resources or can direct you to more information.
Good luck and remember to be kind to yourself,