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 1 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.
Get familiar with your curriculum: Look up your academic calendar, and find out how your institution divides up topics. Be sure to chat with older students for their feelings on the curriculum and their advice on how to approach each unit or block.
Choose resources wisely: many resources are available to help you study in medical school and prepare for USMLE Step 1. These include video resources (e.g. SketchyMedical, Pathoma, Boards and Beyond), books (e.g. First Aid, Costanzo’s Physiology), and combinations (e.g. USMLE-Rx, Amboss, Osmosis). Keep in mind that these resources may have a cost associated with them, which may make it unrealistic for you to purchase all of them. For this reason I recommend that you share with your classmates as much as you can so that you can split the costs and find out which resources are most useful to you in your studying. While some online resources prohibit account sharing, you could establish weekly study sessions where you watch videos together and review material. Give yourself some time after you start school before you start purchasing resources so that you can make sure you will use them. If you sign up for the AMA, the membership fee includes a copy of the newest edition of First Aid. Your goal should be to assemble your core set of resources that supplement your curriculum without overwhelming yourself to the point that you do not have time to use them all.
Figure out a study strategy that works for you: there is a lot of information to learn so you will have to come up with a strategy that helps you learn what you need to learn. Additionally, many people find that using the same strategies that made them successful in their prior studies may not yield the same results in med school. Try something new which could include a combination of going to lecture, supplementing with outside resources, studying in groups, studying yourself in the library, doing flashcards using an app like Anki. You may need to try out different combinations and change often because every unit or block may be different.
Build a foundation for yourself: start developing frameworks for yourself that will be useful when you are evaluating patients, especially while you are learning the different organ systems. You are going to have to make choices because it is impossible to learn everything (especially on the first pass). First work on the basics, and then start adding in the details emphasized in class and other resources like First Aid.
Seek out resources to review basic science: check out YouTube and Khan Academy to refresh on topics you may not have reviewed since taking the MCAT. You may find it helpful to start learning genetic diseases and other topics related to basic science that may not be covered formally in your curriculum.
Get creative to learn anatomy: besides paying close attention during dissection, you may need to try out a few other strategies to master anatomy. Try drawing, creating simplified diagrams, reviewing an atlas like Netter’s, visualizing using three-dimensional anatomy apps, and solidifying material through flashcards for spaced repetition. I found it useful to learn clinical correlates with each part of the body you study because it reinforces how knowing anatomy is critical to patient care.
Get academic help: medical school is different than other educational endeavors you may have experienced. Be open to receiving help from a tutor, your classmates or other sources. If your school has an academic success center, take them up on their offer to help you find ways to study more effectively. Ask students in upper years for advice since they may have key information you find useful. Getting help in order to actually understand the material will help you become the best doctor you can be!
Good luck and remember to be kind to yourself,