Medical school is tough. I don’t think there is anyone who would disagree with that statement— however, there are definitely ways to make it easier. The following are a few tips which will help you avoid the mistakes that so many new medical students make year after year.
1. Don’t show up to the anatomy lab unprepared. You could easily spend countless hours mucking around the anatomy lab trying to learn detailed anatomy from an un-neatly dissected cadaver. This is especially true if you don’t really know what you’re looking for. Or, you could learn the details of human anatomy from a neatly displayed textbook, and THEN go to the lab. You will find it much easier to identify the sought-after structures, and will definitely spend less time in the lab.
2. Avoid taking excess notes. The physical act of note-taking can be a great way to help you remember a mentioned detail. But spending the entire lecture focusing on choosing the right highlighter, and creating a work of art in your notebook will only distract you from the material being presented. With most lectures now being recorded in their entirety, the act of note-taking can at times be superfluous.
3. Don’t show up to lecture unprepared. Medical students often get lost in lecture if they are not somewhat familiar with the subject material beforehand. The pace can be relentless. By studying the material at home before lecture, you will have created a good base for learning. This will allow you to keep up during lecture with less difficulty, and thereby get much more out of it.
4. Don’t rely on cramming—it’s the most inefficient way to study. While cramming may have worked for you in the past, it is the least efficient way to study. Giving yourself only a few days to study for an exam probably won’t provide the grounds for concepts to take hold. And with fewer learning repetitions (due to time constraints), you are likely to forget the details of what you have learned shortly after the exam. This will not only give you an inferior knowledge base, but it will make studying for the USMLE that much more difficult.
5. Don’t worry so much! Yes, the prospect of medical school is daunting. Many incoming students fear the onslaught of material that is coming their way and cringe at the prospect of having little free time. The truth is, you can succeed in medical school while still making time for other activities/relaxation and lead a happy and balanced life. But that will only be true if you work intelligently and efficiently. Have confidence in yourself and your study plan. Worrying excessively is neither efficient nor productive.
By Daniel R. Paull M.D. author of So You Got into Medical School…Now What? A Guide to Preparing for the Next Four Years. He received his medical degree from the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine, and is currently in his orthopedic surgery residency.