How to Survive Medical School

By | April 25, 2024

Going through medical school is one of the biggest challenges a person can take on. The coursework is incredibly intense and demanding, requiring countless hours of studying each week just to keep up. On top of that, medical students have to balance their studies with other responsibilities like clinical rotations, research projects, extracurricular activities, and maintaining a healthy personal life. It’s no wonder so many find the journey through medical school grueling and overwhelming at times. However, there are strategies you can employ to make surviving medical school a bit more manageable. Here are some top tips for getting through your medical education successfully:

Develop Excellent Time Management Skills

One of the most essential skills for medical school survival is the ability to manage your time well. With so many demands on your schedule, you need to learn how to prioritize tasks and allocate your hours efficiently. Begin each week by making a schedule that blocks out time for classes, studying, clinical work, other commitments, relaxation, and sleep. Break large assignments into smaller, more manageable chunks that you can tackle each day or week. Stick to your schedules as much as possible and don’t procrastinate important tasks. Time management is key for avoiding burnout in medical school.

Focus on Active Studying Techniques

Merely re-reading class notes and textbooks won’t cut it – you need to utilize active study methods that maximize knowledge retention. Some proven techniques include:

– Making flashcards of key terms, processes, diseases, etc. and regularly testing yourself.

– Creating diagrams, charts, or mnemonic devices to help conceptual knowledge stick.

– Forming a study group where members take turns teaching each other material and quizzing one another.

– Connecting new information to clinical examples or real-world scenarios.

– Explaining complex topics aloud to friends/family or a mirror to check your understanding.

Active, self-testing strategies like these cement what you’re learning much better than passive reading alone.

Prioritize Rest and Self-Care

The pace and workload of medical school can easily lead students to burn the candle at both ends. This kind of unsustainable lifestyle will only leave you exhausted, stressed, and unable to perform at your best. Be sure to schedule regular downtime each week for rest, relaxation activities you enjoy, spending time with loved ones and friends, exercise, nutrition, and sleep. Taking care of your mental and physical health is absolutely critical for thriving in school. Do not feel guilty about making “me time” a priority amid your busy schedule.

Utilize School Resources

Most medical schools offer an array of helpful student support services you should take advantage of. These may include:

– Tutoring/review sessions – Use tutoring for tricky subjects before exams.

– Counseling services – Seek counseling if stress levels become too high.

– Wellness programs – Participate in stress-reducing activities like yoga or massage.

– Library resources – Visit the library for study areas, archives for old practice questions.

– Office hours – Meet with professors if you need clarification on lectures.

– Accommodations – Disclose disabilities to receive testing/classroom adjustments.

Do not struggle alone. Tapping into these campus resources can boost your chances of success tremendously.

Develop Strong Communication Skills

Physicians must be able to gather critical information from patients, clearly explain diagnoses and treatments, and work as part of a healthcare team. For that reason, developing excellent communication abilities should start in medical school. Practice active listening with classmates and introduce the habit of clear, knowledgeable responses. Participate in team-based learning activities and role plays to hone skills. Maintaining quality connections with peers can also uplift your experience overall by providing support networks during difficult times. Strong soft skills will serve you well through clinical rotations and in your career.

Ace Your Board Exams

Board exams like the USMLE Step exams are major milemarkers along the path to becoming a doctor. Dedicate focused preparation time leading up to each one using a variety of review methods. Formulate a multi-month study plan with realistic goals. Study in timed conditions to mimic the actual testing environment. Identify gaps in knowledge and focus review there. Practice self-testing and simulate full-length practice exams under testing conditions. With ample preparation, you’ll feel well-equipped on exam day and boost your chances of success. High scores open doors to competitive residency programs.

Get Involved Outside the Classroom

Doing well academically is table stakes in med school, but finding a work-life balance and pursuing interests/passions cultivates resilience and well-roundedness you’ll need to endure the journey. Consider volunteering with campus groups, joining academic/cultural clubs, getting involved in community outreach programs, or pursuing a research project that interests you. These types of extracurricular engagement will enrich your medical school experience personally and professionally by allowing an outlet away from textbooks. Just be sure not to overload your schedule at the expense of core studies.

Take Advantage of Teaching Opportunities

Explaining difficult concepts to others is one of the best ways to strengthen your own grasp of the material. Seek out ways to teach or reinforce learning for your peers, such as through tutoring positions, joining a teaching assistant program, leading study sessions, or simply sharing notes or knowledge informally with classmates. You’ll reinforce your skills while helping others succeed – a win-win. Many medical schools also provide opportunities for mentoring underclassmen adjusting to the rigors of medicine. Give back through sharing your insights and experience.

Stay Connected Socially

Medical school takes place during formative years, so maintaining fulfilling personal relationships should be a high priority too. Catch up regularly with family and friends from outside med school to decompress and share non-academic parts of your life. Reach out to peers especially after stressful events like exams for mutual support and encouragement. Staying socially engaged prevents loneliness and burnout. While priorities may shift temporarily due to deadlines, guard against isolating yourself completely in your studies for long periods. Your mental well-being depends on close connections.

The road through medical school is undeniably grueling and stressful. But by utilizing time management, active studying, self-care, school resources, social support and test-taking strategies, you can feel empowered and navigate the demands successfully. Focus on balance, prioritize resilience factors, and remember – with grit and perseverance, you have what it takes to thrive in medicine. And you won’t be alone – draw strength from your campus community.