5 Tips for Starting Med School

“Congratulations! You’ve been accepted”.

It’s that time of year again. If you’re reading this, you have likely received a letter from the institution you will soon call home, you’re going to med school!

I remember vividly the emotions (of mostly joy and partially palpitations/near-incontinence) that I experienced as I accidentally opened my acceptance email during a boring economics class just a few years ago.  (Clearly I didn’t pay enough attention during economics…read on for more…)

Here are a few tips that I was provided in my first week that have gotten me through so far. I hand them down to you acknowledging my complete lack of wisdom, and a “do what I say, not what I do” authority:

  1. Sleep when you can, eat when you can, study when you can: Ah, the old addage. Medical School (especially in your pre-clerkship years) is actually less time-intensive than it’s made out to be.  That said, there will also be 26 hour call shifts, sleepless nights, and exams that feel significantly larger than anything you’ve taken on before (yes, even the MCAT). Getting sleep and eating well will power that big brain of yours to take on any challenge the day (or night) may bring. Also importantly, do only extracurriculars that you find ENHANCE your happiness! There is no longer a need to build your CV with activities that cause you stress.
  2. Find your existing “support persons” and hold on tight: It can become easy to neglect old friends, and even family if you move cities, do research or study on weekends, and make new and wonderful medical school friends.  Some of your support people may be in your class, but recognizing and maintaining relationships with people outside of medical school was key to maintaining my mental health. Friends within med school will be stressed at all the same times as you, so it’s wonderful to have close people to turn to during those busy times!
  3. Create a financial plan BEFORE medical school: Okay, I’ll be real with you.  I may have pretended I was a Kardashian for the first few months of having an LOC after realizing that I had access to seemingly limitless debt, which has resulted in me accumulating a LOT more debt than I needed to. (Well, maybe not Kardashian level spending, but I didn’t hesitate to buy the expensive cheese in the grocery store like I had in undergrad). In fact, I didn’t even check my bank statement for MONTHS after getting access to the typical loan.  For real though, through my training so far, I had unknowingly spent over $1700 at Starbucks, and I don’t even drink coffee! Medical school is extremely expensive, but simple choices such as waiting until you REALLY need a car (I mean really need), having a roommate, inviting friends in rather than going out, and PACKING your lunch/drinks will go a long way in helping you save. Having recently sat down with a financial planner, it will be difficult  to pay the interest, let alone the principle, of my line of credit down during residency. At the same time, it is important that you live life and don’t say no to the things that really matter to you (such as visiting your family on a weekend). By creating a budget, no matter what the numbers are, you can be aware of what you’re spending, and that’s a responsible decision.
  4. Study for the exam, learn for life: For me, Undergrad success with a heavy course load came at the expense of, well, actually LEARNING the material.  Sure, I learned how to memorize enough of a course 3 days prior to the test to get an “A”, but it was largely at the expense of understanding and retaining the knowledge.  Med school is different. When you’re on the floor as a medical student, you are expected to remember what you’ve learned. You will still have to pass the exams, but most importantly, you may need to change your study style to make sure you’re actually learning the key points along the way.  You’ll hear it many times, but have an “approach” to common complaints (such as chest pain) from day one, and build on this as you gain knowledge. That way, you’ll never be stuck trying to remember an isolated fact on the floor. But if you don’t remember, it’s OK! You’re never alone as a student and you can ALWAYS ask for help.
  5. You will fail, but you’re not a failure: Ah, the type A personality. If you’ve made it this far, I realize you’re likely not accustomed to failure, just as I am still learning to handle the concept myself.  But in medicine, you will fail. Whether it be something inconsequential like a formative quiz, or something more significant which could alter patient care, such as forgetting to get a physician to co-sign an order, no budding physician or current physician is perfect. Even when we are doing the best we can, patients may not make it. When you do fail, refer to item 2.  Mistakes don’t make you a failure, and with adequate support and reflection, you’ll be able to be better (but never perfect), each day of your training, for your patients.

While certainly not an exhaustive list, I hope this brings you some insight into things I found helpful, or wish I had taken more heed in before medical school.

Enjoy the excitement and experiences of your medical training!

Best of Luck!

-K

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