After The White Coat Ceremony: 8 Survival Tips For New Medical Students
New medical students: we wish you a hearty congratulations and a pat on the back. You’ve worked hard your entire academic career, and you are about to embark on a life-changing journey that will push you to your limits, transform how you look at the world, and challenge you in every way possible.
If you’ve made it this far, you know that the road ahead certainly isn’t going to be easy. Take time to mentally prepare yourselves for the obstacles you will inevitably face as you begin the rigorous training before you.
Find a support network.
The transition into medical school will probably not be a smooth one and it is important that you find a network of support to carry you through the difficult times. Many first-year medical students will dedicate every free moment to their studies. This is easy to understand given the rigor of medical school, but for the sake of your own emotional health you should also make it a priority to maintain a social network of family, friends, and fellow students. You are only human and you will sometimes need people to turn to when you experience bumps in the road.
You will sometimes face self-doubt—that’s okay.
If you didn’t love medicine, you wouldn’t be here today. But there will inevitably be times when you will question your decision to become a doctor, when you will doubt your motivation, when you will feel like you’re losing your own sanity. Keep everything in perspective and know that every medical student in history has had feelings of being entirely overwhelmed. These moments will pass and you will be stronger for it.
Figure out how you learn best.
Different people learn best in different ways. Keep in mind that learning is not the same as memorizing and regurgitating information, so try out a few different approaches to discover the best way for you to truly absorb the massive amounts of information being thrown at you. Some people like to take notes and make flashcards. Some people find they learn best through lectures and recordings of lectures. Some people pore over textbooks and others find that they prefer studying from a PowerPoint presentation. Find the method that works best for you to truly learn—be it conventional or not.
Develop an effective time-management system.
Let me state the obvious: late-night cramming for a test is not a good idea. You need to plan ahead and create a system to manage your time, because there won’t be a lot of free time once your studies begin. Write down exam dates and create lists of tasks to tackle each day. Be aware of what you have on your plate and stay organized with your studies. Set realistic goals for yourself and try to stick to these goals—but be prepared in case something takes longer than you had planned.
Reward yourself for success and bounce back from failure.
Medical school is incredibly challenging, but incredibly rewarding. Don’t allow yourself to get discouraged when you do poorly on an exam, because it will happen and that is okay. Learn from your failures and be resilient when you don’t succeed right away. Just as important, take the time to reward yourself for your successes! If you just spent two hours diligently studying, it’s all right to take a break. If you mastered that exam that you were preparing for all month, reward yourself with a day to relax. Knowing how to respond appropriately to failure and success will be key to getting through medical school while maintaining your sanity.
Take care of yourself mentally and physically.
The mind and body are inextricably linked and you will not perform at your best academically if you don’t take care of yourself. Make sure you get enough sleep and maintain a healthy diet. Take the time to exercise regularly in order to maintain your focus. Combat stress by participating in leisure activities such as pleasure reading, catching an episode of your favorite TV show, or relaxing at the park. Don’t completely lose yourself in your studies and forget to take care of yourself, or those hours spent studying will be for naught.
Explore activities outside of medical school.
Even though medical school is incredibly time consuming, you should consider finding activities outside your studies to engage in. A good doctor is a well-rounded doctor and finding that balance will be critical to your happiness and success. Join organizations and pick up some extra-curricular activities. Find your passion outside of medicine and use your free time to pursue it. Not only will this be critical for your overall happiness, but when you start to apply for residencies you will have something to put on your application besides just having graduated from medical school.
Stay humble and learn from those around you.
Be prepared to accept the fact that as a new medical student, you know practically nothing about the field that you have just entered into. Any preconceived ideas or prejudices about medicine will only hold you back and hamper your learning process. You will constantly be absorbing new information; don’t be afraid to ask for help! Medical professionals are a team, so stay humble and learn from the people around you. Take advantage of the fact that everyone from your fellow classmates to your professors to patients you encounter can all teach you something new.