1. Learn how to be organized
- Study materials: You will find it impossible to survive medical school without at least finding a way to keep your notes and books in order. Binders, color coding, and organized folders on your computer are some examples of how to do this.
- Schedule: Always know where you need to be and when. Keep a schedule with you at all times with your lecture schedule, exams, rotation schedule, meeting times, etc.
- Study space: If you study at home, make sure you have an area dedicated to studying. Keep this area free from clutter and from distractions (i.e. television).
2. Figure out how you learn best
- Use study tools: The value of study tools really comes into play during medical school. Everyone has a different style or different things that work for them, and don’t be fooled into thinking that you’re doing something wrong if you do it a different way yourself. Have a study system, and stick to it.
- Consider studying with other people around your study area. This works well for some people and poorly for many others. Having study partners, much like exercise partners, may help you stay on target and avoid quitting early. Also, the company may keep you from feeling isolated and overwhelmed. Others however find that they get overly distracted when they study with others. Experiment and find out for yourself if you find it helpful.
If what you’re doing isn’t working, don’t be afraid to try a different method.
3. Create a study schedule
- It helps to plan out your work, even as far ahead as several weeks. This way you can avoid getting behind, which can be devastating in medical school.
- Having a well-organized schedule will also allow you to plan out free time. Try to give yourself a half to a full day off each week. This will keep you focused during the rest of the week and keep you from getting burnt out.
Never cram. If you keep to your schedule, this won’t be an issue
4. Prepare for the boards and for the application process
- Board exams: Sign up well in advance for the boards, as you will find that testing dates become very limited if you wait until a month or two prior to your preferred dates.
- Residency application/interviews: This is something you need to stay vigilant about. Know the application schedule well, and be ready to submit your application as soon as possible. When you start getting invitations to interviews, respond immediately or you will find it very difficult to plan out your interview season.
5. Be professional
- Be on time: Part of surviving medical school is learning how to be professional, and being on time is a key aspect of this.
- Dress professionally. No exceptions.
- Treat everyone with respect. This not only goes for your professors and acquaintances, but your classmates as well. It’s much more to your benefit to be a team player than it is to disregard others.
6. Ask for guidance
- Your professors and Deans of Student Affairs and Academic Support are immensely valuable resources that you should take advantage of if you feel you are struggling.
- Look to your seniors. Talking to those a year or two ahead of you can be very helpful since they were recently experiencing the same thing.
- Find a mentor. Many schools assign faculty mentors to you, but if not, consider contacting a faculty member that you know or someone in your field of interest to meet with you.
7. Find a tutor
- Most schools offer tutoring of some sort, and tutors can meet you at any level. Tutoring also doesn’t mean that you are a poor student, because even the best students can benefit from having someone go through material with them at their own pace
8. Keep your body healthy
- Medical school is in some ways as taxing on your body as it is on your mind. It may be difficult, but it’s worth it to take the extra time to make a healthy meal or spend a few minutes in the gym or on walk.
- Allow yourself time to relax. Know that it’s OK to spend time with your friends and family, because medical school survival also involves taking the time to socialize when it’s appropriate.
- Get enough sleep. Whether for you that means 5 hours or 10, it’s essential to get regular, restful sleep
9. Recognize the difference between stress and depression
- Stress is a common and often necessary part of not only medical school but of life in general. However when stress begins to affect your quality of sleep, your eating habits, or your ability to function in general, stress is no longer a motivating factor but rather it is holding you back. Seek out support in your family, friends at school, old friends, and upper-level students if you begin to feel down or depressed