Five Tips for Surviving Med School

February 4, 2015

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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Students in scrubs on placement in Europe While the start of medical school may bring enthusiasm and excitement, it is also normal to feel a little hesitate and maybe even worry about what is ahead. After all, you may have heard stories about how you will be sleep deprived and overwhelmed. Getting in the right frame of mind will help you get through the process. Consider some of the tips below for surviving the next four years.

Take Care of Yourself Throughout the Program

There is no doubt you will be busy in medical school. But it is essential to take care of yourself. If you let yourself get run down, you will not be able to keep up with the work.

Although it may be easier to grab fast food or eat junk food, avoid the temptation. Eat healthy foods, such as fresh fruits, vegetables and lean proteins. In addition, while an occasional alcoholic drink may be fine, don’t go overboard.  

Exercise can also be a great way to take care of yourself. Find an activity you enjoy, such as running, biking or dance classes and try to participate at least three or four times a week.

It is also helpful to be aware of signs of stress or depression. Feeling anxious often, a loss of interest in activities and trouble sleeping, may all be signs you are stressed out or depressed. Don’t hesitate getting help. Med schools have confidential health services where students can get referrals for counseling.

A break from the grind is also important. Separate yourself from med school occasionally. Know your priorities, but allow yourself to do something besides school work. Schedule your free time just like you would schedule classes or work.

Be Open Minded

Medical school will likely bring new experiences and the opportunities to grow as a person. Keep in mind, everything does not have to be set in stone. For instance, if you go into med school thinking you want to pursue a certain specialty, but develop other interests, be open minded.

Consider taking a clinical rotation elective that challenges you. Sometimes you need to step outside your comfort zone to grow and improve. You never know what you are capable of until you go for it.  

Being open minded also means changing things up and trying something new. For example, you may want to try different study habits than you did as an undergrad. Consider enlisting the help of a study buddy or joining a study group.

Stay Organized

Organization is critical for medical students. Staying current on assignments, reading and studying will help reduce stress. While as an undergrad, you may have been able to study at the last minute, but med school is a different story. The amount of material presented makes it difficult to cram the night before an exam.

It may be helpful to break work down into manageable chunks. Instead of looking at all the reading you have to do for the semester, focus on what you need to get through for the week. Breaking down work into smaller tasks may prevent you from becoming overwhelmed.

Don’t expect to understand everything all at once. Your first few tests may be especially challenging as you adjust. But after you learn what to expect, things may get easier.

Med school is four years long for a reason. There is a lot of material to learn, and it is normal to excel in some areas and not in others. If you feel you are struggling with a subject, get help studying, such as a tutor, to prevent falling too far behind.  

Weekends are a good time to catch up a little on school work. But don’t fall into the pattern of spending your entire weekend doing assignments or studying. Pace yourself throughout the week.  Use the weekend to do a little work and have a little fun to unwind.

Gap Medics students form a pyramid at Gangilonga Rock in Tanzania!

Make Friends With Your Classmates

Look around the room on your first day of med school. You will be seeing your classmates for a while. Getting to know them will help you throughout the course of your program for a variety of reasons.

Classmates can be a great resource for information. Additionally, you can vent frustrations to each other and be a source of encouragement. Your classmates may help you get through the tough times.

One way to get to know people with similar interests is by joining a club. Many med schools hold a club fair at the start of the school year. Consider joining something you are interested in or want to learn more about.

Keep Your Eye on the Prize

It can be easy to lose perspective if you are having trouble with a class or if a clinical rotation is not going well. Most medical students make mistakes from time to time. Whether you bomb a test or miss a procedure during a rotation, you won’t be perfect. Try to remember, every situation may not be as critical as you think it is at the moment.

At some point during med school, if you are have a hard time, take a step back and look at the problem. Do what you can to correct the situation. For example, if you are doing poorly during a clinical rotation, speak with your resident and ask for feedback on how you can improve.

There may be times when you doubt your ability to be successful in medical school. Many people doubt their success at one time or another. The key is to work through the doubts and keep plugging away.

Graduation can seem like a long way off. Keep in mind, medical school is not a sprint. It is more of a marathon. At some point, you may be surprised to find out everything you have been learning is starting to come together. Your confidence will grow little by little. In time, you will learn to balance all the responsibilities of medical school and look forward to the challenges ahead.