7 things everyone should know before starting medical school

I enrolled in medical school right after college, and the summer before I enrolled, I remember feeling both excited and somewhat nervous about starting. I didn’t really know what medical school was going to be like, and nobody really does until they start. As a current third year med student, I wish I knew some things about medical before starting – not because I necessarily think they’d make my experience any different – but because I’m a believer of being as informed as possible about a new adventure prior to partaking in said adventure. That said, here are 7 things everyone should know about medical school before enrolling:

7.) Purchase USMLE Step-1 First Aid book during your first year. Having a copy with you early in medical school will allow you to take down notes in specific sections of First Aid, which can come in handy when prepping for Step 1 in the future. This book isn’t meant to be a primary source of reference for your first year courses, but, rather, to act as a supplement to your study materials. Having a copy of the book during first year will allow you to get familiar with the different sections of First Aid, which can only help when studying for Step-1. Overall, it’s a good investment to make.

6.) It’s ok to take time off before starting medical school. Medical training is a lifelong process that requires a significant amount of time and commitment, and, frankly, it isn’t a profession for everyone. If you are unsure that medicine is for you or if you have other interests that you’d like to pursue before applying, that’s ok. Pursue those interests and apply when you are ready.

5.) Enjoy your last summer as much as possible. On the surface, this seems like a given, but I sometimes hear of students purchasing a textbook or looking over the syllabus to try and get ahead. Frankly, this won’t help you very much. Med school lectures can change on the fly, and you may spend hours learning a biochemical pathway that the professor will never ask you about on the exam. Just enjoy your summer, because it’s the last chance you’ll have to have fun for two months without thinking about studying for the boards, looking into research positions, or applying for residency.

4) Your undergrad study routine may not work in medical school. Being admitted to medical school is tough, so if you’re a medical student, chances are you did well in undergrad. However, the study methods that helped you be a successful student at that point in your life may not translate well in med school. Why? Because of the sheer volume and pace in which you are required to learn the material. Therefore, meticulously recopying lecture notes in different colored pens is perhaps not a good strategy when trying to memorize as many lectures as possible prior to an exam.

3.) Don’t compare yourself to your classmates. Most medical students have type A personalities and are, in some fashion, competitive. The latter isn’t a necessarily a bad trait. After all, being competitive and prideful about one’s academics is important for doing well as an undergraduate and/or graduate student. However, this competitive nature may backfire when you begin comparing yourself to your peers. Frankly, you may not always score the highest grade in your class, and being upset because someone is scoring higher than you on exams will only make you miserable. It’s important to focus on yourself and on learning the material instead of trying to discern whether or not you’re doing better than your peers.

2.) Invest in a paper shredder. Okay, you may think this is strange, but it’s actually kind of important. As a first year, I accumulated so much paper that I literally had to fill grocery bags with these papers and take them to the recycling bin. Furthermore, as a medical student doing clerkships, you’ll have papers/documents with patient information, and it’s not safe or appropriate to throw out that information in a trashcan. However, you can circumvent that problem by shredding those documents and thereby keeping from compromising sensitive patient information.

1) You can have a life outside of medical school. Most people think that all medical students do is study, with little to no time for socializing or doing extracurricular activities. Fortunately, this isn’t 100% accurate. Granted, we do spend a significant amount of time studying, but there are also opportunities for students to get engaged in activities outside of the classroom. Many medical students do community service work, play intramural sports, go to the gym, socialize, etc. The key factor is knowing how to manage your time wisely and studying efficiently, so that you can set aside some time to do the things you enjoy.

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