The Survival Guide for Medical Students!

Medical college is not the end of the world. Take it from us, we have been there, when we say that medical college is what you make of it. You shouldn’t be defined by the subjects you study, rather you need to alter the subjects as per the lifestyle you want. Else, in this hectic world and the ever growing shortage of medical personnel, you will be overwhelmed and might wonder why you took up Medicine in the first place!

How do you survive medical school? Here are seven important points that need to be taken very seriously!!

Image: Cartoon Stock

1. Time Management:  As a teen/ young adult, this is never the priority of the medical student, when you first joint the course. But to seriously enjoy your life at medical college, this is a very essential concept.  Studying in medical college is not the same as it was in your Pre-University college/ 12th Standard; this is a new world where you have to explore different techniques and find what works best for you. In medical school, it is all about studying smart, not studying hard. If you don’t know this at the beginning, you will learn it the hard way. Studying medicine is a long process and demands a great amount of discipline and sacrifice. Time Management must be your first priority for a healthy mind!!

2. Take care of yourself:  A healthy mind, requires a healthy, well nourished body! Staying away from your parents, as often is the case, the lack of nutritious home food leads to adopting of negative food habits and behaviours! This may lead to long-term detrimental consequences to your health.  Do not deprive yourself of healthy, fresh food. Do not ruin your health by eating fast food and avoiding exercise. Do not pull all-nighters and deprive your body and brain of sleep; the consequences are too severe for what may be only 15 minutes of productive studying. Your brain needs fresh food, water, fruits, and vegetables. Your body needs exercise and sleep.

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Image: Duke Magazine

3. Do not compete with your classmates or compare your grades with others:  The movie 3 Idiots, highlights this point very well! We all had to be competitive to get into medical school. But once you are accepted, it becomes a level playing field. Although many students still compete with their classmates, it will not make them better physicians. Getting a 95% on your pathology exam does not mean you will be a great pathologist or clinician. As soon as you walk out of your first exam, look around, and you will see people obsessing about what the right answer was for Question 13. It is easy to spot them. They will come to you and ask you if you put “C” for Question 23. Seriously! Avoid everyone after the exam, and make friends with those who share your philosophy.

4. Answer practice questions while you study: “Studying my notes 10 times is probably the best way to prepare for exams.” Wrong! The only way to test your learning is to do practice questions. For example, after studying your Ganong physiology textbook, make sure you complete the questions at the end of each chapter. This will help solidify the concepts you just read. Studying the same thing repeatedly does not make you smarter, but getting a question wrong will teach you quite a bit. Professional educators will tell you that it is statistically proven that students who do more questions perform better on boards, and that the only time you should go back to the big books is when you consistently miss questions on a certain topic and the answer explanations are insufficient.

5. Learn the big picture: You will likely start your first day in school delving into biochemistry, anatomy, physiology, or histology. From the start, instructors talk about columnar cells, impulse transmission, and glycolysis in fine detail. The next day, you are learning about brachial plexus and cardiac output. This is an enormous amount of information overload and students are often not prepared. As you memorize, learn the big picture.

6. Study with groups: “I am going to study on my own because I don’t need anyone’s help.” Wrong! Medicine is all about teamwork and sharing information. You have to be able to cooperate with others. Even when you apply for residency, it is important to keep this concept in mind. The moment the residency directors feel you will not be a good team player or that you might have “issues” with your colleagues, your application goes in the shredder. Find a small group of people who share the same healthy habits as you, meaning they like to exercise, they do not like to discuss grades, and they have a positive attitude. Once you find the right group, arrange to meet weekly for several hours to ask each other questions about concepts you do not understand. Even better, ask each other questions on little details you think your friends might have understood. Arrange for a review session the night before the exam for last-minute tweaking of your knowledge.

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7. Take time to engage in stress-relieving activities. Everyone in your class is facing the same amount of stress, some people more than others. You might notice some students walk around with a frown, whereas others wear huge smiles. How is that possible if they are all facing the same pressure? Again, it is time management. If you have extra time, you are able to reduce stress. Spend time with friends, or do something on your own that makes you feel better. Activities like exercise, yoga, listening to calm music, talking to your parents or praying — there is something out there that makes you feel better. Find it and do it. Do not let the stress affect your studies, relationships and, most importantly, health.

Finally, and we cannot emphasize this enough, remember that we are joining a great profession. Be passionate about what you are learning! Medicine is a treasure and an art.

As Henri Amiel said,

“To me, the ideal doctor would be a man endowed with profound knowledge of life and of the soul, intuitively divining any suffering or disorder of whatever kind, and restoring peace by his mere presence.”

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