6 things I wish I had known at the beginning of medical school

It’s amazing how quickly you can lose track of time as you power through the books. Once everything is setup — coffee to the left, pens and highlighters to the right, Grooveshark playlist perfectly tuned — you can suddenly look up and realize that three weeks have flown by and there are 123 multiple choice questions to be answered in the morning.

Over the past year and a half, I’ve learned a lot: Pages upon pages on everything from the toes to the head and a few things in between. Along the way, I’ve also discovered the following six things that I wish I had known at the beginning of medical school:

1. Everyone has their own way of learning. On more than a few occasions (including just yesterday), I’ve found myself severely doubting my methods of preparation. One classmate will have the Leaning Tower of Pisa modeled out of flashcards on his desk while another sits in the corner watching YouTube videos on the Spinothalamic Tract — and it freaks me out. The questions flash by in my mind: “Why didn’t I do that?” “Is that a better way?” “How does he get all those cards to stack up without falling over?” In the end, though, I always come back to the realization that there are a million different ways to learn the material, and you simply can’t do it all.

2. Starbucks is expensive, but refills are cheap. Did you know that coffee refills are fifty cents at Starbucks? You probably did, but I had no idea. Everybody sets up shop at a coffeehouse from time to time, and I was amazed when someone finally let me in on the cheap coffee secret from Seattle.

3. There is time. At the beginning of first year I skipped a good friend’s wedding because of an exam early the next week. I also missed my cousin’s graduation from PT school because of the beckoning of biochem. I wish I hadn’t done that. 18 months later, I can see that there will always be another hour for books and highlighters, but your cousin only becomes a doctor once.

4. The library has lots of books. This is probably another one of those obvious Starbucks-type things, but having never had much use for the book stacks in undergrad (I was an engineering major), it took me a little while to realize that just about every book I could need can be found somewhere on the dusty shelves. This may have been useful information before I bought $500 worth of books I’ll never crack open again.

5. Otoscopes might be necessary sometimes, but it’s not now. The first week of school, we were given a list of mandatory equipment. There’s really not much need to elaborate on this, other than to say that I now have an all-too-expensive otoscope/ophthalmoscope sitting in the back corner of my closet.

6. I get by with a little help from my friends. You can try to do everything yourself. The to-do list will grow longer, your hair will turn grayer, and your Jack Russell will shoot you dirty looks from the living room couch. Only recently did I come to this important realization, and it is by far the most critical lesson I’ve learned. It’s the study partners, froyo friends, and late night companions who keep you sane and lighten the load.

Rick Pescatore is a medical student who blogs at Little White Coats.

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