New medical students: Here are 10 tips for success

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1. Stop comparing yourself to others. You got into medical school, that is an extraordinary achievement. Whatever you have done so far has worked,  you already have proven your intelligence and study habits. You need to trust that you are capable of succeeding in medical school. Every student has different study habits, and different things work for everyone. Just because your classmate is pulling an all-nighter before an exam doesn’t mean you have to, and just because someone else read the textbook three times doesn’t mean you have to do that either. Adjusting to medical school will be a learning process but constantly comparing yourself to others will lead to unnecessary stress. Learn what works for you and stick to it.

2. There is no way to learn everything. No matter how much time you spend studying, it will be impossible to master all the material. In undergrad, we were accustomed to learning all the material before an exam. In medical school, that is simply not possible, a key to succeeding in medical school is learning to prioritize what information is relevant to the exams, and to being a physician. This is a skill that will be learned over your first year. You have to learn to be OK with not knowing everything. It will drive you crazy to stress over learning every single detail. Just do your best to learn as much as you can and accept that which you can’t learn.

3. Seek out help when needed. If you find that you need support in any capacity whether it be through therapy, a psychiatrist, tutoring or academic support, do not be ashamed to seek it out. Getting help is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of maturity and self- awareness. Knowing when to ask for help, and receiving it will make you a better student, and a better physician.

4. Be sure to block out time for yourself. There is no upper limit on studying in medical school. Unlike in undergrad, you are never done, there is always more to learn. Probably for the first time in your life you need to prioritize taking breaks to do something that brings you joy. Whether it be blocking off one night a week, or one hour a day, you need to schedule in time to decompress and have fun. I always liked to have one fun activity planned each weekend. If you don’t take out the time to relax it will catch up to you. It is also important to not feel guilty about taking time off from studying.

5. Make friends. Medical school is extremely tough. I can not underscore the importance of having a support system, particularly your classmates who are going through it at the same time as you. Life will not stop when you start medical school. These are four formative years of your life: You may fall in love, go through a breakup, lose a loved one, have children … You want people around you to both comfort you and share in your joy. These will be your friends for life.

6. Be open-minded and be humble. You may have an idea what speciality you want, or you may have no idea. Regardless it is important to go through each block and clerkship with an open mind and an eagerness to learn. You may be surprised by what you love, and what you dislike. Be open to all learning opportunities. Your classmates, professors, patients, attendings and ancillary staff all have a lot to teach you- not just medical knowledge but also life lessons.

7. Check in with yourself. You will be tired; you may feel burnout. Listen to yourself. Take time to reflect on your days. Journaling or writing letters to yourself can be helpful. Talk about your thoughts with others. Remember why you chose to become a physician. We all have times when we have doubts, and it is OK.

8. Do not take yourself too seriously. You are entering a very demanding profession. It requires the utmost dedication and professionalism but remember to have fun.

9. Find mentorship early. Seek out those who enjoy mentoring medical students. Find someone who you can check in with on a regular basis, and can give you generalized career advice. Establishing relationships early on and allowing your mentors to know you throughout the four years will come in handy later when making a specialty choice, needing letters of recommendation and making a rank list.

10. Please exercise and eat healthy. The importance of taking care of yourself physically cannot be understated. You will spend an obscene amount of hours in the library and class sitting down. Try to work out at least 3 to 4 times a week. Develop healthy eating habits, meal prepping can save you a lot of money and is often healthier than on-campus eating options. Find healthy snacks you can keep with you at all times. You are becoming an ambassador for wellness for your patients, try to practice it yourself.

Erica Feldman is a medical student.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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