5 tips for surviving your first year in medical school

I still remember the feeling of my first few days of medical school. Walking the halls felt like a giant, very real step towards a career that I had dreamt of pursuing for years.

While I knew that academic excellence was table stakes, what I did not think about at the time was how important the other the parts of my life would be to my success. From my current vantage point (I am an attending in emergency medicine) — with medical school now far in my rearview mirror — I wanted provide a few tips for those of you who are just starting out as medical students this fall:

1. Get out and be social. This may seem like a counter-intuitive first tip, especially with the workload that you already have piling up, but trust me, it’s important. Every new student is trying to orient themselves with the campus, classes, and meeting new people. Get out there and attend school events, social gatherings, and make friends. Building your network will give you a diverse crowd to lean on and share frustrations, failures, and wins.  Having an active social life will help you keep your priorities in perspective by doing something other than just studying.

2. Exercise. You may think I’m saying this because I’m a doctor, which is partially true, but I’m also saying it because I really believe that exercise is a great reliever of stress. A study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information showed that 53% of U.S. medical students met the criteria for burnout. Exercise is an effective way to help combat stress and burnout. Even if it is only for 20 minutes a day, exercise can make all the difference in your health, stress levels, and ability to focus and study.

3. Be humble and accept your failures. One of the essential qualities for a doctor is humility. Fostering this quality will help you better connect with patients and their families and provide the right answers. But for now, you’re not going to have the answers; you’re just going to have questions. So, ask them. All of them. Admit when you need help and ask for it. No doubt, you will stumble along the way. If you fail a test or miss a diagnosis, take a breath, this happens to all of us and it’s better to learn from our mistakes in a classroom or on a test than with a patient.

4. Stay organized. Trying to balance classes, meetings, and school events can be next to impossible. Start by finding the right tools to keep organized. Whether it’s a task scheduler on your phone or using a simple paper calendar and to-do list, find a system that works for you and stick to it. Set a list of priorities and work through it.

5. Find a mentor. Finding a mentor can seem like a difficult task when you’re still struggling to remember the names of all the faculty, but as you get to know your professors, take note of teaching style, tone, and approach. Look for a mentor who you think will not only support you, but will also challenge you as you progress in your studies and eventually grow in your career. The mentor/mentee relationship doesn’t have to be formal, and likely you’ll need to do the heavy lifting when it comes to building the relationship, but keep in mind that the benefits of having strong mentors will be enormous in the years to come.

Amit Phull is an emergency physician and vice-president of strategy and insights, Doximity.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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