I made it through the infamous 1st year of medical school, and here’s what I learned along the way. Most of this is stuff that I wish someone would have told me on Day 1, so that I could use the right programs and books from the beginning:
- Using a 50/10 timer is a life saver. You can study so much more efficiently if you set a timer for 50 minutes, and dedicate that time to focused study (no Facebook, YouTube, anything not related to your studies). Then set a 10 minute break timer. Repeat.
- You will feel the struggle of the bell curve. We get to medical school because we are used to living in that glorious thin sliver of the upper end of the bell curve. In medical school, unless you are the 15 students who live in the library and prioritize memorization over life itself, welcome to your new spot in the much larger area of the curve. What helped me: focus on learning the material, not reaching for a number on a test.
- Exercise. Just do it. I promise, it works. If you’re like me and struggle to justify the time, flashcards on the cardio machines are a game-changer.
- Buy First Aid on Day 1. Look over the chapter you will be learning about for the upcoming test. Don’t write notes in the book until you have a good understanding of the material. In the few days before the test, jot down the few key notes in the book.
- Use 2 flashcard programs: Firecracker and Anki. Firecracker has pre-made flashcards for quick review. Anki allows you to add pictures and diagrams, and uses algorithms to hide the flashcards you have mastered, and to keep showing the flashcards you struggle with. Make your own high-yield decks with diagrams and pictures you are familiar with (helpful when STEP 1 study comes around).
- Don’t waste time making outlines. That’s what MedBullet.com is there for. Just focus on finding ways to keep the information in your brain – not on a piece of paper. Because when you walk into STEP 1, you won’t have those papers to help you.
- Study efficiently so that you can balance your life with things you enjoy. Flip flashcards on your phone while you walk to school. Listen to videos while you drive. That way, you can take that 2 hour break to go rock climbing or go to dinner and completely relax.
- Shadow at least 3 specialties during your 1st year. You will thank yourself later for it. Not only will it help fuel the fire in your belly that will start to flicker, but it will also help steer you to choose a research project in your future specialty. These shadowing experiences were hands down some of the best memories during my first year.
- Start liking mornings. You will unearth so much more free time if you do.
- Surround yourself with people that make you feel light. If they feel heavy, if their conversations are negative, just let them go.
- Learn by doing questions. Per the advice of a pediatric neurosurgeon resident, studying should be 80-90% questions. This is much easier said than done – you’ll see.
- For cancer stuff, use Pathoma and Robbins Textbook Questions.
- For micro stuff, use SketchyMicro. I watch a 5 minute video once and still remember every detail of organisms, months later.
- For drugs, use SketchyPharm.
- Long-term learning in medical school boils down to one thing: how can you relate the information to something you already know? I still remember a comment I heard years ago from Tony Robbins, saying that anyone can learn quantum physics if it was taught in the context of an orange. New information has to be stored by connecting it to existing knowledge in our brain.
- True learning happens after-the-fact. When you go back to review something, take a couple minutes to sit back and think about the mechanism or the word and form connections – this is when you truly learn something. Not during the first-pass in class. For most people I’ve spoken to, this doesn’t happen until STEP 1 study.
- Medical school teaches you a superficial layer of everything. This is in stark contrast to undergrad, where you learned depth in everything. (This might be the most frustrating part of medical school for me). STEP 1 will be a dagger dangling over your head starting on your first day of medical school. Know that it’s there, acknowledge it, and embrace it. Use it for motivation, because there really is no other choice. You may be angry that your career is decided by a number on a test, but that is the truth of the game and it can be used to your advantage. So keep your eye on the prize and learn to fall in love with the mechanisms and gears of medicine.