Staying on top of work in Medical School

Hi there lovelies,

I’ve gotten a number of questions about how I study in medical school and how to stay on top of work and everything. Honestly, I’ve gotten so many questions since my post about studying for Step 1. Results should be out this week and I am super nervous because you never know with these things.

Medical school is so challenging, especially the first two years which culminate in the USMLE Step 1. There’s so much studying to do and you’ll find that every course probably requires a new study method. I have a few tips and things you should know:

First, be patient: It takes a while to get the hang of things. For me it really took a while and some bad scores to finally figure out what was important to learn and better ways to study. So don’t fret if everyone else seems to be getting on great and you’re still stuck. Most people in med school are winging it just as much as you are and are just as afraid and stressed. And yes, some are smarter, but working hard is just as important, so don’t give up.

Study when you’re most productive: I already mentioned this in my step 1 post but it’s true. There were days when I got more work in two hours early in the morning than I did during a 4 hour late night session because my brain just really wasn’t cooperating. It’s important to  recognize when something isn’t working and then take a nap or eat or watch a movie or go get some vitamin D. Anything but sitting there wasting your time is the right decision.

Don’t let your work pile: This should go without saying, but there are a few people (a good number actually) who think they’re getting away with not keeping up with school work when they cram last minute for a med school exam and pass. That’s exactly how you end up getting through medical school and understanding less than 50% of the main concepts. It’s going to come back for you at the end of the day, unless you have no plans to practice medicine. So, please don’t be silly. Study every single day. Better a little something than nothing at all. Don’t spend every single weekend partying. You need to get comfortable with making sacrifices. You cannot live the same lifestyle you did before medical school, sorry. Unless you plan to never sleep.

Do your best to UNDERSTAND concepts: Concepts in med school courses have a knack for coming back to bite you in the future (when you start clinicals and even in other related courses), especially if you don’t understand them. Pathology is going to require that you recall physiology and pharmacology will require that you remember biochemistry, physiology and pathology. These things are merciless and you’ll have to go back sometimes regardless of how well you know the material, but it’s worse when you’re going to start from scratch every time you go back.

Start integrating early with FA (if you plan on writing the USMLE): I think this really helps, as well as using the review textbooks recommended  on the back pages of First Aid because it gets your mind on track as to what you should focus on learning. In medical school, teachers will always say ‘learn EVERYTHING’ and you should have an idea of everything you can, but for exams, some things trump others. Plus, you become familiar with your First Aid before you even have to write Step 1. Repetition is a major key for learning things especially in med school.

For anatomy, your atlas is your friend, and dissection lab is great for seeing how things look exactly and that helps your memory. I was really bad at picturing things just from reading anatomy textbooks because I didn’t really grasp the descriptive terms. It took ages to understand ventral and dorsal and anteroposterior for some reason so the atlas was really good for me. I wish I’d used it more. I realized how useful it was late in my course, but for Step 1 preparation, it worked wonders for my memory.

Biostatistics is not my forte (hint: it’s never been my forte) so I have to work wayyyy harder on it than most people do and this happens in medical school. You’ll struggle with some courses that other people will glide through or get through with less effort. I recommend using the Kaplan videos as you start the course because for me the books were not cutting it (and usually I prefer to read). So I watched the videos and did as many practice questions as I could manage.

Biochemistry is one of the courses I really enjoyed learning and was good at. I love it. I advice you to write out all the pathways over and over and understand their connecting points. Take note of clinical applications. It’s very memorization based but it’s totally doable!

Genetics was not a hit with me. All I can say is try. It’s a short course and if you try hard enough, you’ll get most of it and get through. I benefited greatly from using the practice questions in the BRS Genetics textbook.

Physiology is a very concept based course and one of those ones where you have to read every word in your books and understand all the pieces of the puzzle. Do lots of practice questions and practice teaching yourself the concepts out loud. This method really exposes any weak spots. Learn graphs and flow charts necessary.

Microbiology: very memorization heavy. I just read stuff over and over again, made charts for gram positive and negative organisms and learned as many infectious diseases as I could. I’ve heard many good things about SketchyMicro.

Pharmacology: More memorization. This is actually difficult until it isn’t. The drugs somehow become a part of you. I struggled a lot with remembering side effects of drugs and nit picky peculiarities. Flash cards for pharm are the best thing. You can also try SketchyPharm if that’s available to you. It helps to integrate other courses, that is, learning pathology and then linking the drugs required so that your brain associates both data.

Pathology is the main basis of medicine. Pathology and physiology. I found it so interesting to learn, even though the exams could be a bit tricky. If you have a great teacher (like I did), it makes your life so much easier and reduces your study load. Study the pathohistological specimens and associated images. You’ll need to know them well.

At the end of the day, a good attitude and hard work will take you pretty far. Be ready to roll up your sleeves and do the work. There will be long nights studying and bad tests and meltdowns. Take time off to have fun and some nights you’ll really not want to do anything, so relax on those nights. I really cannot tell you that it gets easier, but it gets a different type of hard (that might be easier for you). Most importantly, it’s only temporary and many before you have survived it.

For even more tips, see Daniella’s and Katharine’s blogs.

Afoma x