When reflecting on 5 years of medical school, it is hard to imagine where all the knowledge is gone. My brain doesn’t feel particularly engorged, nor do I feel I have the confidence in what I know to stare my consultant in the eye and answer all their questions. Even though I haven’t developed a professorial knowledge base after 5 years, I have finished, thankfully, and now is as good a time as any to give those still completing this degree some advice. So within this article I present, Andrew Rawlin’s 5 tips for medical school.
1. Attend everything
I know this sounds fairly self explanatory, if you don’t attend lectures and tutorials, not only will you not make your attendance hurdle requirements and probably fail, the other disadvantage will be you won’t learn anything. But it is so much more than that. Firstly attending classes, especially early in the course, is just as good an opportunity to meet and make friends within the course as are social events. Secondly, it is empowering to not only to be aware of where everybody else is in their studies, even if you just get the titles of the lectures and sleep through the rest, but to have a feeling of the zeitgeist within your cohort, and the entire university. It is this connectedness that keeps you part of the herd, and not feeling left behind.
2. Read a bit of everything, but mostly anything, everyday
My German teacher in year 7, notorious for making a student faint when he scratched his glass eye in class with a pen, was not known only for his crazy antics and eccentric style of teaching. He was also known for his scholarly advice, much of which was lost on 13 year old boys. I don’t remember a lot of German from his class but I do remember the statement, “the only way to learn is to read.” He argued that nothing could be learned unless it is read, which seems strange in our generation of technology, where podcasts, YouTube tutorials and medical software programs are as much a basis of our teaching as any other modality. I know many medical students who were interested in law degrees, but who “didn’t like to read,” so chose medicine. So as a student ambassador for a textbook publisher, I can confidently say that the overwhelming majority of things you need to know is written down by those who went before us. And the only the way to absorb this is to read, and the only way to make this an automatic and easier task, is to do it for an allocated time period every night. Even if there is no impending need or deadline pressuring your choice of material, make it a daily habit.
3. Join a study group, of people you have never met
Study groups are fantastic and their value can be easily argued. However, my experience has been that study fatigue and the company of friends can easily dissolve a functioning study group into a social clique with a good excuse to meet up. Therefore, I advise, that you form a study group made up of people that you have never met. Advertise on the university forums, meet in a convenient area at a planned time, and cover a variety of topics that are both relevant to the current coursework, and topics that members have had difficulty with. Ideally, if you have access to higher and lower year levels, mix the study group with students from each year level and of different abilities. According to the motivational author Stephen Covey, “strength lies in differences, not in similarities.”
4. Think outside the “medicine box”
It is so easy to become completely preoccupied by medicine as you study for exams or worry about upcoming clinical placements. One of the reasons students are successful in their entry interviews into medical school is because of widely diverse backgrounds of various interests and talents. I beseech all people of these passions, not to lose these in preference for their studies, as their presence in your life will make it easier to spend 30 minutes reading about the muscles of the forearm. This, I feel, is also not limited just to interests we had before studying medicine, but to interests developed while studying medicine. Keep an open mind, try new things and importantly include non-medical books in your daily reading regime.
5. Try not to judge yourself on the performance and actions of other medical students
“If you compare yourself to others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.” – Max Ehrmann
One of my biggest worries in medical school, was that I couldn’t compare to all these intelligent and talented individuals. It was not until the final year of the degree where I developed the acceptance that I never could compare, but more importantly, I didn’t have to, nor should I. Have confidence in the competence and experience of the interviewers that awarded you a place in medicine, and have a healthy dose of self confidence in your own ability. Everybody has their own path to tread, and everybody will do it at a different pace and with different strides. The most important thing is that you keep moving down the path because the end comes quicker than anticipated.
In summary, all I can say is that medical school is an epic accomplishment, and if experienced in a full manner, provides you with all the skills you need in your future clinical practice. Or, after learning my first 10 weeks of internship will be cover and night shifts, I certainly hope it is the preparation we need. Good luck!
Andrew Rawlin, Elsevier Australia Medical Student Ambassador