Hi! First of all, I really enjoy reading your blog! Second, I’m a senior in undergrad who has been accepted to med school (YAY!!!), but is looking at the next year of my life with a healthy combination of fear and excitement. Not sure if you have done a post like this already, but could you offer some wisdom on surviving and thriving as an M1?
First off, congrats on getting into medical school. That is an amazing accomplishment. My first bit of advice is to really reflect on that and let it sink in. You got in!
Now I have a disclaimer. I am still in my first year of med school (three weeks from being done) so I may not be an authority. But I feel like I have enough experience to offer some advice. So take this for what ever you think it is worth. Here are some tips (in no particular order) for the coming year:
1. Take the summer off. People ask me a lot, “what should I study the summer before medical school?” I would say nothing, nothing at all. You can’t really pre-prepare for med school (you should have been doing that the last 4 years of undergrad!). That would be like trying to learn organic the summer before you take organic 1; it doesn’t make sense. Take a breather and enjoy some time. Your life is about to be overwhelmingly busy so get yourself organized, do some fun things and spend time with loved ones.
2. Pick 1 or 2 things you want to make a priority in med school. It is easy to let medical school consume your life. Trust me, that will drive you insane. Right now you probably have many hobbies, and it is unrealistic to think you can keep up with all of them. My advice is to decide on at least 1, maybe 2, things you want to make a priority in medical school. This can be anything from painting to playing music to learning Spanish. Once you decide, set out time each day or a block of hours each week to do those things. Maybe you decide you really want to keep playing the piano. Designate a half hour each day to that. Or perhaps you are like me and love to ride a bike, then each Saturday set out 3 hours to go riding. It is important to keep a part of yourself outside of medicine. These things will be crucial when you get busy and need a way to relax.
3. Don’t forget to exercise. As the work piles on you will be tempted to cut things out of your schedule, like your hobby from above, or exercise. This is a terrible idea. Most of your day during the first two years of medical school will be spent sitting. It will be like the freshman 15 all over again, only now you will be stress eating as well. Make time to keep yourself healthy. Numerous studies link exercise to better mental function, so just think of exercise as making your study time more efficient. Most likely it is!
4. Don’t get behind. The material in medical school is going to come very fast. I am sure you have heard the analogy that med school is like trying to drink from a firehouse. You must keep up with the reading and lectures to be successful.
5. Only compare yourself to yourself. In medical school everyone is intelligent. But everyone excels at different things. I have gone into panic mode listening to classmates talk about things I had never even heard of right before the test. Somehow though, I have always been able to do well. Likewise, I once studied with a girl who I thought was just not getting it. I was really worrying about how she might do on an upcoming exam. But then we got to a biochem topic and she drew out every pathway on the board from memory. That is something I am terrible at. You will find you struggle with some things and excel at others. Just realize you are there to be a good doctor, not to be the best med student.
6. Have some fun. There is only so much studying you can do before you burn yourself out. Don’t forget to have some fun every now and again. Go grab a beer with some classmates, have a board game night or a potluck. Someone set up a ping-pong table at our school, which has greatly improved moral. After a long day of studying we often set up the table, make a bracket and play ping-pong to destress.
7. Use your time efficiently. You will quickly learn that in med school having the TV on while you casually study or checking facebook every 30 minutes is not going to fly. You will need to be efficient. I suggest downloading a program that will block certain websites. I use Self Control. I set it for 3 hours at a time and block everything that might distract me: tumblr, facebook, twitter, blogs I frequent, etc. Then after 3 hours of studying I allow myself an “internet break.” This ensures that the time I am studying is used efficiently. It is easy to trick yourself into believing you have studied for hours when really half that time was spent being distracted.
8. Selectively pick your clubs. You will be tempted to join every club when you get to medical school. But that will quickly overwhelm you. Decide on one or two extra curriculars you really want to be involved in and spend time on those.
9. Realize you aren’t alone. In medical school it is easy to feel isolated, even when you are surrounded by people. Some days you will think you are the only one struggling with the material or the only one who is freaking out about the test. But chances are, everyone is. There is a girl in my class who has a very tough exterior. She acts like a real hard-ass most of the time. Then one day I walked into what I thought was an empty lab and caught her crying. I talked with her and realized she was freaking out about school, just like I had been only a week prior. Everyone will act like they are doing fine, because no one wants to seem like they are struggling. Trust me when I say, everyone struggles at times. Don’t let yourself feel alone in that.
10. Breathe. Never forget, life goes on. Some days will feel amazing, some days will feel terrible. But when you feel overwhelmed, just stop and breathe. After a year of medical school I still feel a mixture of fear and excitement. Somedays the fear overwhelms the excitement. On those days I have to remind myself to just breathe.
Never lose site of the goal: to be a good doctor. When you get stuck trying to decide something in medical school ask yourself, will this make me a better doctor? If you keep that goal in mind, you will be just fine.
Best of luck,