The Successful First Year Medical Student

As a first-year medical student, you already know med school is going to be hard, but in all honesty, there probably isn’t anything you’ve done up to now that will have prepared you for what you’re about to experience. You’re excited, nervous, and understandably wondering if you’re going to make it through the next four years. Well, you will. And, with help from the First Aid Team, you’ll not just make it through, you’ll make it through with flying colors.

We’ve compiled some tips – after all we used to be in your shoes –that made life just a little bit easier for those of us who have gone before. So, breathe a little easier first year students. Spend five minutes reading this post, then use what you’ve learned to help you manage your first year.

It’s all relevant – From the basics of biochemistry to obscure diseases that you probably won’t see on rotations, most of the information you’ll learn during medical school will help you become a better doctor. So spend time learning the content thoroughly once and develop a system to access this info whenever you need to. One way to do this is to use one good textbook during your basic science classes. So, spend time reading clinical microbiology from a textbook like Lippincott’s Illustrated Reviews: Microbiology and know it well. Go to class and take good notes, and you will probably not need to review from too many books. So, to sum it up, go to class, take thorough class notes, and study a good textbook.

Exams – The successful first year medical student needs to be focused on exams. Going to lecture is great and reading a lot of books or spending time reviewing topics that seem interesting is ok, but getting through exams is an absolute must. Therefore, make sure you focus on read all the topics professors emphasize and spend fewer study hours reading low-yield content.

Exercise and stay healthy –Exercising and staying fit throughout medical school augments studying and will ensure you are able to deal with exams and homework. Get a gym membership if it fits your budget. Hey, med school is just as hard on the body as it is on the mind. Take care of both!

Balance your studies with extracurricular activities – There are so many ways to supplement your education in medical school. From joining student government to getting involved with student organizations, the most important reason to join is to stay balanced. Life might seem all about studies, exams, and more exams right now, but a well rounded med student is a happier med student.

Be social – Med school isn’t as lonely as it seems. You can not only learn you’re your fellow med students, you can network with them. Ask other students for details about class schedules, exam tips, and study methods. A few simple questions, posed as a way to make new friends, will help you tremendously throughout medical school. If you miss class or an exam, rely on your friends for support.

Online and offline resources – Get to know the library where you will be studying. Medical school libraries have a lot of resources that include books, journals, and old exams. Usually, medical students listen to class lectures, take notes on lectures, and review difficult concepts online.

Get a tutor – Beyond getting thru an exam, a tutor will give you tips on how to navigate your medical career. For instance, as you study anatomy, your tutor will help you put the big picture in perspective by helping you connect the dots between memorizing facts and answering questions.

Get organized – Save your class lecture notes, and organize all the information so that when final exams come, you have everything you need to pass in one place. Also during COMLEX and USMLE review, class notes are familiar to you and therefore will help during board review.

Go to lab – The study of anatomy, histology, and microbiology requires putting in some lab time. Going to lab has a lot of advantages and will provide a hands-on approach to learning. You’ll be presented with a lot of information during the first year of medical school, but there are a lot of resources to help you get through it all.

Study method – The most difficult part about medical school is dealing with a bad score on an exam or failing an exam. A bad score does not mean you’ve failed in your career aspirations. Get help early! Ask friends, faculty, and your medical school’s learning center about guidance on how to get thru the next exam. Change your learning and study methods if needed, spend more time and resources on subjects you’re struggling with. Make sure you learn from your past experiences to prevent future failures on exams. Make flashcards, listen to lectures, try different books, study in a group, try practice questions, and spend time repeating… repeating… and, you guessed it…. repeating.

Orientation week – Go. Your medical school will probably have an orientation week to help you get accustomed to the people you will be studying with, the folks who will be guiding you over the next four years, and to familiarize you with the resources that are present to help you. Don’t wander around like a lost lamb, looking for the library, when you can get the day-to-day stuff out of the way during orientation week. Save the lost lamb act for later – you’ll need it.

Well, there are a ton more tips we’d like to give you, but these are probably the most pressing, and the most helpful. Use them all, or pick and choose – after all, you’ll need to be flexible – but, remember, we’re on your side, as are your parents, your friends, and your teachers. Use every resource you can get your hands on, and you’ll be just fine.

Got any first-year tips? Help out your fellow students and share them below!


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