Christopher Borowy, MS-2
Jonathan Kelley, MS-2
Midwestern University – Glendale, AZ
Countless tests, endless hours of studying, and bottomless pots of coffee – the first two years of medical school are unlike anything most people will ever experience. As the pressure mounts, so does your stress level. We have compiled 10 tips to not only help you survive the grueling didactic portion of medical school, but to ensure you thrive as you embark on your career in emergency medicine.
- Accept that you are smart enough to be in medical school.
There will be moments during the first two years when you will doubt your ability to become a physician. This is normal. Do not let a bad test grade or rough week allow you to begin questioning your capabilities. Remember, you are in medical school. You deserve to be here. Embrace your intelligence and own it. What do you call the person who graduated at the bottom of their class in medical school? A doctor. Repeat this mantra every day.
- Create a schedule and stick to it.
Medical school is a marathon, not a sprint, and training for a marathon is not accomplished overnight. Learning takes time, dedication and commitment. Throughout the first two years, you will be amazed by how much you can learn in a short period of time. However, it is important to be patient with yourself and create a schedule that allows you to soak in the information whether that includes nightly study sessions at Starbucks or morning runs on the treadmill. Developing a schedule creates consistency and eliminates unnecessary mental clutter. Be the tortoise. Don’t be the hare.
- Schedule one night per week off.
As part of your schedule, take one night per week off. This is an absolute necessity. Time off will become more valuable as you progress through medical school and continue long into your career. Get into the habit of forcing yourself to step away from school and to clear your mind now. Use this time to reconnect with the outside world, decompress with non-medical school friends and bond with family. You will arrive back in class refreshed and centered.
- Remind yourself why you are in medical school.
The human element of medicine is easily forgotten when you have your head buried in textbooks and case studies for two years. Why in the world do you need to know about Sphingomyelinase deficiency in Niemann-Pick disease? Because someone’s child has this and they have turned to you as the medical expert to guide them through treatment. The trust patients have in you during their most vulnerable times is the ultimate privilege. When school gets rough, stop to remind yourself why you have chosen medicine as your profession.
- Build a diverse and supportive network of friends.
There are different types of people in medical school. Go figure, right? Some people are hypercompetitive, ace the boards, and are destined to become neurosurgeons. Others already have a residency lined up through family connections and complete the bare minimum to pass. Cultivate a strong network of support by surrounding yourself with both types of people. We as individuals have strengths and weaknesses that contribute to our learning and shape our world view. As we are learning together, we need people to vent to, share frustrations with and to celebrate successes. Having a diverse group of peers allows you to push your own limits and unlock your true potential. Not to mention, having supportive friends who can empathize with your walking zombie routine after an all-night cram session is crucial to surviving medical school.
- Stay Active and try to eat healthy.
Unless you are fortunate enough to have won the lottery or have a sugar-spouse, chances are you are poor. We all are. As a student, money is sparse and any food is good food. However, try to gravitate towards the healthy option. Produce is just as cheap as McDonalds so choose the carrots over the French fries.It is just as important to get active. Take a break from studying each day to work up a sweat and clear your head. Even dedicating 15 minutes every day to exercise will have an enormous impact on your mental health. It will help with endurance, attentiveness, and information retention. We promise the 15 minutes you devoted to your health over studying didn’t result in a lower test score. It is important to remember habits you form in medical school will carry over into your career in medicine.
- Begin giving back.
Getting away from the books to give back to the community is a perfect way to maintain a positive attitude during your first two years. There will be a variety of opportunities to volunteer. Take advantage of them. Whether it is volunteering at an underserved medical clinic, being involved in club outreach programs or advising undergraduate pre-med students, stop studying once in a while and give back! Trust us, you will never regret time away from studying to volunteer. In fact, it may even rejuvenate and recharge your batteries.
- Embrace failure and learn to fix your mistakes.
We all fail at some point. You will fail a test. You will miss a diagnosis. Unfortunately, mistakes are inevitable. There is a learning opportunity in each failure whether specular or miniscule. Mistakes provide an opportunity to reflect on what went wrong and what could be done differently in the future in a way our successes don’t. Learn from each of them and adjust accordingly. If you fail a test, remind yourself that it was better to happen in a testing center than in the hospital. The entire point of these first two years is to learn, so take advantage of your mistakes by viewing them as another learning opportunity.
- Force yourself to be optimistic.
There is no question there will be tough times during the first two years. Force yourself to be optimistic. Be flexible, yet resilient. We often see classmates absolutely losing their cool over changes in their schedule, hard exams or poorly written test questions. Do these relatively minor inconveniences matter in the grand scheme of life? Probably not. It is important to maintain perspective and understand you choose your reaction – so choose optimism. You must learn to deal with adversity now so you are ready to deal with it in practice. There will be plenty of times during rotations, residency and practice when things will be beyond your control in which you can choose to freak out or accept the situation as it presents itself and move forward.
- Have fun!
The single most important tip we can pass along is to make sure you have a good time during the first two years of medical school. There is no point in doing anything in life if you are not having fun doing it. Tests will come and go, but your mental health is what will carry over into the clinic, wards, operating room and emergency department. Take care of yourself, enjoy your friends and family, and make sure you avoid studying periodically.