First Year of Med School: Dos & Don’ts

If you’re a first year medical student or going to be one soon, you’re probably a bit overwhelmed, and I don’t blame you. There’s a lot of things happening and at a fast pace- so much to take in and so many new experiences. To me, the most exciting part was discovering my own potential through it all. You will be challenged, you will have doubts, but best of all you will develop with every passing day & you will be that much closer to achieving your dream.

Before I share some Dos and Don’ts (that are simply form my humble experience), I want to share with you an important perspective.

There is no recipe to success in medical school, but there are ingredients. You will eventually create your own recipe, so don’t go searching for one simply because it worked for someone else (me included) 😉 What’s important to instill are the ingredients: sacrifice, determination, purpose, and compassion.

With that, here are a couple bits of advice from someone sharing your same journey.

Do have an understanding of the class schedule. Take note of how often there will be exams and when the mandatory sessions are. This will give you a framework for how to organize your time and the pace that you should have daily. Take it day by day, BUT know where your checkpoints are.

Don’t buy every class textbook. Most professors provide lecture material and follow that explicitly for their assessments. Upperclassmen may be able to advise you, but generally it’s best to wait and see what supplements your learning style best.

Do look into board review material. Some people will tell you it’s too early, but I think it’s important to always have the big picture in mind and also material to reference that will teach you board relevant content. For me, the more versions I saw of something, the better I remembered it. First Aid is something you can begin to organize and refer to–after all it will be your best friend soon 🙂 [Board Relevant Books I recommend to supplement: First Aid Organ Systems, First Aid General Principles, Kaplan Med Essentials]

Don’t compare yourself to others. It’s easy to feel like what someone is doing is what you need to implement, but what’s important is realizing what works for YOU & how you can fine tune it. Adjustments to your personalized style is key. Comparison will always be the thief of joy–everyday focus on being a better version of what you were yesterday.

Do hand-write notes and make your own version of study guides. As much as technology advances, nothing will replace the power of the pen and it’s impact on understanding. As you listen to lectures, develop your own mind maps or drawings. Use the white boards! When you interact with material, it sticks better. This will be key for Microbiology and Pharmacology–I developed my own excel sheets & doodles that I still use.

Don’t be afraid to reach out. Once you know your study method, having peers to review with may help you solidify information. TAs, fellows, and teachers can also help you look at the information in a new way. Upperclassmen may also provide you a perspective from experience (and also let you know you’re gunna be OK :). Remember to always keep in touch with family, too. They can be your biggest motivators. Surround yourself with positive individuals & find the environment that will make you thrive best.

Do save and organize your files. I made folders for every subject and labeled them by block exam. This way, I was able to review easily, save important document for boards, and reference information quickly when needed throughout the year.

Don’t push off certain classes or subjects that you find easier (or harder). Give every class its time and importance. This is especially important for D.O. students. The Osteopathic Manipulation lectures are subjects that build on each other. The more you revisit a subject and engage with it, the easier it will be to discuss and practice it. Osteopathic medicine requires that you put yourself out there & physically get familiar with the maneuvers; don’t be afraid to personally go to teachers and fellows. By the end of the year, it will all come naturally, especially on the end of the year exam.

Do work out and stay healthy! Eating healthy and staying active not only help you physically, but will keep your mood up and your mind clear. My favorite was beating people at ping pong 😉 Take walks in between your studying or bring some flash cards to the gym, a change of setting is important.

Finally, the biggest Do: remember & renew your intention with each passing day. Remember the big picture of why you started and what fuels you. You were chosen to be in the position that you are in; it is both a responsibility and a blessing. When you commit to doing everything with excellence, doors of success will open for you. To put goodness into the world, we must be sources of goodness ourselves. The means by which we achieve our goals says more about us than the goals we achieve. Study honestly, commit passionately, and remember your purpose.

“And that there is not for man except that for which he strives” -Quran (53:39)