I’ve FINALLY finished my first semester of med school– only 3.5 semesters left before I get my MD! I know I have a long road ahead of me, but it’s always nice to celebrate even the smallest milestones when you’re in professional school. So taking a page out of Lauren’s book, I’m going to do a short post on things that I’ve learned these last four months that I wish I knew before going into med school.
1. You have to completely change your studying habits.
I had a pretty decent formula for studying in undergrad: glance over my notes for an hour or so, then I was good. I definitely cannot get away with that in med school. There is just too much information being thrown at you. Now I can’t say what is the best way to study in med school because it’s really what you find out what works best for you. But keep an eye out for an upcoming post about different studying techniques!
2. Budgeting is not easy.
If you don’t know, generally, a med student takes out loans to not only pay tuition, but also living expenses. Basically, you get about $10,000 at the beginning of the semester to pay for rent, transportation, food, etc. It seems like a lot of money, but it goes FAST. You have to be very careful when spending so that you have enough money to pay for rent in December along with Christmas presents.
3. Intimidation and competition start early.
One of the reasons I was excited to go to my particular med school was the fact that it wasn’t known to have a competitive atmosphere. But I should’ve know that med school being med school, the “gunners” would make themselves known. And how early it was– like first week early. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with being competitive (I think you have to in order to get into med school) and if you like being around those that outwardly exude intimidation that’s great! But if you’re more like me and are more internally competitive, make sure you find others in your class that have the same attitude.
4. Studying for exams will consume your entire day (or days).
Everyone knows that med students have to memorize a lot of information, especially in the first two years (if not, see #1 on this list). Now this may depend on how your school’s curriculum is set up, but in my school, we pretty much take one large class. This means that every two weeks or so, we have a huge exam that is akin to taking five final exams at once. I’m not even joking here– most cover info from about 30-one hour lectures. For my last test before break (bacteria and antibiotics), we were given three full days to study. It might seem like a lot, but it’s not. I studied about 18 hours each of those three days and I still didn’t feel as prepared as I had for finals in undergrad!
5. You will (accidentally) find ways to talk about medical stuff you’ve learned in almost every conversation you have.
Because med school consumes your life now, it’s just so easy to bring up something you’ve learned into a conversation. Now this would be okay around other people in med school, but be careful when you’re talking to non-med school folk! Your fun comment about what kind of diarrhea-causing bacteria your friend can pick up from eating the meal in front of them may not be as interesting to them as it is to you.
6. Non-med school distractions are a MUST.
I should’ve put this as #1 on the list, but having stuff to do that isn’t med school is the only way to keep you sane and not constantly worry about school and your future. For me, I make sure that I keep a few hours a day for me time. I do whatever I want during those few, precious hours. Whether it be watching a movie, cooking a good meal, chatting with friends or finding a little adventure in the city, I cannot stress enough how important it is to have outside interests and hobbies
7. Living off-campus is not as common (and not as easy) as I thought.
Going into med school I was given the option of living in on-campus dorms or finding my own place off-campus. I naively thought that most students (well-into their twenties) would not want to live on-campus in small dorms like they did in undergrad. Boy was I wrong! Probably about 80% of my class lives in the dorms with most of the commuters living at home with parents to save money. I found that I’m an anomaly living about a half-hour drive away from campus. I see why people deal with the small dorms, though. I find myself being incredibly lazy and not going to campus to do extracurricular things. Additionally, because I can watch my lectures at home online, I only physically go to school about once a week. BUT, if I had to do it over again, I still wouldn’t live on campus (just maybe a bit closer).
8. Boards are brought up CONSTANTLY.
In med school, you take Step 1 of your boards at the end of your second year. I thought that I had at least a year until professors and students started talking about preparing for Step 1. The first week, our dean of student affairs suggested we purchase the prep book First Aid for the USMLE. Phrases like “high yield” and “you’ll need to know this for the boards” are brought up at least once a lecture and numerous times during review sessions. I know boards are extremely important, especially in landing a good residency, but it would be nice if they didn’t pile on the stress so quickly.
9. Never take the phrase “this won’t be on the exam” to be truth.
I don’t really need to explain this. My advice is simple: KNOW EVERYTHING.
10. You forget what it took to get here and why you wanted to be a doctor to begin with.
This is probably the hardest thing I’ve learned this semester. It can be hard to keep the big picture in mind most days. Just try and remind yourself every few days or so just for motivation sake!