Tips for New and Incoming Medical Students

The long-awaited first day of medical school has nearly arrived. You're about to begin a life-changing journey to become a doctor. Your mind races with the questions - can I really do this, what if I'm not smart enough, how much will I have to study and a million other things. For parents and older students with family responsibilities, there are additional concerns about balancing school and home life. Well, here are some words from the wise from past and current medical students.


Make friends with other classmates, start study groups, work and play together. If you're not a group kind-of-person then find at least one friend and get together a few days before a test and quiz each other. Create support groups if you can't find one. As you all dissappear off to clinical attachments in later years, the more grounded your relationships are, the better support group you have. You might find you make some lifelong friends.

Make a Schedule that Works for You

Sure, everyone else studies at this time and that time. If you have a family do what works for you, which might be a few hours a day during the week and then all weekend. Non-traditional students do things non-traditionally - they are often very successful.

Stress Out with Friends

Try to stress out events with your medical student friends. No-one else understands as much as them. This will help minimize the stress you bring home.

Get Ahead

Get First Aid for Step 1, or other similar review guide right away and use them as you take the class. It will make step one prep easier. Check out MomMD's USMLE resources.

Don't Cram Late at Night

Especially, us 'older' students. Last minute cramming the night before the test is not a good idea. Get organized and make your life easier.

Bad Test Scores Happen

Everyone does them, especially in the first year. Don't beat yourself up about it. Understand what you did wrong and learn from the experience.

Write Notes

Especially during the clinical years. Have your residents or attending review them with you. That way you can understand all the different problems your patients might have.

Talk to Your Patients

If you have extra time, talk to your patients. Don't be afraid to ask them how it feels to be in their position. You will learn alot from seeing things from the patient's perspective and improve your communication skills. Ask them what they know and understand of their illnesss and treatment. You will learn about how well or poorly they have been communicated with about their situation.

Work as Part of a Team

Remember that healthcare professionals are a team. Nurses, techs and doctors all work together. Be humble and never bad-mouth anyone. Hospital communities can be small, word gets around. Love the nurses, they might save you from a difficult situation and help you out. They can clue you in to important patient information and fill in any blanks left by a busy resident. Treat them poorly and you might make your life very difficult!

Stick Your Nose In!

Poke around a bit. Make friends with faculty and ask them when you need help. Keep your eyes out for an interesting research study. You might be able to get involved in some long term studies and could even get published.

Be Enthusiastic!

You worked very hard to get there. Even if you hate it, show enthusiasm.

Be Confident & Assertive

Ask questions, don't be afraid. Ask lots, ask often. What is that saying, "the only stupid question is the one you don't ask". Often staff are more forgiving with medical students 'silly questions' than those residents, use this to your benefit and ask now! Don't think you'll just look it up when you get home. Many doctors love to teach and are passionate about their specialty.

Answer questions with confidence, sounding uncertain even if you are right can make you seem 'less smart'. If you don't know the answer, guess, but guess assertively. You can never be more wrong, but you can always be less right. It's better to confidently say "the pyloric sphincter!" than "um, the uh, pyloric sphincter?" If you don't know, say that you don't know but you'd like to learn.

You will never know it all. Might as well be confident about what you do know, even if you're not positively sure it's right.

Ask to do procedures, be persistent, that might be the only time you get to do it before residency. Even if you are told that Dr. X likes to do that, keep asking, read up about the procedure and one day you'll get to do it. Have the resident walk you through. The 'quieter' students who stand in the corner often miss out on many learning opportunities.

Feeling Overwhelmed is Normal

Sometimes training is completely overwhelming. Virtually everyone will feel overwhelmed at some stage.

Enjoy the Simple Pleasures

Find one thing, however small, that you can still do each day. Relish and enjoy it. It might be a cup of coffee or reading the paper, whatever makes you feel relaxed and like yourself.

Be 'Well-Rounded'

Join organizations, get involved, get to know people. Keep up your extra-curriculars, residency applications will be right around the corner. Keep a running list of all your extra activities, comes in very handy at application time.

You Can and Will Have a Life

You will adjust to the workload and you will have a life. It won't be all study, study, study. Most of all, have FUN.

You Can Do It

Remember you are smart, you do deserve to be there, you will make it through and you will be a doctor. Perseverance and perspective are key.

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