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Things every medical student needs to know by Val Becker

Having a well-planned schedule is essential. During college, many medical students can get away with cramming before a big exam or simply skimming through a weekly reading assignment. Cutting corners like this just will not work in medical school. Being a medical student requires you to absorb a substantial amount of material in a very short span of time, so diligent study habits and prioritizing tasks are essential.

Know that you might not study the same way your peers do. At the start of the medical school experience, every student is going to feel a little out of their element. As such, it can be second nature to look around and compare yourself to your peers—but that instinct can be detrimental to your success. It’s important to recognize that your fellow medical students aren’t your competition, and what works for one student may not work for another. The key is to find the learning strategies that are most effective for you.

Practicing medicine isn’t always clear-cut, of course. While medicine is a scientific discipline, it’s also quite nuanced—an art. In that sense, classes will rarely align perfectly with what you study in your reading material. As a medical student, you’ll need to learn to look at the bigger picture to accurately identify a medical issue and devise an appropriate treatment plan. The sooner you get used to that idea, the better off you’ll be in medical school and beyond.

Mastering medical school course material can be frustrating and difficult, and sometimes boring. Many medical students study all day and night to get good grades. They learn their notes and read textbooks over and over again to perform outstandingly in board exams. Studying effectively in medical school is also an art that every medical student should master to absorb the sheer amount of material. Finding better study skills and study routines can help you stay focused throughout your medical school journey.

Here’s why cramming is terrible: As a medical student, your goal is to become a trusted practitioner of medicine. The classes you’re taking in medical school focus on complex topics, from pathological anatomy to pharmacology, with a wide ranging variety of subject matter, all of which connects together, in one way or another. Authentic learning means understanding the concepts and building upon each idea and theory you learn. Cramming, for the most part, may get you by with a brief stint of temporary memorization. But medicine is more than memorization.

Prioritizing personal time is a in the life of a medical student inevitably involves a lot of studying, but you can’t (and shouldn’t) spend every second hitting the books. Making a point to reserve time for things you enjoy remains important long after medical school. Maintaining a work-life balance is an essential part of avoiding burnout down the road. Instilling these habits in medical school can help set you up for success throughout your entire medical career. Start preparing for licensing exams from the beginning. Preparing early can help ensure you fully grasp all the necessary material by the time your exam dates roll around.

Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness. Medical school is one of the most rigorous educational paths that exists. Many students find themselves struggling academically for the first time in their lives. And if that happens for you, the worst thing you can do is isolate yourself in your struggles. While it’s easy to think you can do it all on your own, seeking assistance isn’t the same as admitting defeat. Learning to ask for help in medical school will also set you up for success as a resident physician. Honing this skill will make it easier to ask for help on decisions related to patient care.

Don’t skimp on sleep. It may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s worth mentioning that without the proper amount of sleep and rest, your body and brain are less capable of performing at their best. That means that pulling all-nighters won’t do your studies any favors; in fact, ignoring your body’s need to hit the hay may only hurt you in the long run. Get as much sleep as possible; otherwise, you will burn out quickly, have less focus, and the consequences are multiple: Your body will suffer, your memory won’t be as sharp, and, as a result, your grades will reflect the neglect.

Make time for mental and physical wellness. Make sure you balance your time appropriately between studying and lectures. Doing so will give you the time to “kick-back” and relax—which means taking care of your physical and mental health. For some of you, relaxing for some may include catching their favorite streaming series, talking or video-chatting with a friend, or reading books that have nothing whatsoever to do with school. For others, getting to the gym and exercising may be their preferred way to unwind.

Keep in touch with family and friends back home. Now that you’re a medical student, staying connected to your family and friends can help you stay balanced or grounded at times when you feel like you’re homesick or need a familiar voice to call on.  On the other hand, you’re going to have exciting milestones that you’ll want to share with your family and friends. Make sure you keep an open line of communication with them, not just in times of uncertainty. If you’re miles apart, use video messaging tools often and surprise your friends and family back home with frequent “snail mail” letters, cards, or even postcards.

Self-Assessment. If you want to memorize complex medical terminologies or pharmacological concepts, the best thing you can do is practice. Taking practice tests is undoubtedly an effective study technique to absorb information. Self-assessment helps you figure out your weak points early in the study process. This allows you to focus your time and energy on absorbing those topics that you need to review to perform better during exams. Adding question banks to your study schedule is undoubtedly a sensible approach to prepare for the USMLE Step 1 in advance and be aware of the exam format. You will find similar kinds of questions in practice tests that will prepare you for the actual exam day. The thorough explanation of answers enables you to identify the gaps in your knowledge. This way you can refine your knowledge by learning the topic from scratch. Furthermore, you can keep track of your performance and learn the topics efficiently to score good marks. The best part of taking practice tests is that it helps you review the study material and prepares you for the exam in advance.

Spaced Repetition. There is no denying the fact that repetition is important to memorize important information. According to several studies, the human brain may forget important pieces of information with the conscious mind; however, the subconscious mind can save the information for longer periods of time. Spaced repetition is an effective memory boosting technique that helps medical students to save the important information in the long-term memory. Spaced repetition study technique involves dividing the course material into small, manageable chunks and reviewing it repeatedly for a long period of time. The goal of this study technique is to embed information into long term memory.