Interview season is winding down and more and more budding physicians are clutching tightly to their hard-fought medical school acceptance letters (congratulations, you earned it!). I thought now would be an opportune time to reflect back on what I wish I had known before starting medical school. After all, that is what this website is about; me passing on my knowledge to you. Let’s try to boil it down to ten essential aspects of medical school that either you wouldn’t expect or are of such crucial importance you should be reminded of them.
1. You will have time for a life
Please, this is medical school. You will have no time for a life. Your time will be dedicated to weeding through intricate theories on the latest medical advances. This is actually what I was picturing upon matriculation to medical school. Wrong! Yes, medical school is hard and it is time-consuming (devouring?) but you will have time to do the things you love. It is all about time management. Determine what activities are most important to you and you can easily find time for them.
2. Ignore the gunners
People will give you different definitions when asked to define a gunner. I define them as the people who won’t shut the fuck up about their grades, their studying and essentially cannot talk about anything except school and how awesome they are at it. The truth is the majority of times these people are full of shit and likely have some form of personality disorder at baseline. Ignore them. Let the gunners gun. It is not worth your energy to compare yourself to them. Let their verbal diarrhea run in one ear and out the other (how’s that for a visual?). Here’s what you can do. Worry about you! Your job is to do what you have to do to succeed.
3. Attending lectures is overrated
The first several months of medical school there was barely a seat to be had in our main auditorium. There were vicious stare downs over who took whose seat*. Then, as we wised up, the lecture hall slowly started to empty out. You really don’t NEED to go to class. Why sit and listen to a professor drone on for an hour while becoming increasingly more proficient at Facebook stalking when you can be somewhere else? The truth is, you can review the same power point slides and listen to the same audio (at at least double speed) from the comfort of your favorite study spot and do it on YOUR schedule.
4.You stand a good chance of meeting your life long partner
I did. Picture this. Take approximately 100 highly achieving individuals who are mostly in their mid twenties. Put them in a high stress environment where they are together for 60 + hours a week. You better bet your ass there’s gonna be some hooking up! In fact I think I am going to pitch this to MTV.
My class, which I would consider a bit more incestuous than average, has on average 10 couples going on at any one time. Many of these relationships will fizzle but there will be some marriages within your class, guaranteed. Embrace it, it is great to have someone by your side that has to put up with all the same medical school bullshit that you do.
5. Review books are king
Medical school is a juggling act. You have to be studying for the most urgent issue, the next upcoming exam, while also being sure not to fall behind in your other classes. The easiest way to do this is with review books. Once you have grasped a basic understanding in lecture you will benefit from using these to reinforce the topic as well as present it in different ways which will increase your understanding. Some of my favorites can be seen on the right side-bar under “Survivor’s Picks” but you cannot go wrong with anything from the Board Review Series (BRS).
6. You will make sacrifices
Medical school is expensive not only monetarily but also emotionally. It can be extremely difficult to see your friends from undergraduate living it up while you are spending the majority of your time with your nose to the books. You will miss out on some events that are extremely important to you. If medical school is anything it is a lesson in delayed gratification. I don’t mean to sound bitter (I’m not) I just want to express that this is a very real phenomenon. You have been forewarned!
7. You probably won’t be at the top of your class or get a 270 on the USMLE
The Hero Complex recently posted an interesting article about Hope. The premise is that you can hope for a lot of things but hoping for something doesn’t equate with actually obtaining it. Essentially, be realistic. I know, I know. You breezed through high school and excelled in undergraduate. Why would medical school be any different. You will rock this too goddamnit! Look around the room. All those people are thinking the same thing. If you find yourself somewhere in the lower half of the class do not get discouraged! Be realistic and remember…
8. Your classmates will be amazing people…
and you are amazing too! I am constantly humbled by all the amazing things my colleagues have done. Advanced research, volunteering, fundraising, these are the ingredients of a successful medical school applicant. Guess what? You are part of this elite group. Don’t ever forget, you deserve to be there too!
9. Research is (almost) mandatory
I will be the first to admit. I find conducting research boring. In general I would rather spend my time watching paint dry. But I do it. Why? Because people in academic positions (i.e. residencies) look upon someone with research under their belt in extremely high regard. If you have the to opportunity to participate in research just get ‘r done. You will not regret doing so when it comes time to complete your CV for residency applications.
10. Don’t study the summer before
This time of year the question always comes up. What should I do to prepare the summer before medical school? You already did it by being accepted! If the adcom didn’t think you could handle it then you wouldn’t be fingering that shiny new acceptance letter. Take the summer off, read books for pleasure, get drunk, visit exotic locations. Do not think about medicine.
That’s it. The top 10 things I wish I had known before starting medical school. In the end, you will always feel unprepared on your first day. Don’t be afraid; dive in head first. I thoroughly enjoyed 95% of medical school and you will too with the right attitude.
*Seriously, it was a mess. If one person moved it set off a chain of successive movements that would affect a whole section of seating. I always had a good chuckle from the back row!