Becoming a 1st year medic for sure does not come without its challenges. 1st year is tough but it is not impossible, although it will feel this way at the time. So I am going to share with you all my 10 top tips that will help you successfully pass 1st year and thrive as a 2nd year medic!
1. Do not compare yourself to your peers.
As with most talented medical students, you will have been used to being a high achiever in your previous studies and most certainly for some, will have been the top of the class. Although when you come to medical school, you are surrounded by equally talented students, all who are also academically gifted and ranked at the top of their class. This can feel very intimidating and for me it made me question my worth. I started to question whether I actually deserved to be at medical school, despite the fact that I was the person who had gotten myself into medicine. But that didn’t seem to matter when you are surrounded by a whole lot of academic talent. In medical school competing with your peers whether consciously or subconsciously is inevitable and it is so easy to become caught up in that competition! Sometimes a little competition can be harmless and actually makes you strive to succeed even more. However more often than not it can become overpowering and actually knock your confidence which is the last thing you need as a medic! So from time to time you will need to take a step back, think only of yourself however selfish that may feel and remember that YOU ARE GOOD ENOUGH! Too often in life we are so busy comparing ourselves to others that we lose track of who we are and what we set out to achieve. Believe in yourself, remember that you are your own superpower and you can make your dreams come true! Everyone around you will be talented but SO ARE YOU!
2. Be sure to make a study schedule.
This tip is potentially one of the most important ones! In my opinion the key to a happy medical student is planning. I cannot stress how important it is to plan your week in advance, obviously with a bit of room to change and move things around. Whether you plan on a Sunday night for the entire week or just the night before, it will help you to keep focused, motivated and stay on track knowing you can wake up and already have a plan for your day. Also by planning in advance you constantly have your eyes on the end goal, always knowing what is needed of you to succeed and meet the high expectations of your medical school. One thing I would say in regards to planning, is that it is crucial to have realistic plans. Avoid planning too much for yourself to the point you know you are going to struggle to get it finished. There is no point setting yourself up to fail , no good comes from that and you will feel majorly deflated with yourself which will only bring you down and keep you further away from your goals.
3. Determine your most effective study method and revision style early on.
Everyone’s study and revision styles are totally different, so by all means try out your peers styles but do not worry if they do not work for you. When you move into 1st year, I think your initial priority should be figuring out your preferred style and design of writing up lecture notes. For me, I tried hand written notes like I did in my A-level studies but quickly realised typing up notes was more efficient and kept me on top of my work. In regards to lectures notes, I found half way through 1st year that pre writing lecture notes before the lecture was so helpful. That way I could sit and listen to the lecture adding in anything I missed instead of frantically typing to keep up and not understanding the information. I found that typing up my lectures combined with pre writing the notes, a fantastic way to stay on track and retain knowledge far more easily. In terms of revising for exams, I have carried on with my revision style from my previous studies and that works really well for me. Although definitely do try out other styles if you feel you are fed up or want a change from how you are used to revising previously. One tip I have when revising is I would definitely try to get your revision notes together in Easter before exam season. Therefore, you can come back after the break ready to begin exams revision straight away instead of starting the task of creating and compiling your notes.
4. Make time for extracurricular activities.
I cannot recommend extracurricular activities enough! It is so crucial that you always make sure you plan things for yourself that you enjoy outside of studying. In your weekly study schedule, ensure you always include extracurricular activities alongside your study slots. For me I absolutely love to dance and keep fit, so I always make sure that I plan to do those things in my week. Going to the gym and to dance classes is a way for me to de-stress, and add a little bit of normality to my hectic medical school routine. To succeed in medicine you must obviously work extremely hard, I think that goes without saying! But you must also be happy and be kind to yourself, and that means taking a break from studying and taking part in things you love and enjoy, which for me comes from keeping fit and dancing! It is so easy when taking time out of studying to be overcome with guilt, over the fact you are not working. But by planning those things into your schedule, you can take a break to do things you enjoy because you have already made the time to do them!
5. Make sure you have a sustainable morning and night routine.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to get yourself into a healthy and sustainable routine. I would suggest you try to have a set time that you wake up and go to sleep, especially on a week day as your schedule will be very hectic. I made the mistake in my 1st year of having really late nights doing work, thinking that if I didn’t I would end up falling behind! Looking back, this was not necessary at all and in fact it just made the next day harder and so was actually very counterproductive! Having enough sleep is so important when it comes to succeeding and especially so in exam season! Getting yourself into a routine quickly when you first get to medical school will really help you! As well as thinking about the time you wake up and go to sleep, you will also need to plan for when you will stop working as you need to leave yourself enough time to wind down after a long day of studying! You must remember that you are only human and you have a limit! Try not to burn out too quickly by over working yourself! Stay healthy, eat well, sleep well and look after yourself because to succeed you must first be the BEST VERSION OF YOU!
6. Text Books are useful but are not always necessary.
For me personally as soon as I started medical school I gathered some recommendations for text books from students in the years above me and purchased them. My particular favourites for 1st and 2nd year are – ‘Totora’s Principles of Anatomy and Physiology’, ‘Physiology By Linda S. Costanzo’, ‘Kumar and Clark’s Clinical medicine’ and ‘Essentials of Kumar and Clark’s Clinical Medicine’- (this is perfect for PBL and exam revision notes as it is much more concise without losing any important content.) Although I must stress that textbooks are not for everyone, and majority of the textbooks you can purchase you can also get as a PDF online. For me I prefer the physical book, but if you haven’t got a preference I would definitely say get the PDF versions downloaded as it would save you quite a lot of money. Asides from text books you can find a lot of great resources online such as the ‘Teach Me Series’ which you can also download as apps on your mobile. There is also lots of great YouTube channels such as Osmosis and Armando Hasudungan which provide lots of different videos, that are perfectly broken down and explained on a variety of topics for medical students. There are so many resources you can find online which act as great substitutions to text books and are all mostly free, so do not feel as though you have to purchase books when there are so many great resources online for you to use!
7. Learning with others can be really helpful.
For me personally, I have always preferred learning on my own, however although this still is the main way I study and revise, I would definitely recommend working and studying with your friends especially in exam season! Working alone can become quite lonely and because of the huge work load you could find yourself in your own company majority of the time. So for me working with your friends is quite refreshing. It makes studying and revising that little bit more fun, you have someone else to clarify things for you and help you when your struggling. Sometimes it is so useful to hear another person talk through a topic, as they might have extra detail you had missed and vice versa, helping you increase your knowledge that you otherwise would not have when working alone. I would also recommend when working in groups, that you each try to teach the other a topic! If you can teach someone else about a condition then you know you really understand it yourself too, which is the main aim! So working with your friends not only proves to be beneficial to you and your knowledge it also is a lot of fun and a great way to make friendships too.
8. Do not be afraid to ask for help and advice from students in the years above you.
More often that not the students in the years above you will be happy to help you out, whether that be with a topic or just some much needed advice. You need to remember that they have been in your position and so understand what you are going through! No question will be a stupid question so be sure to drop them an email or message and I am certain they will be more than happy to help you out in any way they can. You may wonder how it is possible to become as knowledgeable as them, but just keep reminding yourself that they were once in your shoes and that you will one day be the student who is offering help and advice to a 1st year student! Trust me, I have been a 1st year medic seeking any help I could get, and now I am a 3rd year student offering out the same help I sought so badly in 1st year. Time really does fly as a medical student!!
9. Confide in student support if you are struggling.
In medical school and especially 1st year, times can get tough and id be lying if I said I haven’t struggled. 1st year of medicine really was one of the most difficult times of my life. As well as the stresses and struggles of studying medicine there is also the added pressures of settling in, moving away from home and creating new friendships. All of these factors can get really overwhelming to begin with and its okay to not be okay, something you must always remember! Do not ever feel that by going to speak to student support, that you are somehow failing! By confiding in the support staff you are the bigger person, it takes confidence to be able to admit you are struggling and need some support regardless of what the problem is that has caused the struggle. When you are surrounded by talented students, you never want to be the one to admit you are struggling, but I can tell you with confidence that even the smartest students at times will struggle for one reason or another. We are all humans and from time to time we need help and there is no shame in that. It is a tough degree and an even tougher career! To succeed we must all be realistic, know our limitations and know when it is time to ask for help.
10. Take part in opportunities that come your way.
Finally my last tip for you all is about opportunities! In medical school, there will always be plenty of opportunities for you to take part in. I would definitely recommend looking to see what events your medical school’s societies are providing. The events you do go to such as talks and workshops from consultants, should provide you with a certificate of attendance, which is a great thing to keep to show your dedication and commitment to medicine and perhaps a specific speciality. I would also definitely think about attending a conference, for example in my 1st year I attended a surgical conference day, where I went to a series of workshops and lectures by consultants in different surgical specialities. This was a fantastic day to gain an insight into different surgical specialities and also gain some basic skills and knowledge for example in the suturing skills session. In medical schools most of your tutors will be doctors themselves, so do not be afraid to ask them whether you could shadow them for a couple of hours. The worst thing that could happen is they would say no, but most of the time in my experience they are very happy to let you work with them for a day, which really isn’t an opportunity you want to miss out on! Although 1st year is very early to be thinking about your portfolio for after med school, I would definitely have a look what is needed on a medical portfolio for specific areas of training in medicine. By having a look at the requirements you can start to see if there is anything you can do whilst you are a medical student that will be a great benefit to your portfolio in the future. So my advice is take part in as many opportunities whilst you can as you never know how important they will be to you in the future.
What are your top tips to get through the 1st year of medical school?
Share your top tips in the comments, we would love to hear all about them!