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5 Things You Should Know Before Starting Med School

Congratulations! You’re officially going to medical school!

But, how long does that feeling of security last before you realise you don’t know what medical school is actually like?

Neither of my parents are physicians so I had to find out whilst in medical school. Although I certainly received guidance from mentors along the way, there are still several things I wish I had known before entering medical school.

Now that I’m a third-year medic, I’ve taken the time to reflect on what really mattered to me in first year, and thought I’d pass that advice on! This article lists the top 5 things I wish I had known before I started medical school.

1) Make friends with medics

Most of you have experienced ruthless competition as a pre-med. And given that most medical students and physicians were former pre-meds, these traits will carry on over time. But most of us also notice that the environment is dramatically less competitive and more collaboration-friendly once we reach medical school.

You will quickly recognise that healthcare is a team sport and your medical school will actively encourage collaboration among its students. You’re likely to make lifelong, wonderful friendships within your medical class, and it’s difficult to not help each other out during this time.

2) Make friends with non-medics

You’re going to spend the rest of your life being friends with medics and other healthcare professionals. If you have a group of doctors together, the conversation inevitably turns to work, patients and research.

Sometimes you really need time away focused on something else. Find friends you share other interests with – movies, sports, culture, religion. There are a plethora of societies at your university for every niche interest you might have, join them!

3) Establish a study habit

Although a medical student’s workload is intense, it is not insurmountable. All you need is self-discipline and rigour. This should not be new to you; you must have already known this before applying for medical school.

It’s alright if you take a while to adjust. It certainly took me a quarter of a year before I finally got the hang of things in first year. Medical school is completely different from sixth form or junior college, in that you learn new content daily.

Different students use different learning strategies – creating flashcards, highlighting text, drawing diagrams, and so on – to aid learning and recall. The important thing to know is that what may work for your fellow peers may not work for you. It is wise to try out different styles until you find the one suitable for you.

4) There’s no shame in struggling

You’ve worked hard to become a medical student. Most of you have been acing exams and have not truly understood failure. In medical school, you will notice it is not always easy to excel in everything. Medical students are notoriously known to have a hard time taking people up on the offer, but remember, everybody is here to help you out.

If you have a problem, talk to someone. Don’t keep it to yourself. You’re not a failure and you don’t have to handle everything by yourself. You will not get removed from your course for admitting that you’re struggling. Talking to other people only makes you stronger and a better doctor.

Indeed, research has shown that Balint groups may guide medical students to become more patient-centred by improving their communication skills and empathic abilities and reducing the level of burnout.

5) Stay on top of wellness

There is no better way than to end off with this tip. Physician burnout is increasingly recognised as a perennial challenge to the healthcare system all across the globe. Medicine has a noble tradition of self- sacrifice and putting the needs of patients first.

This dogma can become pathological when we fail to care for ourselves and paradoxically become unable to provide safe care for our patients. Stay on top of wellness. Depending on who you ask, wellness has different meanings. My definition of wellness is getting enough sleep, eating properly and cultivating relationships and hobbies outside of medicine.

Despite my fond memories of living on discounted McDonald deals, I probably would have done better in first year had I been more intentional about wellness. Adequate sleep, exercise and cooking a meal now and then will not ruin your chances of success; they will probably improve them in the long run. Set yourself on a healthy track as soon as possible.

That’s all for now! Good luck with your first year of university!

Words by: Keng Siang Lee

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