I’ve written before about what to do before medical school starts, how to study in medical school and strategies for succeeding in the basic sciences. But how do you put this information about organizing your studying and your day into a system that works? Everyone will have variations on how they do this, but there are some fundamental principles that apply to all.
Don’t get behind
From day one, the material matters and, from day one, it is voluminous. If you get behind, it’s really hard to catch up.
Study, don’t just read and reread.
You have to actively engage this material and review it (multiple times) to really learn it. You are no longer studying for a test, you are studying to take care of other people. The SQ3R method is used by many students, but there are other systems as well. What is important is to develop a system that works for you. One tool used by many students is Anki, software that allows you to create electronic flashcards to review key points.
Use going to class as time to “study”
One of the important components to active learning is to review the lecture material before it is presented. This is the opposite of what most of you experienced in college, but it’s key. Survey the handouts or slides and make a list of the important points to be covered. Stay actively engaged.
p.s. You can’t learn medicine if you are on Facebook in class.
Create a summary page for each lecture
Include the big concepts, and key points. Include specifics that are stressed by the professor, but avoid listing all the details. You may choose to hand write this, but most of you will come up with an electronic format and will organize the class notes, and your summaries using One Note, Growly or an equivalent software. Although your personal notes are fine on the cloud, don’t put copyrighted material or your professor’s slides where other people can see them (it’s illegal).
Begin with the end in mind
In the long term, what you are learning (yes, all of it) will be applied to taking care of patients. In the slightly less long term, you will be tested on this information on the USMLE Step 1, a high stake exam and the first part of your medical license. Although some dedicated time to study for Step 1 is important, having a system to really learn the material in your basic science courses is by far the best way to do well on this exam.
Don’t sacrifice sleep.
If you don’t sleep you don’t learn as well. Organize your schedule so you get at least 7, but preferably 8 hours of sleep every night.
Eat well, play hard and stay connected.
Clay Goodman,MD the Associate Dean of UME at Baylor, tells our first year class that the first year of medical school is a 60 hr/week job. They need to get up in the morning and “go to work”, using the afternoon and evening to study. He then points out that if they work 60 hours and sleep 56 hours (8 hours a night) they still have 52 hours to work out, spend time with family and friends and do whatever else they want.
So, what should you do the first day of medical school?
Here’s what your schedule might look like…
The night before – pack your breakfast for the morning break and lunch for the next day. Review any posted slides – survey them to understand the “big picture” and use them to start your summary of the lecture. Write down what you don’t understand from the slides (yes, at this stage it may be every line… but that will get better!).
7am – wake up (If you prefer morning workouts, you can get up earlier and workout before class)
7:30 Grab a piece of fruit or a smoothie if you don’t like to eat an early breakfast. (If you are ok with it, eat the full breakfast now, but whatever you do, don’t skip breakfast)
8-12 Attend class – Stay engaged. Take notes, make sure the questions you asked yourself in the review are answered, raise your hand and ask questions if they weren’t. Eat your breakfast or a snack at the 10 am break.
12-1 – Lunch with your classmates. Play foosball, talk, or just eat, but take a real break.
1-5 Study. One hour of studying for each hour of class is about right for most people. This may need to go until 6 or 7 if you have afternoon labs.
7 – Workout and then make and eat dinner. Working out is an important part of self-care. Exercise is essential to decrease stress and also will help you avoid the “freshmen 10”. Your dinner should be healthy, not processed, and definitively not Ramen noodles. Make sure you have fruits and/or vegetables at every meal.
9-10 Look over tomorrow’s lectures and start your summary pages for those lectures. Once you are a week or two into this, you’ll be adding in reviews of material from previous weeks on a schedule.
10-11 Read a novel, watch TV, decompress.
11 Go to sleep!
You are starting on one of the most amazing journeys any human being can have… enjoy it! Don’t forget to keep a journal and take photos (but not of patients). The first time you actually interview a patient, put on your white coat, hear a heart murmur or take a test in medical school are just that … the first time. Write about the experience.
Let me know in the comments what other advice you have for the students starting medical school this summer!