Congratulations to all the first year medical students who are starting or getting ready to start medical school. As you will soon seen, from day one there will be an overwhelming amount of information to process and learn … much more than any you have seen during college. It’s going to take a new strategy!
Unlike college, the information you learn during your preclinical studies will be important when you take the first part of your licensure examination (Step 1) and when you start your clinical rotations in 2 years or so, and when you start your residency.
It’s not just about learning this information for your exams, it’s also about creating a system to organize this information for the future.
What should an ideal system let you do?
- Hand write or type your notes
- Highlight and annotate notes to make them more easy to remember
- Import images, pdfs, powerpoint presentations or other digital information
- Review the notes on your phone or iPad as well as your computer
- Revise or reclassify notes as you learn more
- Make sure your notes can’t ever be lost or destroyed
What “notes” should you use to study?
- Use the notes provided by your professors, usually in the form of a powerpoint presentation or pdf of the presentation. Many students download the presentations into OneNote and annotate the slides during the lecture. If you use this system, it will be very important to make a one page summary of the key points. Going back to review each slide is very time consuming and not a good “juice to squeeze ratio”. (the effort you put into it is not worth what you get out of it).
- Take notes in class or to review like you did in college (highlighters and all!). If you choose to do this, use the SQR3 method or the Cornell note taking method to prepare i.e. don’t come in cold to class. Write down the big topics to be covered, and come up with questions you expect to be answered in class. The key is active listening!
- Try mindmaps. Your brain doesn’t organize things into bullet points. If you use colors, images and this more “organic” organization, it’s amazing how much you can remember. Like mnemonics, the more outlandish the images and colors, the easier it is to remember. You’ll find an example of a mindmap to learn about pilonidal disease below. Note, for example, that the image for obesity is a stick of butter surrounded by fat globules. It’s creating your own images that makes this so powerful. Even though you can share mindmaps, or use software to create them, it’s more effective to draw your own.
- Handwritten may lead to better learning…. Worth thinking about!
How should you organize your notes?
Here’s where it gets fun. Organizing notes with Evernote is the best way I’ve found (ever) to do this. Evernote is an app for your computer and phone/iPad that allows you to store “notes”. But, the notes can be a lot of different formats:
- New notes, typed directly into the software
- Imported notes from OneNote or a powerpoint presentation
- Scanned notes. Evernote has an amazing free app called Scannable that converts any document into a pdf using your phone. So. if you draw a mindmap, doodle about the anatomy of the rotator cuff or have a typed handout from someone, you can scan it into EverNote.
- Photos of whiteboards, paper notes, images.
- Videos, like your professor showing you how to examine the knee for instability.
- There is an Evernote “web clipper” that can be used on your computer to download any webpage.
- Audio notes. You can record a review for yourself and save it as a note.
Other advantages to using Evernote
- You can share notes with others
- You can find information by searching. Both typed and handwritten words will be recognized.
- When you store a link to a video it’s active, so you can click and go directly to the site.
What should I do before I set up this system?
- Start the notes now – even though you don’t have the system in place. Listen actively and take notes actively. Make sure you create one page summaries of every lecture. Keep these to scan in when you start your account.
- Download Evernote for your Life | A Practical Guide for the Use of Evernote in Your Everyday Life by Brandon Collins and read it before you create your system. This ebook is concise, easy to read and will explain why you can’t think about EverNote as a “filing” system in the usual sense.
A few other words of advice
- Create your Evernote account with an email address that will follow you through your training. (By the way, if your personal email now is firstname.lastname@example.org, it’s time to get a new and more professional address!)
- I’d create one huge notebook called “Everything I need to know to be a doctor” (just kidding.. but don’t fall into the trap of creating a lot of different notebooks, either.)
- When you start, be very deliberate about your tags. You don’t want to end up with “Penicillin”, “penicillin” and “penicillinV” as three tags for penicillin… Decide how to standardize your tags before you start i.e. when to capitalize, generic names of drugs only, etc.
- Evernote is not HIPPA compliant. Don’t EVER put any patient information (including photos) that could be identified.
- Go ahead and spend the money for Evernote premium. You’ll be using all the storage and the bells and whistles.