Getting Ready to Start Medical School

This morning we had a group of medical school applicants at Baylor for a “second look”. They asked some very good questions including the question that prompted me to write this post:

“What should I do to get ready to start medical school?

Set up your environment

The amount of material you will be asked to master in your first year of medical school is more than you’ve ever been asked to master before.  You have to approach it with a different strategy than you used in college.  One critical component of this strategy will be to keep up with the material – starting from the first day.

If you try to hook up your cable, organize your electricity and straighten out parking at your apartment during the first week, you will fall behind.  Take the time to come explore your new environment and get settled in at least a week before classes start.  A week doesn’t sound like much to miss, but it’s a significant amount of information in medical school! One of the important tasks to check off the list during the week you are settling in is to set up your study area.  Make sure you have a computer that will meet your needs and an area to study that is pleasant, ergonomic and comfortable.  Most students find a dual screen to be very helpful as you are moving through notes and slides to study.

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You’ll be spending 1-2 hours studying (at a minimum) for every hour of class.  Given the number of hours you’ll spend studying, you might want to think about an “active” desk that lets you stand, walk or pedal as you study.

Develop (or strengthen) an exercise habit

Use this summer to develop a daily exercise routine that you can take into your new (and crazy) schedule.  Your goal for the summer should be to develop a balanced exercise program (cardio, strength training and flexibility) that works for you.  If you’ve never done any strength training, hire a trainer and learn about it. If you develop a balanced exercise routine this summer, it will be much, much easier to continue this once you start medical school or your internship. Commit to doing at least 30 minutes of exercise a day this summer and it will be a lot easier to continue once the pressure of school really kicks in.

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Running is one of the best (and most convenient) cardio exercises for medical students and residents (because it’s cheap, efficient and effective)  Use this summer to become a runner. If you hate running, find another good cardio exercise habit to develop instead – but pick one!

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If you don’t own a bicycle, think about getting one.  There will be places to ride for fun when you have time off.  You can also use your bike to commute to school which is a great way to sneak in exercise and save money.

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If you don’t know how to cook, learn.

Good nutrition is an important part of doing well academically.  It’s hard to concentrate and learn if you are eating junk. There is one simple trick to eat well during medical school: Learn to cook.  This is a skill that will become progressively more important as you enter your clinical work in medical school and then move on to your residency training.

Learn some basic skills to cook simple things.  If you have good cooks in your family, have them teach you.  If you don’t have family members who can teach you, find cooking classes near you and sign up.  Many high end grocery stores and gourmet stores offer classes for beginners – look on line for classes near you.

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Come to medical school rested.

Do not study. Seriously.  We will give you what you need and nothing you can do this summer will make it any easier.  It’s far more important to arrive rested and ready to go than to try to learn material that may or may not be relevant. Take a real vacation (or two). Visit family and friends – take a road trip and connect with people you haven’t seen in a while  Hang out on a beach, go for some great hikes, read some great novels.  Sleep in late, eat well, and just rest!

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Time off, Days off, and Vacations

As my vacation is winding down I’m struck again by how restorative time away from work can be, and how much we all need these breaks.

The word vacation has the same roots as vacate (from Latin vacātiō – freedom, from vacāre – to be empty).  Vacations – whether daily, weekly or annual are effective only if you really walk away from work.    It’s particularly hard to disconnect from email, the internet and texting … but “needing” to stay connected electronically may keep you from connecting with your surroundings and your loved ones. If the idea of emails piling up adds to your stress, compromise by scanning, deleting (and not answering) your emails when you are on vacation.

There’s a tendency to think that vacations have to be a planned trip away for at least a week… but here’s another perspective from WebMD.com:  “While it is ideal to have a full week or two off from work, it may not always be feasible, and there’s still the rest of the year to deal with. Weekend getaways are also good for rejuvenation. So is an hour to yourself during lunchtime or a few hours on weeknights.”

Some ideas….

Plan a half-hour or hour (on days you can) to disconnect and “vacate” from your work in whatever way makes you happy.

Try to really have a full day off every week (call schedule permitting). There’s a reason most religions in the world build in a day away from work – it’s part of the rhythm of rest we need as human beings.

Plan a long weekend away (or even a day) by yourself or with loved ones every couple of months.  Make it time free of electronics – go hiking, sit on a beach, stay at a great bed and breakfast, eat great food.

If you have vacation days you are storing up – start using them!  And, when you take those days off work, don’t use them to “catch up” on chores or other tasks…take the time you need to recharge your batteries.

Why we need vacations from treecitytimes.com

The Science Behind Vacations: Why we Need a Break from lbtimes.com

Why Summer Vacations (and goofing around on the Internet) Make You More Productive from TheAtlantic.com

Getting Ready for Your Internship

The graduation at Baylor was this week along with most medical schools around the country.  Most medical school graduates have the month of June off before they start their internship on July 1st.  It’s an exciting time …  and it’s a little nerve wracking.

Everyone who has ever graduated from medical school worries that they aren’t ready.  If you aren’t a little worried, there is something wrong.  It’s a big transition!  But, that being said, I can reassure you that first, you are in good company; every new graduate feels the same way!  Second, your attendings and senior residents understand.  Not only did they feel the same way, but they’ve been through it a few times before with other interns.  They are there to teach you and help you learn your field.  It’s not always going to be easy, but you are never going to be completely alone as an intern – there will always be someone there to help.

Many of you will have the feeling that you need to review everything from medical school in the next 2 weeks, and read the entire textbook in your field after that.  STOP!  It won’t help and it will drive you crazy!  Here’s what I recommend instead:

1.  Develop a new exercise routine that you can stick with when you get really crunched for time.  Figure out something you can do for 20 minutes every day consistently.  After you move in to your new place (assuming you are moving to a new town), check out the gyms near work and/or your home.  Joining a gym should be a top priority.  But – you may want to wait until you’ve been at work for a few weeks.  There may be a preferred gym for most of the residents, and that’s the one you should join.

2.  Think about how you are going to eat well as an intern…. which is VERY hard.  Find the good grocery stores, prepared food places, take out (healthy) restaurants that are near where you work and/or live.  Read about nutrition, ask your family for favorite recipes.  Take a class or two to learn easy cooking techniques.

3.  Do spend a little time thinking about your new role.  You are going to have to master your field in a short time (it sounds long now… but just wait).  This is a good time to go through your medical school notes and take out the ones you know you’ll use during your internship.  Don’t read or study, just organize them so you can find them again when you need them.  If you know which textbook is the most recommended in your field, this is a good time to get it.  Don’t study … just skim through it.  You are NOT expected to know it yet, so don’t let this scare you.  Instead, take some time to marvel at all the amazing things you are going to learn, and the people you are going to be able to help with that knowledge and skill.

4.  Take a vacation.  I’m serious.  Spend most of this month visiting family, reading novels and hanging out on the beach.  Read poetry, call friends.  You’ve earned it!

Starting Medical School – What To Do This Summer

I’ve had several new college graduates ask me what they should do this summer to prepare for medical school.    It’s easy – don’t worry about it!  There is no studying or preparation that will improve how you do.  Seriously, you’ve been accepted and you will do fine.  I know you are anxious, but I can absolutely guarantee you don’t need to study anything to get ready!  That being said, I do have some advice about what to do this summer:

Take a vacation (or two or three…).

  • Visit family and friends – take a road trip and connect with people you haven’t seen in a while
  • Hang out on a beach, go for some great hikes, read some great novels
  • Sleep late, eat well, and just rest

Develop (or strengthen) an exercise habit.

  • Use this summer to develop  a daily exercise routine that you can take into your busy medical school life.  Overall, your goal for the summer should be to develop a balanced exercise program (cardio, strength training and flexibility).  If you’ve never done any strength training, hire a trainer and learn about it.  Your goal during medical school should be at least 30 minutes of cardio 4-5 times/week, 2-3 strength training sessions (that cover all the major muscle groups) and stretching everyday.  If you develop a balanced exercise routine this summer, it will be much, much easier to continue this once you start medical school.
  • Commit to doing at least 30 minutes of exercise a day this summer.    Running is by far the best cardio exercise for medical students.  Use this summer to become a runner.   http://wellnessrounds.org/why-you-should-run-and-how-to-get-started/

If you don’t know how to cook, learn.