1. Develop a Daily Routine
Creating a schedule can help you stay on track with classes, earn good grades, and limit overwhelm.
Build your schedule around your classes and commute time — making sure to account for 60 to 80 hours of studying a week, says Dr. Yuna Rapoport, M.P.H. and ophthalmologist. “Treat [med school] like a job,” she added. That means adhering to set hours of working, like 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., with a couple breaks throughout the day.
“The stress of med school can really test a person’s resilience, so developing a consistent routine and schedule is necessary,” says Dr. Patricia Celan, a resident physician in the psychiatry program at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia. “Make sure you’re scheduling time for eating, exercising, and setting a consistent bedtime too, Your physical health affects your mental health, so find ways to keep active and make sure you sleep well.”
2. Create a Study Plan
Studying in med school can feel like “drinking from a fire hose,” says Dr. Taylor Graber, a physician and the owner of ASAP IVs. Not only are the topics conceptually challenging, he says, but the amount of information is “unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.”
There are a multitude of ways to study, so it’s crucial to figure out what works for you, Dr. Graber says. If you can’t focus well at home, he says, make sure to attend lectures in person to take notes. But, “If you are a student who can stay disciplined on your own time, then it may be more beneficial to listen to pre-recorded lectures at your own speed.”
Once you know how you study best, devise a daily plan. That might involve reading lecture materials ahead of time, for example, or designating the first hour after each class to review your notes.
Dr. Celan also recommends forming a study group with classmates to supplement your own work. “Quizzing each other is a great way to find out where you may have gaps in knowledge.”
3. Find your Community
Connecting with friends and peers may be essential to maintaining your mental and emotional wellbeing during school.
“Many students are far from their support network and stressed with the pressure of doing well,” says Dr. Eduardo Hariton, M.B.A., a clinical fellow in reproductive endocrinology and infertility at the University of California San Francisco. “It’s crucial to continue to interact with others and develop a support network at school, including friends and mentors.”
Dr. Celan says spending time with classmates outside of school is key. “That bonding is really important to make medical school more enjoyable.”
4. Make time for Extracurriculars
It’s easy to become so absorbed in studying that you neglect to make time for fun, but engaging in extracurriculars is important. “I found that getting involved in non-academic activities was essential for me, because they were all great ways to shift my focus and de-stress,” says Celan.
You could join a local running club or sports league, sign up for music lessons, or practice something you love, like cooking or drawing.
“Don’t throw away your hobbies,” Graber says. Hobbies don’t just offer an escape from lectures and tests, they also “allow you to come back to [your work] refreshed and with potentially more motivation and energy.”
The first year of medical school can be especially challenging, but following a few guidelines can help you not only survive, but thrive.
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