This article has been updated to provide the greatest relevance & timeliness for our readers. It was originally published June 2020.
Getting into medical school is a challenge in and of itself. Once you're in, how do you successfully stay afloat? Is there a wrong method of studying? How can you avoid burning yourself out? What are some of the best study practices? Will you ever have any free time?
We've compiled a list of the top seven things that can either make or break any medical student:
- Don't skimp on sleep.
- Avoid cramming.
- Learn from the best in a small environment.
- Get to know your faculty.
- Make time for mental and physical wellness.
- Learn to manage your finances wisely.
- Keep in touch with your family and friends back home.
- Make new friends at school.
- Get involved with your medical school community.
- Find a mentor and be a mentor.
Let's go through the most important tips.
1. Don't skimp on sleep.
It may seem like a no-brainer, but it's worth mentioning that without the proper amount of sleep and rest, your body and brain are less capable of performing at their best. According to the CDC, individuals over the age of 18 need a minimum of 7 hours of sleep each night to perform their best. That means that pulling all-nighters on the regular won't do your studies any favors; in fact, ignoring your body's need to hit the hay may only hurt you in the long run.
Get as much sleep as possible; otherwise, you will burn out quickly, have less focus, and the consequences are two-fold. Your body will suffer, your memory won't be as sharp, and as a result, your grades will reflect the neglect. So rule number 1: prioritize your time and make sure you get enough sleep.
2. Avoid cramming.
A lot of students wait until the last minute to prepare for tests. If you really focus on your time management skills, you won't have time to even think about "cramming."
Here's the deal on why cramming is terrible. As a medical student, your goal is to become a trusted medical doctor. The classes you're taking in medical school focus on complex topics, from anatomy to pharmacology with a wide ranging variety of subject matter, which all connects these aspects together, in one way or another. Authentic learning means understanding the concepts and building upon each idea and theory you learn. Cramming, for the most part, may get you by with a brief stint of temporary memorization. Medicine is more than memorization. Waiting until the night before an important test tends to leave you with one option, cramming.
Overall, cramming for tests at the last minute is not only a bad habit, but it will not get you to where you need to be -- whether you're looking at graduating or maintaining a successful medical career.
3. Learn from the best in a small environment.
Some research indicates that smaller class sizes lead to better student outcomes. At Trinity, we firmly believe that learning in a smaller environment has proven to be more successful when compared to larger ones.
And even though you'll certainly find strong opinions on both sides of the class-size debate, we prefer to look at it in a practical sense:
- Smaller learning environments allow students to get to know their faculty (and peers) in a more intimate, personalized environment.
- Small classes mean more time for educators to meet one-on-one with students, understand their challenges and personalities, and create a learning plan that meets their need.
- Smaller class sizes lead to less cutthroat competition among students. The classic adage of "some percentage of you won't make it to graduation" doesn't have to fuel students; the desire for a great education and career can instead!
We realize the advantages of learning in smaller groups. Our student to faculty ratio remains low, because we only accept a small number of students into each term.
You will not find lecture halls with hundreds of students coupled with one professor at a time anywhere on Trinity's campuses. When you attend Trinity, you can expect professors and faculty alike to address you by your name. You'll also be attending a medical school with other like-minded individuals, who are there for the same reasons as you. Everyone is there to succeed and help one another along the way.
4. Get to know your faculty.
Speaking of small classes -- a medical school that has a small faculty to student ratio means that you're much more than a number to your professors. This is especially true at Trinity where the faculty is deeply invested in your medical school journey.
Getting to know them on a personal level gives you access to a knowledge base that extends far beyond the curriculum they teach. The unique level of personal attention that is woven into Trinity provides a tight-knit community that supports you every step of the way.
At Trinity, our faculty and staff are leaders in medical education and well-versed in their respective fields of medicine. In addition to leading classes and assigning projects, don't forget that your teachers can be invaluable resources as you embark on a career in medicine. Learn from them by scheduling one-on-one time, asking questions, and developing a relationship.
5. Make time for mental and physical wellness.
It's not all about having your nose in the books. That's a one-way ticket to "burn-out-ville."
During med school, you should have plenty of time to get to all of your classes, with plenty of time left over. Make sure you balance your time appropriately between classes. Doing so will give you the time to "kick-back" and relax -- which means taking care of your physical and mental health.
Of course, relaxing for some may include catching their favorite streaming series, talking or video chatting on the phone with their best friend, or reading books that have nothing whatsoever to do with school. Whereas for some, getting to the gym and exercising may be their preferred way to unwind.
No matter what you enjoy doing in your free time, make sure you're prioritizing off-hours activities that will keep you in good shape, both emotionally and physiologically. Work to develop or keep up habits such as:
- Spending time with loved ones who can take your mind off your next paper or project
- Working out, either pumping iron in the gym or playing sports in the beautiful outdoors on the island
- Enjoying nutritious foods that fuel your mind and body (skip the chips)
- Unwinding with a non-medicine-related hobby, like a good book, a musical instrument, or even your favorite bingeworthy show
There are hundreds of ways this category could be written. The main takeaway is that as a medical student, you must make sure you're making time to mix in relaxation, along with your studies.
6. Learn to manage your finances wisely.
Unless you have a rich uncle who is financing your medical school career or you have a sizable inheritance from your grandparents, chances are that you'll find that your finances are challenging while you attend medical school. One of the best ways of learning to manage your finances is to set up a budget.
While it's best to do this as early as possible in your medical school education, creating a budget is something that is valuable at any point. Determining which expenses are fixed -- your car payment, rent, and health insurance premium, for example -- and those that are variable -- clothing, dining out, and groceries -- can help you determine where you can more easily cut back.
Some ideas include packing your meals and brewing coffee at home instead of dining out and purchasing generic products instead of name brands. You can also shop for clothes when they're on sale or at the end of the season.
7. Keep in touch with family and friends back home.
Now that you're a medical student, staying connected to your family and friends can help you stay balanced or grounded at times when you feel like you're homesick or need a familiar voice to call on.
On the other hand, you're going to have exciting milestones that you'll want to share with your family and friends. Make sure you keep an open line of communication with them, not just in times of uncertainty. If you're thousands of miles apart, use Zoom, FaceTime, and other video messaging tools often and surprise your friends and family back home with frequent "snail mail" letters, cards, or even postcards.
Know your academic calendar and share it with your friends and family. You're going to have summer breaks, fall breaks, holiday breaks, spring breaks. Some breaks will be longer than others. Know which breaks offer you the most time, ahead of time, to make travel plans. The more advance notice you have to make those travel plans, the less expensive (generally speaking) airline tickets cost. You can also give your friends and family the option to visit you; perhaps, they'd like to see your beautiful medical school campus at some point.
8. Make new friends at school.
Staying in touch with friends you've already made is important, so is making new friends.
Remember, you are in a new environment, with others who are new and who are also in the same new environment. There's a good chance they don't know anyone and are looking to make some new friends, just like you. Don't be afraid to introduce yourself and find common ground with the other future doctors in your classes.
Connecting with new people is critical. Medical school is hard enough, so having a network of friends on campus will be a great way to have a built-in support system, and friendships for life will form.
9. Get involved in your medical school community.
Most people attend medical school because they have a deep desire to help people. Trinity has a robust connection to the community that allows you to get involved as much as possible when your studies permit.
Trinity students enjoy an active lifestyle outside the classroom through student-led organizations and associations that are aligned with our diverse student body as well as academic associations and cause-oriented organizations.
Whether your interests lie in helping animals lead healthier lives, providing medical care to those who are less fortunate or acting in a governmental role, you can find diverse ways to get involved in the medical school community. There are also faith-based organizations that enable you to be part of a multi-faceted experience that embraces this important aspect of your personality.
10. Find a mentor and be a mentor.
As you enter medical school as a freshman, you'll have a lot of questions regarding a variety of topics. Upper-class students are good people to seek out for advice. After all, they've been in your shoes and know what you're going through as you start your medical school career.
Mentorship is valuable for both the mentor and "mentee." If you are the person who is being mentored, you have access to tips, support, and guidance from someone who has been in your shoes before. Providing mentorship for others hones your leadership skills and helps the medical industry as a whole.
Find out if the school has a peer mentorship program. Additionally, professors and attendings can be great mentors. If you're an upper-class student, offer guidance to your younger peers, if they ask you to be a mentor, say yes. If for whatever reason you are unable to, give them a few names of your friends who you know that would make great mentors.
More About Trinity School of Medicine
Trinity School of Medicine is a leader and top choice in Caribbean medical schools and holds the highest level of accreditation from the Caribbean Accreditation Authority for Education in Medicine and other Health Professions (CAAM-HP) which affords successful graduates to practice medicine in the United States, Canada, India, and other locations around the world. Through rigorous academics, a supportive environment, world-class partnerships, and personal attention, we graduate, match, and deliver skilled, compassionate, and successful physicians throughout the world.
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