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Top 10 tips for thriving at medical school

Avant media

Wednesday, 28 February 2024

Early Career Doctor Advisory Council members

It’s no secret that medical school is hard work, but there a few ways you can lighten the load.

Current and past members of Avant’s Early Career Doctor Advisory Council, who have all recently finished (and survived!) medical school, provided these tips on thriving and getting the most out of what can sometimes seem overwhelming.

1. Avoid paralysis by analysis

Binging on medical school advice is an easy trap to fall into.

Every YouTube medical student or doctor-come-author has their own secret to success and, while some of these resources are useful, it can also be information overload. Trying to incorporate every ‘uni hack’ or exam-prep tip will leave your wheels spinning.

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel, simply being proactive and incorporating a few tried and true techniques, like the ones below, will get you 90% of the way there.

2. Find the techniques that work for you

Testing yourself at regular intervals is far more effective than pouring over textbooks or lectures. Spaced repetition flashcard apps like ANKI take the thinking out of when to revise.

Mnemonics are another effective tool that can help with those tough exam questions.

Condense an entire semester subject to one A3 page (stick two A4 sheets together) of written notes and diagrams. It forces you to synthesise all the important information and doubles as an exam revision piece.

Everyone learns differently and while these techniques might work for some find a way that works for you, something effective and something you are motivated to do.

3. A desk is for study

Numerous studies show having a dedicated study area increases focus, productivity and motivation.

Find yourself a quiet, distraction-free area where your brain knows “ok, it’s time to get down to business”. Set up the area with study materials and remove items that will distract you from the task.

4. Assemble your team

Make no mistake, medicine is a team sport!

Forming a study group of four to five people is the single best investment you can make in medical school.

A tried and tested strategy is to divide notetaking during a semester among your group. At exam time, you each pick a topic to revise and then teach each other about them.

Not only will this slash the workload, but you will be learning by consolidating your knowledge. Best of all, it doesn’t feel like study, it feels like hanging out with friends.

5. Get organised

Medical school is a huge commitment, but that doesn’t mean you are able to drop everything else.

Many of you will be juggling commitments outside of school too. The key to managing them all is to be organised.

There’s nothing a giant-sized year calendar and a weekly planner can’t fix. Get both, so you’ll always know when things are due, where you are in the lead-up to exams, and where you need to budget your time to meet all your responsibilities.

6. Say yes to opportunities

The great thing about the medical school experience is that it extends way beyond the classroom.

Get involved with extracurriculars such as committees, research, mentoring junior students, and even writing articles. Just remember to keep it manageable with study and placements.

Not only is this a great way to build your CV, but it’s a fantastic opportunity to find mentors and work on other skills like communication, teaching and critical appraisal.

7. Life beyond medicine

Medicine should feel like a part of your life, not your whole life.

Whether it’s playing a sport, volunteering or a hobby, making regular time for something you enjoy will not only recharge your batteries but will make you a more well-rounded student and intern applicant later.

Carve out a portion of your day or week as a ‘medicine-free zone’, and stick to it no matter what, especially during exam time when taking time out for yourself is even more important.

8. A problem shared is a problem halved

Everybody struggles during medical school at some point – those worries or stresses you’re experiencing are shared by many of your peers, if not all of them.

If you’ve had a tough day or feel like you’re struggling, talk to your peers or the medical school staff; they are there to help you.

9. Tackling large tasks

You will be given mountains of information to memorise and synthesise, but it doesn’t all have to be done at once.

To make it more manageable, pick a few meaty subjects (e.g. physiology or anatomy) and tackle a section of those subjects every week.

Then when it comes to exam season, you will only have the smaller subjects left to memorise. Even if it’s revising one lecture a day, it all adds up.

10. Confidence is a trick worth mastering

Initially, feeling like an imposter, or that you are inconveniencing a patient when taking their medical history or doing an examination, is very common.

The reality is, it’s your job to get qualified, and many patients don’t mind if you want to practice an examination or take blood.

Learning to look confident when you walk into a patient’s room and initiate an interaction is critical to nail. Once you’ve mastered this skill, you will take in much more while on the wards.

Disclaimers


IMPORTANT:
This publication is not comprehensive and does not constitute legal or medical advice. You should seek legal or other professional advice before relying on any content, and practise proper clinical decision making with regard to the individual circumstances. Persons implementing any recommendations contained in this publication must exercise their own independent skill or judgement or seek appropriate professional advice relevant to their own particular practice. Compliance with any recommendations will not in any way guarantee discharge of the duty of care owed to patients and others coming into contact with the health professional or practice. Avant is not responsible to you or anyone else for any loss suffered in connection with the use of this information. Information is only current at the date initially published.

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