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Surviving Your First Year of Med School: Expert Tips & Advice



Finally, arriving at med school is a huge accomplishment and one that you should be proud of. You know it’s not going to be easy, from the long hours of studying and rounds to missing out on your social life to finding the right medical scrubs. But there are plenty of ways for you to prepare so that you can easily survive your first year of medical school.

Prepare to Get Organized

With your crazy class schedule, lecture notes, reading, and learning all of the minute details of medicine which will formulate the basis of your medical knowledge, you need to get organized early and fast. Organize a space to make it an inviting area for studying. Have a color-coding system of folders to keep track of your classes and class notes. The more organized you are in the beginning, the less time you’ll spend scrambling when it comes time to study for exams.

Set a schedule for yourself and stick to it. You cannot procrastinate as you might have in your undergrad classes. You need to stay on top of the work and studying, or you will quickly become overwhelmed because the class competition and the pace are fierce. You don’t want to always be caught on your heels trying to catch up. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries for your study time, and say no when friends try to distract you. Establish a time management schedule and be disciplined, or you will struggle and be in the bottom half of the class, which may affect your residency options.

Find Your Study Style

While you’ve likely already discovered the ways that work best for you when it comes to studying in high school and college, the medical school brings a whole new meaning to the idea of “studying.” You’ll need to cram a lot of knowledge into the first two years, but don’t compare yourself to other people. Always strive to do your best. If you’re a visual learner, support your notes with pictures and videos to help keep the information fresh in your mind.

Auditory learners can also benefit from recorded lectures and videos. If you’re a hands-on learner, take any opportunity that comes your way to practice what you’ve been taught. If you have access to a class laboratory, your professor may allow you to spend extra time working on projects.

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Take Some Online Latin Classes

Take some online Latin classes in between semesters or before you enter med school to help with learning vocabulary. The majority of medical and anatomical terms have their roots in the Latin language. Knowing the origins of words can help you deduce concepts and learn vocabulary much more quickly. While you are at it, study the Roman culture. You may be surprised at how much modern medicine and surgical tools originated in ancient Rome.

Make Friends and Time for Activities

While you’re going to be spending a lot of time in class and studying, you also need to make sure you’re taking time for yourself and activities unrelated to medical school so you are in a good place mentally and physically. If you manage your time wisely, take a couple of hours to catch a movie with your friends. Spend time at the gym, which will clear your mind and help you retain information better. If you dance or play sports, those are other hobbies that can help you relax and decompress from academics.

Unlike some other fields of study, you can’t be a loner in med school and expect to survive.

You need the support of your colleagues who will help keep your spirits up and be vital partners for studying and clinical experience. You will learn something from everyone you work with, and that experience is invaluable.

Have an Open Mind

While you may think you know what field you want to go into when you begin medical school, many people end up changing their minds as they learn about different disciplines and go through their residencies. Keep an open mind about the various subjects and specialties you’ll be exposed to, and if something catches your interest, don’t dismiss it simply because it isn’t part of your original plan. Find an area of medicine that will keep you interested and feels rewarding. If this means that you practice pediatric medicine instead of dermatology, that’s okay.

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Find The Right Scrubs

When you begin clinical rounds and your residency, you’re going to be spending many hours in scrubs. Medical scrubs should be comfortable and practical but also project your personality and style. To save time, order your scrub sets, compression socks, and footwear online from a reputable vendor with lots of fashionable options. Rather than be complacent about your scrub sets, consider your body type and choose scrubs that enable you to project professionalism while still being comfortable such as jogger-style or cargo scrub pants and scrub tops with a zip-up mock neck if you have an athletic build.

Choose skinny scrub pants and a V-neck with a chest pocket if you have an apple shape. But, if you have an hourglass figure, flared scrub pants with back pockets and a scoop neck top is flattering. If you have narrow shoulders and wider hips, consider scrub tops with extra details, like pockets or a mock collar and straight-leg pants. Broad shoulders and narrow hips look great in V-neck solids and skinny or jogger-style scrub pants. Also, invest in a set of long-sleeved fashionable nursing scrubs, as well as short-sleeved scrubs, because hospitals can get very cold. There are plenty of colors, patterns, and styles available.

If your clinical rounds allow it, consider colorful and flowery print tops for when you’re working with adults and more youthful butterflies or zig-zag designs when you’re working with children and teenagers. This can make you appear more approachable and more likely to connect with your patients.

Take Advantage of Volunteer Opportunities

Whether it’s volunteering at an underserved medical clinic or becoming a mentor to pre-med students, giving back is an incredibly rewarding experience that will help you practice your skills. It will also expose you to new ideas, new ways of doing things, new skills, and how to be a good leader.

Don’t turn down opportunities to volunteer, and actively seek them out when you have free time. You’ll be surprised at how much knowledge you’ll gain that you can bring back and apply to your med school classes.

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