I have successfully completed my first year of medical school! Well, to be honest, I finished last week but I spent some time getting too much sleep and visiting friends in other cities. Instead of writing a giant block of text, I figured I would tell you about some of the most important lessons I learned during my first year.
- There is time to sleep and have fun!
All I had heard before coming to medical school was that once you arrive you will not have time to sleep, watch television (well, Netflix), or have fun. As much as I tried to convince myself this was hyperbole, it was hard not to be scared and I psyched myself out a little at the beginning. But I need sleep. I got at least 8 hours of sleep almost every night. By the end of the year I was still caught up on all my television shows (at I may or may not have started and finished the entirety of Doctor Who during the second half of the year), and I had been able to travel for 3 different conferences, take a ten day vacation to Europe to see my family during Thanksgiving, and visit friends. Yes, there were certainly weeks where I had to buckle down and not go out, and I certainly felt stressed, but I made it through while still having time to enjoy myself during the year.
- Take on new activities a piece at a time
I know some people who took on too much too fast at the beginning of the year and burned out quickly, others who were concerned about taking too much on and now regret the fact that they are not significantly involved in any groups. I tried (and, admittedly, didn’t always succeed) to take it slow. I picked one group that was most important to me and focused on that, and as I began to find my balance I allowed myself to take on another activity. Now I am on the Board of three student groups and involved in a couple of others, but I took on these positions gradually with the plan to stop once I felt like I was unable to take on much more.
- Leave empty space
I am very schedule-oriented. Part of the reason I was able to travel and do so many things is that I knew my schedule months in advance and planned when and how I would study so as to get everything done. Well, life happens. Sometimes a group I was involved in had a new event pop up, and sometimes the school didn’t mention a required event until the day before it happened. I really struggled with this and was thrown off-kilter at the beginning, but as the year went on I learned to schedule dead space in my calendar, with the assumption that something would come up (and it usually did). That way, I was not suddenly overwhelmed when new requirements or events needed to be dealt with as I had more flexibility.
- Stop listening to everyone else
I really mean this one. At the beginning of the year everyone, from the upperclassmen to your professors and your classmates, all have advice on how to study, what you need to do to pass, and what you have to give up. By all means listen at the beginning. Most of us have no idea what to do when we start school, but after a while this can become more detrimental than helpful. After the first couple of months I had developed a study system, and based on the fact that I was understanding the material and passing the classes I would humbly suggest that my system worked (for me). Listening to my classmates, however, made me feel as though I was doing something seriously wrong. Every peer and upperclassman still had suggestions as to the “right” way to study and many of these methods did not match with what I was doing. I started to stress about whether I was doing something wrong, but at the end of the day I realized that I was doing what worked for me, and that was what mattered. It is really important to not get hung up on how other people are doing things and how they compare to you because eventually that may be your downfall. Focus on yourself and what works for you.
- Try not to isolate yourself
This is all too easy in medical school, especially if, like me, you find that you study better alone and that you do best streaming lectures rather than attending in-person. If it were not for my significant other, I would have found myself devoid of human contact for days on end. It was incredibly difficult for me to strike a balance between what worked best for me studying and making sure I was not completely isolated. One way I worked to reduce this was by joining student groups and volunteering. This provided me with a productive avenue to get out and met people while also engaging in work that was important to me.
These are the most important points for me, but I am sure everyone has their own set of lessons from first year. If you are an incoming medical student, though, I hope that you have learned one thing: that your life is not over when you enter medical school. You are still able to sleep, eat, see friends, and relax – maybe not as much as you might like every day, but it is possible. And frankly, as far as I’m concerned, it’s necessary for passing the first year and remaining healthy. I can’t promise that M2-M4 will allow as much time for sleep and fun, but I’ll let you know as soon as I do!