Thursday, September 1, 2011

some tips on how to survive the first year of medical school

*Tips written by Feisal Brahim, Pd.D., Professor of Anatomy at SGU

You have completed the prerequisites for entrance to medical school and have been accepted to fulfill your desired goal of becoming a doctor.  Congratulations!  You have made it.  Now you are about to embark on a journey through the formative years of your medical education where you will be transformed from a field-dependent learner to a field-independent learner.  While medical school is still undergraduate education, albeit professional, it is not similar to any of your previous undergraduate educational experiences.  What changes or adjustments do you need to make to successfully complete this program?  The following are some tips for academic survival (especially here at SGU):

1.  Do not believe all that  you hear from the upper division students.
As the "new kids on the block," you will be bombarded by advice, undoubtedly with good intentions, from those who are ahead of you.  This advice will range from which professors are good or bad, which textbooks to read, which notes to buy, how much to study, and probably when to study.  However, what may have worked for someone else will not necessarily work for you.  Thus, you must make your own decision on what advice may be relevant for your success.

2.  Develop a weekly budget of your time.
A 7 day time plan should include, not only study time, but time for meals, house chores, grocery shopping, relaxation, etc.  This 7 day budget need not be adhered to stringently, but should serve as a guide on how your time should be spent.  It will allow you to account for your time, similar to that of a financial budget.  Also budget no more than 1 hour of study time without a 10 minute break, and no more than 2-3 consecutive hours on any one subject.

3.  Do not compare yourself to any of your colleagues.
Do not feel that, because another classmate knows something that you don't recall at any particular point in time, you are less knowledgeable.  You may be surprised at how much you really know.

4.  Develop a sense of confidence in what you know.
You will endeavor to learn everything and to master all the information presented to you.  While you may succeed in this objective, you will undoubtedly not remember everything that you have learned.  Don't despair, instead develop and maintain confidence in yourself.  This will provide you with the means to seek out information when needed.  Remember that medical education is a life long journey which you are now embarking.

5.  Develop and work in your comfort zone.
This relates to items 3 and 4 above and indicates that your confidence in your knowledge base is a reflection on how comfortable you are with yourself and your environment.  While the physical surroundings may not be under your control, i.e. the island life, you can affect the creation of your own atmosphere for your learning, and thus reduce any stress that you may feel.

6.  Seek the assistance at the earliest sign of academic difficulty.
Many students who are experiencing academic difficulties wait until after midterm exams to seek advice and assistance, when they should have done so much earlier.  These students include those who enter with high GPAs or who have never been in academic difficulty before, and believe they can "weather the storm" by themselves.  Early help may prevent the catch-up game and certainly reduce stress.

7.  Learn to relax your body and mind.
Make sure that you do not spend all your time studying.
Make sure that you do not spend all your time studying.  Build in some time for relaxation (see item 2 above).  Too often, many students will say that they do not have time to go to the beach or to visit some of the local venues, because they must study.  This is counterproductive to your well-being and academic survival.

8.  Form review groups.
All students spend time reviewing independently, but do not really know what they have retained until they are examined.  Additionally, most students avail themselves of DES tutorials so that they can hear the same information repeated by upper year students.  Which this may be valuable, repetition by the learner is of more importance in the retention of information.  Achieving this can be accomplished by establishing your own review group with a few colleagues, and meeting for about 1 hour a week on each course and questioning one another on pre selected material.  In this way, not only will you develop the confidence in your knowledge base by reinforcing the areas in which you are strong, but you will also identify the weak areas to be addressed to the appropriate faculty member for further clarification.

9.  Do not be preoccupied with the dear of failing.
While the fear of failing may serve as a motivating factor, it should not be preeminent in your mind.  Remember that you have successfully passed the requirements for admission to medical school, so you do enter with elements of confidence and motivation in yourself.  Maintaining this condidence and motivation is required for success.  Moreover, once you have progressed through the first year, you should have developed the discipline and confidence required for continued success and, thus, the thought of failing should become a thing of the past.

10.  Think simple when you are questioned.
Most students, when questioned by faculty on a given subject matter, immediately feel that they must give a detailed answer filled with information not required.  Focus on the question and answer specifically what is asked.  For example, is a question is "does the ulnar nerve supply all the intrinsic muscles of the hand?" answer a simple yes or no and do not volunteer to give the names of the muscles which the nerve supplies, since this was not asked.  You will find this extremely helpful when you are in clinical rotations.

11.  Develop the ability to reason.
Many students believe that role memorization is all that is required to get through the basic science component of the medical curriculum.  Too often, students who have the basic facts cannot apply them when asked to do so.  Basic sciences form the scientific foundation of medicine, and are of major importance when used in problem solving, which requires reasoning.  The understanding of factual information and its relevance to the practice of medicine begins with the ability to comprehend the meaning of terminology that make up the language of medicine, much of what is presented the first year.  Thus, developing the ability to reason in your freshman year reduces the need for much memorization, and will undoubtedly enhance long-term retention of your knowledge.  This about it!

12.  Develop a sense of humor.
While medicine is serious life and death business, it is, nevertheless, an interplay between doctor and patient, two people whose interactions would determine the wellbeing of the patient.  A doctor who has a sense of humor will present a pleasant and relaxed personality, and would undoubtedly win the confidence of his/her patient.

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