Having just begun the second year of medical school, I find myself thinking about my experiences this time last year. One year ago I packed up my things and drove ten hours through four states to move into an apartment that I had not actually seen yet and was excitedly awaiting a week of orientation activities. Currently there are roughly 175 new KCOM medical students doing the same thing right now. And as a wise and experienced second year, I have a few pieces of advice for Last Year Emma, and all the first years like her.
1) Make time to do things you enjoy (and don’t feel guilty about it). There will always be something to study. If you studied every moment you were awake for your entire med school career, you would still have new things to learn. Don’t go out every night, but set boundaries and try not to let school completely overwhelm you.
That may sound like bad advice, but if you don’t you will end up burned out and hating school. We all have times when this happens to us (finals, anyone?) but it is best to avoid if possible. Trying to care about school and absorb information when you are miserable is, well, miserable.
2) Speaking of taking study breaks, make sure to sleep! This is especially important right before tests and finals week. You will think to yourself, “You know, if I study until midnight, then get up again at five AM, I can get more done tomorrow!” No. No you cannot. You will be tired and cranky and then you will drink 5 cups of coffee and still have a headache. Do not be the first year who pulled an all-nighter before walking into his first exam, and then promptly fell asleep in the middle of the test. You will not be able to get 8 hours every night, but make an effort to get an adequate amount of sleep as often as you can. It will not only make you more productive, but it will keep you happier as well.
3) You won’t get all A’s and that is ok. In fact, its better than ok. Do you know what they call the physician that got a C in Physiology? Doctor. This is an entirely new level of education. You are going to drown in information and be expected to regurgitate it. Do the best you can do. Aim high, but don’t beat yourself up if you have a test or two that brings your grade down. Your ability to be a good doctor does not depend solely on your ability to graduate in the top 10% of your class.
4) Do things that scare you. Yes, medical school is daunting, but that is not what I am talking about. I was excited about medicine, but I also let several opportunities pass me by because I was nervous. There is a difference between learning about something in a classroom, and performing that activity in the real world. For instance–and you should feel free to laugh at me for this–I have a weird fear of giving people shots. I don’t mind starting IV lines because you do that slowly, but there is something disconcerting about stabbing someone with a needle.
This summer I spent time in Northeast Missouri doing a clinical preceptorship at a primary care facility. Basically I shadowed the physician and got a chance to apply the skills I’ve learned during my first year. One of the nurses found out that I was nervous about giving shots and made it her goal to make me give every shot that the doctor ordered. Now I’ve given shots to everyone from adults to children, and while its still not a comfortable experience, giving shots no longer bothers me.
Getting outside of your comfort zone is one of the most important aspects of learning, no matter what your career path. Giving shots is just one small example, but the principal still applies. Often I make excuses not to do things because I am afraid of failing or looking like an idiot. But at some point you have to set aside this fear and accept the fact that you might look a little bit foolish when you try something new.
Now go out and enjoy your first year of medical school!