THINGS I WISH I KNEW BEFORE STARTING MEDICAL SCHOOL:
Applicable to first-year undergraduates and first-year medical students
Starting medical school is an exciting time! CONGRATULATIONS on making it to this point if you are starting your first year! YOU DID IT! You made it and you survived the application cycle. You should be SO PROUD of this accomplishment. Relish in this moment and reflect on the past years that you’ve worked so hard to get to this point. Wear your white coat with pride, but not too much, because you also want to remain HUMBLE. As medical students, we were carefully selected among thousands of applicants. For some programs, they have up to 15,000 applicants and only 200 seats to offer. If you have been given a seat for this new class of med students, think about that for a second. You have been CHOSEN, given the PRIVILEGE out of thousands of people to gain a medical education in this particular program. WOW. That’s incredible and should certainly be celebrated!
As you embark on this new chapter in life,
Here are things I wish I knew or someone had told me when I started this journey:
This is real life.
Pinch yourself. This is NOT a mistake! You are NOT dreaming. You are a student physician! YOU ARE ENOUGH. YOU ARE WORTHY of this privilege and will be an amazing doctor one day if you work hard and strive to be a good human being. It may not even sink in until you finish your first year when you actually have some time to think. For some, like myself, I just hit the ground running as soon as school started and didn’t think about myself at all. I was just trying to survive and thrive in the medical program. So, I suggest you reflect. Take some time to reflect on how far you’ve come because it was not easy by any means. Think about how much you have wanted this for as long as you have and now YOU ARE HERE. Believe in yourself. Remember you have been CHOSEN. You have been given this privilege to gain this medical knowledge and contribute back to society through medicine. Don’t take it for granted.
03. Do what works FOR YOU.
You will most likely hear an insane amount of advice from people who have gone through what you’re going through. Tip: TAKE EVERYTHING WITH A GRAIN OF SALT – even what I’m writing in this article. People share advice about things that worked for them. They only share what they know and each medical student is different. Everyone studies differently. We ask for advice because we fear the unknown and medical school is new to you. You have no idea what you’re in for. Please keep this in mind: If a 4th year medical student tells you a specific class is hard, and you internalize that, it will be hard. If your mentor tells you it’ll be easy (you trust your mentor) so you will go into it thinking it’s easy.
Let me tell you a story someone once told me. There was a physics professor who presented an equation to be solved as homework for the night. Before he let the students go, he said “by the way, no one has ever successfully solved this problem before.” So, some students didn’t even attempt to solve the equation that night. Another student (John), however, didn’t attend class that day and was told my his classmate that this was the assigned homework – to solve this equation. The friend did not mention what the physics professor told the class – that it had never been solved. The next day, students come back to class and the professor asks, “So, were any of you able to solve the problem?” The class responded no except for John. John solved that “impossible” equation. John presented it to the class and had no idea that the professor had mentioned it was “unsolvable.” So you see, your mindset is affected by the environment around you. Remember that if you go in thinking it’ll be easy, it may be. If you in to school thinking your medical program sucks, it will suck. It’s MIND OVER MATTER always. Check your mindset. Remain positive and do what works for you. Don’t listen to those people who are telling you that you can’t do something because it’s too hard. When people say that, they are simply projecting their own limitations onto you. If they don’t think they can do it, then they don’t think anyone else can either. But YOU CAN and YOU WILL.
It’s okay not to have all of the answers.
I know it may feel like you HAVE TO KNOW EVERYTHING. YOU DON’T! I promise no one knows everything! Some may actually understand the concepts very well; however, there is always room for improvement. Those who are successful may not even say anything out loud. People who you think may have all the answers are those that speak up in class. That’s great! These students feel comfortable to respond to professors. Be happy for them. If anything, get inspired because understanding the medical knowledge that we are required to learn is a lot. It can be a lot of pressure. However, remember YOU ARE ONLY HUMAN. There are no superheroes here. Yes, we may be superheroes in the making but it’s okay not to know the material in the back of your hand. Take YOUR TIME! Everyone learns differently. DO NOT COMPARE YOURSELF to your colleagues. Remember they ARE NOT your competition. Your competition is yourself. You should be thinking, “Okay! How can I improve today? What should I do differently to understand this better? Etc.” The only healthy and worthwhile comparison is you yesterday vs. you today. Focus on yourself and your own journey. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. Are they taking your exams for you? No. So, do you, honey.
Take your time.
Take as much time as YOU need to learn the material. Do not feel pressured to go out with your new friends and get to know them when you have a mountain of material to sift through. PRIORITIZE what needs to be done. Make a list, follow through, and then if you have some time, go have some fun! But remember you are there to get a medical education – to learn the knowledge necessary to help those in need. Some people only need to take 2 passes of the material to understand the concepts. Others take 5-6 passes. For myself, I need to read things over and over again, probably 3-5 times before I get it. It’s different for every class, too. Some things will click in your brain very easily. Others won’t. That’s okay. Each person studies differently. Find what works for YOU and stick to it. Don’t do flashcards just because you see everyone else using them. Trial and error. Try things out and if that study method doesn’t work, try something else. That doesn’t work? Try another strategy. Google. Use the internet. Figure it out and/or go back to basics. I ended up going back to my old undergrad ways – taking my own notes, consolidating all the information into concise notes in a language that I can understand when I look back at it 1 year from now. Diagrams, maps, tables, and graphs. Now, I’ll be using these notes I’ve spent much time on as I prepare to study for Boards. Make your own, if you think that’ll work for you. It might help you conceptualize topics that are difficult or dense. Put in the time and you will be rewarded. I suggest spending time on the material until you get it and then, move on. If you only understand the basic foundation, when the professor is expecting you to understand it on the deeper level, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Put in the time and the effort and you will be better for it – a better student. Remember, we are life-long learners here. You may have chosen this path because you love to learn. So, learn!
It’s okay to ask for help!
Look. I’m going to be honest. The reason why people don’t like to ask for help is because of their ego and their pride or because embarrassed to do so. And that’s ok. Being prideful and having an ego is a normal human thing to have. However, we must learn to put our pride aside when necessary. You don’t have to have all the answers. Unless you are an amazing freak of nature, and you know all there is to know in the world of medicine, then kudos to you! That’s incredible. But not everyone is like that. It’s okay to ask for help. Not just about school and classes, but also when you need to talk to someone if you’re struggling – mentally. Your mental health is SOOOOOOO IMPORTANT. I cannot stress this enough. Know when to ask for help. Talk to someone if you need to. Call your Mom. Dad. Sister. Brother. Friend. They may not understand what you’re going through but maybe they can provide comfort in listening. Reach out to your school therapist, a friend. IT IS OKAY NOT TO BE OKAY. You are human. You can feel overwhelmed, sad, mad, pissed, annoyed, whatever feeling you want to feel. Our feelings make us human. FEEL THEM. Let those emotions in, let the negative ones go. Breathe. Take a break. Drink some tea, water, cleanse your spirit. Everything will be okay. For more information about how to cope with stress, click here.
Try to be centered. That is the true struggle of life isn’t it? Finding balance. How does one balance medical school, family, love life, friends, a dog, etc.? How does one do that?
PRIORITIZE. This journey that you are on now will be met with much adversity. You may encounter obstacles that you never thought you would and life will try to teach you. These challenges are necessary. These uphill battles are necessary. They are necessary because ADVERSITY IS NECESSARY TO BUILD CHARACTER. Whatever you are going through, I promise you, if you look at every obstacle as a learning experience with a gratuitous perspective, you will be a better human being. You’re not in medical school just to be a doctor. Your degree is just a piece of paper. Your education is shown in your behavior. Find balance in life. Make a schedule and STICK TO IT. Anyone can make a schedule. But not everyone is disciplined. Remain disciplined. If you really want this, make it happen. Work hard and the universe will reward you. Want to be a good physician? Invest in your mind. Invest in your mindset and yearn to be a better human being. It is not enough to do well in classes and get straight A’s and high boards scores. These are just numbers. These numbers say nothing about you as a person or what kind of physician you will be. Invest in yourself. You may find that there is a lot of work to do. Whether or not it is worth investing time and effort in improving yourself. That’s up to you. They say be confident, but not arrogant. Be kind, but not weak. Be bold, but don’t bully. Be humble, but not shy. These characteristics are hard to balance; however, if you put in the WORK, you will be a better person for it. Think about your soul/spirit. Do you want to give off good energy or bad energy? Your life. Your choice. Invest in your mindset.
02. Imposter Syndrome is SO REAL.
For those who do not know. Imposter syndrome is when a person feels like they are out of place, unworthy and/or they were given this opportunity by mistake. THAT’S A LIE. Stop thinking that! You are smart. You are capable. And you are worthy. Look. Almost everyone experiences Imposter Syndrome at least once. If they don’t, God bless because that’s amazing. For those of you who have this, know that you are WORTHY. You are worthy of this role as a student physician and you have been granted this privilege FOR A REASON. You CAN DO IT! THIS IS NOT A MISTAKE. You add value to this Earth. And you are IMPORTANT and a great asset to this medical program and society is happy to have you. Again, this is not a mistake. This is real life and you are LIVING IT.
Have ZERO expectations.
Have zero expectations because you want to remain optimistic. When expectations are too high, we may be setting ourselves up for disappointment. Sometimes, we hear from our friends who’ve been in medical school that say “it’s easy.” It’s not easy for everyone. TRUST. You may have heard how effortlessly some medical students have made friends and formed strong connections right away. Do not expect this to happen for yourself. The reality is that things TAKE TIME for some people. You may require more time than your colleagues to make friends and get your bearings down. Adjusting to medical school is no easy feat – again, for some. So, take your time. Have ZERO EXPECTATIONS. Keep a positive mind, an open mind. Remain hopeful and keep the faith. Everything will be okay. I promise. You will make it through and hopefully, all of your hopes and dreams will come to fruition.
It’s okay to feel overwhelmed. That is normal! When you are feeling anxious, like you’re drowning or you have way too much on your plate, TAKE A STEP BACK. Relax. You can afford to take at least 5 minutes for yourself. Your mental health is way more important than a grade on an exam. Some may not agree with this but self-care should be your #1 priority. Protect your peace. Protect it and remain grounded. Take breaks so you do not lose yourself in your studies. It is very easy to forget the reason why you decided to pursue this path when your face is constantly in the books and you have exams every other day. It’s okay to take a break. Give yourself at least 5 minutes. Instead of going on Instagram and/or checking Facebook, sit in your chair or go outside and take some deep breaths. If you are feeling overwhelmed, I suggest you take a sip of water and BREATHE. Take a DEEP BREATH IN and breathe out ALL OF THE NEGATIVE JUJU. Breathe it all out! Keep taking deep breaths until you have exhaled all of the negative energy – all the stress, anxiety, sadness, etc. Just BREATHE. You will be fine. Try not to breathe in and out too fast, you don’t want to hyperventilate and pass out. You will survive. Remember to take care of yourself. Remember to sleep and eat.
Also, it may be even more admirable to admit you do not know something. I guarantee you, that maybe another classmate may also be confused but too afraid to ask. Because when you’re in a room with your classmates, everyone is probably thinking similarly in that, someone else might know this material better than I do and therefore, too embarrassed to ask. Don’t think like that. Who cares how much everyone else knows. ASK QUESTIONS! This is your education and you are paying a ridiculous amount of money to get it, so TAKE ADVANTAGE and DO NOT BE AFRAID TO ASK QUESTIONS. Ask as many questions as you need to help you better understand the material. If the professor is asking, “does anyone have any questions?” Raise your hand. Don’t be scared about what other people may think. Their opinions are NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS. It has nothing to do with your education. Invest the time and energy to get the necessary knowledge you need to treat your future patients. This is for your future patients. Think about that. However, I would suggest refraining from asking too many questions. How many is too many? You can get a vibe of the class if most are ready to move on. In this case, save your questions for after class or the professors’ office hours. Don’t be selfish. So there’s a fine line but if you are self-aware and considerate of your classmates, also respect their time because they are also paying a lot of money to be there and learn, too. Be considerate of others.
Please keep an open mind as you navigate through medical school. Different opportunities may be presented to you and may reject it immediately due to a past experiences, I don’t know. Research, for example, has a stigma surrounding it. For some, when they think of research, they think of wet labs, animals, bacteria, petri dishes and pipetting. That is not the case for all research. This image is not all-encompassing of what research has to offer. It is complex, a wide scope of practice and is worth exploring if you are interested in doing so. Explore new things. Expose yourself to new opportunities and try it out! What do you have to lose? Just do it. If you don’t like it, then you don’t like it. Another thing to cross off your list. Then, try another thing and you may find something you love that you didn’t expect. It’s worth a try. Don’t close any doors unless you are 100% certain.
Be nice to EVERYONE. I mean EVERYONE.
It may be intimidating at first when you are meeting all of these people in your class – people who have also worked very hard to get to this point. They will be different from you. They have unique life experiences. Some will be friendly. Others will not be, and that’s okay. You will click with some and others, not so much. Maybe you’ll be one of the lucky ones that meets their soul sister or soul brother and you will wonder where they have been your entire life. That’s special. Life isn’t perfect and in a perfect world, we would all hold hands and sing Kumbaya. But clearly, that’s not real life. But it’s important to be kind to others, even if that person doesn’t deserve your kindness. It’ll be good for your soul. Please remember to be kind to one another. Some people are hateful and that’s okay. There has to be ugly in order to know beautiful. Arrogance must exist to know humility. How will you know what is good if you have never experienced bad? It’s about BALANCE. One cannot exist without the other. For people who are competitive, hateful and negative human beings, just pray for them. Pray that they get everything their heart desires because the universe works in mysterious ways and karma is very much alive. Be kind and the universe will reward you. Be mean and the universe will teach you. You can learn the hard way or not. That’s up to you.
Believe in yourself.
Be your #1 supporter! Yes. You may have the support from your friends and family back home; however, no one can really understand what you’re going through except maybe your classmates. But even their experiences are different from yours. They may not have had to move and leave their support systems across the country or had a family members pass away right before school started or filed for divorce 1 week ago. The obstacles you face are your own. Sometimes, others cannot understand, and that’s okay.
Believe in yourself so much that on days you feel like the odds are against you and you feel alone, you won’t need anyone else’s support because your own support from yourself is ENOUGH. Be your #1 supporter so that when no one is there to help, you can say, “it’s okay if they don’t believe in me, because I BELIEVE IN ME.” And that’s probably the best support you can have. Yourself. Obviously family and friends supporting you doesn’t hurt either. But the take away message is to believe in you. Believe in you because no one can believe in you like you can.
If you have decided to read through all these tips, thank you. Thank you for reading and giving this article your time and energy. These are things I wish someone told me. But keep in mind, these things are easier said than done. Anything that is worth anything takes WORK. It takes time to develop this mindset. So remember, as you embark on this new chapter, remember who you are. Don’t lose yourself. It is very easy to do so when classes start and all this information is being thrown at your brain. Remember who you are and hold on to that person. Remember why you’re doing this and invest in yourself – your health, your body, your mindset, and your energy. You’ll be a better person for it.
I hope that you have found the wisdom I have to share helpful. These are simply things that I have learned during my first year of medical school. I also had Imposter Syndrome all throughout my pre-medical journey and throughout my first-year of medical school. I had it so bad that when I was applying to medical school, I questioned my own capabilities so much that I also wanted to apply to dental school because I didn’t think I was good enough to get into a medical program. Now, that I have completed my first year and have taken the time to reflect, I think I’m finally getting over Imposter Syndrome. It is SO REAL. You won’t realize you had it until you think about it and dive deep into your soul to figure out what’s holding you back. But you will be okay. I promise. Just believe in yourself. Work hard. Trust yourself. Block out all the negativity. If you need a hype woman, I’m your girl. I will hype you up! I cannot stress this enough, FOCUS ON YOURSELF. DO NOT. I REPEAT. DO NOT COMPARE YOURSELF to your colleagues. You all are in this together. Help each other. Support each other. You don’t have to like everyone you meet. I certainly don’t. Everyone’s personality is different. Just find those who are on the same wavelength as you. Surround yourself with positive vibes/energy. Be kind and maintain a HEALTHY MINDSET. You will be fine. You will not only be fine. YOU WILL THRIVE. Final cliché: a flower does not compare itself to the one next to it, it just blooms. So, BLOOM! BLOOM and reach for the stars because there are no limitations. The limitations are set in your MIND. GOOD LUCK! You can do it! You will make it. Just keep the faith. Remain hopeful. There is light at the end of the tunnel and don’t forget why you’re doing this.