Online medical school was unheard of prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. What is online medical school like? How does one study and gain medical knowledge to treat patients via telemedicine? Well, it’s complicated. It’s also different from medical program to medical program. All classes are online and medical students are expected to learn the curriculum as they would if they were attending medical school in-person. Honestly, virtual medical school is a lot like “normal” medical school in that you’re at home studying most of the time anyway. What’s different is that there is ZERO HUMAN INTERACTION – which means it can be EXTREMELY isolating. We attend lectures virtually via zoom. We complete exams as we would in-person: on our personal computers, proctored and timed. We come on campus to practice hands-on techniques while following CDC guidelines.
Make a schedule and STICK TO IT.
Make a DAILY SCHEDULE. I’ve mentioned this before in another blog post. Schedules are not for everyone. I am simply sharing what works for me. I like to plan my days by the hour and remain organized, so I do not lose track of things that I have to do. It’s important to at least have an idea of what tasks need to be completed for the day, make a plan and then, execute it. Remember to STAY DISCIPLINED. It’s not enough to make a schedule. Anyone can do that. Put in the WORK. Get shit done and make things happen. Otherwise, if you just spend hours scrolling on Instagram or other social media platforms, you are wasting your brain cells. Make those neuronal connections stronger and put in the necessary work to succeed. Remember, your goal is to be a great physician. Unless it’s not, then please close this tab. In order to be a good physician, we must invest in learning the knowledge necessary to assist those in need. Our future patients need us to know this stuff. Make time to build the foundational knowledge so you can build on it in the future.
Designate a specific study space.
Have a place where you can be in the zone, and in “study mode.” This is important because the location you decide to make your study space will automatically tell your brain to prepare to do some work and make those neuronal connections. You do not want to pick a space where you can be distracted. Ask yourself what will work best for you. Trial and error. Attempt to study in one place and if it doesn’t work, choose another. If that doesn’t work, look for another. Keep looking and trying until you find a location that best suits you and your needs. Only you can determine where that is.
Have a routine.
Maybe start your day with meditation or some exercise/yoga – an activity that can center your mind and keep your spirit calm before you start your day. Meditation is a great way to start because you can focus on your breathing and clear your mind before starting the day you have ahead. Select a time for meals and schedule a time for self-care (i.e. pooping, showering, running, journaling, etc.). All of these are important.
Take care of your mental health.
As a medical student, you may feel the pressure to complete and get through a certain amount of material. Remember that you can MODIFY accordingly. Plans are not finite. You can change things as you see fit. Remember to take care of yourself, especially your mental health. People do not do this enough. Pay attention to your mentality. It’s easy to get caught up in studying because there is so much to do; however, don’t forget that you are human. You are human and you deserve to take a break when it’s needed. Relax. Rest. It won’t kill you to take a 5 minute break. Your mental health and sanity is more important than an exam grade.
Remember to be social.
Talk to your friends. Call your parents. Don’t forget to make time for human interaction. Although it is different from in-person conversation, it is something and something is better than nothing. Human interaction helps us learn. It can fulfill the support system you may need to survive medical school. DO NOT sacrifice those connections. You may need them more than you think.
DO NOT isolate yourself.
This is very important. Attending virtual medical school is an easy way to become isolated from humans. Avoid this at all costs. Maintain connections with people. If you don’t like people, talk to a dog. If you have a pet, even better! Talk to a breathing, living organism to maintain your sanity. Express your emotions, thoughts and philosophies. Have a dialogue so you can at least remember what it’s like to talk to someone.
Start your day early.
Studies show that people are more productive when they start their day early. Start NOW. Stop saying, “I’ll start tomorrow.” That is probably the worst thing you can do because you are delaying something that CAN and SHOULD be done now. It’s nice to get the day started early when the house is quiet and you can hear your own thoughts. Self-reflect and start your day with a grateful heart. Say 3 things you are grateful for. Think about your goals for the day. You can write them down. Start your day early when everything is still calm and still. You may find yourself thinking a little clearer. Be thankful that you can wake up and start the day anew. You are breathing. You are alive. Do not take this life for granted. You only have one.
As med students, we have an abundance of material to learn within a limited time frame. That’s cool. That’s what we signed up for. Remember to distribute tasks accordingly. If you have a long list of things to do. Rank them based on importance. What is urgent? What can wait? Keep this in mind when you are creating your daily schedules. Get your priorities straight and remember to include your loved ones, if you can. You may not realize it now, but making time for family/friends, even if it’s a 5-minute phone call can make all the difference.
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. Don’t forget about your own mental and physical health. Go outside and take a walk, if need be. The worst thing you can do is lose yourself in your studies. Yes, you have an abundance of material to sift through, but it is not worth sacrificing your well-being. It’s OK to NOT BE OK. If you need help or are feeling overwhelmed, please reach out to someone, ANYONE. Look for resources that your school offers. Seek help if you need it. Don’t worry about what others might think. Other people’s opinions are none of your business anyway. Their opinions will not be getting you your doctorate degree. FOCUS ON YOURSELF and your own well-being. That’s important to stay sane. THAT is how you survive online medical school.