For your viewing pleasure…
1. SLEEP. Before you get to MedSchool, sleep. Watch TV. Veg out. I swear, had I known how much my brain could hold, what I was capable of, I would never have stressed my way through matric or spent so little time doing other things I love. Sure, I didn’t really give it my all, but I don’t regret saving my energy for the finals. Now I only wish I’d saved a little more energy.
2. YOU HAVE NEVER WORKED LIKE THIS IN YOUR LIFE. No, seriously. Sure, there are more mentally challenging and stimulating courses, like Mathematics and Engineering.* There are things we did in HS that required slightly more grey matter than the work we do now (PPD, anybody?) But, honestly? The pre-clinical modules, the ones that get you to the point where you can start learning to actually do the medical stuff, are mainly about binge and regurgitate. That’s it. To pass, you just need to apply BIST—Bum In Seat Time. And study. And study hard. And study some more. You could be doing more with your magnificent problem-solving skills. But there is nothing more taxing than memorizing a million things while knowing that you’ll only ever get asked about two.
3. MAKE FRIENDS. Chances are, if you’re seriously socially inept after all that pre-med studying, 80% of your classmates are too. Or they just don’t feel like Making An Effort. Make a freaking effort. I’d bet nothing is as frustrating as discovering midway through 1st year that the people you would have gotten along with best have already branched off into exclusive groups that don’t include you. Trust me, I’ve seen it and it is sad. Don’t be shy. University is a place for rebirth and reinvention.
4. MAKE FRIENDS OUTSIDE OF MED. It’s lame to have nothing but schoolwork in common with people. Liase with people in other res’s, studying ither courses. Hang out with people who don’t understand the term fistula. Join societies that aren’t med-based. Poetry club, ballroom dancing, drama, tennis team, bands, church societies—WHATEVER. But do branch out. You’ll be glad you did.
5. KEEP IN TOUCH WITH OLD FRIENDS. Some of my closest friends are the ones I was close with in HS. But it’s been hard work maintaining those friendships, especially considering my car-less state. It’s been a lot of phone-calls, e-mails, facebooking, sleepovers—the works. And you know what? It’s totally worth it. As much as I love my new friends, these are the ones who knew me before Uni, who loved me without the added incenting of having to spend the next half decade with me. They can’t really study with me, but that’s the BEST part. It helps me remember who I was before Uni and therefore I haven’t gone all ‘MedStudent’ on anyone. Except my mom.
6. DON’T KILL YOUR INTERESTS. Songwriter? Keep writing. Athlete? Keep playing. The saddest thing I witnessed in 1st year was the sight of completely talented individuals (my MS is BIG on extra-curriculars for admission) turn into 2D clones of one another. Study. Eat. Study. It’s depressing. So I made a decision early in the year ti maintain my sanity and maintain my interests. I have a friend who LOVES reading, but all of last year she read a lower average of books than she ever had before. Why? Sure, the workload is homicidal. The pressure is incredible. The cost is unbearable. But is the risk of becoming a 2D clone really worth a piece of paper? Maybe it is. But by too narrow a margin to make it an acceptible sacrifice.
7. DO IT YOUR WAY. One lecturer of ours came into class early in the year and pointed at a student who’d been there, reading ahead, since an hour before the class.
“THIS is what MS is about. Studying is a LIFESTYLE. If you don’t adopt it, you will FAIL!”
As much as we all just rolled our eyes and giggled, I know for a fact that a fraction of the class felt a little guilty and very pressured. Because we’d never done this before. We were months from our first official exams. What if we weren’t doing this the Right Way?
Guess what? Ssh…it’s a secret…but…
THERE IS NO RIGHT WAY!
Aside from commonsense (you can’t NOT study and expect to pass) no-one can really say that theirs is the way to do things. I study with a study group that basically reads through everyday’s lectures the day before and then does revision after class. We never miss a class. But that’s our way. Other people can’t study in groups. Other people have photographic memories. Other people aren’t alert enough in the mornings to focus on a four hour Biostats marathon. Other people cram really well (very few, be warned—it’s a LOT OF WORK). Other people don’t have a 24-hour period in the week where they don’t even so much as think about academics.* My roommate, for example, doesn’t do the whole longterm studying thing. She freaks out the week before an exam, writes essays upon essays of notes, scribbles on her fridge and disturbs her sleep pattern. But it WORKS for her. Because she’s a B+ student and she gets the results she wants. She knows what works for her. Moral of the story—DO IT YOUR WAY!
8. DO NOT DO IT YOUR HS WAY (or whatever other institution you were in pre-med.) I’m serious. I’m SERIOUS. Nothing can prepare a soul for MS. I know we are told all through HS that, “If you work hard now, you’ll work hard in Uni.” Please refer to THING #2. There is honestly nothing out there like this course. So, for the first few weeks, though it may be tempting to ignore any and all work given and throw on the dancing shoes—take a little bit of time to figure out your rhythm. Trust. You will never regret it. HS (can’t speak for pre-med college, but I’ve been told it’s nothing like MS) is mostly about figuring out what they’re asking you and integrating what little you know to pass. Though this is a useful skill, in MS there is just too much info to simply cram and remix. Things are specific. There are few grey areas. And getting all that info into your grey matter will not be as easy as memorizing the work the night before. How do you do it, then? Refer to THING #8.
9. ESTABLISH A NETWORK. No MS is an island. If you’ve followed THINGS #2 and 3, you probably won’t ever find yourself in a situation where you’ve missed too many lectures or lost too many notes and have no idea who to turn to for help. Make connections. SHARE YOUR RESOURCES WITH OTHERS and don’t be ashamed to ask them to share with you. You won’t have every single past paper that’s ever existed or know every single highlight/tip there is to know. Be generous enough with others that they’ll automatically think of you when they have something useful to share.
10. DON’T BE A GUNNER. The species ‘Gunner’ has long been misunderstood. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with wanting to achieve, with being motivated and focussed and diligent. What IS wrong us being so obsessed with success that you would deliberately stab others in the back, upstage your friends and classmates or simply kiss a whole lotta unnecessary ass to get there. Establish a balance. Refer to THING #9 and don’t be stingy with exam material or notes. Be motivated, but don’t be a competitive pain in the butt. Learn that there is a way to achieve your goals while simultaneously helping others achieve theirs.
And ONLY look at your OWN results on the results board. I cannot stress this enough. You will only kill yourself comparing your marks to STUDENT# 160*****)
11. YOU ONLY GET 1ST YEAR TO ACTUALLY ENJOY YOUR HOLIDAYS. IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN. TRUST. SO DON’T BE AN IDIOT. ENJOY YOUR HOLIDAYS.
12. KEEP ORGANIZED. Here’s irritation: looking for a pack of important notes the day before a big exam. Or looking for a clean, non-smelly pair of socks to wear to the post-exam ice-skating. It’s a schlep, but keep your room and notes tidy and organized. You don’t know how much time and tears this will spare you.
13. GET INVOLVED. Not only will this aid with THINGS #3, 4 and 6, but will also help you destress and expand your horizons. You may be a budding actress who just needs a chance to shine!
14. On that note, GO ON AT LEAST ONE COMMUNITY-BUILDING/G-BOU OUTREACH. Never lose touch with the fact that you will one day be working with people, not cadavers or textbooks. Maintain compassion.
15. KEEP IN TOUCH WITH MOM. And any other important family, really. Especially if you will be in Res, you grow so much in 1st year and become so independant that it’s sometimes awkward if not downright irritating to be home for the holidays. So do yourself a favour. Stay in touch with your parents to assauge their empty-nested hearts and to keep them up-to-date with your growth and evolution. Assert boundries, but don’t allienate anyone. You will only regret it when you have a degree to celebrate and no-one to celebrate with. Besides, nothing in life is guarenteed. Those people may not make it to tomorrow.
16. SMILE. Medicine is hard. We get it. Really, we do. Nobody needs another unwashed grouch walking around like a zombie complaining about the workload and lack of sleep. What people really need is to see that, if this truly is their dream profession, it can be endured without going emo. Remember: you are living The Dream. A significant chunk of your life has been dedicated to getting here. So now that you are, savour the moment. You are one of the lucky ones.
I spent a good while thinking about this post, but I may have missed something. Do you have any other suggestions? What did you discover in your 1st year that you’d like to share? Do you agree with everything I’ve said? Comment or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m dying to hear it.
Keep living The Dream!
*That’s the Sabbath that we celebrate every Saturday. It’s my favourite day of the week. And I kind of get a kick out of the way people’s eyes pop out of their sockets when I close my books Friday sunset and disappear for 24-hours, even though we have a LIFE-DETERMINING EXAM on Monday. But, like I said, other people don’t have that.