Medical school is tough. It’s rigorous, it’s gruelling, it gets so hard sometimes that you are going to feel like quitting.
Here are some tips on how to survive medical school, for medical students, by medical students.
Have a Life
Do things you want to do, keep your hobbies, find new ones, engage in sports, immerse yourself in the arts. Do what you love and don’t give them up. Trying to put all your time and energy into your academics, will do you more harm than good.
Even the best and brightest burn out quickly. Your journey to becoming a doctor, is a marathon, not a sprint, it’s not even a 5 year sprint, it’s a lifelong journey, which is far from easy.
As such, try to find what brings you joy and try to engage in your hobbies regularly as a means to destress and stay sane. Go play the guitar, the piano, pick up tennis, keep yourself emotionally and physically healthy and be a good testament for your patients.
I treasure the memories of acapella practices and CIP work, not memories of studying for class 😂. I keep dear and close to heart, the life skills I gained from these experiences (eg. working w difficult people, planning events). These skills are without a doubt, valuable and very applicable for your future. – Year 3 Medical Student (NTU LKCSoM)
Don’t Forget Your Purpose
It's easy to lose track of why you wanted to do medicine, you said all those things you wanted to accomplish as a doctor, your dreams of nobility and service. Don’t lose sight of them when the going gets tough. When the competition ramps up and intensifies, remind yourselves that it’s all for your patients, not your grades, not your salary, not your chance of getting a promotion, or a residency in the future.
In your preclinical years when you don’t see patients, it’s easy to just bury yourself in books, in selfish ambition, and in clinical years, troublesome patients and nasty consultants can drain you of your energy and capacity to serve, but do yourself a favour by reminding yourself why you’re here. Engaging in community service projects are always a good way to go about it.
Teach to Learn
In the 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, renowned author Stephen Covey mentioned the search for a “win-win” scenario. Too often than not, we’ve been bred to think that we can only win at the expense of others.
Teaching to learn is also known as the Feynmann’s technique, and it’s been proven time over time to be the best way to learn. It forces you to understand, internalise and reframe your knowledge. In teaching others, you memorise, process and help others. It’s the best of all worlds.
You don’t have to be a viva/distinction student to teach, just get a bunch of average kids and everyone has something they know that others don’t. Help and grow as a community.
Make Your Own Notes (or Modify Your Senior’s Notes)
Relying on lecture notes and slides are often not enough, to fully grasp the concept, you need to reproduce your own notes and reframe them, not necessarily add in new information, but organise them in a way that makes sense for you.
If time is tight, consider utilising your senior’s notes that are tried and tested, then reediting them for your own purposes.
Build Lifelong Relationships
University, especially in courses such as Medicine which is an incredibly close knit community, is the best place to build strong and undying friendships. Your brothers and sisters in this community will be what makes or breaks you when the going gets tough. Your connections in the field are also quintessential for your success in the future. Be nice, be kind, be compassionate, be helpful.
Doctors Firsts, Specialists Second
Everyone wants to be a specialist, they all want to be an alpha surgeon, saving lives in the ER and operating theatres. They grind through school, studying and pushing everyone out of the way to succeed.
Don’t worry too much about specialisation yet because the healthcare scene in 5-10 years will be different from what it is now, so fixating on a particular specialty may be detrimental for your future instead.
Just build up a good foundation and understand the common conditions and emergencies so that no matter what you do you can still be an effective doctor. – NTU LKCSoM Scholar
Don't jump headlong into a particular specialty and undertake research for it.
Instead, take your time and enjoy life before truly deciding on your path. The residency opportunities might be fewer nowadays, But if you work hard and build bridges then you'll get it sooner or later. If not, you'll just waste your time doing something stupid for no good reason.
Use Whatever Resources You Have
Studying is hard, but there are some softwares/resources you could try to help make life easier for you.
In preclinical years, drill in your concepts of patho/physiology with flashcard apps like Anki, and use websites like TeachMeAnatomy for Anatomy (clear diagrams there help a lot).
Planning for the Future
Be careful of your reputation - whatever you say and do now (or don't say or do) can impact the way others view you. It's very important because our field is specialized already, and word of mouth travels very fast, pretty much like wildfire.
Build bridges with the doctors in your chosen specialty - once you've settled on one, get to know them through electives and all! Grades and competency get you somewhere, but connections seal the deal.
Explore all 3 health clusters way- don't just restrict yourself to your "dream hospital", go explore and open your eyes!
Consider going overseas; looking at another healthcare system can help you in critiquing ours and giving you the ideas to change and grow yourself and your department!
For the prospective Undergrads
For those of you who are considering MedSchool, here are some advice from your seniors.
Get more exposure (e.g. attachments will be good but more importantly reflect on what you saw and how it made you feel. Is this something which you see yourself doing in the future? Don't just go into operating theatres and clinics, but also try to follow a house officer for a more holistic experience – the real tough life)
Talk to more people (e.g. patients, doctors, nurses, allied health, even strangers whom you meet at random events/CIPs) and get used to talking/engaging with people (try to ask those in the healthcare sector more questions about how life is like)
It helps to know how the landscape of healthcare is evolving in Singapore and the issues which are hotly discussed now (definitely useful for interviews)
There is no need to study in advance (please enjoy your holidays).
Have an open mind and keep your options open (have a plan B)