Surviving Med School | 10 Tips

In collaboration with the Australian Medical Students Association (ASMA), Medshop Australia recently held a competition asking for participants to submit a short piece of writing based on a choice of four topics relating to medicine and healthcare. One of these was Surviving Medical School - Ten Tips.  This was the topic that our first place place winner Jeremy Weiss chose to write about. It is with great pleasure that we are able to share Jeremy's exceptional work and insights with you today. A big round of congratulations for being chosen as the winner and without further delay we will now hand over to Jeremy. 
Surviving Med School - 10 Tips
With internship applications well and truly behind them, many final year students will look back on their years of training and breathe a well-earned sigh of relief: ‘we did it.’ But how did we manage? Did we coast along through every rotation? Was each week a struggle? Did we enjoy our time as medical students or was it all about keeping the nose to the grindstone?  Medical school has an unfortunate reputation for difficulty and stress, hence the word ‘survival’ in this essay topic. I don’t believe it has to be seen this way. Yes, it is a challenge, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Starting this course was also a challenge and as you pass each hurdle you will look back with some vague nostalgia that maybe it wasn’t as hard as you made it out to be. You aren’t alone in this journey and these tips will help make your journey through medical school as easy as possible.
1) Work smart
Do you know the mnemonic for remembering Systemic Lupus Erythematosus? It’s MD SOAP BRAIN. That mnemonic has eleven things in it for you to remember, and it’s up to you to decide if that is a worthwhile thing to know. Of course you should know something about SLE. You should know a bit about any disease that you may encounter in the clinical setting, the question is how you play the odds in deciding what to focus on.  Like it or not, your time is limited and not only will you need to learn about diseases, drugs and procedures, you will also need to revise them over and over. Consultants on the wards will be keen to teach you about the latest oncology drug in phase 2 trials or rare genetic abnormalities, but keep in mind that at your level it’s all about the bread and butter conditions. By all means study the rare and wonderful conditions for your own interest and intellectual curiosity, just don’t spend hours memorising the one-in-a-million condition when you are still unsure how to manage COPD.
Curiosity Cats
2) Be curious
You will learn things faster and more completely when you are interested in them. If a strange condition mentioned in a lecture has piqued your curiosity then write it down and read about it. The information will come to you much easier if you are reading for your own enjoyment rather than some forced study grind session.
3) See patients
Reading about a condition and talking to a patient with that condition are very different experiences. Often signs and symptoms can blur together when you are learning about one disease after another. It is only when you attach a human face to the condition that it truly sticks in your mind. I can remember a man with acromegaly describing his colonoscopy reviews looking for bowel cancer, his diabetes checks and the pain he feels in his bones. His gargantuan figure and booming voice bring these symptoms to my mind far better than any textbook ever could.
Raise Your Hand
4) Ask questions
This is especially helpful in outpatient clinics when you may be paired with a reticent consultant for several hours. Students can find themselves ignored or forgotten and it is up to you to make your presence known. Ask a question about the patient you just saw, ask why the consultant chose their specialty, ask anything at all, just open up the conversation.
5) Don’t forget drugs
Medication charts are a goldmine of information for conditions and management. You don’t need to go down to molecular actions and receptor types, just learning the broad effects of a drug can teach you about the pathophysiology of a disease. If you don’t know why a patient is on a drug then ask the medical team! They may tell you about a co-morbidity or associated condition that you didn’t even realise existed.
6) Explore the specialties
Don’t be afraid to explore other medical units and specialties even if you haven’t been assigned to them. If you don’t know much about Crohn’s Disease then head to gastroenterology, if you are mystified by pancreatitis then try surgery. The medical staff are keen to teach, just try and project lots of enthusiasm.
7) Make learning fun
Studying for exams doesn’t have to be an excruciating task. Reading lecture slides and writing down everything you find won’t necessarily make the information stick. Try mixing up your revision. Draw mind maps of important medical conditions and their management. Create a medical quiz game for your friends or present imaginary patients for them to treat. Write songs, stories and rhymes. Encoding information creatively will make study more bearable and you will see that it sticks with you better than just rote memorisation.
8) Debrief
Discuss what you have learned or seen throughout the day with your peers. It will solidify the information for you and give you opportunity to vent after a challenging experience. Having friends present their patients will also give you more of an idea about how diseases can present and can be a substitute for going to the wards to see the patients yourself (going in person will always be better though!).
9) Go to lectures
Avoid the temptation to stay home and just look at lecture slides or recordings. Going in person will force you to sit through the lecture and you will be less distracted than working from home.
Be Bold (1)
10) Be bold
You are allowed to wake patients up. You are allowed to ask them to sit up if you are doing an examination. Just ask, the worst they can do is say ‘no’. You won’t win any favours with the medical team if they see you trying to hear breath sounds through a patient’s clothes.
So there you have it. Good luck with your studies and don’t sweat it too much, if you have started your medical school journey then you can definitely finish it.
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