Rewind – First Year Lessons

Well hello!

It’s been quite a long while, huh 🙂 Medical school is no walk in the park, and adjusting back to student life after many years away wasn’t either!

A Mantra

It’s obviously no secret that medical school is hard. With that in mind, I learned how important it was to be kind to myself in the adjustment process. (And here’s a bit of a kicker, if you thought the adjustment was just something you went through during first year, I hate to burst your bubble — it’s kind of an ongoing process.) First year was riddled with successes and failures as I figured out how to study and how to balance that with some form of relaxation 🙂 One thing I landed on that helped to alleviate some of the stress was a mantra, of sorts:

I just need to pass.

Although Midwestern does not grade on the Pass/Fail scale and instead uses the numbered/GPA system, in order to progress through coursework unhindered, students need to achieve at least a 70% or a C. And so, I decided to focus on that as a goal (and I’m happy to say I surpassed it the majority of the time).

Some might think this mentality would set one up to “settle for mediocrity” and perhaps that’s true for some folks, but for me that was not the case. I still studied hard and tried my best at each turn, but focusing on “simply passing” (which, itself, is not so simple 🙂 ) kind of removed some of that added pressure that medical students are so intimately acquainted with.

Figuring Things Out

I spent much of first year figuring out my study strategies. I remember during orientation, the University’s learning specialist gave a talk on some of the strategies that have worked for medical students in the past. She kept saying things like “rewriting your notes is not the way to go” and “hand-making flashcards is not the best use of your time,” and I guess in my mind, I was thinking “well, we’ll see about that.” Because that’s pretty much how I did things — in undergrad, I would basically condense down textbook and lecture material into a couple of looseleaf pages of my own hand-written notes. That was how I’d done things, so that was how I would continue to do things, right? Nevermind that she was literally saying “what you did in undergrad probably won’t work here”…

Well, ~*spoiler alert*~ the specialist was right 🙂 There are truly not enough hours in the day or days in the week for the note-writing strategy to work — medical courses are much too dense with pertinent information. So I had to do the unthinkable and figure out a way to ‘study actively‘ without writing things out. Oh boy.

What I settled on was kind of a mish-mash of reading, quizzing, and only writing out concepts or bits of information that I felt were particularly tricky. And to be honest, my methods were quite heavily dependent on the subject I was studying, which was also something I needed to adjust to.

Striking a Balance

I mentioned briefly about trying to find a balance between school and, well, life. This is hard to do. I’m not sure about others, but I found myself feeling guilty for taking time for me and then overwhelmed when, after, I found that my study load had increased.

Here are some things that helped along the way:

  • Creating a Schedule
    • Whether it’s making a to-do list for the day, or coming up with a focus for the week, I found it super helpful to lay out a plan. For me, I preferred a weekly approach that laid out each day down to the half-hour. And then I had to make sure to remember that it’s alright for plans to change (and it’s alright to fall off the plan-wagon) I just had to readjust and get back to it!
  • Finding a Therapist
    • Luckily, we have a Student Counseling Center at school that offers free service to students. To be honest, one of the first things I did first year was to get started with a counselor there. I tend towards anxiety, so it was important for me to have someone to talk to during overwhelming times, which I was sure would be coming, given the transition I was embarking on.
  • Finding my People 🙂
    • Kindred spirits! Like-minded souls! Friends! This has been probably the most important aspect of finding a balance during first year. To have people to study with, to bounce ideas off of, or to turn to who are experiencing the same struggle, the same questions, and the same frustrations. Also it’s pretty great to have friends to just hang out with 🙂

Today’s Programming has been Brought to you by the Letter M, the Number 1, and the Word…

Adjusting. All in all, that was the main theme for first year. Adjusting to new ways to study, adjusting to new mentalities, and adjusting to a new environment 🙂 If there’s one piece of advice that I could share, it’s that these adjustments take time, so be patient and kind with yourself, and take full advantage of the resources your school has to offer! To struggle is normal and whether they share it openly or not, your peers are likely going through the same thing you are. Also, if you can, make use of your counselors and learning specialists, they’re there specifically for you!


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