From being quite sure that my age would be a negative determinant of medical school success, to being willing to take any acceptance I could get, then moving to an intentional choice of which school is right for me – this has been an amazing journey. Through all the ups and downs I’d say the most powerful realization has been this: ITS NOT HARD!
As I write those three words, I’m well aware that there are students right now in classrooms, study cubicles, huddled in apartments and bleary-eyed in libraries – who are feeling the overwhelm of what’s been aptly called “drinking from a fire hose”. With the sheer volume of information presented during medical school, how the heck do I keep stating ITS NOT HARD?
Here’s the thing.
You have to completely change the way you study. If you use the same study strategies you used to be very successful as an undergrad, you will fail in medical school.
That’s a pretty hefty statement to make, but I believe it with every brain cell I’ve used to “decode” medical school study strategies that actually work. With the sheer volume of information presented in medical school, its easy to get stuck in thinking that your primary ‘job’ is to memorize all those facts. To become a walking, talking encyclopedia of information.
Bottom line is that if you do that, you’ll absolutely fail to synthesize information in a way you can use to pass the med school exams and boards. The tests you’ll see in medical school are different than anything you’ve seen before, and that long list of facts you spend hours storing in your tired brain is just the beginning. In med school, its all about the story, the experience, using those facts as the foundation but going so much beyond facts to what they call “secondary and tertiary questions”.
If you spend your time simply memorizing facts, you’ll be shocked when you get to exams and realize you have no idea how to answer the questions – even though you’ve spent every waking moment studying.
Here’s what works.
- Listen to the lectures – that’s just a recitation of facts. You do need those facts as a foundation.
- Immediately begin composing “stories” – how might these facts come together with an actual clinical scenario.
- Spend the bulk of your time studying clinical vignettes – ‘stories’ that present a case, then ask you to pull together those disparate facts into a cohesive whole. Use q-banks as your bible, read the questions aloud, and talk your way to a solution before you ever glance at solutions.
- Judiciously make use of study aids such as flashcards and flowcharts.
- Another absolutely priceless way to use the q-banks is to review why other answer choices are incorrect. Regardless of which software you’re using for review, they all provide an explanation of why a particular answer choice is correct or incorrect. Don’t simply scroll on by if you chose correctly – review why the other choices were not the best answer.
I’m daily blown away by how simple this really is, so long as I first get the factual foundation then spend time practicing incorporating all those facts into clinical scenarios. By faithfully putting in the time to study this way, you’ll find that medical school is not hard – it simply requires you to learn a completely new way of studying!
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