Looking back over my first year of medical school, I can say it has exceeded my expectations. It was life changing. It was exciting. Definitely thought provoking. School was tough and I ended up learning a lot about myself as a person. Thinking back, there’s nothing I could have done the summer before starting to prepare myself for this journey.
Don’t Pre-Study – There is really no point in reading textbooks, studying anatomy, learning biochemistry or doing anything academic related before starting school. For one, they’ll teach you all the medicine you will need, and in a more organized and structured format. Secondly, you will be learning medicine for the rest of your career. It really is life-long learning, the education doesn’t end in the classroom. What’s an extra 3-4 months of your own self-study, before you know anything, going to do? You won’t even know what you don’t know. You will have no clinical setting to learn and practice in.
What you Should do
There are a number of activities I would recommend people do before starting medical school. A lot of them are practical and many of these things will help answer questions you will eventually think about.
Get a Job – Medical school is expensive. If you can, be productive with your time. Do something you like where you can learn. Most people find it hard to hold a job while studying for classes in medical school. The more you earn now, the more less worried you will be financially during next year.
Travel – See the world. Remember, these are one of the last summers where you have large chunks of time do pursue anything you want. For people going into 3 year programs, your summers are over! Take advantage of the few remaining breaks you have to do something you have always wanted to do.
Talk to Medical Students / Doctors – Remember that the path you are about to embark on – although special and selective – is by far not that unique. You are entering a profession with a long history and a large number of practitioners. It would be a waste not to benefit from their wisdom and experiences. Ask what their days are like, what aspects of their jobs they like. Try to figure out what kind of a life you would want to live in 5 years, 10 years.
Learn about different specialties – I don’t mean study the knowledge needed for each specialty. Figure out what the different specialties are. What’s the difference between a family doc and a surgeon. What are their day to day responsibilities? What makes each field interesting? What are the pros and cons. Medical school is short in a sense that you have to decide what you want to do for the rest of your career in just a few short years. You will be so busy just keeping up and learning that there is not much time to consider what fields you like.
Write down your goals (outside of medicine) – You will find that the longer you stay in medicine, the less you will be like your former self. Try to keep who you are in perspective. Write down things that you enjoy doing. Dreams and ambitions. Even after just one year, when I look back on what I wrote last year I find myself a vastly different person. I can already sense external factors – money, prestige, politics – things that did not influence me as much before, start pressuring me. Know who you are, don’t let a career define you. People are so much more than just a profession.
Spend time with family / friends – I don’t want to sound cynical, but as you learn, study and have obligations – you will spend less and less time with the people you love. Enjoy your time with them.
This list is by far not exhaustive. Ask around your class, and you’ll find that people did all sorts of wonderful things before they started. What did you do the year before medical school? Feel free to share, I’m sure others would love to hear what you did.