Dear Medaholic, I am starting medical school this fall and was wondering what advice you could give me on how to best prepare for medical school? Sincerely, Medical Student (Year 0, Class of 20XX)
How Can You Best Prepare for Medical School?
I have previously written that Nothing Can Prepare You for Medical School – where I espouse that the summer before med school you should NOT be spent studying. Instead, you should save up some money, work, travel, spend time with family and friends, pick up some hobbies, relax and do NOTHING medicine related.
But since every year people keep asking, I’m going to outline a few things that you can do to prepare yourself for medical school.
1. Living Arrangements
Lots of undergraduate students move to a new city to begin their medical school journey. Make sure you have all your living arrangements done before school starts. Figure out things like where you are going to live, is it going to be a dorm, apartment, or house? Do you want roommates, do you need to buy furniture? What stuff do you have to bring, and what things can you buy new? What transportation method are you going to use to go to classes (walking, public transit, personal vehicle). Are there places around you where you can go for groceries, dining and entertainment?
Even if you are living at home or in the same city, make sure you ask these questions because things may change during medical school. Having this all done before school starts will save you from headaches and you can better focus on getting to know your classmates and your studies.
Med school is expensive, so you better have a plan on how you’re going to pay for it. Most people use a combination of government loans and lines of credits (LOC) from commercial banks. Do you have enough in savings by yourself or will you need parental contributions? Apply to as many scholarships and bursaries as possible, anything that offsets the cost will be worth it in the long run. If you can find a good paying summer-job, it might be wise to work before school starts. Due to time constraints, very few people work during medical school.
At the least, set a budget on how much you’ll be spending on housing, food, entertainment and educational costs. You’d be surprised how much annual fees, textbooks, medical equipment can add up to.
3. Tie Up Loose Ends
If you have any unfinished projects, do your best to bring them to a finish. The last thing you want is not being able to do new things because you are tied down by unfinished business. If there’s research that’s unpublished, do your best to submit it somewhere. If you were part of a student group, do your best to leave on a good note. Finish any commitments you have promised on.
There will be lots of new opportunities for you as a medical student, if there are commitments you no longer want to continue, make sure everything is tidied up before you go.
4. Continued Commitments
Likewise, there are lots of activities you may want to continue doing during medical school. Make plans to schedule them into your new life. Write them down so you don’t forget. Set dedicated time for it. Sports, music, hobbies are all things that will make your medical school experience more rounded. If you had some research project you want to continue, let your supervisor know about your new schedules.
If you’re in a committed relationship, realize that your time commitments will change in medical school and adjust accordingly. If you think it’s no longer possible to maintain a relationship (eg. moving away), please see point #3 above.
5. New Starts
If there are things you wanted to try but never had a chance to, now is the best time to do so. The summer before medical school will be the only time where you have truly no academic commitments. Your undergraduate classes would have finished but your new studies would not have started yet. If you’ve always wanted to start running, do so now, and continue doing so once school starts.
If you’re moving to a new city, find some friends you can get along with. Settle yourself into your new community. Find a gym, church, club, etc that you can fit in with. Think of the whole experience as starting secondary education all over again.
6. Rest and Relaxation
Travel, Travel, Travel! You will rarely get another 3-4 months of no commitments. Do an exchange somewhere foreign. Go on that backpacking hike you’ve always wanted to do. After this summer, you will not have another chance to go 4 months without doing anything medically related.
Sit on a beach all day, read leisure novels, watch TV. You’ve worked hard all during undergrad, take a break now, because you’ll continue working hard throughout medical school and beyond.
7. Life Outside of Medicine
Remember you do have a life outside of medicine. Friends, family, significant others. If you are engaged, the summer before med school starts is the perfect time to get married. The next chance you’ll get is either the summers between or after graduation.
Spend time with people whom you love. Spend time with friends NOT in medical school. There will be times, especially during clerkship, when you’ll be so immersed in your medical bubble, you will find it hard to imagine what life outside would be like.
8. A Career in Medicine
Whatever you do, DO NOT STUDY. Don’t review your anatomy, biochemistry, physiology notes. Don’t start memorizing disease and drug names. Don’t try to brush up on your Latin. The truth is you don’t know how to study medicine yet. Even if you had class notes from the year above you, you just won’t get much out of it. You will learn medicine in med school.
Looking back, how I studied in undergrad is different from how I study now. How I studied in preclinical years is different from how I study now. And I’m confident that next year and during residency, I will study differently too. You will adjust your study habits appropriately to your level of training. It’s akin to a high school student studying for the MCAT. If he’s not writing the MCAT then, what’s the point?
Instead, I would recommend thinking about career specialties. What kind of medicine do you want to practice. Learn about surgical and non-surgical specialties. Evaluate what’s important to you in life. How many more years of training do you expect to do. Find Mentors – whether they are docs or upper year students/residents, ask about what a life in medicine is about. Figure out the pros and cons. Set some realistic expectations. Read about what Medicine is about. I’ve provided a list of books I’ve read that have changed how I view medicine.
- House of God
- Mountains Beyond Mountains
- Complications – A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science
- Better – A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance
- The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
- How Doctors Think
- An Imperfect Offering: Humanitarian Action in the Twenty-first Century
- Med School Confidential: A Complete Guide to the Medical School Experience: By Students, for Students
- How We Die: Reflections on Life’s Final Chapter
- Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures
I would also suggest you read 101 Things You Wish You Knew Before Starting Medical School