The Lancet Student’s Top 10 Tips for Medical Students

July 9, 2012 § 3 Comments

The Lancet Student is a blog site run by students and for students that aims to give medical students from around the world a place to talk about their experiences with medical school life and their thoughts on top health issues.

One of their bloggers, Stephanie, posted a great blog listing her tips for incoming students.

1) “You are not going to understand anything about anything for the first three months. That’s okay.” I still think that’s the best advice anyone could have given me. Entering medical school is confusing. It’s a whole new world. I could have panicked, but I had the knowledge that this was normal, that other people felt it too. I would get the hang of it in the end. And I did. So will you!

This knowledge coupled with the expected “you should know this” and “why are you wasting my time and yours?” comments from professors will surely provide a thick skin 😉

2) This is going to be tough. It needs to be said. You will not be prepared for the years ahead, no matter what you do. This will test you further than you’ve probably been tested before. But that’s okay too. Take up challenges one by one, work hard, and things will be fine. Nobody starts out ready to be a doctor. Doctors are made (pretty much like swords – in fire!). Prepare to be forged!

3) Forget personal boundaries and prejudices. If you are uncomfortable touching people intimately, or discussing sex, death and various body functions, or dealing with a particluar group of people…the bad news is; you have to do it. There is no way around it. The good news is; it gets easier. Once you steel yourself and do it once, twice, thrice – it will all become as natural as breathing. Hence the awkward dinner conversations regarding faeces and pestilence which will result in your mother banning you from speaking while she’s eating. Good times.

I’m a little uncomfortable touching people outside of my relationships intimately but I’ve never had a problem discussing things openly. Coming to Norway from the states was a big change because, in my experience, Americans are much more open than Norwegians. I remember writing an english blurb about one of the restaurants I work for that was to be published in a local tourist magazine. My boss came to me after reading it and asked me to “tone it down a little bit”. My boss is a great guy, with a serious appreciation for American culture, and he explained that Norwegians refrain from using strong adjectives or phrasing. I think I use words like love, hate, amazing and perfect on a daily basis, and this is definitely not common in Norwegian culture. When I would tell people that I love apples, for example, they would react oddly. Skjalg explained once that this is because I am pretty much saying, “Oh my god! I LOVE APPLES! THEY ARE AMAZING!!!” I had to get used to toning it down: I enjoy apples instead of I love apples, nice weather instead of amazing weather, a dish to remember instead of the best dish you’ve ever tasted in your life.

4) Do things your own way. Your friends may use those books, or may study in that place, or that way…but that doesn’t have to mean squat to you. Do not compare your methods with others. Find out what works for you. If a library suffocates you, go off to study on the grass somewhere. You can highlight your book a million different colours, or stick post-it notes till it can barely close, or make short notes or flow-charts or tables or diagrams. You can study alone or in a group. Whatever works for you. And if your friend comes up and mentions that he’s read the Paediatrics book twice already and you’re still halfway through your first reading…do not panic. His way of studying is probably different from yours – and as far as you know, maybe not as effective. Remembering this tip will save you many blinding moments of panic, and help you focus on what you need to do.

5) Medicine is awesome. I’m sure you think that, or you wouldn’t be starting the course right now. But believe me, there will be times when you doubt your decision. There will be times when you question your motivation, your strength, and even your sanity. These moments will usually come before major exams, when you feel that nothing in the world could possibly be worth the all-nighters, the stress, the feeling that your brain can’t possibly fit it all in (it can, because the brain is amazing). Those moments will pass. Not only that, but they will be overshadowed by other moments; when you will realize just how wonderful, interesting, and purely awesome this career is.

I think this is one of the most valuable of the tips. I almost feel like printing it out and hanging it on the way somewhere to remind us when the times get tough.

6) Travel. Travelling to international conferences and summer schools, or going for exchanges or electives is a unique experience. They are great ways to learn new things, experience other cultures and – very importantly – meeting up with medical students from all around the world. There are various opportunities for doing this, and it is worth exploring the ones available to you. Some are expensive, but others may be sponsored and accessible even to those with lower budgets, so do not let the financial aspect deter you from checking out your options! An elective is also a great opportunity to gain experience in something not easily available in your country. And it will definitely broaden your mind and give you new perspectives, especially if you come from a small country like I do!

7) Make friends. You will need them. You will moan with them, exchange advice with them, work with them. Some of them may be future colleagues. All of them will be the person who understands you the most for the next few years. Do not be that selfish person who only thinks about themselves, and does things purely for their own gain (and you will, alas, meet such people). Watch somebody’s back, because your own needs to be watched as well. You are not infallible, and you do not need to do this alone.

8) Take it seriously. This is not high school. You can’t slack off all year in the hope that you will learn everything from books later. If you could become a doctor just by buying the right books, you could do it at home. Medicine isn’t a correspondence course, because you need to watch, observe, learn by doing and discussing. This applies to the pre-clinical years, but even more so once you have the privilege (for a privilege it is) to shadow doctors and go around hospital. Of course, there will be those who disappear during that first week, and only show up for exams. Those people are doing it wrong.

9) Be humble. Everybody can teach you something. Not just your lecturers, but your classmates, other healthcare professionals, and even students from other disciplines (who usually have more practical-based learning and know their way around a hospital by the end of their first year). And your patients, of course, are experts in the very subject you want to be most knowledgeable about…themselves.

10) It’s not all about medicine. It may sound cliche, but you will fall into this trap sooner or later. You may think you do not have the time for hobbies, or friends, or a social life. You do. It may not be as easy as it was before, and you may have to sacrifice here and there, but you do not need to become a one-dimensional human being. Explore other interests, keep contact with people outside your daily sphere (even if it is to meet up for drinks once in a blue moon). You will need that other point of view. Don’t lose it!

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