During my first year of medical school, there were very few things that I wasn’t learning how to do. Big picture included relearning how to study, manage my time, and grocery shop/cook for myself every week (living at home during my year off had its perks – thanks mom!). Also I had to learn new things, such as the entire first year curriculum, how to interact with patients, how to learn from a case based curriculum, and how to survive in Cleveland during the winter. So to simplify it, last year was a year of growth, but what I want to focus on in this post are the study skills that I learned.
The first, and probably biggest thing that I had to learn was that it was totally okay to change study habits multiple times throughout the year. I had to keep tweaking things until about April when I found what worked best for me. So if you’re an M1 and have been taking notes or studying a particular way since the beginning, don’t be afraid to switch it up if it isn’t working. To give you an example, I started off last fall taking hand notes on all of my readings, and reading all of the Boron Physiology assignments. I learned after the first block that it just wasn’t sustainable. I was wasting way too much time writing things out. I then went to writing really thorough computer notes while also reading every page assigned word for word. This definitely sped up my note taking process, but after a few months I was honest with myself that I just wasn’t retaining the information, and I was probably still spending too much time on each reading assignment. I kept switching my approach every block or so. Seriously the best thing that I did was not being afraid to change my study habits. The key outcomes to look for when deciding what works best for you are efficiency, retention, and completion. So in other words: are you getting through the amount of work that you have to do, are you spending an appropriate (not too long) amount of time doing it, and are you actually gaining knowledge from it / able to remember what you learned later on. I finally settled on a strategy that works for me almost near the end of first year. My strategy consists of quickly look at the readings to decide if they will be useful or if I want to use a different resource. Then I print the reading into OneNote (a Microsoft software), and I actively read by highlighting and scribbling a few notes into the OneNote document right one top or next to the pages. And that’s it. This way I am engaged with the assignment, but it is quick and efficient.
Similarly, my second piece of advice is to allow yourself to find resources that work for you. My curriculum assigned Boron’s Medical Physiology textbook for most of my required readings last year. This textbook is amazing if you want to understand the true mechanisms and biochemistry of physiology, as well as sometimes the evolution behind it. The amount of detail is amazing (and occasionally overwhelming), and sometimes organization of the chapters can make it a little hard to follow if you aren’t on your A game. I read onle Boron for the first 4 months of school before I discovered other physiology textbooks that I also found useful. I found Guyton and Hall to be the right level of detail and clinical orientation for a lot of different organ systems, and I used Costanzo’s Physiology when I wanted big picture concepts (before or at the end of a block for summary). There were a lot of specific organ system related textbooks that I had electronic access too through my library that I loved; some examples include William’s Gynecology and William’s Obstetrics. Also, I found Nature Review Articles to be really useful for mechanistic and more small scale but in-depth looks at specific topics. So in summary, your school is going to assign specific textbooks, but use your library to check a few others out!
Lastly, I learned to set a study routine. My curriculum does not have tests or exams, so it was important for me to stay on top of the material each and every week so as to not fall behind. I worked out a system where I would spend the weekday mornings doing work, Saturdays were spent catching up on the previous week (usually about 6 hours of work), and Sundays were spent reviewing for the week ahead along with chores/errands (usually 6 hours of work, and 2 hours of errands). By utilizing my weekends, I was able to not study most weekdays after dinner. Weekday evenings were able to be my self-care/workout/netflix time, and this significantly helped my stress levels. Your study routine will depend on your curriculum, but by having a routine, you’ll be able to keep your weekly study hours consistent and hold yourself accountable.
I’d love to hear what study skills you learned from your first few months of medical school! Comment below or find me on instagram @beingfranke
Hi! I am a third year medical student in Ohio. I love cooking, running, and playing with dogs and kids. I am on a mission to learn as much as I can about nutrition, mental health, and physical well being. Feel free to join along as I try to navigate the world of wellness.
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