Five things I learned in medical school

June marks my second year in medical school. During the last 2 years, I’ve learned a lot about medicine and science. I’ve also learned a lot about how to survive in highly stressful environments. Medical school will test to an almost every way. The mental grind of learning what seems like a billion things every day matches the physical challenges from lack of sleep and continuous stress. Here are five things I’ve learned in medical school

Photo by Tara Winstead:

1. Time management

Time management is the most challenging aspect of medical school, namely feeling like you don’t have enough time. This is something that everyone deals with, so don’t feel alone. The best way to work through this is to understand that you will not always be on top of your game. Some days will be productive and others won’t. To think that you will be productive every single day for four years is unrealistic. That’s why it’s important to take advantage of the day’s that you are on your a game. Interestingly, I’ve found that this usually follows a pattern. For me, the day after tests and Wednesdays for some reason are incredibly a unproductive. During these days I try to take care of myself. I’ll watch a lot of TV, go to the gym, or hang out with my friends. On my productive days, I try to wake up early eat a good breakfast. I’ll review my lectures for that day, then go to class. During the day, I do everything I can to have the most productive day possible. But, if I’m not feeling it that day I don’t push it.

2. Volume overload

Many medical students compare medical school to drinking from a fire hydrant. There’s too much information to learn and too little time to learn it. The best way to deal with this is to do a little bit every day. We often overestimate what we can do in a short amount of time, and underestimate what we can do over a long period of time. I’ve come to realize that a large volume of a review every day is the key to success in medical school. How you get this volume doesn’t really matter. People will tell you that the way that you’re studying isn’t optimal or efficient, but so long as you’re getting it done, it doesn’t really matter. You will learn, and most likely you will pass. Try focusing on reviewing old material while also learning new material. It should be close to a 50/50 split. Whether you do it by watching videos, making flashcards, or answering practice questions doesn’t matter. As long as you do a lot of it every day. For me, the flash card program Anki has been a lifesaver. Not only does it allow you to review a diverse range of topics, but it also automatically forces you to review old material. I believe every medical student should check it out at least once, but use whatever works for you

3. Be kind to yourself

In medical school many people feel like they’re not good enough. This is this is mainly because you’re thrown in with the best of the best, and asked to do entirely too much. Gone are the days when putting on a minimal amount of effort, and showing a minimal amount of interest are good enough. Thinking back to my own undergraduate years, I remember plenty of areas where I worked incredibly hard to accomplish my goals, and other areas that only required a little bit of my attention. If you want to standout in medical school, every area will require a lot of attention and a lot of effort. Some people kill themselves to do everything the best that they can, and to stay on top. But most people, myself included, decide to focus on the important areas of medical school and fall short in other areas. Sometimes that means getting lower grades, but that’s OK. It’s nearly impossible to do everything perfectly. Even simply being OK that everything in medical school is difficult. Try your best, and try to pass. Celebrate your success and be kind to yourself when you inevitably fail. It happens to everyone.

4. Set realistic goals

As a medical student, it’s easy to start thinking that you can do everything. If you fall behind, you might think you can just stay up later or wake up earlier to make up the difference. The problem is that there are no breaks in medical school. You always feel like you need to do more and eventually if you keep neglecting your sleep to play “catch up” it will negatively affect your health. Set realistic goals each day, and be sure to include plenty of breaks and time for yourself. This is really important with any aspect of life. But, in medical school it is especially important to make time to do the things you love. I guarantee you will be more productive.

5. Stop comparing yourself to others

To compare yourself to your peers is a natural human trait. This is especially true amongst medical students, who are competitive by nature. When you are in medical school it feels like everyone is better than you. On top of that, most medical students are eager to talk about their accomplishments (and rarely mention the difficulties they face). All this can make you feel inadequate in comparison. Because medical students are naturally competitive, there will almost inevitably be people who are better than you in your class. While you may have once been the star pupil, now your are amongst many star pupils who are all vying to be the best. Don’t worry if you feel worse in comparison. Be the best you can be, follow your interests, and don’t worry about anything else. Doing things that interest you and not caring about other people’s accomplishments will get you much further and make you much happier.


In conclusion, medical school is tough, not only intellectually but also physically and emotionally. In fact, I would argue that the emotional aspect of medicine is the most difficult part. In order to succeed, you must master time management, learn a little every day, be kind to yourself, set realistic goals, and stop comparing yourself to others. Not only are these good lessons for medical school, but they are very useful in daily life. Take care of yourself, follow your interests, and flourish in your own way.

No content on this site should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician, please see the disclaimer page

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