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  • Gazala Hitawala

5 mistakes to avoid in first year of medical school

I always think that if I get a chance to go back and change some things about my first year of medical school, what would I want to do differently? I have the answer to this question now. We spend a virtuous proportion of time from our life in medical school; I think it is one of the longest career paths. These years hold importance in sculpting great doctors and also have a significant impact on your personal life. Realistically every individual experiences a plethora of emotions through these years. Especially when you are just starting off in the first year. Whether it is the new city, the busy hospital, the mess food, or the completely new subjects to study, there is a lot to figure out. Nobody has everything sorted out since day 1 unless you have a family of doctors. I know that you will learn a lot in your first year from your own experiences. Well, experiences teach you the best life lessons. However, there are a few things that I want to give out straight to you. These are the most crucial mistakes that you should definitely avoid at the start of your first year of Medical School.

Below are 5 mistakes that you should avoid in the first year of medical school.

1. Trying to fit in

If you have changed multiple schools, you might have some idea about the ‘fitting in’ culture. There are a lot of things that you might imagine in your head, thanks to the TV series you watched. You may or may not find that in real life, but definitely, the transition from high school to medical school brings a lot with it. You do not just try to accommodate yourself to the hostel rooms but also to the people around you from different parts of the country (or even various parts of the world). Thus, comes the unforeseen efforts to FIT IN.

Listen to me, YOU DO NOT HAVE TO…

Firstly, it will not last long; you will just keep putting in the efforts and eventually get tired of it.

Secondly, it is not healthy for you. Already, there is a lot of change going on around you. Accept that you can not be liked by everyone; you can not be everyone’s favourite; you can not spend the same amount of money as your roommate.

And it is OK.

Just be unapologetically yourself.

If you like to sit alone at a coffee shop, do that. If you love to spend hours in the library, do that.

Do not care about what others say or think about you.

I do not mean you should not make friends, but please don’t put pressure on yourself. The right people automatically find there way. Don’t try to please others just for the heck of it.

2. Listening to the noise about the best study resources

Nobody else’s best resource will be your best resource, period.

The teachers will ask you to read standardised books like Gray’s anatomy, Guyton, Ganong, Lippincott.. your seniors will ask you to study BDC, Vasudevan… and one fine day you enter the library to catch your friend reading a completely different book.

However, none of the above mentioned might be the best resource for you. If you don’t understand this early on, you will discern it by the end of the year; but that will be too late.

So what to do? I am fresh into medical school; if I don’t listen to everyone, how should I pick my resources?

Start exploring. The internet has all the books, trust me. Browse on the internet, see which other books are popular and start reading. And, you don’t have to spend money; get the PDF files for the books.

If you are interested in video lecture subscriptions, try a trial period of that resource. If the trial is not available, borrow it from a friend or senior for a few days.

This is your dating phase; you are trying different books intending to ultimately meet your soulmate.

And once you find your soulmate, stick to it.

Here’s some exciting news; in the book world, you are allowed to go on casual dates even if you have met your soulmate.

If ever you feel like you want to read a chapter from a different book, go ahead.

Just make sure you have all the notes together.

The book world has a pretty chill dating culture, but keep the emotions alive and limit your final resources to 2 books ONLY.

3. Not taking any initiative in the dissection hall

When I started anatomy classes, for around 4 days, we were just asked to sit next to the covered dead bodies and get used to the smell and the idea of working on dead humans. Let me know if it was the same in your medical school?

Dissection can be the most intriguing part of the first year for some and the most overwhelming for some others. Whether you find it exciting or not, it plays a sizeable role in clearing your concepts in anatomy.

The thumb rule is: The more you handle the body yourself, the better you learn.

So, get the best tool kit for yourself to keep you motivated and do not lean on your friends or professors for the dissection.

Make sure your hands are at work during those dissection classes (pun not intended). If possible, try to go through the dissection videos before your class to get more idea about how to proceed and which structures you are expected to see.

Maintain a great camaraderie between your DT friends and collectively perform the dissection. Help each other to spot the structures and always volunteer to explain to others.

You can get hold of anatomy just by being (mind)fully present on the dissection table. Anatomy is the only subject where you ‘really’ get to see everything that you read in your textbook.

DO NOT miss this opportunity.

4. Implementing passive learning techniques

If you have heard of the recent trending terms like – active recall and spaced repetition, I am proud of your awareness. If you do not already know much about it, then let me give you some more resources to understand active learning

VIDEOS – Ali Abdaal

Passive learning is something that we were blindly following since childhood but never knew it was not fruitful. It includes writing down notes, rereading textbooks, revising notes, etc. Basically, everything that does not challenge your brain to go the extra mile and provides a lot of ease and comfort during learning.

Whenever the brain gets too comfortable, it hinders your learning.

Thus, it is better that you comprehend in your first year itself that merely implementing the passive learning techniques will not give you results. As you will move ahead in medical school, the amount of the information will increase; it is next to impossible to retain all of it by rereading your notes.

Yes! If you read the notes 100 times, you will know them by heart, but active learning decreases the work 10 times. It’s a win-win, you learn better, and you even get rewarded with extra time, which is the most valuable gift you can give yourself in medical school.

This was the main reason why I started the Anki with S2S so that more individuals (especially beginners) can implement active learning.

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5. Studying all the time

You have survived through immensely competitive exams to put yourself in a medical college. But landing into a medical college is not the final destination; it is just the beginning. It is the beginning of 5 long years to witness various sides of both medicine and life. Studying is the most substantial part of your medical journey, and it should definitely not be neglected. However, if you get too hard on yourself in the first year, you will burn out very early.

The principal aspect now is to enjoy the journey. Enjoy every moment, whether it is a boring lecture or the pink and violet histopathology slides, or a movie night with friends.

Digging your head deep into the books 24 x 7 will take away a handful of compelling opportunities from you. If you implement the active learning techniques mentioned above, you will definitely win some extra time in your day. Make the best out of this time outside of studying.

Now, if not studying, what else you can do in medical school?

  1. Volunteer to work at the different sections of your hospital, like the blood-bank, or the pathology lab.

  2. Get involved with the sports club of your medical college – practice with them and build connections.

  3. Ask your professors for any ongoing research or case reports and show interest to be involved.

  4. Participate in poster presentation and quizzes.

  5. Involve yourself in healthcare camps. (There is always some work that you can help with as a medical student)

  6. Interact with other medical students outside of your college through social media.

  7. Participate in social events conducted by the college or your batchmates.

  8. Actively involve in cultural or literary activities in the college.

  9. Take leadership roles like a class representative, magazine editor etc.

This will help you build interpersonal skills and also give you a sneak peek into the medical system. This will prepare you optimally for the coming years of medical school.

Make sure that you enjoy everything you are doing. Take care of your mental and physical health.


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