May 29, 2018

Student Insights: Things I Wish I’d Known Before Starting Medical School

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Hello Entering Class of 2018!

Congratulations on your acceptance to medical school! This is a tremendous achievement that is worth celebration. I hope that you are enjoying your summer and taking a well-deserved break.

If you are anything like I was prior to starting my first year of medical school, then you are probably experiencing a mix of emotions: excitement, uncertainty, fear, relief, and stress amongst other things. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed, especially since you have no idea what to expect next year. As my classmates and I reflect on our first year, we discussed what we wish we would have known before we started medical school. Below I share advice that I gathered from my classmates, the UABSOM Entering Class of 2017. Hopefully these bits and pieces of advice help you relax and make you less nervous about an exciting new chapter in your life. And if you’re still stressed after reading these, don’t worry—freaking out is just part of being a medical student.

  1. Don’t waste the summer before starting medical by studying. It is not going to give you a competitive advantage and it will just make your summer less fun. You’ll have plenty of time for studying and stress in a few short months. The first semester of medical school, coined Fundamentals, is dedicated to allowing everyone to get on the same playing field prior to starting organ modules. I know it can seem tempting, but trust me on this one, you’ll regret spending your summer with a textbook in your lap.
  2. You probably haven’t used a locker since senior year of high school but in addition to a fancy white coat, UABSOM also provides you with a locker! Even if you don’t come to class, you’ll be in Volker more than you think.
    Your locker is the perfect place to store essentials like:
    • extra study snacks
    • your white coat
      a sweatshirt/blanket (Volker is subzero on a good day)
    • an extra set of scrubs/professional clothing (mandatory activities sneak up on everyone)
  3. Everyone learns differently and UABSOM takes steps to ensure that all learning styles have an equal opportunity to exceed. Some people learn well from attending class religiously, while others loathe in-class lectures and become distracted. Whichever you are is totally fine. You may not yet know which suits you, but you’ll have plenty of time to determine this as the first semester progresses.
  4. You’ll soon learn about various outside resources and textbooks that some students rave about—just because someone has FirstAid permanently glued to their fingers doesn’t mean that you have to even purchase it. Try different study tactics during your first semester to find the fit that works best for you--several second years and other students will be happy to share what worked best for them in order to provide more insight! When in doubt you can always reference the UABSOM Student Wiki, a free resource put together by a previous class that contains information and resources about all of your courses!
  5. Medical school is a tight-knit community, especially at UAB, and every one of your classmates is someone you can turn to for help. Take advantage of this, because not every school fosters this kind of environment. Get to know your classmates – not only will you forge forever friendships that will make school a lot easier, but you will also be making connections with future colleagues that will be useful down the road. A great way to meet people at the beginning of the year is attending the Orientation socials. So break of out of your comfort zone and be proactive—ask someone out to lunch or to study together sometime!
  6. While your classmates are amazing and supportive people, don’t neglect your family and friends outside of school. It can be easy to get wrapped up in school activities and studying, but there will definitely be times when you need/want a break. Keep people around to remind you that there is more to life than books, exams, and STEP!
  7. It is without a doubt that the majority of your time as a first year will be spent in the classroom or studying—even though that is likely not the reason why most of you wanted to attend medical school. There are going to be days that medical school will take everything you have. Try to remember how excited you were to be accepted to UABSOM and why you wanted to be a physician in the first place. It will help if you make time see patients and learn valuable clinical skills like shadowing, volunteering at EAB, and paying attention during ICM. It helps break up the monotony of studying and lectures and often reminds you of why you wanted to become a physician in the first place.
  8. Finding a work-life balance is different for everyone as everyone’s lifestyle is different, but it is key for success. It’s easy to get stressed and overwhelmed, so identifying what relaxes you and doing it will keep you sane. Self care is so much more than bath bombs and facial masks. It’s about actively choosing every day to do things that make you happy—whatever that may be. No matter what school throws at you, you’ll have time to be a whole person. Here are a few things that my classmates do to manage their work-life balance:
    • Get Enough Sleep!
    • Grocery shop that same day each week and stick to a schedule. Nothing is worse than going into a test week and not having enough food around.
    • Get into the habit of healthy snacking - your teeth will thank you if you avoid filling them with sugar snacks 24/7!
    • Try stay active at least 3 days a week. You’ll feel better and have more staying power for studying!
    • Take a night off every once and a while and do something fun like attend a concert!
    • Practice meditation or mindfulness.
  9. You’re in medical school to become the best doctor that YOU can be. Medical school is a few short years jammed packed with learning all the information you need to be a successful physician. You might figure out during the first block that you're never going to make honors in a class, but the second you let that get to you and settle for less is the second that you've failed not only yourself, but your future patients. Not everyone is going to make honors and that's not the goal- you're here to be the best doctor that YOU can be. 4 years from now, the patient whose bedside you're standing over won't care whether or not you made honors, what you made on the GI exam or what your STEP score was. They're going to care about whether or not you can manage their care because their life is in your hands. So don't worry about making a 71 or a 92, because what counts is how much you've learned and how well you can apply that to the patient whose life you will be responsible for 4 years from now.
  10. It is no secret that Medical School is difficult. It will likely be different than anything you’ve experienced before. There will be some blocks that you love, some you hate, some you are naturally good at, and some that you just don’t get. While UAB does have a pass fail/system, passing is not always an easy thing to accomplish. Know that it is okay if you have to remediate a block. Don’t beat yourself up about it if you’re put into this situation! More people than you think are in the same position as you.

Congratulations, and I can’t wait to meet you all at orientation! 

Alinea Esensoy
Entering Class of 2017