Category Archives: Guest Post
This summer, approximately 25,000 students will begin their first year of medical school in the United States. While the path to medical school was challenging, medical school itself holds a number of additional challenges, as well as significant opportunities. “Concerns about succeeding academically, choosing a specialty, maintaining a social life, and making time for family can certainly cause anxiety among new medical students,” writes Dr. Meg Keeley, Assistant Dean for Student Affairs at the University of Virginia School of Medicine.1 Below, we offer some key advice for the new medical student.
Evaluate your study habits
In one study, researchers found that “in general, study skills are stronger predictors of first-semester total grades than aptitude as measured by the MCAT and undergraduate GPA.”2 There are many reasons for this, but one of the main reasons relates to the immense volume of information to be mastered. April Apperson, Assistant Director of Student Services at the University of San Diego California School of Medicine, explains “The material presented in medical school is not conceptually more difficult than many rigorous undergraduate courses, but the volume flow rate of information per hour and per day is much greater – it has frequently been described as ‘drinking from a firehose.'”3
Utilize active, rather than passive, learning strategies
The USMLE Step 1 exam is a critical factor in the residency selection process. With a strong focus on clinical applications, rather than rote memorization, the USMLE is a distinctive and challenging exam for most students. How should you study for an exam of this importance that’s so distinct from other exams? Drs. Helen Loeser and Maxine Papadakis, Deans at the UCSF School of Medicine, advise: “Use active learning methods as you integrate your knowledge and apply basic science information to clinical vignettes.”4 Research has shown that active learning leads to better long-term retention of information and easier retrieval of information when needed.
Impact your community
Medical students have been able to impact their communities in wide-ranging and meaningful ways, through student organizations, national groups, or through their own initiatives. Student-run health clinics offer one example, in which students often serve an underserved population, including the uninsured, homeless, and the poor.
Maintain your emotional well-being
Studies have shown that students experience significant stress during the preclinical years. This can have real consequences, including depression, anxiety, and effects on patient care. It becomes vital that students develop strategies now to cope with stress and promote their own well-being, in order to maintain resilience and the highest standards of professionalism throughout their career.
Explore different specialties in medicine
In one study of medical students, 26.2% were unsure of their specialty choice at matriculation.5 A similar proportion remained undecided at graduation. Exploring different fields during the preclinical years may help. Students have done so by participating in specialty-interest groups, shadowing physicians, performing research, and identifying mentors.
1Keeley M. Ask the advisor: How to successfully navigate the first year. AAMC Choices Newsletter August 2011. Accessed June 18, 2012.
2West C, Sadoski M. Do study strategies predict academic performance in medical school? Med Educ 2011; 45(7): 696-703.
3University of California San Diego School of Medicine. Successful Study Strategies in Medical School. Accessed February 20, 2012.
4University of California San Francisco School of Medicine. Rx for Success on STEP 1 of The Boards. Accessed October 19, 2011.
5Kassebaum D, Szenas P. Medical students’ career indecision and specialty rejection: roads not taken. Acad Med 1995; 70(10): 937-43.
After graduating from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in 1967, I practiced neurology, ophthalmology, and family medicine at one time or another. I also did research and taught at the University of Miami School of Medicine for 25 years in the Cell Biology/Anatomy department, where I taught neuroanatomy, and was an attending in the Family Medicine department.
In 1979, I formed the MedMaster publishing company after my first book, Clinical Neuroanatomy Made Ridiculously Simple, was rejected by multiple publishers for making a serious topic funny and being too brief. Strangely, the aspects of the book that were criticized were the same ones that my students appreciated. The book went on to become a best-seller in the U.S. My students awarded me the George Paff Award for Most Outstanding Professor eleven times.
Other authors of like mind, including my students Mark Gladwin and Bill Trattler, who wrote Clinical Microbiology Made Ridiculously Simple, submitted books that went on to become the MedMaster “Made Ridiculously Simple” series. I was invited to give the commencement address at the Washington University at St. Louis School of Medicine in 2004 in appreciation of the MedMaster contribution to medical student education.
It occurred to me that when a publisher receives a book, it is often sent for review to someone who may be expert in the field, but not necessarily expert in understanding the needs of a student learning the topic for the first time. Such experts often feel a book is “incomplete.” Hence, the student is often left with very large texts with a lot of clinically irrelevant information, and has difficulty grasping the subject as a whole. One study indicated that the leading cause of stress in medical school is that there is so much to learn and so little time to learn it. Another study showed that if a first year medical student actually did all the reading that was assigned, this would entail reading more than 24 hours a day. So MedMaster embarked on publishing books that are brief, clinically relevant, enjoyable to read, and promote understanding.
The medical student needs 3 kinds of books:
- The reference text. While such large books provide essential reference information, the student can get lost and not achieve an overall understanding of the subject. Understanding is very important. The human brain is better at understanding than at memorizing huge numbers of esoteric facts. Computers are better at facts; humans are better at understanding. Understanding not only helps in dealing with the many variations on patient problems, but also facilitates the learning of facts.
- The Board review book. I’ve noticed that many of the student forums focus on study for the USMLE. Passing the Boards is necessary; indeed, MedMaster publishes its own review books for USMLE Step 1, 2, and 3. But simply relying on the rote facts in Board review books is insufficient for practicing medicine, because Board review books do not promote understanding, which is vital in dealing with patients.
- The small conceptual book, which provides understanding in addition to key information useful not only for exams but for practical application throughout one’s career. MedMaster emphasizes such books, which can be found at www.medmaster.net. MedMaster’s blog, the Goldberg Files, deals with methods to promote rapid learning and other ways to deal with the stress of medical school.