You may learn how to solve problems in organic chemistry, produce a well-written personal statement, or rack up hours volunteering at the hospital, but there are a few important skills that your undergraduate experience won’t teach you directly. While finishing college is a requirement for medical school admissions, there are a few non-academic factors that will help you out big time, when it comes to succeeding as a medical school and ultimately in the medical field. Here are four things every prospective medical student should learn how to manage before they step foot into anyone’s medical school:
When you start medical school, there will never seem to be enough time. So, as much as you may have resisted it over the years, one of the most important things you must do in medical school (and even before that if you’re down for it), is to figure out how to manage your time. The truth is, you’ll have more on your plate than you ever imagine possible. They secret is to not think about time as if it is the enemy but tell yourself that time is on your side. As the saying goes, you have the same 24 hours in a day as the most successful individuals you’ve heard of or even look up to. You have to learn how to prioritize to complete the things you need to do. To make it through, you may need to develop new ways to handle the great demands that medical school will place on you. And of course, research agrees. One study found that not only did they perform better in their coursework, but also reported that they were less stressed and felt less “overloaded.” There are some individuals who were born to manage time and if you’re one of these people you’ve got one up on the rest of us. These are the people who manage to get in a meal before their 8 am class, who manage to get their class assignments done – ahead of time, who have enough time left in the day to actually go to the gym. But for all of you who struggle in this department, figuring out how to manage your time will require a bit of work. The simplest way to get started with managing your time better is being accountable. Hold yourself accountable for reaching the goals you set. Period.
You are about to make a very real investment in yourself. What this means for most students entering medical school is that they’ll have to take out student loans and make a few sacrifices along the way to keep things under control. About 60 percent of all medical school students plan to finance their medical school education via loans. Your job is to gain a clear understanding of how to successfully manage your finances and deal with the inevitable debt that comes with getting your medical school degree. You need to take a look at your current finances, get a grasp of the expenses that come with obtaining your medical degree, and consider the resources that you’ll need to tap to move forward and make it through successfully. So how can you prepare? For one month, keep track of all of your expense, even the littlest ones and at the end of this 30-day period, you should have a better sense of our current finances. Figure out the costs associated with your MD degree, your living expenses, then write out a budget to determine your current ability to cover everything and how much money you should be saving or taking out in loans. Your final budget should give you an overall picture and include all regular monthly bills. The important thing to remember is that your budget should reflect a realistic picture of how you operate on a day-to-day basis. Putting an unrealistic budget in front of you will make it challenging for you to succeed. And don’t forget to prepare yourself mentally to stick to the plan.
Being in medical school shouldn’t mean that you don’t have a life. As hard as it will be, medical school will require that you be proactive about taking some time out for yourself. Many medical students find themselves multitasking, fixing dinner with an open textbook nearby, which is truly reflective of a poor use of time. Close the books, put away your computer, and take some time to step away for a bit to nourish your body with a meal, catch up with your roommate or spouse, and give your body and mind the break it needs. In the end you will find that the benefits of taking such a pause will outweigh the cons in the long run. Sure, you’ll be in medical school soon, but that doesn’t mean that for the next few years, while you’re preparing to obtain your degree of medicine, you’re a slave to a schedule that has you studying like a maniac. You have the same amount of time in a day as President Barack Obama, who, while running the nation, finds time to shoot some hoops and watch an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians. So don’t tell yourself that you’re too busy to have a social life. It’s not true. Make sure you “get a life!”
Going to medical school can be hazardous for your health. The highly demanding experience will take a huge toll on your overall well-being and you have no idea what you are about to get yourself into and the life you’ve signed up for. When you begin medical school, your health will probably be the first things that goes. What student has time to go to the gym three times a week and eat healthy meals? You do. Circling back to how you manage your time, by making some easy changes to your schedule, you can pencil in time to focus on your health. And as a matter of fact, not only do you have the time and ability to keep your health – mental and physical – it is your obligation. Your future depends on it. Take care of yourself. Before you step foot into medical school, make a promise to yourself that you will take care of yourself.
This article was published in the September/October 2014 issue of PreMedLife magazine.