Medical school has often been likened to a marathon. Both take a lot of time, both leave you feeling exhausted and yet accomplished, both are only completed by a minority of the population. While one leaves you with a “26.2” sticker on the back of your car for bragging rights, and one gives you permission to be addressed as “Dr. _______,” both are considered impressive accomplished. However, the similarities between medical school and marathons doesn’t stop at the amount of time it takes to complete them; another important similarity between the two is the amount of preparatory training that goes into them.
It’s possible to run a marathon without adequately training for it, and it’s possible to complete your MD without properly preparing for medical school, but doing so will make both activities far more difficult than they need to be. Having a basic understanding of science through the required premed courses won’t be enough. You’ll also need to build up your perseverance muscle if you want to do well in medical school.
Specifically speaking, the first two years of medical school (typically during which all of your lecture materials are covered) is a time of very fast-paced teaching with minimal time to rest. Because of this, it’s vital that you have the endurance to focus and study for long periods of time. Medical school is designed so that cramming for exams usually does not work; students who excel are those who can dedicate hours of each day to studying, even after they have spent hours sitting in lectures and labs all day. These students, however, don’t always have the innate ability to study for hours on end. Instead, it’s often a skill that they’ve actively worked at improving.
Improving your study endurance should be done in small increments. Just like you shouldn’t tackle running a marathon without first running shorter segments, you shouldn’t try to sit down and study for hours without first building up your study endurance. Doing so might make you feel burnt out within a few days. If focusing has always been difficult for you, start with just 30 minute sections and increase your time from there. Remember that it’s more beneficial to have a short, focused period of study time than to have spend hours never really concentrating on the materials you need to cover.
In addition to setting reasonable goals for yourself, it’s important that you work to minimize distractions during your set study periods. One way to do this is to set alarms to let yourself know when you can take your breaks and to set your phone far enough away during your study time that you won’t be tempted to constantly check it. Again, staying focused during short periods of time can really pay off by helping you learn how to study for significant periods of time in the long run.
Finally, find others who can help hold yourself accountable to your study goals. A timer and goals are wonderful tools, but they fall short of being able to actually motivate you to accomplish your goals. Create an accountability system for yourself with a friend with whom you can be honest. Let him know your study endurance goals each week and check in with him regularly to let him know how well you are doing towards working for those goals.
Having impressive perseverance won’t happen in a day for most people. However, through working through these steps, building up the endurance to study for long periods of time is possible.