All Resources

Medical School 101: Tips for Surviving Your First Year

Medical School 101: Tips for Surviving Your First Year

AN INTERVIEW WITH LINDA LI


What type of classes should students expect to take during their first year?

The proverbial “drinking from a fire hose” aptly describes the knowledge that a medical student is expected to learn. As a first-year student, you will be exposed to all the fundamentals of the sciences: the interactions of chemicals forming the basis of DNA in biochemistry class, how tissues look under the microscope in histology, and at the organismal level, how the human body functions in physiology class. In addition to the medical knowledge, you will also receive a crash course on the art of doctoring, where you will learn the core skills such as interviewing a patient, performing a comprehensive physical exam, and have discussion-based learning on the key tenets of medical ethics. The method of teaching will vary depending on the class, but expect to see small group learning, hands-on lab-based experiences, and lecture-style courses.

How did you cope with the huge amount of facts you are required to learn?

My advice is to find out your own learning style early. At the beginning of the year, experiment with the different learning tools and styles available to you. Are you a “read a book, write down notes, and review”-individual learner, or are you a “study in a group, teach a friend”- group learner? Once you have identified the best strategy, you can set yourself up for success by incorporating the right strategies to cope with the knowledge volume. The earlier you learn your study method, the quicker you learn, and the more time you free up for your social life. For the individual learner, I suggest using tools like First Aid, Pathoma, and Anki early to help you solidify information. For the group learner, start a weekly study group with like-minded people or find a study partner so you can help each other thrive. Online tools such as Picmonic and Sketchy are great for the visual learner. For the audio learner, in addition to recordings from your lectures, I recommend using the free OnlineMedEd website in preparation for the wards.

How did you manage your money?

For the most part, once tuition and rent was paid, being a medical student did not require that much extra money. As a financial aid student, I was left with a small stipend that I could allocate to my life. The largest expense was the purchase of textbooks and other learning aids. Lucky for me, my medical school has an electronic treasure trove of resources passed down year-to-year that I would always review at the beginning of each semester. I also used many online websites and scoured email list-serves from upperclassmen who sold gently used books. As to budgeting for other expenses, I used a simple budgeting tool that was developed by our financial aid office that helped outline expected costs for each semester. As you transition to become a senior medical student, take notes of paid teaching opportunities with minimal time requirements that would help offset some of the larger expenses of the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step exams and residency interview travel costs.

What do you wish someone would have told you in advance before your first day?

Concepts, concepts, and concepts. The first two years of medical school focus on the minutiae of everything. There are so many details to memorize that you will absolutely get bogged down if you aim to learn all of it. Your top priority in prepping for exams should be to focus on high-yield and core concepts. You will find, as you enter the clinical years, that the details will escape you, but if you have a solid foundation of concepts built from the first two years, you can often logically deduce the answer. Once you’ve mastered these concepts, you can then spend time mastering low-yield information.

Has medical school been what you expected?

Absolutely and so much more! The friendships you make through medical school will last forever. You will call on your friends over and over again throughout your life as you step up to residency and finally become a clinician. This is a journey filled with excitement, challenges, and funny stories. Always remember your reason for wanting to do medicine during the tough times. There is no other time in your life where your sole job is to learn. So, become a pluripotent stem cell and fulfill your potential.

What was the biggest challenge to go from undergraduate to medical school?

My biggest challenge for the transition to medical school was learning that it’s okay to say “no” to extracurricular activities. As an undergraduate, you have the flexibility of the curriculum to be involved in many activities, and it was possible to make up a day of missed school work. In medical school, however, the density and the volume of the work and the pace at which it was taught made catching up extremely difficult. In the beginning, I would often find myself studying entirely on the weekend in order to make up materials I missed during the week. As a new student, it is okay to turn down volunteer activities and other commitments until you have figured out your style and availability. Perhaps start by only joining one or two extracurriculars and then adding on more activities only if you feel that you have adequately mastered your study routine.

How did you take care of yourself, so you wouldn’t burn out?

Personally, I found that the first two pre-clinical years were easier in terms of burnout prevention as there were dedicated breaks and vacation periods. I always had a trip or a break to look forward to after that end-of-term exam. Third year, as a medical clerk, was more challenging. My friends were all scattered at different sites, and everyone had different schedules and unpredictable weekends as some rotations expected you to take call on weekends. I experimented with many strategies to keep myself mentally energized. Eventually, I landed on doing 15-20 minutes of yoga a few times a week and making sure I always had time to prepare and enjoy dinner. Cooking may sound like a chore to many of you, but I found the routine and the joy of eating a delicious meal at the end of the day particularly satisfying. Regardless of your activity, may it be reading, meditation, or running, you need to set time for yourself at the end of each day, so you can escape to your happy place and take your mind away from work – even if it is just for a little while.


About Linda Li
Hong “Linda” Li is a fourth-year medical student at Yale School of Medicine. She is passionate about teaching and mentoring students interested in pursuing healthcare fields. Linda aspires to become an otolaryngology-head and neck surgeon. Her academic research interests include the use of big data to measure health outcomes and the incorporation of healthcare technology in surgery and medicine.

AAO-HNS COVID-19 InformationLearn More