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After my last examination as a first-year medical student, I
couldn't resist this opportunity to write about all that I've
learned beyond the science and clinical practice of medicine.
Medical school is a learning experience unlike any other—and I know
that I'm just beginning to scrape the surface—but the first year
really is an adjustment for everyone. I've thought a lot throughout
the past 10 months about how much I have changed as a person, for
better and for worse. Although this list is specifically for
first-year medical students, I believe many of these tips will
sustain me throughout the rest of medical school. My hope is that
they may do the same for you.
1. Learn from those around you.
In medical school, you find yourself surrounded by people you can
learn from: your classmates, who have all done extraordinary things
and pursued unique passions to be here by your side; your
professors, who have a wealth of information that they want to
share with you and not enough time to do so; and your mentors, who
are eager to impart their wisdom and support you personally and
professionally in your journey into medicine.
2. Practice what you preach.
This isn't easy, not in medical school nor in a lifelong practice
of medicine. Physicians have alarmingly high rates of depression
and one of the highest rates of suicide (1). Only 50% exercise
weekly, and many physicians struggle with being overweight (2). If
we expect it of our patients, it is only fair that we make an
effort to embrace the healthy lifestyles that we encourage.
3. Minimize multitasking.
This may seem counterintuitive to the fast-paced world in which we
live, but I believe it's more efficient to focus entirely on one
thing at a time. Try turning off your phone while studying or
closing your laptop in class. Make an effort to be mindful and to
stay focused on the task at hand despite all the other thoughts
that may be running through your mind. Experiment with studying in
4. Be fully present.
Our patients will come to us to share personal and intimate details
about their bodies and their lives-the very least that we can do
for them is to be fully present in each moment of our time with
them. The art of immersing oneself in a moment comes from being
attentive and listening with both your mind and your body; it's
something we should strive to practice as a physician, a student,
and a human being.
5. Understand that time is of the
I've found that in medical school, I've become acutely aware of
time like never before. You learn what it really means to make the
most of every minute of the day: flipping through flashcards in the
few minutes before class, squeezing in a workout just before the
gym closes, or talking on the telephone with friends on your walk
home. When you are flooded by information in medical school you may
feel pressure to rush through all aspects of your life. Instead of
caving to this pressure to rush through everything; try to identify
ways to work more efficiently and use your newly found time to slow
down and recharge your batteries.
Whether it be journaling, meditating, or talking to a close friend
about the whirlwind of emotions that you feel throughout medical
school, take time to reflect on your experiences. One study found
that 53% of medical students had burnout (3); just as a career in
medicine can be emotionally draining, so, too, can its training.
Reflection in some form will help you put these experiences in
perspective and come to terms with the sometimes-exhausting nature
7. Hold on to what you know.
Everyone comes to medical school with some idea of who they are and
the kind of person they want to be in their career, whether or not
you know what kind of physician that may be. Take the time to hold
on to what you know, pursue what you are already passionate about,
and do the things that you enjoy. Maintain and even strengthen the
support system that you already have of family, friends, and loved
8. Explore what you don't.
Nevertheless, medical school will no doubt change you. Make the
most of this inevitable transformation-embrace it. While holding on
to what you know, make space for trying new activities, for
learning about what you may never have heard about. Be open to new
relationships with the people around you, who are all facing
somewhat similar experiences. Let yourself be malleable.
9. Have faith in the system.
There's no doubt that medical school is stressful. There is an
infinite amount of knowledge to acquire, and medicine is an
ever-growing field that never ceases to challenge our thinking
minds. Sometimes, it can be overwhelming. It can be a daunting task
to think about the sheer amount of knowledge that there is to
remember. But, in the end, rest assured that this is all part of
10. Remember, practicing medicine is a
Amidst all that happens in medical school, it can sometimes be easy
to forget just what a privilege it is to be a physician. The
opportunity to gain this wealth of knowledge about the human body
and to study medicine, to devote a lifetime to its practice, is an
honor. Being there for people at their most vulnerable is a
humbling experience; medicine is gratifying to those who strive to
make it so.
The first year of medical school is a time to grow not only in
your knowledge but also in your own identity. I know that I've
taken only the first steps into the field and that there is so much
more for me to learn, but, for now, these realizations are enough.
I look forward to carrying them forward with me throughout the rest
of my journey.
University of Michigan Medical School
Class of email@example.com
1. Hays LR, Cheever T, Patel P. Medical student
suicide, 1989-1994. Am J Psychiatry. 1996;153:553-5. [PMID:
2. Medscape Physician Lifestyle Report 2012. Medscape. 2012.
www.medscape.com/features/slideshow/lifestyle/2012/public on July
3. Dyrbye LN, Massie FS Jr, Eacker A, Harper W, Power D,
Durning SJ, et al. Relationship between burnout and
professional conduct and attitudes among US medical students. JAMA.
2010;304:1173-80. [PMID: 20841530] doi:10.1001/jama.2010.1318
October 2015 Issue of IMpact