By Katayoon Dowlatshahi
There is an exhilarating sensation that rushes through your veins when you first get a glimpse of a letter beginning with something along the lines of “It is my pleasure to inform you that you have been selected for admission” after you frantically open this long-awaited decision. This is especially gratifying after you have spent countless hours studying in the library, volunteering at a local hospital, and shadowing various healthcare providers. You feel invincible. You have made it this far, right?
It’s important not to be deceived, however, that you have mastered all the challenges you can encounter as you start your intensive, yet rewarding journey as an incoming medical, dental, pharmacy, physical therapy, optometry, podiatry or other health professional student. We are continuously learning and evolving as students. Along with this growth, we also face many changes that can be quite daunting, especially when we feel like we should have everything figured out.
Yet, do not fear, for SDN is here. This article is specifically geared for you, as it will offer advice on ways to properly seek additional resources and support to better handle the academic, financial, and psychological challenges that may come your way.
Speak with a professor or academic advisor
When you first get sense that you are not doing particularly well in a class based on exam scores, despite studying consistently for weeks, set up an appointment to talk to the professor. Each course you encounter is unique and will likely differ from the undergraduate classes you may be used to. You now have a substantial amount of information you need to master in a limited amount of time. Asking your professor about the areas that you will need to focus more on, and ways to grasp the more detailed points, will save you a lot of time when you study. Your professor may also recommend certain practice exams that you can utilize to test your knowledge ahead of exam time. This will allow you to go through the information you have learned prior to taking the actual test, while also reviewing the questions that you may miss or feel unsure about. Additionally, many schools have academic advisors available to speak with students on topics ranging from study skills and time management to beneficial academic opportunities. It is best to be open and honest with these individuals, as they are specifically tasked with serving as your guides on how to be an effective and successful student.
Study smarter, not harder
Devise a study plan that will cater to how you learn best, and be willing to make changes to this plan throughout your studies. Do you study better in groups or on your own? Are you a visual, auditory, reading/writing, or kinesthetic learner? You will likely know your preferred learning style by now, but don’t be afraid to make modifications to how you study depending on your classes. Many schools conduct testing or surveys prior to the start of classes that will allow students to find out more about their learning preferences. Take advantage of these results to guide you in your study habits. Also, make use of extra time that you have commuting to school, exercising at the gym, or eating breakfast to watch a review video or listen to recordings of lectures. Repetition is key, especially when you need to know those small details. As a future medical provider, learning the information will be much more useful than simply memorizing it the day before the test. Use your time wisely by setting up a study schedule ahead of your exams. Maintaining organization will not only boost your scores, but also lessen the stress that you will experience on test day.
Plan for your finances ahead of time
Being prepared, especially in relation to your financial situation, is very important. Prior to receiving an acceptance letter, make sure to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in order to qualify for financial aid once you are accepted. Make sure to mark down all the schools you have applied to on your FAFSA form. Starting this process ahead of time allows for the financial aid office to determine your eligibility for aid at much a quicker rate after they receive notification of your acceptance. It may also qualify you for various grants that your university will only offer a limited amount of to students.
Ask to speak with a financial aid advisor
When your financial aid has been generated, you will likely receive grants, federal loans, and/or scholarships from your institution. If you are new to financial aid or have any questions, there are financial aid advisors on campus that can be of assistance to you. Many schools have specific individuals that are assigned to each department, such as a financial aid advisor that solely works with health profession students. These individuals are experts in the financial aid process, especially in relation to your particular degree program. Find your school’s financial aid office contact information and make an appointment as soon as possible. Also, get informed on the various types of grants and loans by doing research on your school’s website or by reading through the vast amount of information provided by the U.S. Department of Education on federal student aid. Your investigation can answer some questions, but it could also lead to more. Make a list of all your questions before your appointment with a financial aid advisor, as this can help you get them all answered as well as make the appointment run more smoothly.
Apply for scholarships and other types of financial aid
Many universities offer their own scholarship programs, which are only available to matriculating students. Since the qualifications will differ for each scholarship, you will likely only be eligible to apply for a few. Plan accordingly to have these scholarships completed and sent in a timely manner. Be mindful of deadlines and arranging an appropriate timeframe for your professors to write letters of recommendation. It is also important to remember that there are numerous outside scholarships also available. These scholarships will require a bit of research for you to find and will have their own separate requirements. However, this shouldn’t deter you, as many outside scholarships are quite generous in the amount of aid they offer.
Additionally, many states have forgivable education loan programs that will help fund your education in return for your promise to practice in that respective state. Since there is shortage in medical personnel, especially in underserved regions, this incentive is geared towards having healthcare professionals serve the state after gaining licensure. This is an exceptional opportunity for students interested in staying in a particular location or hoping to give back to the community.
Make some time for you
Once school begins, it is easy to become so occupied by the endless pages of notes and the back-to-back exams that you forget to take care of yourself. Ironically, as future healthcare providers worried about the wellbeing of our patients, we often put aside our own needs and wants. It is crucial to maintain a balance, especially with a hectic schedule. It can not only benefit your own mental health, but also make the experience much more rewarding. This can be accomplished by setting up some time each day to do something that you enjoy, such as playing the guitar, exercising, or going out to dinner with friends. By taking small breaks from your studies, you can prevent burnout and become more productive as a student. You will learn to manage your time around both schoolwork and activities that will fuel you throughout the week. This will make you more content as a student as well as an individual.
Seek help from a mental health professional
Small changes to your lifestyle are effective on your mental health, but only to a limited degree. If you experience feelings of anxiety, depression, sadness, and/or isolation that persist despite your personal efforts, then it is time to talk to a qualified mental health professional. Many campuses have counselors on hand to speak with students. However, at other institutions you may be tasked with independently finding a qualified professional. It is best to try to find an individual who you feel comfortable speaking with and getting treatment from. Ultimately, the level of trust and the relationship that develops with your counselor will aid in the efficacy of the treatment you receive. It’s important to know that getting the help you need early on will only serve to benefit you in the long run.
About the Author
Katayoon (Kate) Dowlatshahi is an MD candidate at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University. She graduated with highest honors from Methodist University, receiving a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Chemistry with a concentration in Biochemistry and a minor in Biology. She is deeply passionate about patient advocacy as well as conducting scientific research in an effort to contribute to advancements that benefit the medical community.