The brief period of time that precedes the commencement of medical school is one of the most exciting times of your life. You have finally reached your goal of gaining acceptance into medical school. Now you are beginning your new endeavor toward becoming a highly capable and compassionate physician. As with any new experience, there is also some fear and uncertainty that can accompany the excitement. These sensations are completely normal, as you may not be aware of what to expect as you undertake the study of medicine. While you can’t control how challenging your medical school will be, you can develop some good habits prior to starting your classes that can enable you to get the most out of your education while allowing you to foster a sense of personal well-being.
1. Create a sleep schedule
Before starting medical school, I worried about the number of all-nighters I would have to pull just to keep up with the vast amount of information that would be presented. However, I soon realized that it is impossible for me to perform well without maintaining a consistent sleep schedule of about 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night. As a result of altering my habits, not only was I more alert in my morning classes, but I also became more upbeat and had less difficulty concentrating throughout the day. Additionally, it is important to maintain adequate sleep hygiene to get a full night’s rest. This can involve utilizing your bedroom only for sleeping purposes, not for checking your phone or using your computer while in bed, as well as sleeping at the same time each night and waking up at the same time each morning. These habits influence the quality of sleep you achieve each night, which can transfer to how well you perform as a student. Many studies show a direct correlation between one’s quality of sleep with one’s memory and learning capability.
2. Learn how to meal prep
Many of us start medical school after completing college, where we solely relied on meal plans and fast food options that were just a short distance from the dormitories. Now that you will be in an apartment, you will be required to learn to make meal preparations that will last you through each week. The medical school I attend is directly connected to the hospital, allowing easy access to the hospital cafeteria, which is relatively affordable and delicious. However, I wouldn’t recommend eating there everyday, as many of the foods are prepackaged and may not be as nutritious. As a future physician, this is the optimal time to acquire healthy eating habits that will influence your overall well-being. While the basics of milk, eggs, bread, and cereal will still be available to you, you may want to explore cooking meals in bulk. There are numerous simple recipes found online that you could experiment with before starting your classes. Make sure to create a list for each week’s grocery trip to make sure you have everything you need. On the weekends, you may need to allot some extra time to prepare the upcoming week’s meals so that throughout the week you can focus on your studies. An added bonus to meal prepping is that it is a surprisingly effective way to relieve some stress, at least coming from personal experience.
3. Continue doing what you love (that’s not related to medical school)
Many students enter medical school with the belief that it requires studying from the moment you wake up to when you doze off. It’s true, there is a lot of studying, but there is also a few extra hours each week in between your studies and your daily routine to do something you love. I have personally witnessed burnout among students who studied without spending any time away from the books. While you may think this would result in superb grades and outstanding performances, it instead caused for unnecessary stress and a general sensation of unhappiness. Remember, medical school is a marathon, not a quick race. You need endurance and what helps you through those tough times is participating in an activity that you genuinely love. It may be playing the guitar, running, or just simply enjoying some time out with friends. If you don’t have a hobby, explore different activities that interest you. Now is the perfect time to find what you love, outside of medicine. It is key to not forget about your personal wants and needs, which significantly contribute to your mental health and your ability to be the best physician you can be.
4. Punctuality and preparation is key
If you find yourself consistently late to meetings or important events, consider some ways to change this habit. One thing I have learned in medical school is how important attendance and preparation is, especially when it comes to required classes and events. I can recall an instance during the first day of medical school when a few students were running late to class because they couldn’t find the classroom. As we waited for them, I can vividly remember the professor, who was clearly a bit displeased with the situation, briefly telling us how surgeons often arrive to procedures earlier than their team and the patient, because as physicians it is our duty to be on-time and ready to go each day. A great tip for being on-time is to set your clocks back by five or ten minutes; that way you will always be bit earlier for each class, quiz, or test. Another tactic is to set multiple alarms throughout the day or develop checklists reminding you of certain tasks or assignments you need to do. I often find arriving an hour early on test days to also be very helpful, as I can quickly review my notes at my desk or in a study room before the test, without worrying about running late due to traffic.
5. Knowledge is power
My last piece of advice would be to read, skim, or review some medical literature or books written by medical professionals prior to starting medical school. There are so many talented physicians who also write about their experiences, detailing the positive and negative aspects of their field in a very brutally honest, yet awe-inspiring manner. Many of my classmates consistently read medical literature and books before beginning classes, and I can truly see how much more aware they are about the healthcare system as a whole. This is one of habits that I wish I had developed, since the more you know about the field that you’re entering into, the more you will succeed in it. You are entering a profession that consists of life-long learning, and you will soon realize how much of the information that is taught can change within a few months or years. Thus, it is of utmost importance to retain a sense of awareness and knowledge on all aspects that encompass medicine as a whole, not just for your own personal insight, but to provide the best possible care to your patients.
While many of these habits may appear obvious or redundant, we are all imperfect; it is crucial to remember that change is sometimes necessary for growth. Some of these habits come from my own experience, with others being those that I have observed in some of my classmates who are doing phenomenally as medical students. Changing one’s habits does not happen overnight. It is a gradual process that requires diligence and support. During this time, I encourage you to reflect on where you are and where you want to be. You may never experience such a unique period of time in your life ever again, so make sure to utilize it as efficiently and wisely as you can.