Hindsight Is 20/20: My Early Years of Medical SchoolJune 17, 2022
Hindsight is always 20/20, right?
Medical school is among the most challenging endeavors one could take on. Medical students are often looked at by family and friends as someone who has their life together and has everything figured out. But I’m here to tell you that nearly every medical student looks back and sees all the things they should have done differently, how they could have prepared better, or resources and tools that could have been more useful. I’m here to help you not make the same mistakes I did.
While everyone should chart their own course and learn through their own trials, in what follows, I offer my perspective on the things I wish I had done differently during my first 2 years of medical school. Note that I’m not sponsored by anyone or any companies, and for all the resources I mention, I’m doing so purely because I personally found them beneficial.
Review. Review. Review.
I wish I had reviewed subjects throughout the years. Coming to boards now, I barely remember anything from first year. My school organized our teaching and training in a manner that was basically a two-pass curriculum with the basic sciences. For example, you take a microbiology course first year, and then throughout second year, you will get tested on some of that microbiology for each bodily system covered in year two. That worked well for me for the basic sciences, but the rest of the general systems I saw once, and didn’t retain long-term after the exam. I’d recommend building daily review into your schedule. This can be through Anki, which I cover in more depth below, or just by pulling an old study guide out from a previous system and reviewing it. You will thank yourself later!
For those of you who don’t know, Anki is basically a flashcard program that uses an algorithm for space repetition to help you better retain information. It did not work for me the few times I tried it, but looking back, I wish I had tried harder. I’ve seen the long-term benefit for so many peers who used it, making studying for boards a lot less painful as they had been continuously reviewing everything they had learned. Anki has pre-made decks you can download so you don’t have to make the cards yourself, and most importantly… it’s free! Every medical student loves hearing that word.
Another beneficial review tool is Pathoma. It contains summarized videos and a book you can follow along with and take notes. Path isn’t my best subject, but Pathoma dumbed it down in a way that made it significantly easier to grasp — I should have used it more throughout my coursework. It is very inexpensive compared to most medical school resources. There are also pre-made Anki decks that go along with the Pathoma chapters.
I wish I had done a few board practice questions every day. Test-taking has never been my greatest strength, and I suspect I would have been better at board-style questions if I had slowly acquainted myself during my first 2 years. I would start out with USMLE-Rx. While this resource isn’t as difficult as real board questions, it follows along with First Aid (another great resource for boards) to reinforce information over your first 2 years, while slowly introducing you to board-style questions. When you’re ready to study for boards, UWorld is the gold standard, but I wouldn’t waste such a good resource so early. If you want to be really challenged, do AMBOSS questions.
I Should Know Doctor Things?
During my first 2 years, I wish I had participated in more skills labs. While it’s an optional club at my school, I could have benefited from attending more simulations. One of the few times I went was pretty deep into my second year of medical school; I was trying my hand at intubating a dummy for the first time, and I cracked the dummy teeth and accidentally intubated the stomach. Not one of my best moments. Clearly, practice is important, and that’s when I realized I should have attended more sessions.
Life Goes On
I wish I had set a time every day that I was done. While my school has mandatory attendance until 4/5:30 p.m., I still should have stopped at 9 p.m. every night for my sanity and to create some balance. Watch a show, relax for an hour — it helps more than you think! I also wish I had cut back and enjoyed my life more during the summer between first and second year. I worked a lot, and while the extra money allowed me to take a nice vacation, I should have given myself more of a break. Just remember, research will always be available during the year, but in some ways, this is your last real summer! See your family and friends, take a trip, and enjoy your life. Life does not have to stop when you’re in medical school.
Printing My Entire Life
I wish I had bought my EcoTank printer sooner. If you’re a super printer like me who prints anything and everything, you can save yourself so much money by getting an EcoTank. My goodness, do it. I have printed over 10,000 papers, and spent maybe $40 on ink.
I wish I had put more emphasis on the knowledge I was gaining rather than cramming for a certain grade. While yes, an A looks better than a B, I would have been better off board-wise if I’d stopped panicking about every point on weekly exams and instead focused on learning the material well. I’m not saying I didn’t learn it; but there is a difference between cramming as much textbook information possible to get maximum exam points and sacrificing some points to learn things that may have not been taught that really enable you to fully understand the material. This was my biggest regret.
Though there are a lot of things I wish I had done differently, I would never change my decision to pursue medicine. The key thing is finding what works for you, while continuously preparing for the bigger picture: board exams, and of course, providing the best care possible to patients.
Ashton Amos, MMS, is a DO/MSMEd candidate at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine.