Study Tips

Will My Study Style Work in Medical School?

Donna Koprek
Published on Jul 8, 2020. Updated on Sep 15, 2020.

About to start medical school? Wondering how it differs from your previous programs? How about being a non-traditional medical student and a mom? Today on the Osmosis blog, Osmosis Medical Education Fellow Donna Koprek offers some advice on approaching the preclinical years from her own experiences. 

As you prepare to leave for medical school and you have all your books packed, extra pens and your stethoscope, one thing to think yourself is: will my current study style will also work in medical school? 

Usually, the answer is... no. 

Medical school material has been described in many ways: drinking from a fire hydrant, packing the brain to capacity, or “just plain impossible!” from people right before they figured it out. But people succeed and others figure out a way to change up their habits.

I thought my style of study was adequate. At 50 years old, a BA, MA and a recent return to school, I thought I had enough experience under my belt—especially as I had just come out of a fantastic pre-med stint just two years earlier! 

I thought I could study the same way and be successful. Boy, was I wrong! Hopefully you can learn from some of my mistakes with these tips. 

Tip 1: Be ready for an adjustment

The first thing to realize in medical school, that no one really tells you, is that it starts on day one. Literally. 

In undergrad you had a week or so to adjust to the teacher, get a study buddy, read up in the book. You have no time like that in medical school. Starting with your first break, usually lunch, you need to start reviewing what you just learned that morning. Read, review notes, look up questions to help you grasp the concepts. Be ready, because tomorrow you will do it again with new material as well as the previous day’s material.

Yes, I know what you're thinking: “How many hours a week is that?!” Well, it’s about 90 if you’re doing it right—not including lectures! 

If you are studying offshore, attending class is mandatory, so it makes it even more of a challenge. I guarantee this habit will become second nature in no time. Remember, the only way to really learn everything so you can put concepts together is to review and study everything over and over until it sticks.

Tip 2: Set expectations with your loved ones

The next thing to get ready for is letting friends and family know that you have no extra time for them. You can organize a certain time once a week, but everyday is just too distracting. Yes, it's an adjustment!

Sit down with your family and let them know that starting medical school means you will be dealing with a different level of stress that you (and they!) will have to adjust to. It's very likely that they won't understand at first. That's okay. When you are getting into the swing of things at school, you will be more ready for relaxing and supportive phone calls!

I am a single mom and my daughter was 16 when I left for school out of the country. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much support for her, but she is crazy responsible and an A-student, so we were both prepared. Sundays were for FaceTime after yoga, and bedtime was for phone calls. I set timers on my phone and we got in the habit of taking breaks at the same time so we could touch base more easily. 

If all of this sounds tough, well, it is. But you can do it! The first two years of medical school are the hardest: they're all about developing effective study habits and maintaining discipline. If it's any consolation, those two years go by FAST.

Tip 3: The first two years are the hardest

Remember that the first two years of medical school are designed to give you all the knowledge you need to pass your USMLE® Step 1 exam. Each course prepares you to diagnose and analyze symptoms. There are 3 blocks and a final for every single class you take, with very few exceptions. That’s 24 exams per semester!

First Aid and Osmosis Prime will be your lifesavers here. Think of them as your secretary, tutor, guide, manager and study buddy when you're just not sure where to start! 

Being ready to change up your study habits will ensure success in medical school. Osmosis was my preferred resource because so many concepts were integrated. Osmosis allowed me to quiz myself, share with others, and do flashcard decks that were already  organized by subject!

No one study method works for everyone, so don’t be nervous if you have to try two or three or four (or five!) different methods. It takes time, but try to figure it out as soon as you can and some of the stress of exams will be lifted

You also need to maintain your confidence, your well-being, and a healthy lifestyle as much as possible. If you get a new ulcer before every exam, you are doing something wrong. Please take care of yourself! 

If I can do it, you can do it too. So breathe. Relax. Stay focused and disciplined and you will be doing your clinicals soon enough! Best of luck out there!

About Donna
Donna Koprek is a third-year medical student at the Windsor University School of Medicine, St. Kitts and Nevis, Caribbean, and a graduate of the Osmosis Medical Education Fellowship program.

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