Study Tips

How to Survive the First Year at Medical School

Ather Iqbal
Published on Oct 26, 2020. Updated on Oct 26, 2020.

You got into Medical school! Congratulations! You have worked hard to get here and hopefully can't wait to get started! However, after selection into medical school, a new stage of life begins—and it can be a big adjustment. Today on the Osmosis blog, Ather Iqbal, an Osmosis Medical Education Fellow in his last year of Medical school, offers some humble advice for all of you setting out on this adventure.

Getting into medical school is a hard nut to crack, for sure! The sense of achievement after seeing your name on the list raises your spirits and inspires you to give your best in the years to come. As a new medical student, you've attached to yourself high expectations, but you maybe don't know what you're in for. The years to come will be somewhat different from the previous academic years. Here are my tips for the years ahead!

Give yourself time

As you start medical school, you'll realize that the routine you were used to before might need to be adjusted. Your first look at your new schedule, class materials, and group sessions will likely feel incredibly overwhelming. Areas in your life will change—sleep, friends, new roommates, hobbies, location, financial responsibilities, and self-care. Take a deep breath with me! 

Give yourself ample time to adjust to the new routine. It might take a few days for some people, but it might take a month for others, which is fine. Be forgiving with yourself and make adjustments that are fit for you!

If you feel lost on where to start making adjustments, reach out to people who have been through similar situations. Search online for videos that will help you navigate how to live with roommates or how to create a schedule on excel!

It's all a rollercoaster ride, but it will be worth it!

Discover your study style

Explore your study strengths, whether you study well in a group (which, by the way, has proven to be the most effective way of learning), understanding the topic and teaching it to others, or you are better off studying alone in peace. 

Choose your study partners wisely! 

I suggest that it’s always better if your study group does not include your best mates, it could turn into an unproductive group. If you study alone, go on a campus adventure and find your best spot: check out your university library if lockdown allows!


As for day scholars (those of us studying from home) make your working space pleasant enough for your comfort, both mental and physical.

Similarly, take notice of what study material suits you the best. Do videos help you better, in-person lectures, or reading from the textbook? Personally, I prefer learning through Osmosis video lectures, notes, and flashcards. Osmosis uses proven learning strategies that effectively enhance the way we memorize and retain new information, using techniques like spaced repetition, active recall, and the testing effect!

Embrace your breakdowns

Take it from me: it’s okay to feel overwhelmed the entire first year of medical school. You will have those uninvited breakdown sessions when you feel drained, homesick, or inadequate in your academic or social life (or for any other reason). 

Take a step back, close your eyes, and cry your heart out if you need to: just don't be too harsh on yourself. We are only human! It's totally fine to skip a few days and not study at all. But don't ever forget to get back up once you fall.

Tips for social life

Be open to new people; welcome new friendships. You can be introverted and still have a good social life and good communication skills. Yes, it is possible. Talk to people around you, participate in class. Face your fears. 

Most importantly, be interactive with your seniors, regardless of whether you live on campus or not. Choose very wisely from whom to take your guidelines. Here, I recommend following seniors who are average students. 

Bookworms and brilliant ones cause you to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others, while  really relaxed students can lead you astray. Not everyone has the same proficiency and stress-taking ability.

Know that it's okay to say "No" to extracurricular activities that don't benefit you. You don't have to be part of every single school club or event. That said, participating in events certainly doesn't hurt. It can be rather refreshing to take part in functions, trips, and sports weeks. Just ensure there's a balance. No activity should compromise your studies because, in the end, no one will able to save you if your attendance suffers or you failed your exams.

Acceptance of failures

It's okay if you are not performing at the same high level as you did in previous academic years. Graduate studies aren't the same at all. You might even fail some tests and still have the best of the preparations at the end of the year for your professional board exams. Another thing in this regard is to ignore your classmates when it comes to grades. 

Focus on your own progress, and never compare yourself to others. Compare your performances with previous  ones and see how much you have improved and whether you are working on improving, or just busy focusing on how others are doing. A few marks up or down won't decide how capable you or someone else is as a doctor. Work on personal development and believe in trial and error. 

Take away tips

Study smart. You cannot possibly study and retain everything. Instead, through your own experience, tests, and some initial guidelines through your seniors, you'll learn which topics require more attention and which ones won't make much of a difference if left untouched. Keep a keen eye on topics and questions that carry more weight on the exams or are stressed upon more by your teachers during lecture.

Lastly, you might enter Medical School with a pre-planned map in your head only to realize that things don't work out that way. It is not essential or advised to chalk out every step for yourself before time. It is, in fact, healthy for optimum performance to be impulsive and go with the flow.

That's it for my tips—I hope they were helpful, and that you have a great first year of medical school! Cheerio!

About Ather

Ather is from Rawalpindi, Pakistan. He is a final year medical student at Rawalpindi Medical University. He wants to become a Laparoscopic Surgeon, and in his free time, he likes to spend time with family and friends, loves to do social work for the community, and explores nature by visiting tourist areas. 

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