How to Be a Better Medical Student

Osmosis Team
Published on Oct 11, 2021. Updated on Feb 24, 2023.

Are you looking for ways to be a better medical student and tackle the new semester full steam ahead? Here are some tips that I’ve found very useful!

I remember how challenging my first year of medical school was, and how much I wished I had someone to offer tips or guidance on how to go about dealing with this new chapter of my life. The first couple of months were very daunting, but I eventually found my groove and a plan on how to drink as much water as possible from the metaphorical fire hose.

Tip #1: Learn how to learn

It can be quite demotivating when you put in a lot of hard work but don’t yield the results you were expecting. I lived this terrifying reality for the first couple of months of med school until I realized the key is to study smart and not hard. I discovered the gem that is “active learning” and it completely changed my entire method on how to tackle the first year. There are quite a few different ways to implement active learning, but I will share my top three favorite methods today!

Use USMLE-style practice questions

One way to work smarter is to use practice questions! I can’t emphasize enough how underrated practice questions are in the first year. At first, I used a lot of textbooks with practice questions, then I went on to find better resources like USMLE RX and the Osmosis question bank. I didn’t use these questions to test how much I know; it was quite the opposite. Depending on what I got wrong I would make a list and go over those topics, whether it was by videos or reading a textbook. Also practicing questions gives you a better idea of what to expect when a particular case is present.

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Make use of medical mnemonics

Secondly, make mnemonics your best friend! Mnemonics are a great way to help remember the order of something, a particular drug name, or a pathology. One of my favorite mnemonics is MUDPILES, which stands for the different causes of metabolic acidosis. The great thing about mnemonics is you can make them suit your personality whether you want to go funny, dirty, or simple it’s really up to you! It doesn’t even have to make sense to someone else, once you understand it and it helps you remember that’s the key. A great resource with tons of mnemonics is the USMLE First Aid.

Find a study buddy

Lastly, get a study partner. You don’t have to do all of your studying with this person. The most effective way would be for both of you to read a particular topic and then meet to discuss or quiz each other on what you’ve learned. It’s interesting to gain things from another perspective and your study partner will often pick up something you missed and vice versa. Being able to explain a topic to your partner is the best way to ensure your own understanding.

Tip #2: Stay focused while studying

This is something I struggled with and still struggle with sometimes, With the age of social media, Netflix and so many other things to do out there, it can be quite difficult to stay focused when you’re trying to get work done. This is especially true during quarantine or simply experiencing those days when you’re trying to push through and not exactly in “the mood” to be as productive. Here are two of my favorite things to do to stay focused on my work:

Pursue mind/body balance

If your mind isn’t where it needs to be your body would most likely not cooperate. I’m currently studying for my NBME exam, to set the mood for the day and bring my mind to a calm place I meditate in the morning, it is super relaxing, while this isn’t for everyone you can substitute it with something that helps you with mind body balance, whether that’s going for a morning jog or doing simple stretches and breathing exercises.

A man meditating

Use the Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. The technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals. I would usually turn off my phone Wi-Fi, set my timer to 1 hour or 30 minutes, work straight through without any distraction and then take a 10 minute break when the time is up. When you use this technique you’re more likely to accomplish your tasks without getting burned out.

Tip #3: Put yourself out there

I know med school is challenging enough already, but at the end of it all, believe it or not, your degree alone isn’t going to be good enough. You’ll be competing with thousands of other students that have an MD or DO degree just like you—so how do you plan to stand out?

Your first two years of med school are the perfect time to start networking and getting involved in extra activities to help build up that resume. I’m not saying to go and do everything out there just for the sake of a resume. Instead, get involved in things that you are actually passionate about and enjoy doing. Get involved with research at your school, volunteer at the hospital on weekends when you’re free, join or create an on-campus organization, or join the student council. Whatever you find meaningful will help you build yourself and your resume!

About Michael

Michael Beaton is a third-year medical student at Texila American University who is interested in specializing in Emergency medicine. Fun fact: when he was seven he asked his mom to sew him a lab coat and he pretended to be a doctor, going around knocking on his family members’ knees with a plastic patella hammer.


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