Most individuals considering a career in medicine are well aware of the dedication, focus, and commitment to academics that is necessary not only to gain admission to medical school but also to function as a competent physician.
Here are the top six habits to form in undergrad in preparation for success in medical school.
1. Develop strong study habits.
Developing strong, efficient study habits early on is crucial to succeeding in medical school and beyond. Most students find that the intensity of coursework in medical school is substantially greater than in the undergraduate years, often equated to “drinking out of a firehose.” For this reason, it is paramount to develop strong study skills as an undergraduate and to do one’s best to master the undergraduate courses. Having a strong premedical academic background will set one up for success in medical school. The undergraduate years are the ideal time to develop study skills and methods that work best for you. Some people find studying alone in a library cubicle to be most effective, others enjoy sitting outdoors or listening to music, whereas some individuals prefer working with a study group; the bottom line is to try and find a method that is successful for you. Having the skills to study efficiently is essential for success in medicine.
2. Gain standardized test taking experience.
For many students, the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) is a dreaded hurdle necessary to gain admission to medical school. While studying for this exam can be grueling, it does serve a valuable purpose. While one will not necessarily utilize the Krebs cycle or solve physics cases regularly as a physician, the idea of studying intensely for a larger, standardized exam is quite beneficial. There are several standardized national board exams, known as the USMLE Step exams, that students must take and pass in order to graduate medical school and become a licensed physician. Passing and scoring well on the USMLE Step exams are also an important component of successfully matching into a residency program. Therefore, following a strict study schedule, completing practice exams, familiarizing oneself with long hours studying, and getting used to succeeding on standardized exams such as the MCAT will be highly beneficial for succeeding on future medical licensing exams.
3. Ask questions.
It has been said that no question is a bad question. During the undergraduate years, take control of your education. If you struggle with a particular topic, perform poorly on an exam, or are falling behind, know when to ask for help. Reach out to classmates to form a study group, hire a tutor, meet with a teaching assistant, or ask a professor for extra assistance. There is certainly no fault in asking for help! In fact, the students who are most successful academically are often the ones who go the extra mile and take the initiative to improve their knowledge. In medical school, the academic pace is quite rapid, and it can be easy to fall behind, quickly. Therefore, recognizing when you are struggling, and taking steps to improve, is a crucial skill to foster.
4. Foster collegial relationships.
Medicine is not a profession practiced in isolation. During medical school, residency, and as a practicing physician, one will constantly interact with other physicians and colleagues. Learning to work well as a team and form strong relationships with other students is essential to a career in medicine.
5. Maintain interests outside of school.
The path to becoming a physician can at times be overwhelming and stressful. Having an outlet for stress relief and relaxation is essential. Practicing efficient time management skills during the undergraduate years is very helpful. Balancing study time with outside interests such as work, student organizations or sports involvement, family commitments, and personal relationships is a strong skill to develop prior to beginning medical school.
6. Practice wellness.
Burnout is not uncommon among medical students and physicians. Learning to incorporate physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellness into one’s daily life is vital early on. During the undergraduate years, find ways to practice wellness regularly. Whether you enjoy yoga or meditation, physical exercise such as running, watching a movie, or taking a walk, practicing wellness is important for everyone. When medical school becomes overwhelming, remembering to maintain your overall wellness is essential to minimizing stress, staying healthy, and succeeding academically.
Want more pre-med tips? Get advice for diving into the med school application pool and read our top 5 tips for a smooth transition to medical school.