The 5 Worst Mistakes You Can Make During Med School

Alexa M. Mieses, MD, MPH


October 31, 2017

Everyone seems to have advice for what to do in order to succeed during your medical education, but sometimes it helps to hear what not to do. Here are the five things all medical students should avoid at all costs.

1. Do Not Fall Behind

You've definitely heard that "medical school is like drinking water from a firehose." This is most dramatically felt if you fall behind. The "firehose" adage is recited again and again to explain the sheer volume of material you must learn. Although the amount of material will never change, and will probably only increase with every new scientific discovery and technological development, your approach to and perception of the material can change.

Ideally, you used your years in high school and college to figure out how you best learn. Everyone learns differently and uses different methods to understand and retain information. Don't worry if you haven't figured it out yet. Determine your learning style early on, and stick with it. For some people, the first year of medical school forces them to alter their learning style in order to just keep up with the material. For others, the first year of medical school is spent simply "figuring it out."

For example, if you're someone who enjoys studying with handwritten flashcards, you probably can't do this in medical school. Well, you can, but you run the risk for carpal tunnel syndrome, wasting precious time creating flashcards, and—you guessed it—falling behind. Instead, use electronic flashcards; many programs have premade decks that include the information that you need. Or perhaps a classmate has already created a deck and is willing to share?

In addition to figuring out how you learn, you must also accept the fact that you will not know (or remember) everything. It is simply impossible. In real life, doctors are able to double-check medication dosing, quickly scan the literature, and review clinical guidelines before seeing a patient or committing to a treatment plan.

The important thing in medical school is to learn the highest-yield facts and principles and accept that you simply cannot know it all. It is more important to have good critical thinking and analytical skills than to be a walking encyclopedia. So focus on memorizing high-yield information. Stay on top of your work throughout each year, and do not fall behind. This will also make it easier to study for high-stakes exams. You absolutely cannot cram for USMLE Step 1!

Everyone wants to do well and get good grades—even in the first year of med school. But the most important thing is solidifying your study habits so that you can hit the ground running during the next 3 years, and focusing on high-yield information to make the most of your time. Consider visiting your school's administration to learn about what sort of learning resources are available to you.

2. Do Not Study Alone

But how do you know what is high-yield? This is a very common question. In the deep sea of information, what is important? To find the answer, don't study alone.

Many people dread the idea of studying with others. And some cannot focus for a long period and wind up socializing instead of studying. It doesn't matter. In medical school, you should spend some time (even if it is just a fraction) studying with other students.

Studying with peers often brings up new questions that you may not have thought of before. By addressing the group's question, everyone has a chance to gain a deeper understanding of the material. Also, studying with peers may help you as an individual think of new ways to remember information. The brain better recalls information tied to experience. Your friends might be able to share some funny (and often vulgar) mnemonics to help you remember things. Study as an individual, but after you've wrestled with a lot of the material on your own, spend some time working it out with others.


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