Advice Doctors Wish They Had Gotten During Med School

Ryan Syrek, MA


December 06, 2019

The clarity of hindsight about medical school allows senior physicians to reflect on their training and think, "If only I had known then what I know now." We asked Medscape's medical student advisory board to provide the next generation of physicians with the advice they wish they had been given back then.

Sarah Averill, MD: When I think back on medical school, I have to wonder: "Why did you have to take it all so seriously, Dr Averill?" I still ask myself that when I'm confronted with my tendencies to think, plan, and sometimes exhaust those around me. I ask the opposite, too: "Why didn't you take it more seriously?"

It remains very tempting to think there is a secret to the perfect physician life that we've overlooked. Despite wishing I had studied even more, done more research, gone to more conferences, or networked more devotedly, I know my then self was ready to gag and needed to take some walks, get some sleep, and go to a movie.

You may someday wish you had worked harder or differently, but when you face those feelings of regret, outright mistakes, or failure, those are your opportunities, your life lessons, and your chances to honestly assess your progress and make changes where you can and grow in new directions. Your physician life will unfold before you and become richer each month, each year, each decade. If you reflect and respond to your unique experiences along the way, you will become the physician that only you can become. It's your ride: You hold all the secrets and all the keys you need to make it through.

Sarah Averill is a visiting associate professor of Radiology at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and staff radiologist at the Iowa City VA Health Care system. A writer of creative nonfiction, her essays can be found in various health humanities journals including the Healing Muse and Stone Canoe.

Kendra L. Campbell, MD: When you look around at your fellow classmates, you may suddenly realize that you are no longer the top dog. Instead, you are now surrounded by people who were likely also at the top of their classes. Most medical students tend to be very high achievers and are also constantly comparing themselves with their classmates. Everyone is in a race to be at the top. The consequences of all this competition and the other stressors of medical school have been well documented and are related to the high prevalence of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse seen among medical students.

One intervention that can be quite helpful is using mindfulness techniques. Mindfulness is defined as a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. I think it's incredibly helpful to try to mindfully turn one's attention and focus away from a competitive stance, and instead focus nonjudgmentally on oneself in the present moment.

At the same time, it's also helpful to remember that if you are struggling during medical school, you are far from alone. The non-advertised secret is that pretty much everyone around you is going through the exact same stress and is likely also comparing themselves with you and everyone else. Instead of judging and comparing yourself against other students, it can be immensely helpful to take a nonjudgmental, accepting, and compassionate stance toward yourself and everyone around you. This little med school secret may, in fact, be just what the doctor ordered.

Dr Campbell lives with her family in rural Virginia and practices integrative and functional psychiatry. She believes in using holistic, mind-body interventions that focus on treating the whole person. In addition to being a psychiatrist, she is a mother, a blogger/writer, an entrepreneur, a free spirit, and an avid run-dancer.

Shiv Gaglani, MBA : Medical and other health professional students should strongly consider the best ways to interact with their faculty. When you ask residents how they chose their program, a common answer is that they met an advisor or mentor whose shoes they could see themselves in. That advisor-searching can begin on day 1 of medical school. Some strategies for connecting with faculty members include the following:

  • Look up their research or other publications via PubMed or their faculty profiles and reading at least the abstract, if not the whole article . This helps set you apart because, when you email them or go up to them after lecture, you can ask them specifically about their work.

  • Do a summer or part-time project with them, ranging from a research study or case report to a less formal shadowing experience.

  • Introduce them to something interesting that could be relevant to their teaching, clinical, or research career . One reason they're teaching at your institution is that they generally like to connect with motivated and smart students like you.

  • Express appreciation to them both verbally and through cards. At Osmosis, we have a whole section on faculty appreciation now.

Shiv Gaglani is the co-founder and CEO of, a health education platform that educates millions of clinicians and caregivers. He's an avid writer who has authored two educational books and contributed to Forbes, Quartz, and the Annals of Internal Medicine.


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