I was already drunk when the dean called me telling me I was accepted to medical school. Then I got more drunk. Then I arrived at school and had no clue what was going on.
Throughout my first year of medical school, I slowly but surely started to understand what was going on, which was pretty great. Went from average to mildly-above-average to top of the class. So, I will share what I learned throughout the way for your reading pleasure. Through trial and error, I learned to maximize my efficiency – I learned how to study smarter, I discovered ways to become a happier person, and my love-hate relationship with med school tilted heavily to the former by the end of M1.
If you’re an incoming medical student, or a second year in search of refining his/her methods, or simply a wonderful human being reading my site because you’re one of the 7 people on earth who can tolerate my musings on music, read below for some advice on becoming a more productive and healthier human being.
Stop Taking Notes… For the Trees, Dude
Throughout my years of schooling, I was instilled with the notion that “studying” meant attending a lecture, taking notes, and reading over your notes. I did this in college. I continued to do this in the beginning of medical school. During our first block of medical school, I would watch the lectures from home on my laptop, taking pretty, color-coded, handwritten notes on all of my lectures. Now, medical school lectures can be incredibly dense, fitting material that would take days to weeks to cover in undergrad into one lecture. As such, I took notes on the slides, wrote down every seemingly important tidbit the professor said. This means I’d watch for 30 seconds. Pause. Spend two minutes writing. And repeat this cycle for the next eight hours.
It took about a week to fill up my first 3-subject notebook. But nevertheless, I was learning. We took our first exams, and I scored slightly above average, which was cool because it was our first block of medical school, but I knew I was underperforming considering my MCAT score is one of the highest in the class.
During the beginning of our second block of medical school, I haphazardly broke my right hand. Couldn’t lift, couldn’t jerk off, and also importantly – I couldn’t write. So, I’d watch the day’s lectures, finishing them in a fraction of the time. Since I was done so early, I’d watch them again on double speed, deepening my understanding of the material and picking up on details I missed on the first pass.
I finished the block in the top 10% of the class. And at that moment, I had realized what an incredible waste of time it is to write handwritten notes on lectures. By the time you’re done writing for so long you’ve developed carpal tunnel, you don’t even have the energy to go back and review your notes anyways. It was always a fight to try to simply go through the lectures one time before the day ended.
Taking some notes is not a horrible idea, but note taking should be reserved for comparisons, diagrams, pictures, and trying to map out shit like the urea cycle, the branches of the abdominal aorta, or the beloved brachial plexus. Watching lectures over and over again without taking notes on every detail will give you a far better understanding of the material. This was the first, major adjustment I made during my first year of medical school.
Anki Is Love, Anki Is Life
After the second block, my fellow classmates were crying about how difficult the exam was after a quarter of the entire class failed the damn thing, all the while I sat back and kept my mouth shut feeling like hot shit for killing the exam. I had it all figured out. I cruised through the next block, watching the lectures per usual, taking a few weekends off to indulge in some debaucherous drinking benders with friends.
On exam day, about six questions into the test, I came to the unsettling realization that I fucked up big time. The first two blocks were kind of “warm ups”, so to speak. More conceptual, “this is this, this is that” type stuff; less detail heavy, and no gotdamn pharmacology, infections, and immunology. I barely passed.
My arrogance had deceived me. It was not enough to simply watch the lecture a couple times and idiotically assume all of those details on Interleukins, antibiotics, bacteria, and disease presentations would somehow sink into my brain. I conceptually understood everything, but when it came to the details, I might as well have resorted to the traditional “always guess C” method of my junior high years.
I needed this wake-up call to light a fire under my ass. Watching the lectures alone didnt work. I sure as hell wasn’t going back to written notes. I needed a way to learn the details, to quiz myself daily and repeatedly to hammer in all of the information that snuck its way out of brain as soon as the lecture ended. Enter, Anki, the online flashcard software that operates on a timed-interval algorithm. You turn the details of your lectures into notecards. If you get the card wrong, you’ll see it again in a couple minutes. If you get it right, you can choose how well you know it and how soon you need to see it again. For example:
You have four options to manage the flurry of punches coming at you quicker than a combination from Floyd Money Mayweather:
- Develop a photographic memory
- Say fuck it and skate by with passing grades
- review each and every lecture’s notes/powerpoints/videos constantly
- Incorporate the fast-fact daily quizzing of Anki
You’ll still need to watch the lectures to get a big picture overview, but there’s no chance in hell I was going to memorize side effects of drugs, virulence factors of dozens of pathogens, or all the genes involved in something like prostate cancer. Repetition is the key to retention. And Anki makes you repeat cards you don’t know very often, hammering the info into your cramped brain, while only showing you cards you know very well once in a while so that you don’t forget them.
Anki was the instrumental key in my jump from “above average” to top scores. Highly recommended.
Do You Even Lift, Bro?
Coming into medical school, I was at tip top shape, benching respectable amounts and deadlifting well over twice my body weight, with a six pack to boot. Lifting and maintaining a good physique was a principle core of my personal life. When medical school hit, the workouts became few and far between. As I stated previously, during the early fall, I broke my hand, which ironically happened to coincide with learning about fractures that same week.
I didn’t lift for two months. I saw my body deflate and my muscles wither away like an old bouquet of roses. As any long-time lifter can tell you, atrophy is depressing. I was more irritable, in bad moods constantly, and lost a decent amount of bodily confidence. After two months when the good doctor told me I could resume working out, I went back into the gym and felt the crushing defeat of struggling to lift the same amount of weights that I used to warm up with. Consequently, I felt overwhelmed and managed maybe 3 days in the gym per month during the winter.
I was too busy with school. Didn’t have time. The campus gym is too crowded. I’m making no progress. Every workout sucks.
One day in March, I looked at myself in mirror and didn’t like what I saw. I flipped through old pictures of myself shirtless and nostalgically yearned for that feeling again – to explode up through a deadlift with 400+ pounds in my hands, to take my shirt off and feel shredded, and to rekindle my long-lost love of the iron.
Since that time, I have been consistently going to the gym five days per week, and while I might not quite have orthopod numbers yet, my lifts are rapidly getting closer and closer to what they once were. My physique is a good as it’s been since last summer, and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been during my time in medical school. I urge everyone, whether its lifting, running, yoga, or parkour if thats your jam, set aside time in the week to get some physical activity in.
I Am Not Your Night Owl
I have never ever been mistaken as a “morning person”, who were, according to my former self, some alternate species of freakish human beings born with an innate proclivity to waking early. I was a night guy. I can stay out all night drinking until the sun comes up. I could bartend until 4 am without batting an eye. But don’t you dare ask me to be somewhere at 6:45 a.m., let alone be alert and productive at that sacred hour of slumber.
I eventually grew up. Four years of being late to high school. Four years of scheduling classes to start at 11 a.m. in college. Then finally, one day it all clicked, more or less. I had to study many hours every day to stay on top of my schoolwork and excel. My mental sharpness started to tank around 6 p.m. every day. Sleeping in meant that my window of peak mental ability during my day was narrow. And again, I refused to go to the gym at normal hours because I hate crowds. So, I was left with one option – quit being a little bitch and wake up early.
The first day, I woke up at 6:30 in the morning, miserably rolled out of bed, went to the gym, worked out, and was home, showered, and ready to begin my day at 8 a.m. When you work out early in the morning, you can’t make the typical excuses that arise when you schedule work outs later in the day. I wasn’t skipping workouts. I was studying from the get-go at 8 a.m. instead of starting at 11 and tanking as the afternoon went on. My ability to retain information skyrocketed, I had more time to review material, and I performed better than I had all year on my exams. This is no coincidence.
I had to overcome the juvenile mindset that I was a night owl, and not a morning person. That idea is complete bullshit and merely an excuse for being undisciplined. I once rationalized that my grades could suffer for my workouts, or my workouts could suffer for my grades. Until I realized that neither had to suffer as long as I could click X on my Safari browser and slam my Macbook shut at a reasonable time every night.
Waking up early was probably the single best change I made during my first year of medical school. Because I started waking up early and starting my day right, my grades improved, my body started recovering some of its former glory, and above all, I had much more energy and mental clarity during my days.
#MealPrepSunday #FitFam #Health #ShootMePls
Ah, yes, we’ve arrived at the fifth and final change I made during my first year of medical school – Meal preppin’, brah. Thats right – get your tupperware, get your meat scales, and get your mothergrabbin’ iPhone 7’s ready to take a picture of your meals for your new #fitstagram page!!!
I used to roll my eyes every time I saw one of those annoying fitness pages on Instagram from someone who’d upload a post-gym mirror picture of their “fitness journey” with some long, cheesy caption, or a picture of 16 tupperware containers containing healthy, well-portioned food (that somehow looks very aesthetically pleasing) with a breakdown of the MACROS.
I mean, I still actually do roll my eyes. Somedays I have this fantasy of starting a fitness page, but with a slight twist – like I’d post a picture of a capsule of Vyvanse and a pack of Camels and write a long inspiration caption about weight loss. I just don’t have the stones to do it. Anyways, meal planning. Yeah. Great idea. As a med student, you’ll often realize that cooking (and the subsequent cleaning) can be an enormous time sink when you need to be productive. And it’s true. As a result, you find yourself on a first name basis with the Chipotle workers and Jimmy Johns starts preparing your usual order as soon as they see your number pop up on the phone. Eating out once in a while is not a problem at all, but I was amazed at how much money I’d waste on food per week, and I was disgusted that I’d been eating such a high-sodium, unbalanced diet. So, I started meal prepping. It’s simple. Just make a shit ton of chicken, rice and broccoli, and divvy it up into some tupperware containers. Pop em in the fridge and take em out when youre hungry. Saves you time, saves you money, you eat healthy, you feel better, you study better, and your mom is proud when you tell her on the phone.
It All Comes Down to Two Major Principles of Success:
1. Efficiency. Major Key.
Stop taking notes like a fucking medieval monk.
Take advantage of the the biggest redeeming quality of being a millennial – technology. Yes, you can use it for more than stalking your crushes and giving yourself a fake tan for your next Instagram picture.
2. Curls 4 Girls
I wouldn’t be at all upset if residencies instituted a rule stating that they will not accept a male resident that cannot bench more than his Step 1 score. All jokes aside, if I’ve learned anything in doctor school, its that how you treat your body reflects in your cognitive abilities. Quit making excuses. Hit the gym. Eat right. Watch your grades, your energy, your confidence, and over all happiness skyrocket.