Sunday, September 06, 2009

A Beginner's Guide To Medical School

Welcome Class of 2013! By now most of you are a few weeks into the medical school experience. Hopefully you have had time to settle into your new surroundings, make some new friends, and perhaps learn a thing or two.

You may have also noticed that medical school requires a different approach to studying. The way I look at it, to get into medical school, you had to be broadly talented, doing well in many subjects and perhaps especially well in one or two. The emphasis was more on being able to apply knowledge and problem solve (remember all those orgo and physics problem sets? Yea... ) However, the emphasis shifts drastically in medical school: it is simply an issue of rote memorization now. A person with photographic memory but no prior science background would likely be at the top of any medical school class, at least during the pre-clinical years. Another way to look at it is the information you are now expected to know is an oceanwide but only an inch deep.

How does one manage to internalize all this information in the short span of two years? I think the main thing (which I wish I had picked up on earlier) is learning from a clinical perspective and utilizing the advice of those that have gone before you heavily. Unlike prior educational experiences, there is much to be gained in medical school from talking to upperclassmen about specific courses and what is truly important down the road. For example, our infectious disease class spent a lot of time categorizing different viruses into single stranded or double stranded, positive or negative, and other features. However, these barely showed up on the test. And, from a clinical perspective this makes sense: the molecular features of the agents is only relevant to the virologists; the clinician could care less.

Thinking clinically is one of the keys to doing well in the pre-clinical years, especially if your test is being written by a clinician. The next few posts will serve to help first year medical students with various first year queries, such as which books are most helpful to first years, regardless of your med school or coursework. Good luck!

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