“Oh crud, are we supposed to know that now? How do people already know the pathology of IBD when I barely learned how a food bolus moves? Are we supposed to be studying that far in Pathoma? That’s pulmonary stuff, they must already be reviewing for STEP and it is only December… I just made my study schedule, so that’s great, I’m already behind. That guy turned the page in less than a minute I’m pretty sure, he must have a photographic memory.”
Breathe. It’s all going to be okay.
Whether it’s glancing around in the library to see what other classmates are working on, gauging my knowledge against my classmates in PBL (problem-based learning, kind of like House and his team working to figure out a diagnosis), or talking to peers the week of a test, I always feel like I’m sprinting to try to catch up with everyone else. The crazy thing is, MOST people feel this way and many are willing to admit it! I have talked to so many different medical students- the same year, different years, even different schools, and everyone I have talked to has felt behind at one point or another. It’s a comforting feeling to know that you are not the only person in the room who has never heard of a term or hasn’t started studying next week’s material. Everyone studies different resources, has different learning styles, and in general studies things in the order that makes the most sense to them. For me, this means typically being a day late and a dollar short the first week of PBL, because I’m trying to get a firm grasp on physiology before I begin to cover pathology, then figuring out pathology before I even think about trying pharmacology. Whenever I stress out about feeling behind, it helps to remember all that I have learned and how far I’ve come, because it makes the road ahead look more manageable. I know it’ll all work out, and I just have to keep trekking one day at a time.
I have to remind myself that there will always be people more “-er” than me. There are always going to be people that are faster memorizers, better test takers, more efficient studiers, etc. There will always be people who are way ahead on material and know everything days before anyone else has ever heard of the topics (I prefer not to use the term gunner, it seems harsh). There will always be people that procrastinate longer than the average person; I know a few people who adopted a two-week “relaxing” study period followed by a two-week intense study period before each exam. The beauty of medical school is that there are diverse resources and a range of studying styles. With all the variety, you’re bound to find someone (or someones) similar to you.
The biggest lesson I learned during my first two years is to not be intimidated by what other people are studying. On the one hand, if everyone else knows something in PBL from resources they’ve studied and I’m totally clueless, I need to take the time to assess the gap in my studying and ensure I’m not missing crucial information. On the other hand, not everyone is studying for STEP in December and memorizing every letter of First Aid, even if it seems like they are. There is intense pressure during medical school, and I’ve done the hardest studying ever (and I am not even in the full swing of STEP studying yet). It’s okay to talk to classmates about how/what they’re studying, but make sure to try to ask classmates who have similar study habits to you so you don’t begin to freak out. It’s also okay to not take people’s advice if you know that it won’t work for you. Not everyone is going to learn the same things the same way and that’s perfectly okay- we’re all going to be doctors in the end!
Although I get stressed on a regular basis about the things I don’t know or that I have already forgotten, I have to constantly remind myself to think about all the things that I have learned and really remembered in medical school and try to figure out why. I had no idea what Hirschsprung’s Disease was and now I do, most likely because I am interested in pediatrics. It is so much easier to learn and really retain the material when it is something that you are interested in or possibly something that has directly affected you or someone you know. The tricky part is figuring out ways to make all the material this memorable, even when it’s something you may not remotely want to practice. The beauty of medical school is that everyone not only learns differently, but is interested in and remembers things that others may forget -highlighting the importance of having so many different specialties.
Overall, medical school has been a major learning curve, in many ways, but especially when it comes to studying. I have to study way more often and way more intensely than I used to, but it helps to know that many of my classmates are in the same boat, paddling along next to me.