Of all the skills and knowledge people say you need to be successful in medical school, I believe the most important is time management. Now that I’m done with my first semester of medical school, I wanted to take a look back at my experiences and share my tips for managing time effectively.
In the months leading up to matriculating into medical school, you may be told to not start studying for whatever classes you will begin with. Honestly, that’s up to you. I firmly believe that one thing you should do, is practice getting into a consistent and healthy, sleep/wake/exercise schedule that you believe will be conducive to your future study schedule. If you don’t know how to cook, try to learn; if you do cook, spend free time leading up to school to learn how to prepare healthy meals. You don’t want to spend travel time or money finding fast food or restaurant food to eat on a daily basis. All of this may be easy to do if you will be working full-time prior to beginning school. You will be in professional school, so make sure to get serious and treat it like a full-time job. That way, you can find time to relax in the evenings and on weekends.
When it comes to scheduling yourself, the most important thing is to commit yourself to going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on the weekends. According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults aged 18-64 need 7-9 hours of sleep a night. I’d also recommend that you stop consuming caffeine 6 hours before you intend to go to bed at night. Sleep is absolutely crucial to help you process what you’ve learned in the day, and to stay focused throughout the day.
For maintaining your schedule, the most important thing is that you don’t go day by day. Keep a general surveillance of what’s going on for the next week or two in school and in your life. If your school doesn’t already, request to have course calendars synced to web, PC, and Mac calendars so you can comprehend your schedule quickly. A lot of my classmates find this preferable to writing in everything in a paper schedule planner. The second most important thing is to prioritize your responsibilities and learn to say no! Pay attention to what you can handle, and don’t take on new projects in school if it will get in the way of doing well in your classes. The third thing to keep in mind when maintaining your schedule is to give yourself time for interruptions! Interruptions tend to come at the worst time, but it’s important to learn how to roll with them. Finally, use weekends to their full extent. Schedule tasks for maintaining your home or apartment on weekends so you can study in between them while at home. Also, I recommend seriously considering preparing meals for the whole week on the weekends. And lastly, find a group of people to make you commit to working out 5-6 days a week while in school.
As a medical student, you’re very likely going to be committing most of your time to studying 🙂 It’s important to use the time you’ve set aside for that efficiently! Daily review of material, no matter the course you’re in, is key. It’s a great idea to study out loud with a small group of classmates that meets consistently to review what was discussed in the day’s lectures. Also, commit yourself to doing so many Anki or Firecracker questions a day, when you’re on the run.
A study technique that was highly recommended to me in medical school is the Pomodoro Technique. The gist of it is to set a timer and study for 25 minute at a time with zero distractions, then give yourself a five-minute break before the next session. After every four sessions, you can take longer breaks. Here’s a nifty diagram explaining it!
Before entering school, find ways to not get distracted by technology. There are smartphone apps out there that can gain you free food at local restaurants just for not using your phone while on campus! Set your phone to ‘do not disturb except from contacts’ so you can avoid telemarketers disturbing your studies!
Here are some random tidbits that I recommend keeping in mind if you are a new medical student:
Take care of all of your mandatory vaccinations and titers WELL before matriculating. You don’t want to have to deal with it during classes.
Get your flu shot at the beginning of the season! And be vigilant with your hand washing and hygiene techniques. The point is, getting sick during school is something you need to avoid at all costs.
If you’re like me and you find yourself moving to a school in a very dry environment, drink a lot more water than you normally did and sleep with a humidifier. Otherwise, you will deal with feeling exhausted more often.
I hope my advice is useful for a lot of you readers who are pre-med or matriculating soon. If you’re a medical student and have advice of your own, feel free to leave it in the comments below!
AMSA Wellness & Student Life Committee, Advocacy Coordinator
Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, M.D. Candidate