As a student in high school, the end of each exam period was marked by an event fondly referred to by many as a ‘brain dump’. The cathartic experience of being able to let go of all you have crammed into your head over the past 10-12 weeks is something that medical students can only dream of. From day 1 of medical school, the content you learn will continue to be relevant through until the day you stop your practice of medicine. For this reason, cramming no longer works, and the key to retention is consistency. Does this mean studying everyday? In many cases, yes. Even something so much as 10-20 minutes of reading, googling a medical condition that interests you, or 10-20 multiple choice questions is enough to improve your retention. In other words, it doesn’t have to be a lot, it just has to be consistent.
Furthermore, it is very important to learn the basics extremely well. When a student understands content in terms of basic frameworks that make logical sense, as opposed to a conglomeration of random facts that bear little meaning, he/she retains this information far better, and most importantly, can apply it in a variety of settings. As such, ask questions when something doesn’t quite make sense, and read widely if something is particularly complex.
While lectures are delivered in medical school, this is not the only way to learn content. Many students fall into the trap of thinking that everything they need to know about a topic is conveniently compressed into the two hour slot in your timetable that a single lecturer is talking at you. There are hundreds of medical schools, thousands of specialist lecturers, and hundreds of thousands of brilliantly summarised and extensive learning resources for medical students around the world online, and in this day and age of the internet, these are all at your fingertips. Use as many resources as you can when learning a topic for the first time, because each one will provide you with a different aspect of said topic.
The sheer body of research on even the most specific and nuanced of topics in clinical medicine is massive, and it is therefore hard to cover everything you need to cover by yourself. For this reason, studying in groups in medical school is of profound benefit, and makes the division of topics to be studied, easier to deal with. Assigning group members different constituents of the week’s learning outcomes not only allows you to have a more in-depth focus on specific topics, but it also allows you to teach other members of the group what you have learned, and in turn learn from them when you reconvene to combine your studying efforts together.
To wrap up, it is important to remember to be kind to yourself. The kind of self-discipline, grit and resilience that becomes central to the existence of a medical student, aptly explains why getting into medical school is so difficult in the first place. You will not be a gun at studying straight away, because good habits take time. Therefore, you should in fact expect and allow yourself to make mistakes along the way, because as a doctor you are going to be a lifelong learner anyway.