Turning up the Volume in Medical School

The detail knowledge required of a medical student is vast, much more so than in your undergraduate studies. What you were required to know for a semester, you now need to know in one week. In addition, you are now expected to know higher level principles and concepts and apply those concepts to research or clinical situations. You must also be able to work backwards and forwards – not just linearly – when you learn a cycle or process.

As an undergraduate you might have been able to get away with procrastinating until a week before midterms or finals – not in medical school. Memory work should now be a daily exercise. Set aside at least 15 to 30 minutes a day memorizing material or creating a tool for memorizing material. Sometimes students have a problem with this and tell me that they hate the idea of memorizing. I too would rather understand material than memorize it. If this is possible, by all mean learning far outweighs memorization. However, many things in medical education first need to be memorized. Later, understanding may be easier once the memorization and repetition has occurred. Embrace it and know it is for your patients – you’ll eventually KNOW it.

The pace at which you will work will also be accelerated. You’ll be expected to learn more information and spend more time in class. The only way to stay sane and be successful in medical school is to stay organized and consider school your job. You may have never worked so you might not know how to measure out your days in eight-hour blocks. This is now your job and you must treat it like one – there is no room for skipping classes and cramming later like you may have done in undergraduate school. In a job you work all day and when 5 p.m. comes around, you decide: did I get my work done today? If not, you work late. At the end of the week, you ask yourself: is my work complete? If not, you work on the weekend.

Most times you will have significant time for self-directed learning - or “studying” - and you shouldn’t have a problem if you treat this as your job. You are accountable for your time. If you gave medical students an assessment measuring the “Big 5” personality factors, “conscientiousness” would rate as one of the predictors of success in the program, much as it has been shown to be one of the major factors of success in the workplace. The conscientious student will more apt to keep up with their assignments. The more impulsive student will be more easily distracted by other things that they let tempt them into taking on importance. However, you can consciously become more conscientious (that is a mouthful) and reach your goal of getting the best grades you can.

One of the things that prevents students from getting their work done is anxiety about preparation (which we will blog more about soon). Students look at the vast amount of material or the density of the material and feel so overwhelmed that they postpone studying by playing, worrying, sleeping or obsessively cleaning or exercising.

Some ways to stay on top of the massive amount of required readings:

  • Get last year’s scribes and this year’s scribes
  • Figure out if you can do all the assigned readings – you may have to select one source or split them among members of your study group
  • Sign up for tutoring or get a big sib from a year ahead of you to walk you through the year

Most importantly, don’t get behind or you’ll be overwhelmed and will have more difficulty retaining the material when you do get around to reading it.


  1. Medical Student Misperceptions | Doctors In Training -

    [...] have already talked about the increased volume of material and density of material in medical school. What you might not have been expecting is the level at which you need to know it to take the [...]

Leave a Reply