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How to Make the Transition from Pre-med to Medical Student

Sahil Mehta, founder of MedSchoolCoach, reflects on his medical school experience and shares advice for students beginning medical school.

We asked Sahil Mehta, founder of MedSchoolCoach, what advice he has for students beginning medical school. Below are several of Sahil’s reflections on his own medical school experience, how being in medical school differs from being in undergrad, and how practicing medicine differs from being in medical school.

Your class size will be drastically smaller

We asked Sahil how the atmosphere of medical school differed from undergrad. He told us, “the medical school experience is more similar to high school than college. As a college student you’re in a thousand person class if not more. All of a sudden, in med school you’re in this class of one hundred-fifty people.” With such a small class size, it’s no surprise that medical students get to know each other very well. “It’s a very interesting feeling because clearly there’s some people who are very close to you and other people who you might never want to talk to,” Sahil said. The size of your medical school class will have its pros and cons, but at the end of the day, “you’re all in the same boat. You all have one common goal, which is to learn this enormous amount of material.”

You will be asked to memorize. A lot.

“There really is an endless amount of material that every medical student has to learn in order to eventually take care of your patients.” One of the biggest differences between undergrad and medical school is the emphasis on committing a large volume of material to memory. Sahil told us that this emphasis often comes as a surprise to students with backgrounds in different disciplines. “One of the things I found really challenging was coming from an engineering background. For engineers, memorization is not something we do. I was always trained to think that memorizing things was not good.” Sahil told us that adapting to the kind of learning that medical school requires takes time. “On my first test, I did terribly,” he said. “All throughout college I had aced every test. I realized it takes a different type of study plan to attack your first year of med school.”

All throughout college I had aced every test. I realized it takes a different type of study plan to attack your first year of med school.

You will need to study independently, often with material not covered in class

When it comes to studying, Sahil suggests that medical students shift away from the strategies you may have used while an undergrad. He recalls that tackling the large volume of material required a lot of self-guided studying, outside of class. Furthermore, Sahil says that while self-guided studying is essential to doing well in your classes, it is especially important when it comes to preparing for the boards. “I specifically remember that at my school, the faculty always said, ‘we don’t teach to the boards,’” he said, “that was code for ‘you are all on your own, and good luck.’” In other words, don’t expect your classes alone to prepare you for these important tests.

Studying for your classes and for the boards at the same time can be a lot to juggle. “Luckily, I believe most schools give students a few weeks off before the exams so students have a period for dedicated boards studying.” Sahil emphasized that developing skills for self-guided studying is essential to your success on the boards. “Unfortunately, boards scores make a huge difference. Doing poorly on one test will eliminate your possibility of getting into one of the more competitive specialties, like plastics or orthopedics.” With so much riding on the boards, self-studying is not just an accessory to your medical school education. It’s crucial.

You will have incredible, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities

“You definitely want to use your medical school years to explore everything,” Sahil suggested. “Once you get into residency, you’re never going to see what the other fields of medicine do. It’s very easy to get lazy as a fourth year med student because it’s typically very laid back. But that’s the time when you should go see a colonoscopy. You should go see an endoscopy. You should go see a coronary angiogram. These are all things that you may potentially never get to see again.” Medical students who understand procedures first-hand become doctors who can take better care of their patients. They can feel more confident in the advice they give and make the patient feel comfortable by knowing more about what each procedure entails in practice. “One hundred percent of our population over 50 should be getting colonoscopies,” Sahil explained. “If you are a family medicine doctor and you have never seen this procedure, how are you going to explain to your patients what it will be like?”

As a med student, the hospital is your playground in a lot of ways.

“Once you get into your specialization, you can’t get out in a lot of ways. You don’t have time. You don’t have the resources,” Sahil said, “If you are an internal medicine resident, it is unlikely you will say, ‘I’m going to go see the Whipple that’s being performed in OR today.’ That doesn’t happen. But, as a med student, the hospital is your playground in a lot of ways.”

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