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7 Tips to Set Yourself Up for Success in Med School

MST Tutors Nick Lunig and Lauryn Falcone contributed to this article. 

The first day of school is always a little nerve-wracking, but the first day of med school is on a whole new level. Most students will work harder than they ever have in their lives thus far and the beginning of medical school represents a huge change of pace for many. The following tips will help you get through  those first few months of med school when everything is new and overwhelming.

7 Tips to Help You Succeed in Med School

1. Find a way to stay organized.

One of the unique things about medical school is the variability of your daily schedule. In college, your classes were likely at the same time on the same days for an entire semester.

This is absolutely NOT the case in medical school. Some days classes start at noon and others end at noon. You will have days completely filled with lectures and days where you have a single small group.

Get a planner, use iCal or Google Calendar, or simply write your schedule on an old fashioned calendar — just find some way to ensure that you keep up with your hectic school schedule while budgeting for study time in between.

2. Be prepared.

The easiest way to get overwhelmed in medical school is lack of preparation. From the very beginning, develop a system to stay organized. Are you going to type all your notes during lectures (hint this is usually best!)? Consider creating folders on your desktop for each subject, and don’t forget to back up all your files. Keep an electronic calendar with all your important dates including exams, meetings, or deadlines. Keep a “to-do” list of tasks for each day. Have a systematic approach for studying so that you get through all material thoroughly, multiple times, before test day.

3. Take breaks and don’t stop taking take time for yourself.  

It is not hard to get burned out in medical school. One of the best ways to combat this burnout is to take regular and frequent breaks. During my medical school orientation, we had a “summer camp day” where all students participated in various sports, cooking, or arts and craft activities. The point of the day was to allow medical students to explore non-medical hobbies.

It is crucial for all students to have a life outside of medical school. Consider what you love to do and don’t give that up just because you’re in medical school. Carve out a small amount of time each week to pursue your non-medical interests. Similarly, consider planning fun trips during the holiday breaks to have something to look forward to after many long weeks of studying.

If you jogged or lifted weights before medical school, keep doing those things! If you like going out to dinner or the movies DO IT! I promise you that the 3 hours a movie takes will not change your performance in medical school but maintaining your sanity will.

4. Seek the help of classmates in the years above you.

In medical school, everyone takes the exact same classes and they ultimately do not change much year to year. That means the MS2’s know pretty much exactly what you are going through. Seek them out and ask for advice on how to handle particular classes or exams.  They likely did the exact same thing the year before, so you’ll find that they will be happy to help.

5. Find your own rhythm.  

With the above advice in mind, just because someone in the year above you studied with just flashcards and got high honors on an exam, does not mean that you can do the same thing and expect the same success (especially if you have never made a flashcard in your life). Medical school is not the time to reinvent the wheel. If you got into medical school you are a great student. Whatever you have done to succeed in your past classes will lead you to success in medical school.    

6. Develop good study habits.

Most people beginning medical school know how to study and perform well on tests. However, studying as an undergraduate and studying as a medical student can be very different.

This is due to the significantly larger and more difficult volume of material received as a medical student. For this reason, techniques that worked in undergraduate may not prove successful in medical school.

As an example, you may have been able to take most of the weekend off from studying as an undergraduate or only start studying a few days prior to a test and still ace it! In medical school, this will not happen.

You must study many hours per day, every day, starting from day one. Additionally, students must learn to be extremely efficient with their time. All time you devote to studying must be spent actively learning material.

This means no jumping onto social medial every ten or fifteen minutes and often seeking out a quiet, individual place to study. As you are studying PowerPoint slides or reading notes, repeat information back to yourself in your head every few minutes.

Be sure you are actually retaining and understanding material as you go along. You should never realize you zoned out for a few pages and have no actual recollection of the material you just read. Time is truly of the essence in medical school. Good study habits equal good time management.

7. Find a mentor.

Early on in medical school, reach out to those around you for support. Some medical schools have a peer mentorship program where you are paired with an upperclassmen who can guide you through your medical school transition. But don’t be afraid to talk to other students around you and ahead of you for guidance.

Upperclassmen know exactly what you are going through and can help you navigate the tough times. They can offer valuable advice on what resources to use, how to get ready for boards, or what to expect during your first practice patient encounter.

Similarly, professors and attendings can offer great mentorship. Reach out to a professor you feel comfortable around to set up a meeting or contact an attending physician in a field of your interest. Establishing mentors early on in our career is an excellent way to set yourself up for success in the years to come.


If you follow these above tips, you’ll rock the first couple months of medical school and beyond. Better yet, you will keep the number of dreams where you show up to school with no pants on to a bare (get it?) minimum.


Looking for more first year of med school tips? We have you covered:

How Important Are My Grades in Med School?

Survival Tips for Your First Year of Med School

Help! I’m Drowning in My First Year of Medical School!