Five Tips for a Smooth Transition to Med School

  • /Reviewed by: Amy Rontal, MD
  • Worried? Anxious? Excited about the transition from undergrad to medical school? Here are the top five tips for a smooth transition:

    Stay on top of the workload.

    Unlike in undergrad, it’s important to study little bits every day. Sure, it’s okay to take a day off now and then (and in fact, this is encouraged!), but don’t fall behind on studying. Unlike in undergrad, if you miss three or four days of studying in medical school, it can be very difficult to catch up and ultimately pass the exams.

    Study for the long haul.

    In undergraduate years, courses usually last only a semester. One might take animal physiology one semester and then analytical chemistry the next, with no strong connections between courses. I often felt as though once I learned a subject really well, I moved onto a completely unrelated course. It was like running a race with a variety of different obstacles; make it over one hurdle, put it behind you, and then focus on an obstacle completely different, with one end goal: getting into medical school. However, in medical school topics tend to be much more intertwined. While the first two years you will take a variety of separate courses, such as renal and cardiology, they do all build off each other. And to do well in third year (and as a physician) it’s important for these courses to blend together. Unlike in undergraduate years, in medical school you can’t really take a course and then put it behind you and move on.

    Plan for and take breaks.

    In medical school, I found the best way to balance my physical and mental health was to plan my breaks or time off ahead of time, that way I made sure to take them. It might seem surprising, but it’s easier than it might seem to sit down at 5 pm after class with a giant to do list of material and before you know it, it’s 11 pm. I often found that planning breaks into my schedule was the most effective way to make time for things outside of medicine that were important to me. For example, I might have planned to go to the gym or for a run right after lecture ended around 5 pm or maybe meet up with a friend for dinner. At times it may seem impossible, but taking breaks is the best way to stay mentally, physically, and emotionally balanced while in medical school. It will also help you stay 100% focused on your work when it’s time to study. 

    Get involved . . . . but not too involved.

    I remember as an undergrad I often felt pressure to join every club, participate in every extracurricular activity, and attend every volunteer event because I wanted to enhance my medical school application as much as possible. In medical school, there will be many opportunities for these activities. However, it is important to know your limits and what you are capable to handling with a tight schedule. It’s probably not reasonable to run for president of every club and volunteer several nights a week with a medical student schedule. Rather, get involved in a few activities that you are truly passionate about such as research, student organizations, health fairs, ect. At the end of the day, your ability to learn the material and do well on exams is foremost. And unlike in undergrad years, extracurricular activities don’t hold quite as much weight when applying to residency programs.

    Have fun and enjoy the experience.

    It’s really not as bad as they say . I remember before starting medical school people often told me I would no longer have a life outside of school and that the material would be like “drinking from a fire hose.” While to some extent these things were true at times, overall, I found medical school to be a very enjoyable and rewarding four years. I learned the material well, aced the boards, and still had ample time to hang out with friends and maintain my lifestyle as an athlete. Medical school will without a doubt be hard, but it’s important not to lose yourself in the process. Who you are, and what you love, are all aspects that will make you a compassionate physician.