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How to Succeed as an MS1

  • by Dr. Mike Ren
  • Mar 04, 2022

Have you ever heard the phrase “drinking from a fire hydrant”? 

Its author might have been referring to MS1 year.

Expect a varied pallet of courses from genetics and pharmacology, to physiology and biochemistry. The course load is heavier than undergrad, and the material is more in depth.  Sound doable so far?

After hours of lecture, most first year medical students endure additional professionalism, ethics and clinical skills courses as well as anatomy lab, where they spend months mastering the fascinating intricacies of the human body.

After orientation week, if you’re lucky to have one, you’ll immediately need to develop strategies for adjusting to this busy, overwhelming – and yet so exciting life of a first year med student.

Medical training is difficult. Take a deep breath and stay motivated. You’ll get through it!

Below, I share some advice on how to survive drinking from the fire hose. 

Establish A Peer Support Group

Make friends! Your fellow classmates are all going through the same process, adjusting to medical school life and being molded into future physicians. In addition to commiserating about the difficulties of anatomy lab, you and your peers can form study groups, a great way to share resources and to cover lecture material. Caesar’s “Divide and conquer!” is a good approach towards the medical school curriculum, since there are far too many books, study guides, and anki decks to sift through. Selecting choice preparation materials with people you trust is a huge time saver.  Remember to choose your study partners wisely, as there are so many learning styles. Some learn best by quizzing each other; others like breaking down lectures and teaching the group; and some simply like studying quietly in the presence of another student. Find a method that works for you and stick with it.  

[You can check out the data on the top resources thousands of students are adding to their Cram Fighter study plan here.]

Get – And Stay – Organized

Being organized helps you stay on top of your game.  There are many helpful tools you can use, so try out a few organizer apps and pick one that you like. I use Any.do, a task manager and calendar duo that syncs my meetings and tasks for the day, week and month. You’ll need to keep track of your medical school schedule from mandatory lectures to required readings, extra-curricular activities and other important dates. Many people have success with Evernote as well.

Becoming organized during your first year will pay dividends when you become a busy third or fourth year trying to juggle application deadlines with residency interviews and a busy clinic schedule. Indeed, becoming organized will help you throughout your whole professional life.

Study Effectively

You will spend the majority of your preclinical years behind a screen, glued to your chair, reviewing lectures. Studying efficiently will save you time, and it will help you master subjects with less stress and effort. Learn about how you learn. Perhaps you’re a visual learner and prefer diagrams and charts to words in paragraphs, or maybe your style is to repeat practice questions and skip notes all together. Perhaps you enjoy learning basic sciences with your study group but like to review practice questions in silence on your own. Perhaps you like to dissect in the lab with an anatomy buddy, or maybe you leave dissection to your classmates. In these webinars we go over helpful tips for tactile learners and auditory learners.

Figure out how you like to learn, and then do so for the remainder of your preclinical years.

Find A Balance 

Your profession influences your life greatly, and yet, it’s not supposed to become your life. Students and practicing physicians alike must find balance throughout their careers to enjoy a personal life, excel as a physician, and maintain mental and physical health. The key is realizing when to make concessions. “Fun, sleep, and grades, choose two”, as the saying goes. Your time is valuable, and you cannot do it all. Learn to say no, and don’t over-stress yourself with schedule conflicts. Enrich your life with healthy mental and physical habits such as seeing friends and exercising. 

Medical training is difficult. You will likely freak out in the beginning, as everybody does. Take a deep breath and stay motivated. Check out our post on mental health if you find yourself stuck. You’ll get through it and will become a top flight physician at the end!

About the Author

Mike is a driven tutor and supportive advisor. He received his MD from Baylor College of Medicine and then stayed for residency. He has recently taken a faculty position at Baylor because of his love for teaching. Mike’s philosophy is to elevate his students to their full potential with excellent exam scores, and successful interviews at top-tier programs. He holds the belief that you learn best from those close to you in training. Dr. Ren is passionate about his role as a mentor and has taught for much of his life – as an SAT tutor in high school, then as an MCAT instructor for the Princeton Review. At Baylor, he has held review courses for the FM shelf and board exams as Chief Resident.   For years, Dr. Ren has worked closely with the office of student affairs and has experience as an admissions advisor. He has mentored numerous students entering medical and residency and keeps in touch with many of them today as they embark on their road to aspiring physicians. His supportiveness and approachability put his students at ease and provide a safe learning environment where questions and conversation flow. For exam prep, Mike will help you develop critical reasoning skills and as an advisor he will hone your interview skills with insider knowledge to commonly asked admissions questions.