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New Challenges and Opportunities in Medical School: How to Tackle 2022

With Omicron cases surging around the country and world, many of us are starting the new year with a new (or all too familiar) experience: remote learning from home. Learning outside of the hospital and clinic certainly has its challenges and is not the ideal time to work on physical exam techniques, gain exposure to procedures, or improve communication skills. However, remote learning does provide unique opportunities to work on specific aspects of medical school. If your preclinical courses or clerkships are replacing in-person learning with Zoom or other online experiences, you now have an opportunity to work on other areas! A little motivation and work over the coming weeks can go a long way and allow you to reenter the hospital with even more preparation and enthusiasm.

#1: Create a detailed study plan for upcoming exams

Although the new year commonly inspires resolutions about personal habits, why not use the start of 2022 as inspiration for a new, organized approach to studying? Try planning retrospectively! Mark any future test dates (or estimated testing windows) on a calendar and then fill in how you will prepare the week beforehand, the month beforehand, etc. Be specific. How many UWorld questions should you be doing every day? (For this, it may be helpful to divide the total number of days you have by the total number of UWorld questions you have.) When will you take each practice test? When will you finish your content review materials? By mapping out realistic and daily goals, you can make 2022 a year of organized improvement and growth.

#2: Consider your long-term goals

In addition to retrospectively planning for exams, you can retrospectively plan for your individual goals. If you are considering certain specialties, think about whether you are engaging in research or community service projects that give you experiences in those specific areas of medicine. By adopting a long-term perspective now, no matter what year in medical school you are in, you can take full advantage of the time you have left and plan for your specific goals. Also, brainstorm ways that you can keep working towards your passions and goals, even while you are working remotely. Are there remote service opportunities, research projects, or telemedicine clinics that you can become involved with? Are there any needs, either in your medical school community or broader community, that are arising during these challenging times that you can collaborate to help address?

#3: Work on personal weaknesses

Now is a perfect time to fill in your personal learning gaps and work on that subject that you never quite got! In fact, many common weaknesses – biochemistry, histology, radiology, biostatistics – are especially amenable to independent, remote studying. To keep it interesting, supplement your own medical school’s materials with online or other resources. A sample of online materials is listed below:

Histology: The University of Utah website has an abundance of histologic images, which provide examples of normal organ systems and particular diagnoses such as emphysema or hereditary spherocytosis.

Radiology: The University of Virginia has complied a list of online training resources for medical students, which is organized by organ system and includes resources for learning anatomy and pathology.

Biochemistry: For biochemistry (or other topics on the Step exams), it may be best to stick to the resources you are already using! Tried and true resources like UWorld or Boards and Beyond have the material that you need to know; during remote learning, you may now have the time you need to master it.

Pediatric Milestones: If you are a third or fourth year medical student, this is a great time to master individual clinical skills, from practicing with your suturing kit at home to learning the many gross motor, fine motor, social, and verbal milestones in pediatric development. You may find it helpful and interesting to look at certain clinical guidelines (such as the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Guidelines for Health Supervision of Infants, Children, and Adolescents) on these specific clinical topics.

#4: Begin a daily routine

When changing your day-to-day habits, start small! Try beginning a daily walking routine or exercise routine, which has cognitive as well as general wellness benefits. Then, you may consider adding time blocks to your schedule – focused burst of productivity where you commit to turning off distractions and fully engage in what you’re doing. Over time, you may find yourself planning out blocks of your day-to-day schedule. However, this is more likely to feel natural when you gradually arrive at such discipline, instead of arbitrarily beginning by scheduling out entire days.

#5: Allow the unexpected

During the upcoming weeks, if you experience disruptions or stresses and lack time to implement the above tips, that is okay and to be expected. The pandemic will continue to challenge everyone (albeit at different times). Remote learning may provide you with the extra time you need to take care of family members, help friends who are struggling, or perhaps recover from COVID-19 yourself. If this applies to you, you can absolutely apply (or re-apply) the above tips at any time; they can provide you with a new beginning at any point in 2022 and work just as well in March as they did in January.