PreMED\Medical School Year 1 Reflections

Author:  Hamed Shahnam


Medical school is an exciting, challenging and highly fulfilling experience. When I started medical school, I had some idea of what to expect but also there were many aspects which I had not anticipated. When you read about studying medicine and surviving medical school there is a wealth of information to read about. However, it should be said that not every advice or approach suites every individual (including what you might find here). You will need to try many study approaches and adopt a strategy that fits well with your learning style and life. If you are interested in learning about what it is like to study medicine be sure to read the other articles that I’ve written on the website to get a better understanding what awaits you.


Study Approaches

This is one of the main considerations for students starting medical school and I’ve had ample opportunity to develop and utilise the many approaches to studying medicine. Since starting medical school I’ve gone from a person who studied in big groups to someone who studies independently or with one or two close friends. Whether you choose to study in groups really depends on your personality and how much you take away from group studies, as well as the group you study in. If your group is really motivated and everyone has a good understanding of topics, it may be a worthwhile experience. However, if you feel your study group gets distracted easily, you may find that your time will be better spent studying alone or with another group.


In my opinion a combination independent study where you review lecture notes, read textbooks to address points of confusion and small group discussion is a highly effective way of revising. It also helps with filling in the gaps in your knowledge or addressing points that may have missed in lectures. I personally don’t find it effective to just purely rely on group studies. I think you take a lot more out of group studies if you prepare before hand. I know colleagues in medical school who utilise group studies to review questions together rather than topics.


Another approach that I utilise and have improved over the years is to take summarized notes and use lectures as a guide for what to study. I only use lectures as a guide because there is only so much that can be included in a lecture style educational delivery. I’d encourage you guys to develop highly systematic notes that enable you to be able to come two years in the future and still be able to read and understand the topics you’ve spent time summarising. I don’t write my original notes by hand (to easy to lose valuable notes). I tend to write them electronically and store them in Onenote. These notes are then available to me any time of the of day and on all my electronic devices (mobile phone, ipad, pc etc…). I also write electronic annotations on my lectures notes as it helps me focus during lectures and also add points that were not specifically stated within the lectures. Plus it saves me cutting down trees and physically storing notes! I back up all my notes in the cloud  in case something happens to my computer.


Closer to exams I tend to go over my notes regularly, write mindmaps that summarise the key points in my Onenote document. In addition to reviewing my notes I attempt questions to test my knowledge and improve my recall. I have found that a combination of interval revision and attempting questions really helps identify gaps in my knowledge and better prepare me for exams. I think in medical school as with learning any new skill will require regular practice to master the knowledge and technical skills required to practice safely.


Things to avoid

  • Falling behind on lectures and university work - I feel in order to cope with medical school you will need to work systematically and consistently. That way you stay on top of the enormous content that is taught to you throughout the year.
  • Leaving things to the last minute (refer to above point) - cramming is extremely challenging in medical school given the extensive amount of information you will need to retain (and remember for the future). Avoid if you want to prevent a mental break down!
  • Taking highly, highly detailed notes (may cause you to fall behind!) - this is what textbooks and references are for. Keep notes succinct and to the point. You don’t want to be reading textbook like notes or textbooks the week before exams.
  • Reading highly specialised and field specific textbooks - as junior medical students we need to have broad and basic understanding of topics - there is plenty of time to read specialised textbooks once you start training in your chosen specialty or summer holidays!
  • Textbooks - don’t buy until you’ve tried and had a look through the library or online. If you had to buy every recommended textbook you will soon realise that you won’t have money for all the other fun activities of life. Be sure to consult with colleagues and students in the above year levels before purchasing a textbook. Also buy them second hand or consider older editions! We’ve got a list of references we have found useful over the years on our website.
  • Lone wolf syndrome - myself and other colleagues in med school prefer individual study, however that doesn’t mean we shy away from helping one another, asking questions and participating in group discussions. Medicine is a team sport but it can be tempting to isolate yourself in order to make the most of your time. However, there needs to be a balance between individual study and group study. Your peers can fill your knowledge gaps and you can also help your peers and form long lasting relationships.
  • Competition - medical students are highly successful, ambitious and hardworking. Therefore it is not surprising that we are naturally competitive. However, as you can imagine medical school can be really stressful and the last thing you want is added competition with peers to spice things up. I’m a firm believer that the only person worth competing with is yourself and if you set out everyday to try your best and take in the wealth of experience and opportunity you will do well. Also medical schools have really helped with taming the competitive beast by de-emphasizing grades and just providing students with a pass/fail mark.
  • Studying isn't everything - get involved with the medical student community, maintain and expand your hobbies. Its all about finding a balance and retaining an identity for yourself that doesn't encompass 100% of medicine.


I hope you’ve found my reflection and musings of some help as you embark on this wonderful journey that is medicine and medical school. This is my own personal experience and I’m sure there will be many who agree/disagree with some of the points raised. If you have any questions or feedback be sure to let us know!