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Message from the Dean: Tips for Success in Medical School

I started medical school a long time ago-1977, to be exact.  Much has changed, but much is the same. I had finished my undergraduate degree in December of 1976, so in order to be prepared for my entry into medical school, I took some graduate courses that spring. I thought that would be good preparation for me. In August I entered medical school and the first thing I noticed was, this is not graduate school. In graduate school I was used to small seminar type courses where we were encouraged to think and ask questions. I recall the first time I interrupted my medical school physiology instructor with a question. He looked very annoyed and asked me not to interrupt his lecture. The first two years of medical school was a marathon of memorization. I recall hearing that it was like trying to drink from a fire hose.  Facts and factoids coming at you faster than you could write. This was pre- power point days, and there was no note taking service either.  Although we have changed some of that over the years, one thing seems to remain. You will need to absorb, memorize and understand more information in a shorter period of time than ever before in your life. Regardless of how much we have tried to improve things with focused learning objectives, integrated courses, clinical experiences, and other attempts to make the burden more tolerable, the truth is you need to be prepared for the most difficult educational experience of your life. That said, the fact that you have been accepted to our medical school means that we believe you have what it takes to be successful. Here are some ways you can make that happen.

  1. Go to class: Although there are some rare exceptions, there is a very close relationship between class attendance and success in medical school. Even though at times, you may think, your time would be better spent studying on your own, the evidence tells us this is not true for the vast majority of students.  Consider your medical education like a job.  Your pay is your successful grades.  You would not expect to be paid if you did not show up for work would you.  Lastly it is your professional responsibility to be where you are supposed to be when you are supposed to be there.
  1. Use the Roadmap to Success: One of the most difficult things to figure out in medical education is, of all of the information that is thrown at you in your classes, which is the most important? This is often translated by students to “What’s going to be on the test?” The answer to this is; “It’s in the Learning Objectives (LO)”.  Learning objectives are concise statements about the most important information being taught during the class you are attending. Usually there are 3-5 LO for each teaching session.  Every question you will be asked on our internal examinations is directly tied to a learning objective.  Consequently, if you have a solid understanding of the LO for the courses you are taking, you cannot help but succeed.  These learning objectives are found in the course syllabi and should be presented at the start of any teaching session.  They are truly a roadmap to success.
  1. Take advantage of our Educational Enhancement Department (EED): EED has six full-time PhD. educators whose sole responsibility is to assist you in your attempt to be successful in medical school.  Our college is unique in that these educators have scheduled time in the curriculum.  The biggest mistake medical students make in their education is they wait too long to ask for assistance.  These faculty members are experts on learning skills, time management, and assistance with learning disabilities.  They can help struggling students to be successful, and help good students to be better.  They also run our medical scholars program, which is our Teaching Assistant (TA) program.  We have 100 student medical scholars that act as tutors for fellow students.  It is a sad truth, that most of our students who are unsuccessful in their education have not taken advantage of this outstanding resource.
  1. See your Faculty Advisor: Our faculty is comprised of highly skilled, very experienced medical educators, many of whom have been through the very same experience that you are going through.  Their advice is a gold mine for students.  They know better than anyone how to advise you in your bid for successful completion of your medical education.  In medical school, rumors abound.  Your faculty advisor can help you understand what your responsibilities are, and how best to achieve your goals. Do not miss out on this opportunity.
  1. Study Hard, Study Often: Successful medical students do not wait until the week before examinations to begin studying. The quantity of information, and the level of understanding needed to get good grades in medical school make the concept of cramming a recipe for failure.  Good students describe a consistent regimen of going to class, reading assignments and studying for understanding, not simply memorization.  A common mistake we see is students using review books or test question banks as their primary source of learning.  Review books, and test questions can be useful for reviewing already learned material, and testing your understanding, but will not work as a primary learning tool.

Well, if you find all of the above Do’s and Don’ts daunting, that would be normal.  Despite the difficulty and rigor of medical education, it is an exciting and wonderful experience.  I think back to my medical school experience with a great deal of nostalgia.  There will never be another time in your life where your single responsibility will be to learn as much as you can.  Take every advantage of it.  It will payoff like nothing else you have experienced.  We in the AUA family look forward to helping you along the way and watching your development into the physician that you have dreamed of becoming.

By Robert Mallin MD – Executive Dean.