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What I Learned in the First Year of Medical School… Besides All of the Science Stuff

By Jocelyn July 12, 2018

On Learning

  • Fire hose? You know the analogy: the volume of information in medical school is a fire hose that you’re supposed to drink from. Unfortunately, it’s real. You’re going to be looking straight into a fire hose of material to master. In addition, you’ll face an entirely different fire hose of outside resources for you to incorporate into your learning. The good thing is thousands have come before you and came out successful, and so will you. Just keep taking manageable gulps and focus on what you need to learn that day or week. This is a marathon, not a sprint. A secret that no one told me when I first started (and that I wish I knew during that overwhelming time): you don’t have to master it all the first time around. A ton of the material you see now, you will continue to see again. In each system or block, each time in a little more detail, you will gradually build a framework of how the concepts relate as the year goes on.

  • Check yo self. Evaluate what’s working and what could be done better in every single block or unit! I don’t think I have studied the same for more than 2 blocks. Don’t be afraid of changing your study strategies a bit as you get into the groove of medicine.

  • Noise-proof headphones = game changer. A pricy investment but totally worth it. You know those people that can sleep anywhere and at any time? Now that’s me. Except I study. Middle of a restaurant? Plane? Noisy coffee shops with people enjoying their life? I study there.

  • Yes, it is, in fact, high yield.

  • Studying with other people, even if you don’t talk, makes the loneliness of medical school more doable. It’s super easy to isolate yourself by studying off campus and never seeing anyone, which is what happened to me during my first semester. When I came back in January, I started studying at the school and noticed that just seeing my classmates and being able to take coffee breaks to talk made my studying more fulfilling.

  • Going over questions and First Aid as a group is great for retention, especially on days when you wouldn’t be as productive on your own. Each person has their own strength that you can learn from so don’t be embarrassed when you don’t know everything; you never will. While I was better at microbio and pharm, I absolutely loved studying with some of my friends who could explain anatomy and physiology concepts better than some of our professors.


On Coping

  • Find your people and a mentor while you’re at it. Being able to have a community of support in medicine to talk to about your struggles and dreams is essential. It is almost impossible for family and friends outside of medicine to begin to comprehend what we go through.

  • Acceptance. Learn to accept that not every single day will be a good study day. This is incredibly important for your mental health and to avoid burnout! Knowing when to call it quits and just enjoy the day is hard but sometimes needed. Taking care of yourself and retaining your ability to still be the same empathetic person who came into medicine initially will make you a better physician in the future.

  • You are not alone in this. Ask for help if you need it.

  • Throw out the idea of needing this perfect balance all the time. Medical school is a rollercoaster. The beginning of each unit is typically easier to get into the swing of working out, eating healthy, and taking care of meetings/doctor appointments, on top of studying every day. However, things start getting a little more chaotic during the week before exams as you’re just trying to survive a long study day and get sleep. Just do what works for you and don’t compare yourself to what others are doing or their idea of balance.

  • Things don’t always go as planned and that’s ok, too. It’s ok to lose your motivation, it’s ok to fall down, and it’s ok to feel like you’ve lost your spark. The key is finding someone to help you rise back up stronger and better than ever.


On What it Means to be a Medical Student

  • You will undoubtedly invest an insane amount of money and time in medical school, which means you may miss important events in your friend’s and family’s lives. And this can be hard to reconcile, honestly.

  • Don’t forget that you are competent and deserve to be here just like everyone else in your class. It doesn’t matter whether you perform above or below the class average, as long as you’re pushing yourself to learn and grow each day as much as possible. The only person you should be competing with is yourself (cue: no one likes a gunner).

  • Physicians have a unique platform to lead in the community as clinicians, volunteers, researchers, policymakers, and more. Figure out what drives you and embrace every experience you get as a student!

  • What we learn is a privilege. It can be hard to remember why you are sacrificing so much as you look at complicated biochemistry pathways for the fourth time with no luck of it sticking but don’t forget why you’re doing it. In a few years, people will trust you with their lives. The intense studying will all be worth it because our patients deserve it. This year has pushed me, broken me, and built me. It was a whirlwind that required a lot of grit and perseverance, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way.


Originally from Bay City, Texas, Jocelyn Carnicle is currently a 2nd-year medical student at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso Paul L. Foster School of Medicine. She graduated in 2016 from the University of Texas at San Antonio with a degree in microbiology/immunology. In her free time, she enjoys being a foodie, exploring unique parts of Texas, and writing about her experiences through it all. To see more of Jocelyn’s journey in medical school, you can follow her online @JocelynCarnicle on Twitter. For further information on how to prepare for your first year of medical school and every year after that, check out our website here! 


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