Medical school is hard!?

Some of the things that hit you hard in the face when you start clinical rounds in particular.

Since first year of medical school, I didn't see the hype or the pressure. Sure, at the time I can't say anatomy and physiology were easy, but they weren't stressfully hard. Just "read your Ganong", in the famous words of Professor J Chifamba, for physiology and Snell for anatomy and you will be good to go.

Fast forward the years to your clinical rotations and man, does medical school turn into a beast or what?

The main problem is that patients don't get sick in a particular order. I'd have loved to have patients get into the ward in a predictable manner but nope. We have to deal with the randomness.

For example, you are going to study Gastric Carcinoma tonight, and know it so well, you just might become an expert in it.

But guess what? Tomorrow on the wards, there will be a melanoma patient, a thyroiditis patient and another condition that you are sure has been discovered that very day.

So you go study those things you saw today after school. Great.

It's just that tomorrow, a patient will come with something as simple as a flu and you fail to pick it up because you haven't studied it in a long time.

And this pattern goes on and on and on. You are always behind and quite frankly don't know what you are going to meet.

Then it hits you.

There is just so much to know in medicine.

And that can be overwhelming. It certainly was starting the surgery rotations. Each week, you are in a different specialty. For this week you might be in ophthalmology, then the following week you are in urology. And in each week, you are supposed to study the conditions of that specialty well because you might not do that rotation ever again. So you do your work diligently, only for the following Monday to feel like a grade 1 student on their first day because you know nothing about your new specialty.

Tips to make it a bit easier

1. Shorten Half-Life

The number one enemy of medical students is half-life. Whatever you study is like a radioactive isotope. The only difference being that a radioactive isotope might have a longer half-life than your brain.

There is something called the Ebbinghaus' Forgetting Curve. It's just a formal study of the half-life of what we study.
What Is The Ebbinghaus' Forgetting Curve (And How Do You Combat It)?

Now not to bore you with much but to battle half-life, you have to make sure that you constantly remind yourself of what you learnt after a number of days. And the best way to do that is to use Flashcards. I have been using flashcards since part 2 and they work wonders because I remember things more and put in less effort than I did before.

If you want to know more about flashcards, comment in the section at the end of the article.

Use a Second Brain

This is Thiago Forte's idea from his book, "Building a Second Brain".Building a Second Brain: A Proven Method to Organize Your Digital Life ...

And it has rung true in my clinical years.

Since part 3, I have been writing notes in an app called RemNote. It's a combined app for notes and flashcards, combining both the tips I have for you here.

What's the idea of a second brain?

A second brain is merely a physical (or in this case, digital) representation of the information you want to have in your head. It can be hard for you to naturally make connection between the physiology you learnt in year 2 and the pathological disease you learnt in year 3. When you have a second brain, you are able to make those connections and have a place to physically remember them

I like taking physical notes

Okay okay. The idea of a second brain still applies. I don't recommend really taking physical notes since digital note taking and the combination with doing flashcards from those notes is vastly superior, BUT if you really do want to learn like people in the 90s, here is what you should do to keep a second brain.

Don't write "tumaDisc". The information you write there, let's be honest, you never re-read it. And you probably toss them in the bin a minute after you are done with your exam.

You should keep a proper notebook.

When you write something in that book, you will remember better when you want to revise from it years later (trust me, you will want that information about the embryology of the midgut).

And you will be able to make mental connections easier when you now have a pathology notebook in addition to your preclinical notebooks.

I will write more on this in the following articles.


Medicine has a lot to know. If you are in part 1 or 2, I hope you set a good foundation. When I was in first year, people told us to read seriously, and we did so! But half-life of information. You aren't going to remember everything if you don't know how to learn and study effectively according to studies.

The next articles will be delving deeper into how you can do just that.

Thanks for reading.

Here's a sweet 🍭

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