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The first time I scrubbed in to shadow in the OR.

7 Tips for a Successful Year in Medical School

As the morning air on my walk to school becomes a hint cooler, it rings in the promise of a new school year. Reflecting on the past 365 days, I realise how far I’ve come on a journey that has challenged me more than anything else in my life.

My first year of medical school was an incredible opportunity for growth and self-discovery. With all of this excitement for the new school year, I’d like to reflect back on what my first year of medicine has taught me.

1. You know you best.

Do not compare yourself to other classmates. I know it is tempting. Don’t do it. People study differently, people unwind differently, people want to pursue this career for different reasons, and people see the world differently. Don’t try to change simply based on what others are doing or because you don’t feel you fit a certain image.

You know the reasons you want to be here. You know what is most important to you and why. It is okay that these things are different for different people. It is no better or worse, just different. Value the diversity in your classroom and know that you contribute to this by just being you. So, stay true to yourself.

2. Honour who/what has brought you this far.

It is important to continually nurture the life you lived before medical school. This will help keep you grounded, let you reflect on your experiences, and remember different parts of yourself.

In some cases, your family and long-time friends are the best ones for holding you accountable and reminding you of your values. Keeping them close is also incredibly good for your mental wellness.

Continue to engage in the hobbies and interests you have outside of medicine and make room for them in your life. I try to step out of my bubble and remember all of the other roles I play besides a medical student.

I love to read and write. When I am having a rough day, I like to sit down with an old book and read though my favorite parts that are dog-tagged and underlined. Sometimes I journal about what I am learning or how I am feeling. It uplifts me and reminds me why I want to be here.  

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I like to keep my favorite books close by for the times I need to unwind.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want.

There are many opportunities and privileges that come with being a medical student. Many people want to inspire you and help you succeed, so get involved with initiatives outside of your classroom.

It sometimes feels overwhelming with the number of initiatives you can be involved with. And if you are anything like me, you’ll have to pace yourself. If you have any particular interests – research, health advocacy, medical education, wellness, student politics, different specialties – ask to be involved.

If you don’t know where to start, there are many staff and faculty that are happy to lead you in the right direction to get the most out of your 4 years here.  As long as you are passionate, curious, and willing to work hard, most are happy to have you on board and support you.

4. Respect where people are in their journeys.

Medical school is very difficult. You and your classmates will feel stressed or intimidated on multiple occasions and these feelings don’t always bring out the best in us.

But medical school is also very extraordinary. Everyone is learning, growing, and changing in ways like they never have before. Each person came here with different skills and areas for growth.

Try to give people the benefit of the doubt if they fall short or your expectations and assume that they are doing the best they can.

The same applies to you. Respect where you are in your journey and be gracious with yourself if you don’t feel you are up to par with where you’d like to be.

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First and second year medical students from the Government Affairs and Advocacy Committee (GAAC) met with government officials to discuss the benefits of universal coverage of Mifegymiso in Saskatchewan.
5. You have a voice and it is loud!

Your opportunities to advocate with the communities that you serve is one of the greatest privileges of being a medical student. I can feel the change in how people listen more carefully when they know I am in medical school. It doesn’t mean that my opinions are more important than anyone else’s, but I can harness this platform for others to use when their voices are marginalized.

This respect and social power that comes with your role is a huge privilege. You can use it to do good and improve the lives of those around you. Being in medicine necessitates being a leader and having knowledge of the structural systems that lead to health inequity.

Last year, I was able to meet with government officials in Regina to push for the universal coverage of Mifegymiso. Students across Canada had been doing the same in their provinces and by the beginning of this summer, Mifegymiso was fully covered for every person in every province. When you speak people listen, so use this privilege to empower and free others.

6. Take care of your peers.

It is easy to get wrapped up in your own stresses and commitments but take some time every day to invest in the people around you. Does anyone seem particularly down? Do you know of anyone who has especially been under pressure lately? I bet they could use a smile, a hug, a coffee, or a “Hey, I see you working hard. Hang in there.” Ask them if they need someone to chat with.

Just like in a good friend, one of the most important qualities for a future doctor to have is being a good listener. Even small gestures can go a long way. We need to take care of each other in this crazy world.

7. Lastly and most important, take care of yourself.

Don’t get me wrong, it can be tiring to hear about “personal wellness” or “resilience” while there are many system changes that need to be made in the culture of medicine to reduce burn out.

While our community is in the works of advocating for these changes, it is still important to be honest with yourself about your feelings and needs. You cannot be compassionate towards others if you can’t practice compassion with yourself first. This looks different for each individual and it takes some reflection to know what works best for you. You may be able to use the same strategies from the past, or you may have to try out some new ones.

When you are facing difficult moments and struggling to take care of yourself, reach out and talk to somebody about how you are feeling. Medical school will be full of many ups and downs but there are people of all stripes who will support you through this very challenging but amazing time in your life.

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Class of 2022 White Coat photo.
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