Saturday, 1 August 2015

How to Study for Pre-Clinical Medicine at Medical School

Studying for pre-clinical medicine is not about finesse or being able to know intricate details, it's about keeping your head above the water while waves repeatedly crash at you. Your aim of studying is subsequently, to cover as much material as possible in a manner that maximises retention. This will vary in context depending on each medical school i.e. Barts has OSCEs in the first year.

You need to make a schedule that is realistic. I like to treat medical school as a nine to five job. You start work at 9am, have an hour lunch and finish at 5pm. This gives you a repetitive routine that can be altered for days out and impromptu social occasions.

It requires determination to stick to this because it is so easy to push things to the weekend, then the next week then months have flown by and the deadlines rear their ugly head.

Don't make To Do lists, schedule work. When are you going to do it? How much time does it need? This is much more effective then an ever growing list that you'll just ignore. Get a diary or use Google Calendar. Barts is kind enough to put all out timetables on Google Calendar so it helps to correlate your work.

The process I outline aims to have you review your lecture notes FIVE times in the space of the month, attempting to maximise retention without significant outlay of your time.

Preading (Pre reading)
You first two years of medical school will be lecture heavy. This means a lot of lecture notes and handouts. I use my iPad to directly write on PDFs of lecture notes however you may have a different method. The night before you should print/load/organise your handouts. This forces you to organise yourself for the day. It is also the beginning of the recall process. By investing 5-10 minutes of your time, skimming through the handouts for the next day, you are already familiarising yourself with the material. This means that the first time you see this lecture is not in the lecture. You have a general grasp of the context and ordering, which allows you to peg new knowledge to. It also highlights any areas that you don't understand at all.

This is 50-60 minutes of your time. I know they are dull, soulless events but lectures are the cheapest way for medical schools to teach us. You need to focus. You can't multitask effectively when learning so don't bother. This means no Facebook, Whatsapp or Snapchat. Put your phone down and pick up your pen/stylus. Make notes, draw diagrams and think of questions. If this is the only time you are going to look at this material, do it now. You are making a solid basis for all future retention, so don't fuck yourself over.

Evening Review
You need to review your notes within 24 hours. I time this with my preading for the next day. This helps to consolidate the knowledge the best and is significantly more effective than reviewing a few days later [source needed].

Go through the information, make sure you understand it and if you don't, find it out. Try to keep your source material in one place. If the lecture notes are adequate, then use them and cross out unnecessary information. If they useless (a common event) then make a mind-map. If you think you have enough time to rote learn medicine, then prepare to give up something else. Your brain will always remember visuals over text and relationships over random statements [source needed].

Weekend Review
At this point, you have review the information THREE times. This is your chance to truly learn the subject AKA study. It can be Saturday morning, Sunday night or a random free day in the week but you need to review on a regular basis to keep up. You should be relatively familiar with the subject matter so you'll be rushing through your notes to get outside.

How I Study
Rote memorisation is the toolbox of the traditional medical student. And it is very useful when you need to learn something and nothing else will do. However, I find that this method prevents you applying knowledge. You learn a list or a block of text and have no idea what it means, just the ability to repeat it if asked for definition.

Subsequently, I use very little writing after my initial note taking step in lectures. I know most of my fellow medical students like to re-write lecture notes, but I don't have time. I want to watch netflix and go out with my housemates, not keeping rewriting text hoping it will go in.

I will imagine that a fellow student is in front of me and I will talk them through the lecture as if I am teaching. The aim is to teach from memory and also talk in a way that shows I clearly understand it. This significantly helps my comprehension and ability to apply knowledge at a future date.

Talking to yourself can be weird but if you can't explain it with the notes in front of you, what luck do you have in the exam.

Month Review
A month is my preferred time, but this flexible for you. A fortnight or six weeks might be enough. This schedule forces you to review you knowledge and drag it up from the dregs of your memory. This is the final step to help transition it from short-term to long-term memory. At this point you have now reviewed the content FIVE times. You will have a good assessment of your strengths and weakness. Lectures that are not easy to recall can become focus points in your revision while you can ignore content that you are comfortable with.

Further Advice

  • Be realistic - Trying to cover three modules in a week isn't going to happen. Your timetable needs to be practical e.g. if you have to watch Game of Thrones every Monday then watch it, don't pretend to work. 
  • Pomodoro System - Wikipedia explains better, but basically, you work for 25 minutes, take a 5 minute break and repeat. I find it effective at forcing myself to study and a timer gives you a clock to beat. It can be addictive.
  • Block distractions - You've made the decision to study. Great! Now make sure it's efficient use of your time, otherwise you'll be there twice as long. Block social media, put your phone on airplane model and get going. 
  • Food and Water - Make sure you have water and some snacks within easy access. It's tiring work studying and I've happily convinced myself that I need to bake for three hours instead of studying, because there isn't any brownies in the house.

Medical school is hard, not because of the subject, but because it requires time management skills that we are never taught.

Friday, 31 July 2015

The End of Pre-Clinical Medicine

It's almost August and I still can't believe that I've finished five years of university. I came back from Glastonbury festival to discover that I had passed second year of medical school and I could not be more excited.

The past two years have been difficult because I've had a lot of personal struggles (that I won't bore you with) but I wouldn't change it for the world. I use to question throughout Biomed if this was all worth it. When I look back at what I've studied in the past two years, I feel like I've discovered more and more of who I am. Medicine, the degree, is everything I hoped and more.

I was pleasantly pleased with my results. I stuck to my timetabling pretty well and had a week before the exam for OSCE practise and emergency revision, which I've never managed before. I heavily focused on the MCQs section of the exam but ultimately, this was my worst performance. I think I understand why because I was just doing a question bank without really supplementing the learning, the question bank was also more aimed at 3rd years than 2nd years so it was slightly over shooting.

What I've taken away from this year is again the need to plan REALISTICALLY i.e. a module cannot be done in two days however must I use too hope. I'm also most productive in the morning and I need scheduling to get myself into the routine. I found that by scheduling my time I was significantly less stressed and had a more realistic view of my goals. My main goal was to pass comfortably and be in the 5th quartile or higher. At the moment I am comfortable being an academically "average" medical student.

On the flip side, I've struggled to balance extra-curricular activities. I once again took on too much and it meant that I gave a poor performance. I have subsequently dropped everything except a course rep. I want to focus on my health and exercise next year. It's really important that I find out how to develop an important work-life balance, engaging in exercise that is either individual (gym) or group (sports or running). Even yoga or meditation. Just something to provide a break outside of university. I also have a great group of friends from my previous degree, so I usually count them as my support network/getting drunk.

My next year (3rd year of MBBS) sees me start hospital placements full-time. I have three rotations:

  • Cardiorespiratory at Barts and Royal London Hospital
  • Metabolism 3A (Surgery and Vascular) at Whipps Cross
  • Metabolism 3B (Diabetes, Endocrine and Renal) at Homerton
I'm very excited to get out on the wards and start Clinical Medicine. But with it comes a lot of pitfalls. Being pimped by consultants or forever getting in the way. Plus learning where everything is. I will definitely start blogging more because there is only so much time I can moan about lectures.

Saturday, 18 April 2015


I have two essays due next week and a presentation, yet I'm addicted to a podcast series called Serial. I'm way behind the game. It was released back in 2014, but it hasn't been spoiled for me, so I've been able to enjoy it on my commute to medical school all this week.

The premise of Serial is an episodic investigative journalism program that covers the case of a teenage American girl who was murdered. It's addictive because you have a journalist as the narrator that works through the case in each episode. I swing from side to side multiple times within an episode and even as I draw to the end, I am still undecided on who done it.

Podcasts never really grabbed me before. Serial is a high quality production so I've been spoiled with my first one. My main use of podcasts previously, was for educational purposes, which makes them so dull. The engaging nature has had me addicted and been so tempted to binge watch like Netflix.

Anyway, I think you should check it out. If you have already gotten the podcast bug, drop me some recommendations in the comments.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Medicine is scary. It's not hard. But it can be intense and make you reassess why you are doing it. You spend ages day dreaming about what kind of doctor you will be, where you'd live, would you go to West Africa? It's a career that is limitless and yet at the same time; you can go back home, become your local GP and have a very happy lot with life (not to slander the amazing work of GPs). I am so happy to be studying this degree. It is the best decision I ever made. I love the opportunities I have had so far and I cannot wait for millions more.

I have recently found out I will be sitting on the interview panels for Barts in January and February. I remember being there. I remember the nerves and excitement. I wish everyone the best of luck, I hope you use your time to demonstrate the best possible you.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

My First Year At Medical School (Part 1)

This will have been my fourth freshers I have attended and only my second as a legitimate fresher. Although after three years in East London, I feel that even that claim to the title is thin. This freshers was unlike any other I had experienced. My time at Queen Mary meant I was exposed to hundreds if not thousands of law and english students, before I even met some biomeds. This time, however, I spent two weeks of socialising and attending introductory lectures with the same people. You quickly find your group and identify who’s company you prefer. I also felt less pressure to make friends when compared with first year of biomed because I already have a core group of friends that I live with. It meant that if I didn’t feel like going out, I could just get a takeaway with my housemates. Yes, it meant I didn’t have ‘the fear’ to attend every event and become best friends with students in halls. It also make me appreciate how much effort my friends in first year of biomed who didn’t live on campus, made with me.

Ain't no party like a Toga party - Source

Saturday, 28 June 2014

The Official Med School Reading List: A Year in Review

Last year in August, I was accepted to medical school and I blogged about the Official Barts Reading List. My opinions were based on a pre-med view point with some biomed knowledge chucked in. So I decided to review that reading list, having successfully passed first year.

P.S. DO NOT BUY any of these books. They are all available from your medical school's library. The only books I have purchased this year are not on the recommended reading list, because these books are so widely available. 

P.P.S Textbooks are not essential for the first year at Barts. You hear stories of fellow students not visiting the library till third year. Yet, if you want relatively good grades, I'd heavily imply that you need to support your learning. As a graduate, I am so use to turning to several sources, not just lecture notes, that it is hard to break the habit.

P.P.P.S. But if you are reading this list, it means you have already opened you mind to the use of textbooks so ignore above.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Review: OnExamination by BMJ - First Year

As a medic fresher, there is lots of noise when it comes to paid resources for medical school. I was recommended OnExamination (BMJ) by a third year so I thought I'd write a review of my experience.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

30 Things I Learnt as a Fresher in Medical School

Results were announced yesterday and I have passed first year of medical school. It's been a challenging year but so happy to have passed! My first year at Barts and The London have been amazing, so I thought I would blog about 30 things I learnt as a fresher at medical school.