- wear your name tag -- We were given dorky name tags to wear for orientation week of med school. Most people had
lostthrown out theirs by the time (free!) lunch rolled around, but I was determined to keep mine on and meet as many of my class of 256 as humanly possible. Your med school classmates will be by your side for the next four years (and possibly many more) so take those opportunities early on -- getting involved in clubs, class council, social events, intramural teams, and all that good stuff -- to get to know all of these really great people.
- life -- Life doesn't end when you start med school. It's really the contrary -- besides social stuff (med students are an outgoing bunch) there are opportunities to get involved in a great variety of things! And yes, you will have time to do that stuff -- you won't be spending all of your waking hours with your nose to the grindstone. Without lab reports, weekly assignments, and midterms, I actually found medical school to be less stressful than undergrad and, until fourth year, had the time to continue in my part-time job.
- relationships -- For the single med student, a medical class is essentially a large pool of pre-screened and carefully selected potential partners. Medcest inevitably ensues. Mathematically, selecting placement at the main campus (192 students) over a peripheral site (32 students) increases the likelihood that this phenomenon might involve you -- just a thought.
- books -- You'd think I'd have learned in undergrad that buying textbooks is not the way to go (as I type this sitting beside my bookshelf graveyard of over a grand worth of outdated books), but clearly I hadn't learned my lesson, as I bought half a shelf full of pricy books in first-year med school. Boron, Robbins, Bates, ...all books that I'm embarrassed to admit haven't spent much more time in my hands than Mindy Kaling's autobiography. My Rohen's Photographic Anatomy Atlas was probably the only book I'd say was worth buying. Everything else (including exam review books like First Aid and Toronto Notes) can be downloaded (or are already floating around your class on USB sticks or on Dropbox).
- stethoscope -- Littmann Cardiology III. Coloured if you're brave; otherwise black goes with everything. Too cool for regular black? Go for the all-black ninja version.
neonatal hospital bracelets make good stethoscope name tags :)
- ophthalmoscope/otoscope -- Don't even think about buying them! The med school will tell you they're mandatory, the equipment reps will push them, you'll see your classmates filling out order forms, but hold strong. It'll be those same classmates who'll be sending out mass emails a year later, trying to offload their twice-used pocket kit for $700.
- scrubs -- Again, save your $25. Sure, it was fun to feel like I was in Grey's Anatomy while cadaver dissecting in my brand new scrubs...but they were mostly covered by my lab coat and haven't even seen the inside of the hospital (turf of the hospital-issued scrubs). Old clothes under your lab coat is the way to go for gross anatomy lab.
- grown-up clothes -- Medical school was actually the first time in my life that I had to dress somewhat formally on a weekly basis. This resulted in a lot of wasted money on overly preppy, often uncomfortable clothing that I thought fit the bill. Fortunately I realized that sweater vests and frilly shirts aren't for me, and that anything that looks relatively nice and is comfortable (and has pockets! -- real pockets, not lame female-clothing pseudopockets) will do (especially when it's under your white coat!). As for shoes, I've been getting away with wearing black canvas Toms-type shoes for a while now :)
circa first and second year
- P = MD -- At least in Canada, once you've been admitted, your medical school will do everything it possibly can to help you get through. Gone are the days of competing for A+s; in med school grades are P/F...and if you do get an F on an exam, you get to rewrite it. That's not to say that you can slack off -- there's still a lot to learn, but it's entirely doable, and tons of great resources are passed amongst med students (it's a collegial group!). Also, a couple things you should know about the Big Scary Canadian Licensing Exam at the end of fourth year: 1) it's not that scary, and 2) by the time you write it (May) you'll already have matched to a residency position (March), so the mark you get really holds no bearing on anything.
- Don't study the summer before first year -- See point #9! Although incoming med students hail from diverse backgrounds, the playing field levels fairly quickly, so you needn't worry about what you don't know -- chances are other people don't know that stuff either and there'll be plenty of time to learn it once the semester starts! Yes, there will be gunners who have read the textbooks, shadowed in the OR, and finished two research projects by the time med school starts -- but you've really got to stop comparing yourself to these people...and befriend the chill ones who will help keep you sane.
What do you wish you'd known at the start of medical school?