How Creative Medical Students Study

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Life hacking has become immensely popular in the past decade. Entrepreneurs, artists, and academics have all written about the tips and tricks they use to work smarter. Some people do this so that they can travel the world full-time. Some want to explore a personal interest and others want to spend more time with family. In the end, it’s all in pursuit of the same goal: to enjoy life beyond work.

Medical school is a wonderfully unpruned garden ready for life hacking and fine tuning. Students are thrust into a world of intense study. Many schools have class from 8am-5pm and after that, students need to learn the material, and still find time for research and other extracurriculars. The nature of medical school forces students to learn how to work smarter. Life hacking becomes critical, even if they don’t call it that. Students make flashcards during lecture so that they never have to go back to the slides. Others skip class and read solely from textbooks. Some students go to class religiously.

Every student in medical school goes through a personal journey to figure out what strategy works for them. They learn how to do their best while preserving time and energy for the other priorities in their lives. Nearly every student emerges from this journey with an MD, but some students thrive in medical school. They do well in class but also make time to pursue passions outside of physiology and biology. They don’t feel like medical school has holed them away. How do they make it work?

These are the students profiled in the How I Study website, which I launched this month. We can pick up useful tips by looking at their ideas and processes. Every year, thousands of incoming students are overwhelmed by the prospect of medical school. So many people have praised them for their sacrifices, and told them that the next four years will be very difficult. But how many role models are out there showing them that medical school can be fun, that they don’t need to lose sight of their whole selves to become a doctor? We need more examples of how to do well in school without letting it consume our lives.

I am constantly impressed by how much my peers in medical school are accomplishing. I think it’s time to celebrate their successes outside of the classroom, and show other students how they can tame their studying too.