How do top medical students study?

When you enter into medical school you feel a sense of excitement and energy ready to tackle the rigors of your medical education. Then you sit down, stare at your notes, and think to yourself, “where do I possibly begin?” The end goal of becoming a doctor comes to a screeching halt if you cannot master medical school studying. Our goal in this post is to give you the mindset ready to accomplish this task.

This uncertainty on how to study is the reality for the majority of medical students. It is something we all experienced and fought through on our way to mastering medicine. The truth is that there is no learning style that works for each and every medical student. You have to understand five essential studying tenets:

1) Be adaptable. What worked in undergraduate or post-bacc classes may not work now. You cannot live, eat and sleep a certain studying tactic if it has failed to work.

2) Fortune favors the bold. What works for one test/subject/medical discipline may not work now. You need to understand that your goal is to master the subject and the scores will come. If that means changing how you study during the middle of an ongoing class then you will have to do it.

3) Work smart and work hard. I was told by a mentor of mine that good physicians work hard, but the best physicians work smart. You will constantly be inundated with material that is complicated and technically difficult. For example, cardiopulmonary physiology, P-V loops, Frank Starling laws, heart arrythmias, and cardiovascular pharmacology was more than enough to bury me. I knew that this was my weakness so I optimized my learning by supplementing class notes with two big difference makers, youtube and tutors. You may not hold the keys to all answers but utilizing valuable audiovisual resources and professional help can make the difference between success and failure.

4) Learn the basics. I believe that your focus on studying challenging topics is built around understanding the fundamentals for each medical discipline. Build a sound backbone and all the complexities of medicine start to dwindle.

5) Experiment with study strategies. I look at studying two ways, statically and dynamically. Statically refers to using one sense to passively study such as just reading or listening to audio recordings. Dynamically refers to using more than one sense to study such as using audiovisual recordings, reading and then writing notes, drawing images for memory clues, using flash cards/anki decks, or question banks. I do not think one is better than the other, but I believe they compliment each other. Don’t be afraid to use both and use both often.

I would like to take the rest of this post to explain the study strategies pros and cons.

Reading: This is by far the most powerful tool to learn, but the biggest con is that material is hard to retain on one pass. I felt my key to memorization was 100% directly proportional to my repetition of the material. So if you do find value in reading, understand you need to read and re-read and re-read time and time again.

Audio recordings: This is great for long car rides or people that respond well to listening. I spent a lot of time in the car as a medical student so I loved this as it helped me optimize my time. I felt that retention was difficult but that is more because I am not keen on listening to someone talk at me.

Writing: I learned early on in high school that tactile memory is pivotal in forming long lasting connections. It has even been shown to be one of the strongest study aids in learning a new language. The reality is that medicine is a new language so I often found great use in taking my notes and re-writing them in a way I could remember it. Even just writing on a white board is great because that muscle memory helps connect dots.

Drawing: Images are a powerful tool for studying because a lot of students are visual learners. The downside is that if you aren’t a great drawer this may seem like a waste of time. There are resources that commit topics to memory solely by images. Although it works in the short term, it is not a sustainable way to recall information long term when you are bedside and trying to remember concepts and have hundreds of thousands of useless images in your head.

Audiovisual: I absolutely love audiovisual aids. Youtube is your friend. Video/text series lectures are your friends. Look, here is the truth. People want to learn and learn quickly. Using audiovisual aids is a fully immersive way to learn. It pays big dividends and there is a clear reason why resources like Pathoma and DaVinci Academy Anatomy and Biochemistry are remarkably successful.

Flash Cards/Anki Decks: This is great because you can burn through material at a rapid pace. You can prioritize concepts you struggle with and perfect topics you want to learn better. The downside is that making these cards/decks is time consuming and if you are not great with time management you can easily feel overwhelmed rather than feeling satisfied.

Question Banks: This is the most powerful tool to pay huge dividends when studying for USMLE step 1 and step 2. This does take a certain level of fundamental knowledge to feel comfortable using it. We recommend complimenting your studying with question banks but during the medical curriculum do not solely rely on question banks because you will miss basic concepts question banks don’t always try to teach.

Stuyding is not easy. There is no roadmap, but we want to guide you in a way that helps you find your way. If you want more detailed information or customizable approaches to your studying based on you feel free to reach out to us at DaVinci Academy.

You were built for this. You were meant to change the world. Don’t be afraid to reach out to us. Some of the strongest and successful students need help too!

Best of luck,

DaVinci Academy Team