Ross University Blog

VIEWPOINT: The Top 7 Survival Skills Medical Students Need to Succeed

January 04, 2016

Dean and Chancellor Joseph A. Flaherty, MD, chats with Vijay Rajput, MD, Professor and Chairman of Medicine and Medical Director, Office for Student Professional Development. Check out their top seven survival skills for medical school below.

Vijay Rajput, MD, professor and chairman of medicineDean and Chancellor Joseph A. Flaherty, MD
Dean and Chancellor Joseph A. Flaherty, MD (left) chatted recently with Vijay Rajput, MD (right), Professor and Chairman of Medicine and Medical Director, Office for Student Professional Development, about tips to help students make the most of their medical school experience.

What skills do students need in order to do well in medical school, particularly during the basic sciences part of the program? This is a question that prospective and current students may ask as they ponder whether they have what it takes to succeed on the arduous journey to becoming a physician. I had a conversation on this topic recently with Dr. Vijay Rajput. Here are some excerpts from that discussion:

FLAHERTY: There are different types of skills; life skills, coping skills, generic skills, skills you can learn and some that are relatively fixed that can be improved on. To get through medical school students need to build and maintain social networks and to have two strong support systems –one is family and the other consists of mentors, colleagues, friends and acquaintances. It’s good to assess who’s in your network. Who do you call if, hypothetically, you need $10 or if you have a problem with a relationship?

RAJPUT: People in their twenties need to understand the value of family ties. They need to phone home, go home, and get recharged by those who have seen them succeed in the past and believe in their future. On the Dominica campus students should not be so focused on their studies that they postpone having a social life. They should be open to the possibility of beginning a relationship and not be held back by the fear that their studies will suffer. 

Learn the right survival skills for medical schoolFLAHERTY: Students need to develop study habits that work for them. Some learn by listening, some are visual, some take notes, and some learn by telling others.

RAJPUT: They need to create individualized learning methods to achieve standardized optimal outcomes. They should study to learn, not to memorize.

FLAHERTY: Time management is important. You can’t binge-study and make it work. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. There are limited effects to all-nighters. Maybe in high school or college you could do it, but not in medical school. There’s too much to learn and too much knowledge to integrate. Pace yourself.

RAJPUT: There’s no point studying 12 to 14 hours, because your brain cannot take it. Ideally, the number of hours you study should equal the number of hours you sleep. Your brain is like a computer. Only when you sleep does the information you studied get stored on the hard drive of the brain. Don’t deprive yourself of sleep.

FLAHERTY: You have to get enough sleep. Only when you get to stage-4 sleep can you store memory. Know your cycles. And find out where you study best. Some like to be in study rooms with others, some like to be in their own room. Make sure the significant part of your study time is by yourself. You can have a study group for a couple of hours to review something, and that can enhance your learning.

RAJPUT: Showing up and being on time, whether it’s going to class or to the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) are key. Some students say they just don’t learn in the classroom. At least try it. See if it works. And when you get an invitation to CTL, you show up. Then you work hard. There’s no excuse, no choice, no alternative – in medical school you have to work hard. That does not mean you jeopardize the balance between your work and social life.

FLAHERTY: Emotional states can enhance or depress learning. Beware: certain emotional, cognitive states will depress learning. Reducing stress can help. What can you do to reduce your stress level? Call a friend, talk to people, log on to Facebook, exercise, go to the gym, listen to music – whatever works. It helps to stay healthy, and good nutrition is critical.

RAJPUT: Nutritious comfort food can also play a big role.

To recap, here are the top seven survival skills medical students need to succeed:

  1. Build and maintain social networks.
  2. Develop study habits that work for you.
  3. Learn to manage your time.
  4. Get enough sleep.
  5. Show up and be on time.
  6. Work hard.
  7. Learn to reduce stress.

Note from Dean Flaherty: An additional set of skills is needed in the clinical years of the medical school program. Dr. Rajput and I will have a conversation about that topic in an upcoming blog.

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Tags: Academics , Leadership

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