The moment you have anxiously waited for finally arrives: You receive the call or letter with news that you have been accepted to medical school. And after some well-deserved celebration, you wonder, "What now?"
Applicants can hear back from medical schools as early as six months or more before matriculation. While some rest is warranted, the time between when you receive an acceptance and the start of med school is an opportune window to prepare for the journey ahead.
Here are four activities that can help you as you prepare to start your medical education:
-- Review physiology.
-- Read about medical humanities.
-- Develop effective strategies for coping with stress.
-- Learn another language.
Physiology is one of the most important courses you will take as a first-year med student. Physiology is a conceptual course that can be better grasped if you avoid memorization and try to understand the principles through careful study.
A strong understanding of physiology can help you excel in the basic science years and when you take the United States Medical Licensing Examination, commonly known as the USMLE, or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination of the United States, known as the COMLEX-USA.
Strong knowledge in physiology is also useful during your clinical years. Much of what you learn in a physiology course about the workings of the human body will be applicable as you rotate through different clinical services such as internal medicine, surgery, and obstetrics and gynecology.
For example, if you encounter a patient with acute renal failure on a clinical rotation, your knowledge of physiology will be paramount to determining the cause of the renal failure and administering the appropriate treatment. With a strong knowledge of physiology, you will grasp clinical concepts more rapidly and excel on clinical rotations.
Read About Medical Humanities
Beyond medical sciences like physiology, being a good doctor also requires understanding the human side of medicine. The months leading up to the start of med school are a great time to explore issues related to the medical humanities.
There are many useful resources that can help you delve into these topics. One popular book among aspiring physicians, "The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures" by Anne Fadiman, explores how culture influences the medical care that a patient and family members receive.
In another book, "Being Mortal," Dr. Atul Gawande explores end-of-life care through a multidisciplinary lens, taking into account the psychosocial issues that physicians need to be aware of.
The Journal of the American Medical Association also has a section on the medical humanities, with insightful essays and articles that can promote greater thinking about these topics.
Develop Effective Strategies for Coping With Stress
Medical school and residency can be quite time-intensive and stressful. Having an outlet to balance your academic and clinical activities can be a useful way to relieve stress and have a more productive experience.
There are many effective outlets through which med students and physicians may find balance, including sports, music, the arts, meditation or yoga.
If you already have a strategy that has worked in the past, use the time before med school to find out how you would work your outside interest into your academic schedule as a med student for a healthy life balance.
For example, if you are an avid tennis player, you may want to find out where you can play at or near your med school and potentially find others to play with.
If you are not sure of an outlet, take the time before med school to explore different options. Try yoga or start learning how to play the guitar. You may be pleasantly surprised and find yourself engaged in an activity that you never imagined.
A few months is plenty of time to develop a passion in something you enjoy. That passion will provide momentum to allow you to sustain the activity even when you get busy with med school.
Learn Another Language
When I was a fourth-year med student, I had a rotation where 75% of the patients spoke only Spanish. Knowing no Spanish in a clinic where we would see close to 100 patients a day made it very difficult for me to take patient histories and communicate.
Although I was quite busy with clinical duties, I scrambled to pick up at least some basic phrases so I could get by.
The few months you have before med school is ample time to become conversant in another language and to learn medical terms in that language. Depending on where you go to med school, Spanish will likely be of greatest value. However, if there is another language you are more interested in, take this time to learn it, even if you will not have many patients who speak it.
Learning a new language, whatever it may be, is a great way to tap into a new culture and understand people better. Also, once you begin to learn a second language, picking up a third or fourth language will become easier.
If you are passionate about learning Portuguese or Russian, don't let the fact that you will not encounter many speakers of the language deter you. The linguistic framework you develop from learning the language will help if you decide to pick up Spanish or Mandarin later on.
There are many great resources for language learning. One source that is primarily audio-based and can be done during your drive home or at the gym is the Michel Thomas Method, an online program with strategies that help you learn a different language faster than you otherwise might.
It may seem like a lot to take up all of these activities in the several precious months you have before medical school starts. However, you don't have to commit yourself intensely to any of these activities. Even if you carve out just one to two hours a day to attend to these activities, you will get a great deal of benefit. And make sure to balance these activities with rest, travel and relaxation.