Five Habits to Establish as a First Year Medical Student

Over the next several weeks first year medical students all over the country will be embarking on the beginning of their medical education. Getting accepted into medical school is huge accomplishment that denotes a level of commitment and perseverance over several years. With the daunting task of medical school facing you, it is important to have a plan that will enable you to start the academic year on the right foot.

Regardless of the classes being virtual or in-person, the pillars of succeeding as a medical student will remain the same. Below I list five habits to keep in mind as you prepare to dive into the pre-clinical years of medical school.

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Understand Your Learning Style

The pre-clinical curriculum consists of some combination of lectures, small groups, and tests. In order to navigate the pre-clinical years well, it is important to identify how you learn best. Different learning modalities to consider include lecture (in person and/or recordings), reviewing lecture PowerPoints, reading textbooks, using outside resources and learning tools. Identify what works best for you. Adjust and adapt your strategy as necessary, especially early on.

“Adjust and adapt your strategy as necessary, especially early on.”

Dr. Joseph X. Robin, Contributor, Med Student Edge

Establish Your Routine

Build a schedule and be accountable for your time. Managing your studies efficiently means understanding how you allocate your time and making the appropriate adjustments. It is important to ration your time in a way that reflects the material you are covering in class. Recognize when you’re getting too bogged down in minuscule details or when you need to review a concept more thoroughly. As a part of your schedule you should also make time for the non-academic activities that are important to you.

Own Your Own Education

You are responsible for making your education what you want it to be. This means recognizing when you need help or need to make an adjustment. For me, this came in the form of talking to my peers in my class and the classes above me. If you need help, go get it. For students that want their medical student experience to be highlighted by service, research, or leadership, identify how you can make it happen.  You are the captain of your ship!


Learning to interact as future medical professional starts now. This means learning to communicate in a respectful and self-aware manner with physician educators, classmates, and everyone else you come in contact with. You are not only representing yourself but also your school. One area that many medical students struggle with is professional communication, notably responding to emails in a timely and concise manner. Professionalism matters and will continue to matter moving forward.

Maintain a Life Outside of Medicine

It is easy to fall into life consuming work habits, but make time for the things and people that are important to you. There will certainly be weeks where a healthy work life balance will be difficult to maintain, but know that this is temporary. Pre-clinical education can be an isolating time. The support system you lean on will be crucial to your success and mental health in the future.

The standards you set for yourself in the first year will carry over to the subsequent years. While brief, this list covers helpful habits that can set the foundation for success moving forward into medical school.

What are your biggest concerns starting medical school? Comment below and be sure to check out our other medical school basics for getting started.

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