Starting medical school can be a terrifying time. You’ve finally reached a new pinnacle in your academic career, but you’re also suddenly in a significantly more challenging academic environment than you’ve ever experienced before. While it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and alone, keep in mind that even though this experience is new to you, it’s actually something that others might be considered “experts” in. Finding ways to learn from your medical school’s senior students can help make your first year as a medical student much less stressful.
Figuring out how to bridge the social gap between freshers and senior students can be challenging. Here are four approaches to consider.
1. Find mentors from amongst the senior students
Having a mentor is a great way to negotiate the tricky terrain of adapting to something new. It helps you learn from students who’d successfully navigated the challenges of their first year medical school.
First, find out if there are established mentorship programs in your medical school. If yes, these programs can help you meet and pair with seniors. If this is not an option, explore if there are any senior students in your medical school who are part of your broader friends, family or alumni networks. If this too doesn’t work, reaching out to seniors who share common interests with you, or asking members of the faculty, also are good ways to find someone who can mentor you.
2. Join interest groups
Most medical specialties have interest groups at many medical schools, and these groups are excellent ways to connect with students in classes other than your own.
If you’re not sure what medical specialty you’re most interested in pursuing, don’t let that stop you from attending interest group meetings. When you’re a first year medical student, it’s generally understood that your specialty interest will change throughout your medical school career.
Go ahead and attend meetings for groups you have at least some degree of interest in. The connections you make with the seniors attending those meetings could be the pivotal factor for you deciding what specialty to pursue in your future.
3. Use your school’s academic resources
Don’t let insecurity about your perceived “intelligence” hold you back from taking advantage of your school’s academic resources. All medical schools will have libraries with free print and online resources, and the staff (and faculty) can guide you to the right resources. While seeking academic assistance during medical school may feel intimidating, the smart thing to do is to be honest with yourself if you’re struggling with a class or concept and to use the tools available to you.
4. Leverage social media
If your medical school doesn’t have built-in mentorship program, you’ll have to be more intentional in seeking out professional guidance. Enter social media. Whether or not you’re a fan of Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media sites, they’re an easy way to connect with seniors as well as with your own classmates. Most medical school classes have closed or private groups for your school that you can request to join.
Even if you’re not inclined to be active within the group, joining can still be a great way to stay informed about possible research or volunteer projects that are happening in other medical school classes. Reach out to the seniors who post about these opportunities, even if it’s just through a direct message.
5. Pay it forward
As you advance through medical school, consider how you can do your part to bridge the gap between with your junior classmates. Remember, even when you’ve finally risen to the top of the medical school totem pole, you’re about to feel like you’re right back at the bottom of the medical hierarchy when you start your intern year.
Be the one to volunteer for medical school mentorship programs or tutoring classes, and take the time to answer questions posted by incoming students on social media, whether it’s advice for a class or recommendations for good apartments in the area. You’ll soon be in the position of needing advice again from the senior residents in your own field, so take the time now to look out for others, and hopefully someone else will do the same for you.