HealthMay 27, 2020

How to connect with senior medical students

By: Marilyn Chau, MD

Starting medical school can be a terrifying time. You’ve finally reached a new pinnacle in your medical 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 school’s senior medical students can help make your first year as a medical student much less stressful.

How to connect with senior medical students

Figuring out how to bridge the social gap between MS1 and MS3 or 4 can be challenging. Here are four approaches to consider.

1. Take advantage of established mentorship programs

There’s no point in reinventing the wheel. My own medical school offered a “Big Brothers Big Sisters” mentorship program that paired incoming MS1s with upperclassmen. The meetings were fairly informal—typically centered on food or drinks—and provided an easy way to meet and learn from students who’d successfully navigated the challenges of their freshman medical school year. Sign-up for the program was within the first few weeks of the school year and meetings happened every one to two months.

The meeting schedule might sound too infrequent, but it was a reasonable time commitment considering our busy schedules. And the support in the group went both ways—by the end of the year, MS1 students were supporting and encouraging the upperclassmen, too, for example with Step 2 care packages.

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 freshman 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 upperclassmen 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. Many medical schools offer tutors who are funded by work-study programs and so are free to you. 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 tutors available to you.

Although they’re created with different goals than mentorship programs, tutoring programs can still be an excellent way to bridge barriers that would otherwise stop you from meeting and benefiting from upperclassmen. After all, these tutors have already indicated interest in providing help to underclassmen. And since they’ve been where you are before, senior students know how to succeed in the courses you’re taking.

4. Leverage social media

If your medical school doesn’t have built-in mentorship or academic tutoring programs, you’ll have to be more intentional in seeking out professional guidance. Enter social media. Whether or not you’re a fan of Facebook and other social media sites, they’re an easy way to connect with upperclassmen 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 upperclassmen who post about these opportunities, even if it’s just through a direct message.

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. Most MS4 schedules allow ample time for this. 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.

Marilyn Chau, MD
Lippincott® Medicine
Lippincott is a leading international medical publisher of professional health information for practitioners, faculty, residents, students, and healthcare institutions with a full suite of essential medical products, from books and journals to digital solutions.
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