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Staying Organized in Medical School

Medical school is complicated, and it can be easy to get lost in the process. Just three objects make my world a little easier to manage.

Paper Planner: I am a pen-to-paper gal, so I use a planner to keep myself organized. I divide each day into three sections: academics, wellness and other. For academics, I include the number of lectures I need to study, required activities, pre-work reminders and assignments. I try to keep this section less cluttered by using my phone for referencing the school class/activity calendar. My wellness section often includes yoga class times, personal training goals, and the occasional reunion with friends who are not in medical school. My other section is full of tasks such as folding laundry, preparing lunch for the next day, attending events at Michigan Medicine, and practicing for Biorhythms, a student-run dance organization at UMMS. I plan as far ahead in advance as possible to (1) maximize my study time, and (2) maintain professional and personal relationships.

A snapshot of one of the pages in my First Aid book and my new planner for the clinical trunk year.

First Aid for the USMLE Step 1: I use the First Aid (FA) text to complement my weekly sequence learning. This book was written to help students condense preclinical information into more than 650 pages of must-know concepts. Fortunately, FA was provided to incoming first-year medical students a couple of months into the first year. I wish I had received it sooner though because it helps me stay focused on retaining the most high-yield information. In addition, each sequence is taught by different instructors with their own style and determination of what is and is not significant to learn in the first year. As a result, FA complements what may or may not be included in classroom learning. I hole-punched the text at a local print shop to put it in a binder. Not all the information I need to know for the USMLE Step 1 exam is provided in the book, so I needed the space to include my notes from lectures and small groups. Some organization and preparation now will help me be as ready as possible for the USMLE Step 1 study period after my second year.

Tablet: Throughout my undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan, I used paper for all of my note-taking. Like I mentioned before, I use a planner to stay organized. I did not think I would like using a tablet for studying purposes, so I started medical school by printing out the lecture slides and writing directly on them as I had always done before. What I quickly realized was that (1) I was not helping the environment by printing so much, (2) I did not have the space to hold all those notes, and (3) I would spend as much money printing and purchasing ink throughout the year as I would investing in some convenient technology. On my iPad, I keep all the slides in dividers and subjects in an application called Notability, so I never leave notes at home! I can also easily transport my iPad to and from school, which makes room in my backpack for my binder of the First Aid book discussed previously. I chose the iPad because I determined that it was the best way for me to study efficiently. However, there is no specific technology that is mandatory for students to have or use. The UMMS Financial Aid Office is also available to help students finance educational items…such as a tablet!

Spending 30 minutes updating my planner every week, consistently devoting a few hours every Saturday to adding information to my First Aid book, and regularly charging my tablet has made the transition to medical school just a tad less difficult. Every person is different, so when you matriculate as a medical student, spend some time adjusting to the pace of school and finding ways that work for you to stay organized.