Notes to My Medical Students: On Studying
Dr Alex Tang
Studying and studying hard are the defining characteristics of a medical
student. During my varsity days, as my friends from the Arts and Science goes
off to the pubs and parties for the evening, the standing joke are that the
medical students are monks and nuns who have to stay back to fulfill their daily
ritual of offerings to the god of medicine. Studying and studying hard are still
the hallmarks of medical students though I note that the newer textbooks are
written in simpler language, more colorful and very much thinner.
Maybe in the past you depend on your intelligence to get away from hard work.
You studied and understand the system in your secondary schools and colleagues.
Using this knowledge you are able to coast through with minimal work. This may
work when you are the most intelligent fish in a small pool. In medical faculty,
things are different. You will find that everyone is as intelligent as or even
more intelligent than you! Everyone is smart, committed and well-motivated. The
game has changed. So must your game plan. It is no longer enough to do the
minimal and just coast by. You will have to study and study hard. There is a
core content of knowledge that you have to assimilate and there is no other way
of assimilating this except to sit down and study. The commonality of students
who failed and have to repeat the year are their inadequacy of their core of
Not only you have to study harder, you also have to study smarter. There are a
lot of information in each medical discipline but you are not required to know
everything. You are required to know what is common and important. Start by
finding out from your tutors which are the common and important topics. Some
departments have helpfully identified these topics for you. Study these topics
and remember them well. Rare conditions may be fun to memorize but this
impresses nobody, especially your consultants. Make notes, create keywords and
develop a way to memorize these information. Memorization works by repetition;
so repeat, repeat and repeat.
Finally, make learning a way of life. Students love to try to beat the system by
studying past years’ questions. And it may even work, allowing you to graduate
on time. The final test of all your studying is not in the exams results or your
piece of diploma but when you are faced with a very sick and dying patient. It
is 4am in the morning and there is no senior staff around to consult. The
patient’s life is in your hands. You are on your own and your only recourse
(aside from Google, which may not be too helpful) is your own assimilated core
of knowledge. Build the foundation for your core of knowledge now as a student
and continue to study and add onto it the rest of your professional career.
06 March 2015