The medical profession is critical for the health and wellbeing of the human race. The vitality of the roles of these professionals is even more apparent in the face of the current pandemic. But, the road to a career in medicine is a long journey; one that is filled with several pitfalls of medical training. So I’ll draw from my experience to explore some of these obstacles that you will need to overcome to succeed in your studies and career.
Failing to Plan
Medical school has several hurdles that you must navigate. There are many exams, clinicals, and other obligations that are a part of your training. You likely planned your pre-medical training to ensure your successful launch into your medical training. Similarly, you now need to have a strategic plan in place for all phases of medical school to ensure that you develop and excel as a well-rounded professional.
Focusing on Just Passing Exams
Yes, we know, the exams are very important. But, since most medical school exams are on a pass/fail basis, you can get lulled into a false sense of security. After all, you’re surrounded by brilliant peers, so you could see your passing grades as validation that you are performing well in your medical studies.
But, if you’re not getting strong grades, then you can fall into the trap of believing that medical school is not for you. But, that’s not true at all! You simply need to understand how you learn and recall critical concepts and adapt your study plan to fit your needs. You may also need to get focused guidance at some point to help you improve your performance. Just, don’t give up!
Whichever case applies to you, it’s important to internalize the medical concepts. So that when the time comes for you to apply them in real life, then you can shine in improving and saving lives.
Failing to Leverage all Resources
Another of the pitfalls of medical training is failing to utilize all the available resources. You should regularly meet with your professors, as they will give valuable advice and insights into your medical studies and future career.
Also, you need to use all the question banks available to help test and build your medical proficiency. Study groups can be effective but choose your study partners wisely. You want persons with a variety of strengths in the group for the best results. But, you should also allocate time to study on your own, so that you can be sure that you have mastered your areas of weakness and maximized your areas of strength.
Ignoring Core Subject Areas
The medical discipline is built on a set of core subjects that you must fully understand. So subjects like physiology, pharmacology, and pathology will not only be applicable for Year 1. All of these areas will come back into play, whether you’re doing radiology, pathology, internal medicine, or surgery. Therefore, having a firm foundation in these areas is essential.
Burnout and Momentum Across the Levels
Medical school has a set of exams that you need to pass to move onto to the next level. So doing well on USMLE Step 1, means that you now have USMLE Step 2 to consider. But, it’s easy to burnout and lose motivation and direction. So make sure that you schedule enough time to relax between major exams. You should also use that downtime to plan how to excel at the next phase.
Your Choice of Specialty
Choosing your specialty is important. When I was in medical school, I thought that I wanted to do either diagnostic radiology, interventional radiology or possibly radiation oncology. However, as medical school progressed, I finally narrowed down my choices to radiology, which would allow me to do either diagnostic or interventional radiology. And I ended up choosing diagnostic radiology with a focus on body MRI.
So don’t be in a hurry to choose your specialty. Your third year of medical school will expose you to a variety of clinical rotations, you will complete several electives. Do everything with a mind to learn and to enjoy the process of learning. Then as you learn, you will see which specialty is the best fit for you. Also, don’t be afraid to take a year off after your second or third year to explore the specialties you are interested in. You will also get a short, but well-needed break from your medical school curriculum. This not only improves your application but allows you to plan the next steps with a fresh mind.
Your Choice of Residency Location
Where you choose to do your residency is an important consideration for your career and personal satisfaction. It is ideal to practice in a location where you will see complex pathology and innovative procedures, so consider large cities or top medical institutions such as the Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic.
That being said, getting into such programs is competitive. So, regardless of your specialty, you will need to create a strategy and follow it. This entails applying for away rotations, gaining research experience, pursuing student leadership roles, and volunteering for medical outreach. Do all that you can to create a unique, exceptional profile to get into the residency program of your dreams. And that process starts from Year 1 of medical school.
Underestimating the Rigors of Residency
Getting into your chosen residency program is one thing. Managing all the responsibilities is another! One of the pitfalls of medical training is not understanding and/or not planning for the pressure-filled responsibilities of residency.
Every residency program is unique and each specialty has its own set of requirements. Your sub-specialty also introduces another degree of detailed requirements. Different specialties have their set of exams that you need to complete so that you can practice in that specialty. For example, during surgical residency, residents have to take the ABS exams. These exams are an important component of their training and future candidacy for fellowships. Likewise, internal medicine residents have to take the ABIM exams. So you need to understand these requirements and plan how to meet and exceed them.
Avoid the Pitfalls of Medical Training
I have explored several pitfalls of medical training and now you are aware of the key areas that you’ll need to closely monitor. Medical school can be quite challenging, but the process of becoming a highly effective medical doctor is life-changing. So don’t give up! Persevere through the challenges to see your dream of practicing medicine become a reality.
About the Author
Akshay Goel, MD is a body trained radiologist and an expert in medical education and imaging informatics. He completed his Radiology Residency at the Columbia University Medical Center and his fellowship at Weill Cornell Medicine. Dr. Goel is also the lead educator at Medlearnity and is committed to working with medical students and physician trainees at all levels to excel in their MCAT, USMLE, COMLEX, Shelf/NBME, and Residency Board Exams. He has guided several doctors into successful careers over the past eight years.