How to create a study schedule for medical school

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Any system or organization that works efficiently has one thing in common, it is structured and organized. Why should you treat your studies any differently?

The most important step in becoming more organized and efficient is having a schedule. Many students realize this but can’t quite figure out how to make it work, or are unable to create one they are able to follow.

When setting up a schedule it is important to make one that you are able to stick with, and that fits you. To help you get there, here are 5 tips on how you can create a study schedule.

Set goals in your schedule

Your study schedule is very much like a recipe for how you are going to pass a subject. Therefore, it is important to set goals along the way. In this way it becomes a timeline with steps to follow in order to achieve your final goal.

For one particular subject, this might be to get through half of the topics on the topic list within 2 months, and for another it might be to read through chapter 1-5 within the next two weeks.

Depending on your preferences, you might like to schedule far out in time or make a week-by-week schedule. I recommend doing both.

Make a long-term schedule where you outline the broad strokes of what is going to happen and what you want to achieve.

This schedule should include your goals for the various subjects in the next months, including which subjects require the most attention (upcoming exam, large subject, etc.)

From your long-term schedule, you can make week-by week schedules.

These are a bit more detailed on what to study and when, as well as what/how much material you want to get done by the end of the given week.

If you want to get even more detailed you can make a daily schedule. This One shouldn’t be anything complicated, just a small schedule that you scribble down on a post-it note at the start of the day.

This daily schedule can help you manage your time and help you to avoid procrastination, and is worth a try.

Make a list of  your extracurricular activities to include in your schedule

Your schedule is primarily for helping you organize your studying more efficiently, but your life includes more than just studying. Therefore, you should list and include any extracurricular activities in your schedule.

This can be everything from working out, playing in a band, going to church, you name it. In addition to help you fit them into your schedule, you will also get an overview over how many activities you participate in.

If you constantly feel pressed for time (who doesn’t?), having this list might also help you become a bit more selective about which activities you want to continue participating in. You can’t participate in everything all the time.

This is not to say that you should start aggressively culling all of your activities. But if you feel you never have enough time to study, but you play an organized sport 3 times a week, sing in a choir, work out, volunteer at a homeless shelter, write in the school paper and you’re the head of the student council, you’re missing the elephant in the room.

In this case, you might want to be a bit more selective on which activities you want to continue pursuing. After all, ultimately becoming a doctor is in many ways your full-time job as a medical student.

Make your schedule flexible

As mentioned, you should make both long-term and short-term schedules to help you get more organized with your studies. However, be sure to keep them flexible so that you can easily adapt your schedule to changes during the semester.

Your schedule at school can change from week to week, making a rigid schedule difficult to follow.
One of the most effective ways to make your schedule flexible is to not make your long-term schedule too detailed.

Save your detailed planning for your weekly schedules which you can adapt to each coming week.

Be a boss and an employee when creating your schedule

When sitting down to make your schedule for the coming weeks or months, try to be both a boss and an employee.

The boss is the part of yourself that wants to get more studying done (higher production). The employee is the part that wants more leisure time.

Although it might sound a bit silly, these are the 2 sides of your mind that are battling for your time as a medical student. It is really easy to start studying less if your boss part becomes too liberal, or if your employee part is too lazy and demanding.

Negotiate and compromise, even if it is just in your head. Even better, write down the terms you made for yourself. This way, it makes it a little harder to skip studying if you already made a deal to study because you took a long weekend the week before.

Get inspiration from fellow students but don’t blindly copy them

Medical school is a demanding, which means that those who succeed have what it takes.

You don’t have to be extremely smart to make it through med school. It certainly helps, but it’s about more than that.

You can be as smart as you like, but if you don’t have the self-discipline and motivation necessary, you won’t get far.

So whenever you seek advice from someone regarding your studies, make sure to ask someone with a “track record”. Someone you know has what it takes.

In your first semester, this might be a bit hard, as none of you have much of a track record. Fear not, there are plenty of students that have made it through a couple of years who are more than willing to share their tips and recommendations.  

However, be picky and critical of their advice and be aware of those who throw out all kinds of absolutes on how to do things.

You also be extremely critical when asking about how much time they spend studying. 90% of medical students will exaggerate when asked this.

Also, be sure to ask more than just a handful of people. If many say and recommend the same thing, chances are it is something you should take into consideration.

Finally, remember that you are not the person you are taking the advice from, so don’t blindly copy their schedule, study habits or study preferences, it might not work all that well for you.