How to excel and succeed in medical school


Excel and succeed in medical school

How to excel and succeed in medical school.

A lot of newly admitted medical student would seek answer to this.

Being a medical student myself, I would say excelling in medical school is not a child’s play. The anxiety that comes with being a newly admitted medical student isn’t a new thing. It also comes with joy and excitement because you realise that many people applied for medical school but only very few (less than 5%) of those who applied usually get admitted into medical school. This is not because they are dumb or unintelligent , but because the carrying capacity of medical school is usually very limited.

During your first few days in medical school, you would go through series of sharp adjustments. First you would realise that medical school calendar is usually different from the general school calendar. It is usually longer than the normal school calendar, and medical students usually have lesser breaks than others because they have a lot to cover.

I am going to be talking from the perspective of a Nigerian medical school like University of Ibadan, University college hospital Ibadan. The difference between a Nigerian medical school and a medical school in the United states is that , in Nigeria, to become a medical student you don’t need to have a first degree(BSc), all you need is to pass the entrance examination and meet the cut off mark for acceptance. Although your first year in the university would be only on science courses , after passing this first year, you would then start your first year in medical school in Nigeria, where you would start doing Anatomy, Physiology and Biochemistry.

The duration of MBBS(bachelor of medicine; bachelor of surgery) is usually from 5 to 7 years , excluding your first year in the university (when you would be doing science courses). You can read more about medical school in Nigeria online.

In case you were wondering, that picture you saw above is the picture of my school, University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, Oyo state. It is among the first medical school established in Nigeria, with an intake of about 100 medical students out of about 9000 applications annually.

OK, let’s get to the main business. How to excel in medical school.

First you need to enter medical school with a right set of mind. You need to be prepared and ready for a lot of work. Whoever said medical school was easy is far from being honest. Medical school isn’t easy, you have to be ready to work hard and put away unnecessary distractions.

It’s important to state that, before resuming into medical school proper, you should get accustomed to some of the first things you would be taught in anatomy, Physiology and Biochemistry.

Anatomy is divided into three main categories in preclinical(first year to second year) :
1)Gross Anatomy
This deals with the structure of the human body. Here you would learn about all the structures in the body, their medical names, their locations, and their clinical correlates. You would also be doing dissection of the cadaver(dead human body) , for practical in anatomy. Dissections is usually done regionally( upper limbs to pelvis & perineum to abdomen, thorax, head and neck), you would identify the things you have learnt in your anatomy textbooks during dissection.

This is concerned with the development of the foetus in a gestating mother.

This is concerned with the study of the tissues and their microscopic structures.

You would also be doing Physiology , which is concerned with the study of the functions of the various systems in the body.

Biochemistry is concerned with the study of the chemical activities that take place in the human body.

Any other course you would be doing varies from school to school. You might also do neuro-anatomy, genetics, medical statistics etc.

A lot of newly admitted students face the challenge of selecting the right textbook for each course.

I am going to be recommending some textbooks in each course and tell you the reason why I recommend them.

For gross anatomy, I will recommend “Frank Netters Atlas of Human Anatomy” and “Moore clinically oriented anatomy”. You should buy the hard copies of both books in a bookshop near you. This books are the most recommended books in a vast majority of medical schools all over the world. Complement this two books with soft copies of other anatomy books like “BRS gross anatomy” and “Rohen Color Atlas of Anatomy, A photographic study of the human body”. With these four books, there is nothing stopping you in anatomy, I will tell you how to use these books properly to your advantage.

For Moore clinically oriented anatomy, this is a very important book that explains the concepts and clinical applications of Anatomy. This is where you would get to know all the structures of the human body on a personal level, and you get to know their clinical applications. The book looks bulky and it’s quite big, a lot of you might be intimidated by the size of the book and the volume of information in it. Luckily for you this book is filled with so many beautiful diagrams that would stimulate your interest and help your imagination while reading it. For those of you that are easily intimidated by a big book, I would advice you to read the topic in BRS anatomy first before reading the topic in Keith Moore COA. BRS anatomy summarizes everything for you, it brings out the main point for you, and gives you a foundational idea of what you are about to read in Keith Moore. It would really help to read BRS gross anatomy first then read Keith Moore COA. Although there is no introduction to anatomy in BRS gross anatomy, it is better you read the introduction in Keith Moore COA , before you begin to read the way I just described.

Now let’s move to the anatomy Atlas. This Atlas is the map of the human body, it shows you where all the structures are placed in the body relative to the body framework and other structures. Frank Netters Atlas of Human Anatomy can be studied extensively before going for your dissections. It’s like a map for you before going on your journey. Frank Netters allows you to understand the positions of the various structures of the body, the only down side is that, there are anatomical variations in human body structures most especially with blood vessels and nerves. Again, the pictures in Frank Netters are not usually very realistic, because they are too beautifully drawn, its more like the ideal, but as we know it, real life things don’t usually conform with ideality. This brings us to Rohen Color Atlas of Anatomy, A photographic study of the human body. This books contains real pictures of the cadaver. The advantage with this is that, it enables easy location of the structures while you are dissecting, because you get to be able to compare the cadaver you are working on easily with the pictures of real cadavers in Rohen’s Color Atlas. So that’s why it’s good to get accustomed to the structures first in Frank Netters and then take along with you, Rohen’s Color Atlas to the dissection room, for easy identification of structures whenever confusion arises.

For your dissection you would need a book to guard you. This brings us to “Cunningham’s manual of practical anatomy”. It’s better you get the hardcopy, because using a soft copy as a guard in the dissection room won’t be such a nice experience for you. Unless you want your device all covered up with smelly cadaver fluids.

For histology you can use “diFiore’s Atlas of Histology with functional correlations” as the histology atlas(which is a very organized book) together with Junqueira’s Basic Histology Text & Atlas as the histology textbook proper. Soft copy or hardcopy of any or both of the books would do.

For Embryology you can use either Moore Developing Human or Langman Medical embryology. Any of the two textbooks would do.

Let’s go straight to Physiology. This is a very important course for medical student and your choice of textbook is very critical. The most widely used and recommended textbook for Physiology is “Guyton and Hall Textbook of medical Physiology”. Although a lot of student have numerous complaints about this book, the most common being that it contains more information than someone really needs for first year medical school, for this reason I won’t recommend Guyton, although you can still go for it if volume and depth is your thing. I would actually recommend “Ganong’s review of medical Physiology”, the book is not too voluminous and doesn’t contain too much of information that isn’t really needed for first year medical student. I must warn you, do not depend on a single medical book especially for physiology, for those that would go for my recommendation which is Ganong, I want you to get the soft copy of ” BRS Physiology ” and soft copy of ” Pocket companion to Guyton and Hall Textbook of medical Physiology”. The pocket companion is a very brief summary of all the concept in the voluminous Guyton textbook itself, so read through this first in a particular topic, to give you a rough sketch, then read your BRS Physiology, this contains bulleted main points and central idea in Physiology, by the time you are through with this two books, understanding the same topic you will read in Ganong would be so much easier. I know you might be thinking that this process is too long and tiring, remember I told you Medicine isn’t easy, and you have to be ready to work. Cell Physiology is usually the first topic treated in Physiology, so read this topic first before resuming.

Then for Biochemistry, I would recommend Harper’s Illustrated Biochemistry which is a very good book, it’s a beautiful book although they don’t usually put clinical applications in the boxes, it’s still very relevant with review questions at the end of the chapters. I would also recommend “DM Vasudevan Textbook of Biochemistry for Medical student” , as the name implies, this book is specially written having the medical students in mind. Clinical applications/importance are written in boxes although review questions aren’t included in Vasudevan.

Also, after reading any topic and you want to see how vast you are in a topic, you can decide to test yourself using Lippincott Illustrated reviews flash cards , that’s available for Physiology, Biochemistry, functional anatomy, histology, embryology and neuroscience. You can also use flash cards from LANGE or Netter’s. Search Google to download the desired flash cards.

It would be important to state that in Physiology and Biochemistry, never joke with your lecture notes. Always attend classes and read lecture slides, it’s very important. Talk to your seniors and ask them how questions are set for tests, in-courses and exams. Always seek advice and guidance from your senior, follow their advice in addition to the information written here.

Again, try as much as possible to read something everyday no matter how little. There is really nothing like reading too much in medical school, it’s all for your own good. Know what works best for you and work on it very well.

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  1. This is really detailed.
    I am a newly admitted DE Student into UI.
    I already have BSc from the same UI.
    Looking forward to seeing you in UI, I will sure need your help. Mind if I can have your contact?