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Because of the snail's pace that education has developed at, most of us don't really know how to study because we've been told lectures and reading thousands of pages is the best way to go, and no one really wants to do that all day.
That's not the only way to study. My first year of medical school... You know when you start the year so committed, then eventually you skip lectures once or twice... then you just binge on skipping? Kinda like breaking a diet "Two weeks in: oh I'll just have a bite of your mac n' cheese... oh is that cake? and doritos? and french fries? Give me all of it all at once." Anyways, when that happened in first year I started panicking after a while; but after studying with friends who had attended lectures, I found they were almost as clueless as I was.
I'm not trying to say lectures are useless... What my fellow first years and I just didn't know was how to use the resources we had– whether we were keen beans or lazy pants, or somewhere in between. I still struggle with study habits, but I've formed some theories since and I'm going to share these with you.
While reading should not be the entire basis of your studying, it is the best place to start. Best to start with the most basic and detailed sources (ex.Tortora if it's a topic I'm new to, then Kumar and Clark, and Davidson's are where I usually start, but there are tons of good ones out there!). I do not feel the need to read every section of a chapter, it's up to the reader's discretion to decide what to read based on objectives.
If you do not have time for detailed reading, there are some wonderful simplified books that will give you enough to get through exams (ICT and crash course do some great ones!). I start with this if exams are a month or less away.
Later, it's good to go through books that provide a summarized overview of things, to make sure you've covered all bases (ex. Flesh and Bones, the 'Rapid ______" series, oxford clinical handbook, etc.). These are also good if you have one very specific question about a subject.
After all that reading, you want the most laid back studying you can find. This is where Meducation and Youtube become your best friend. (I can post a list of my favourite channels if anyone is interested).I always email these people to thank them. I know from the nice people that run this website that it takes a tremendous amount of effort and a lot of the time and it's just us struggling students who have much to gain.
Everyone should use video tutorials. It doesn't matter if you're all Hermione with your books; every single person can benefit from them, especially for osce where no book can fully portray what you're supposed to do/see/hear during examinations.
Some youtube channels I like
We're all thinking it, lectures can be boring. Especially when the speaker has text vomited all over their slides (seriously, If I can't read it from the back of the lecture hall, there's too much!. It's even worse when they're just reading everything to you, and you're frantically trying to write everything down. Here's the thing, you're not supposed to write everything down. If you can print the slides beforehand or access them on your laptop/ipad/whatever you use and follow along, do that.
You're meant to listen, nod along thinking (oh yes I remember this or oooh that's what happens? or Oh I never came across that particular fact, interesting!). It's also meant to be a chance for you to discuss interesting cases from the a doctor's experiences. If you're lucky to have really interactive lecturers, interact! Don't be shy! Even if you make a fool of yourself, you're more likely to remember what you learned better.
If you happen to be in a lecture you're completely unprepared for (basically 70% of the time?). Think of it as "throwing everything at a wall and hoping something sticks." Pull up the slides on your smart phone if you have one, only take notes on interesting or useful things you hear the speaker say. If all else fails, these lectures where tell you what topics to go home and read about.
My university has gradually increased its use of tutorials, and I couldn't be happier. Make the most out of these because they are a gift. Having the focused attention of a knowledgeable doctor or professor in a small group for a prolonged period of time is hard to lock down during hospital hours. Ask lots of questions, raise topics you're having trouble understanding, this is your protected time.
In group study activities, this is particularly hard to make the most of when everyone in your group varies in studying progression, but even so, it can be beneficial. Other people's strengths might be your weaknesses and vise versa– and it's always helpful to hear an explanation about something from someone at your level, because they will neither under or over estimate you, and they will not get offended when you tell them "ok I get it that's enough."
Myself and 3 of my medic friends would meet once a week the month or two leading up to exams at one of our houses to go through OSCE stations and concepts we didn't understand (food helps too).
Besides peer discussions, you should take advantage of discussions with doctors. If the doctor is willing to give you their time, use it well.
I am a practice question book hoarder. Practice questions book not only test and reaffirm your knowledge, which is often hard to find if your exams are cumulative and you have little to no quizes/tests. They also have concise, useful explanations at the back and, they tell you where the gaps in your studying are. For my neuro rotation, the doctor giving the first and last lecture gave us a quiz, it was perfect for monitoring our progress, and the same technique can be used in your studies.
Practical Clinical Experiences
If you freeze up during exams and blank out, and suddenly the only forms of text floating around your brain are Taylor Swift lyrics, these are bound to come to your rescue! "Learn by doing."
Take as many histories as you can, do as many clinical exams in hospital, and on your friends to practice, as you can, see and DO as many clinical procedures as you can; these are all easy and usually enjoyable forms of studying.
Have you ever had an experience where one of your peers asks you about something and you give them a fairly good explanation then you think to yourself "Oh wow, I had no idea that was actually in there. High five me."
If there is ever an opportunity to teach students in the years below you or fellow students in your year, do it! It will force you to form a simplified/accurate explanation; and once you've taught others, it is sure to stick in your head.
Even if it's something you don't really know about, committing yourself to teaching others something forces you to find all the necessary information. Sometimes if there's a bunch of topics that nobody in my study group wants to do, we each choose one, go home and research it, and explain it to each other to save time. If you're doing this for a presentation, make handouts, diagrams or anything else that can be used as an aid.
So, I think its about time I posted another blog post!
A few weeks ago I received the results from my most recent scan. I was both nervous and excited to find out my results, after months of tests and being misdiagnosed several times I just wanted to know what was wrong with me. However, as I read through the letter from my consultant I realised that my journey was just beginning. I was diagnosed with a rare stomach condition.
Gastroparesis. A chronic illness. There is no known cure, just various treatments with limited success. I didn’t really know how to react to this news. Shouldn’t I be happy that I finally knew what was wrong?
I had convinced myself for months that as soon as the doctors found out what was wrong, they could fix it and I’d be better in no time, but this wasn’t to be. I couldn’t understand how this could happen. Slowly the reality began to sink in, I’ll probably be fighting this battle for the rest of my life.
I think the mental aspect of chronic conditions is so commonly overlooked. I’ve sat through endless lectures about the pathophysiology of illnesses but I’ve never once stopped to think what it must be like to actually have it. The way it can limit your life, from not being able to go for a drink with friends because you’re in too much pain to the countless hospital appointments that your life seems to revolve around. The thing that hit me the most is the amount of medications I have to take on a daily basis just to make my symptoms bearable. I no longer have full control of my life and that's the worst part.
This experience has given me an invaluable insight into how patients with chronic illness feel. It affects almost every aspect of your life and you can never escape. It scares me to think of the future, I never know when I’m going to get my next flare up or how long its going to last. I just have to take one day at a time and hope that when I wake up tomorrow I won’t be too nauseous.
After spending a few weeks feeling down about it all, I’ve realised that I just have to enjoy life when I can and be grateful that I can still live a normal-ish life. It doesn’t matter how much I complain, it's not going to go away, and I think I’ve finally accepted that fact.
If anything, this experience has made me more determined to achieve my dream of becoming a doctor. I’ve been a lot more motivated to work harder so that one day I can help others like me through some of their toughest times, hopefully bringing them some comfort and relief.
I've made this quite recently. Again as for the others information is credited to the NICE and SIGN guidelines. I have taken some information from the Oxford Handbook of Clinical Medicine too.
Any and all pictures are from google. Downloading the file may be a good option so you can see the notes at the bottom of slides (same goes for my cardiology and psychiatry presentation). Feedback is appreciated!
During our antibiotics teaching at medical school we were told that a recent survey of junior doctors had revealed that a significant proportion didn't realise that augmentin, tazocin, and carbopenems were penicillins and as such should not be given to those with known allergies. I devised a "mind-map" summarising the main antibiotics in use using information from the BNF and my own lecture notes. For me, seeing the information laid out in this manner, pinned above my desk as I work, helps me remember the major classes, their relationships with one another, and their major side-effects.
So you're sitting in a bus when you see a baby smile sunnily and gurgle at his mother. Your automatic response? You smile too. You're jogging in the park, when you see a guy trip over his shoelaces and fall while running. Your knee jerk reaction? You wince. Even though you're completely fine and unscathed yourself. Or, to give a more dramatic example; you're watching Titanic for the umpteenth time and as you witness Jack and Rose's final moments together, you automatically reach for a tissue and wipe your tears in whole hearted sympathy ( and maybe blow your nose loudly, if you're an unattractive crier like yours truly).
And here the question arises- why? Why do we experience the above mentioned responses to situations that have nothing to do with us directly? As mere passive observers, what makes us respond at gut level to someone else's happiness or pain, delight or excitement, disgust or fear? In other words, where is this instinctive response to other people's feelings and actions that we call empathy coming from?
Science believes it may have discovered the answer- mirror neurons.
In the early 1990s, a group of scientists (I won't bore you with the details of who, when and where) were performing experiments on a bunch of macaque monkeys, using electrodes attached to their brains. Quite by accident, it was discovered that when the monkey saw a scientist holding up a peanut, it fired off the same motor neurons in its brain that would fire when the monkey held up a peanut itself. And that wasn't all. Interestingly, they also found that these motor neurons were very specific in their actions. A mirror neuron that fired when the monkey grasped a peanut would also fire only when the experimenter grasped a peanut, while a neuron that fired when the monkey put a peanut in its mouth would also fire only when the experimenter put a peanut in his own mouth. These motor neurons came to be dubbed as 'mirror neurons'.
It was a small leap from monkeys to humans. And with the discovery of a similar, if not identical mirror neuron system in humans, the studies, hypotheses and theories continue to build. The strange thing is that mirror neurons seem specially designed to respond to actions with clear goals- whether these actions reach us through sight, sound, smell etc, it doesn't matter. A quick example- the same mirror neurons will fire when we hop on one leg, see someone hopping, hear someone hopping or hear or read the word 'hop'. But they will NOT respond to meaningless gestures, random or pointless sounds etc. Instead they may well be understanding the intentions behind the related action. This has led to a very important hypothesis- the 'action understanding' ability of mirror neurons.
Before the discovery of mirror neurons, scientists believed our ability to understand each other, to interpret and respond to another's feeling or actions was the result of a logical thought process and deduction. However, if this 'action understanding' hypothesis is proved right, then it would mean that we respond to each other by feeling, instead of thinking. For instance, if someone smiles at you, it automatically fires up your mirror neurons for smiling. They 'understand the action' and induce the same sensation within you that is associated with smiling. You don't have to think about what the other person intends by this gesture. Your smile flows thoughtlessly and effortlessly in return.
Which brings us to yet another important curve- if mirror neurons are helping us to decode facial expressions and actions, then it stands to reason that those gifted people who are better at such complex social interpretations must be having a more active mirror neuron system.(Imagine your mom's strained smile coupled with the glint in her eye after you've just thrown a temper tantrum in front of a roomful of people...it promises dire retribution my friends. Trust me.)
Then does this mean that people suffering from disorders such as autism (where social interactions are difficult) have a dysfunctional or less than perfect mirror neuron system in some way?
Some scientists believe it to be so. They call it the 'broken mirror hypothesis', where they claim that malfunctioning mirror neurons may be responsible for an autistic individual's inability to understand the intention behind other people's gestures or expressions. Such people may be able to correctly identify an emotion on someone's face, but they wouldn't understand it's significance. From observing other people, they don't know what it feels like to be sad, angry, surprised or scared.
However, the jury is still out on this one folks. The broken mirror hypothesis has been questioned by others who are still skeptical about the very existence of these wonder neurons, or just how it is that these neurons alone suffered such a developmental hit when the rest of the autistic brain is working just dandy? Other scientists argue that while mirror neurons may help your brain to understand a concept, they may not necessarily ENCODE that concept. For instance, babies understand the meaning behind many actions without having the motor ability to perform them. If this is true, then an autistic person's mirror neurons are perfectly fine...they were just never responsible for his lack of empathy in the first place.
Slightly confused? Curious to find out more about these wunderkinds of the human brain? Join the club. Whether you're an passionate believer in these little fellas with their seemingly magical properties or still skeptical, let me add to your growing interest with one parting shot- since imitation appears to be the primary function of mirror neurons, they might well be partly responsible for our cultural evolution! How, you ask? Well, since culture is passed down from one generation to another through sharing, observation followed by imitation, these neurons are at the forefront of our lifelong learning from those around us. Research has found that mirror neurons kick in at birth, with infants just a few minutes old sticking their tongues out at adults doing the same thing.
So do these mirror neurons embody our humanity? Are they responsible for our ability to put ourselves in another person's shoes, to empathize and communicate our fellow human beings? That has yet to be determined. But after decades of research, one thing is for sure-these strange cells haven't yet ceased to amaze and we definitely haven't seen the last of them. To quote Alice in Wonderland, the tale keeps getting "curiouser and curiouser"!