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Student life

5 Things I Wish I knew: 1st year ND school

1. How to take notes

Taking notes during first year lectures is absolutely crucial, but can be an overwhelming feat. Why? Because lectures are very dense. You receive massive quantities of information in very little time. Do not make the mistake of expecting to understand all the concepts by the time the lecture is over. Instead, aim to take notes on things that do not appear on the slides.

I strongly recommend using Evernote or Onenote, for a number of reasons.

  • Allows you to download lecture slides and organize them in a way that you can refer back to them for years to come (which you will, guaranteed)
  • You can access your notes from multiple devices, including clinic computers by logging in through the web
  • Typing notes is much more realistic than hand-writing them. If you like to hand-write your notes, save that for study time (see suggestions below).
  • Allows you to keyword search, which comes in very handy when you’re looking for a specific slide you remember seeing about, say, the cardiac cycle.

During lecture, my advice is to take a glance at the slide, take note of what information is there as you listen to the instructor speak about it. Add notes to fill in gaps where need be. No need to type every single word the instructor speaks since most of the data is on the slide already.

Many instructors will give clues about information that is significant for exam purposes. Do yourself a favor and indicate that in your notes somehow so you remember that as you’re studying.

Don’t ever assume you’ll remember something! There’s no harm in typing it in your notes. Even if you think it’s obvious, or significant enough that you’ll never forget – do it anyway! Trust me. You’d be surprised how easily things are forgotten when your brain is taxed with information.

2. How to maximize study time

Review lecture notes within 24 hours after the lecture. You can do this in 30 min by skimming through the slides, or you can take 2 hours to do this and re-write your notes on paper. No matter how you do it – you will save yourself hours of headache later in the semester if you do this simple task. Take a look at the forgetting curve below. After one day we forget over 60%, and by day 7 we’ve lost almost everything. Imagine if you didn’t review your notes until finals week – you’d have A LOT to catch up on and that would be unnecessary stress. Please don’t ever do this to yourself.

Everyone studies differently, so I’m not going to give specific study tips in this post. You can see my other posts if you’re looking for help in a specific subject. What I will tell you is that it can be very beneficial to re-write (or type) your notes. This give you a chance to reorganize your notes in a way that makes sense to you, and then this can become your primary study tool.

What worked well for me was opening the powerpoint slides and a google doc and creating my own outline with bullet points. This condenses the material and makes it less daunting to review.

3. How to prepare for a test

There’s the ideal way to prepare for a test, and there’s reality. Let’s start by accepting the fact that you will never feel fully prepared for an exam. Don’t be hard on yourself, don’t doubt yourself. Study the best you can and go into the exam with conviction, trusting that what you know will be enough to pass.

Ideally, you will have reviewed your lectures within 24 hours, and then also spent some time creating your own notes (unless you’re more comfortable with the slides). Reviewing the notes once or twice a week is also ideal.

Realistically, you will likely not look at your notes that frequently – HENCE THE IMPORTANCE OF REVIEWING WITHIN 24 HOURS! Begin exam preparation 2 weeks prior and start by dedicating time to review your notes. This is a good time to get out scratch paper and write out flow charts for biochem and physiology. For anatomy, you can do flow charts or rough sketches.

The goal here is to study ACTIVELY. This means digesting the information by translating it into your own words, or charts, drawings, etc. Reading slides is PASSIVE STUDYING works only for a very small percentage of the population. Most people need to study actively in order to perform well on exams.

4. How to take care of myself

You’ll hear people say the words, “self care” over and over again – and they’re not joking. If you don’t nurture yourself you will quickly reach your burnout point. It is up to you how you choose to take care of yourself, self care looks different for everyone. Some suggestions include:

  • Keep up an exercise routine
  • Going to walks outside during lunch time
  • Drink lots of water
  • Try to minimize caffeine dependence. If you’re tired, there’s a reason. Listen to your body
  • Regulate sleep. Pick a certain time to be done studying every night and stick to it
  • Engage in healthy relationships. Pick a time/day of the week to be social and not study
  • Eat well. Plan your menu so you have groceries on hand and don’t have to eat from the snack bar

5. How to find balance

This is an ongoing challenge for every human being, so mastering this art during year one is next to impossible. We live on a teeter totter, where there are times of excess and times of depletion. Med school will constantly try to nudge you toward depletion, so it’s up to you to be ready to counteract that. The best way to do so is by establishing a routine.

Take a look at your schedule right now, today. Decide what times are dedicated study times, and what are personal times. Where will you have time to focus on relationships? Exercise? Cooking? Make that commitment now and work to stick to it. You can make changes to your routine as you find what does and doesn’t work.

Recognize there will be periods where imbalance is expected (i.e. midterms and finals). You can be resilient in these hard times if you build up your energy stores when you have the opportunity. In other words, your routine is likely to somewhat fall apart during exam weeks, but then you can bounce back into your routine and this will serve to help you recover more quickly.


When all else fails. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Reach out to me if you have specific questions, or reach out to someone else you know who might offer support.

Student life

How to Study Biochem

When it comes to Biochemistry, my method of study is repetition and flow charts.

Biochemistry lectures tend to be very lengthy but generally it is one large concept studied in great detail. For example a lecture on the citric acid cycle could be 60 slides long but there are multiple slides that detail one particular step.

What I do for biochemistry is review the lecture slides within 24 hours after class. This is a must, because the more time goes by, the more difficult it is to recollect the information.  While reviewing, I would use scratch paper to categorize the topics that were covered, regrouping them into a flow that makes sense to me.



Because every metabolic pathway is related, your instructor can break up the material into whatever way works for them to lecture on it. You, however, have the option of taking that information from a different angle. This task can be very easy, or very difficult. Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest through the trees. That’s ok, better conceptual understanding will come with time. It helped me to look at the textbook chapter and paragraph headers to help me understand the relationship between concepts.

Once I have my categories, I go through the slides again and map out the material in a way that makes sense to me. My goal is to get the entire lecture onto one blank sheet of printer paper.

The citric acid cycle lecture was easily summarized by creating my own version of the cycle that was more pleasing to me visually. I like to looking at the steps of the process as a list rather than a circular structure. I created my list and I added all the details that I wanted to have from the slides. Then any other outlying topics that were covered in the lecture were added to my summary sheet separately.

Once I have created that summary sheet I use that to review as frequently as possible. Ideally, I would look at it every day at least just a quick review. But we all know that’s not realistic. The best way to review these notes is to copy them using a dry erase board. Read teach your self the entire lecture by using your summary sheet as a reference. Talking out loud helps!

You can also read your notes out loud onto your voice recorder app. I would read my one page summary sheet out loud and it would make about a 10 minute recording. I could listen to my recordings while getting ready and driving to school, and that counts as studying! No time goes to waste. Getting that repetition of material helps implant it in your memory. Added bonus: verbalizing your notes helps bring to light some concepts you don’t understand well. If you can’t talk through them, that means you don’t understand the concept and need to study it more.

To study for the exam, I would review my summary sheet and then try to recreate flow charts on my own. I would draw the flow charts over and over again, until I felt like I knew it. Then I’d get a blank sheet of paper and draw it without help. If I forgot a part, I’d keep going and write down everything I could remember, then check it after I was done. Once I could draw the flow chart without help, I knew I had it down! Often times, I’d draw the flow chart on the exam immediately, and refer back to it frequently throughout. This was especially helpful toward the end of the exam when your brain becomes tired, you’ve seen so many words they’re starting to blend together, and you lose confidence in yourself. I learned that I’m most confident right at the beginning of the exam, so that’s the ideal time to regurgitate info on paper that might help me out later.

If you get to a point where you can explain the material to a six-year-old, you know it well enough to ace the exam!


Student life

6 Ways to survive med school with kids

Establish a routine

Having a predictable schedule is hands-down the most important factor as a med school mom. While our class schedules might vary, our kids’ schedule doesn’t have to. For example, if our classes start at 8:00 one day and 9:00 another, we can still take our children to school at the same time. This allows our kids to get in their own routine of waking up at the same time and being ready to leave at the same time. 

How do we figure out what the schedule should be? Remember learning about the least common denominator? Our routine works the same way. If your earliest class starts at 8:00, that becomes the standard for the rest of your week. Work backwards from that time to determine when to wake up, when to wake our kids up, and when to leave the house. If your latest class ends at 5:00, but one day you get out early at 2:30 – leave your kids at the babysitter until their regular time and use your extra time that day to study or run errands. Spending that time wisely equates to more quality time with your kids later in the week, and less stress for everyone having to remember which day is earlier than the rest. You get the idea.  

Other elements of a good routine include:

  • eating dinner at the same time every evening (give or take 15 min)
  • determine which nights are bath/shower nights
  • establish the same bed time every night
  • perform household chores on set days of the week, and give assignments
  • and so on…

Set aside quality time

Within all the hustle and bustle of our daily routine, our children are often caught in the mix. They are very resilient, but they require our focused attention from time-to-time in order to maintain a cooperative relationship. If they know they are guaranteed quality time with us during the week, this will give them peace of mind. They deserve to know when they can count on having time with us. 

What works for me is making the core school hours my dedicated time to study and do homework. I work straight through my lunch break and during any class breaks. When I go home, my family has my full attention through dinner and bedtime. After that, I hit the books again.

As we set up our routines, we should also determine which evenings we can set aside for quality family time. For me personally, I like to work hard during the week and allow myself lots of time on the weekend. I have particular times on the weekend when I promise not to study – Friday nights, Saturday afternoon, and Sunday all day. These are peak family hours where we get to have movie nights, go for walks, play at the park, etc. A recent lesson I learned is the importance of setting aside Sunday for sabbath worship. I have been blessed by making this choice. This is my personal choice, and you can choose to adopt your own routine. My point is, I have found what works for me and my family. Be empowered to find what works for you.

Prepare the night before

Included in our daily routine is preparation. We set ourselves up for success by getting things ready for the next day. This will decrease stress in so many ways. What are some things we can prepare the night before?

  • Make lunches. Every day, immediately after school, our kids can empty out their backpacks and make their lunches for the next day.
  • Collect paperwork, filed trip forms, lunch money, etc. When kids empty out their backpacks, there is inevitably a huge pile of paperwork that is now our problem. While they pack their lunches (Yes, they can do it themselves with some coaching) this is a good time to go through it. We should add important dates to our calendar, ideally, one that is shared with our significant other so we can stay in sync. Forms that are complete can go immediately back into their backpacks so they aren’t forgotten the next morning.
  • Set out clothes. check the weather and have our children pick the appropriate clothing. This not only saves an argument the next morning, but also saves the heartbreak of being the parent that drops of kids in the rain without rain boots, or sends them out in the cold without a jacket. The last thing we want to worry about is driving back home to get the proper gear for the day!
  • Talk about plans. We should let our kids know what to expect.  Someone else is picking them up the next day, their siblings are going home with a friend, they have gymnastics after school tomorrow, etc. Dinner is a good time to have these discussions. It’s also beneficial to have a calendar and/or bulletin board in a common area where weekly plans can be in plain sight. A dry erase calendar works great for this.

Move at their pace

No matter how much we prepare and organize, there will always be days when our kids just drag their feet. Go easy on them. We should gently coax them into action, making subtle accommodations along the way to show them we are being sensitive to their needs.

I always say, “I can only move as fast as my slowest kid.”

The truth is, if we follow all of these other recommendations, we are going to have more good days than bad. When that one bad day rears its head, we can let it run it’s course knowing that it’s a rare occasion.

Another important thing to ask ourselves in those frustrating moments when our kids won’t get out of bed is this… “how much is this really going to set me back?” Depending on how we choose to handle the situation, it could set us back 5 minutes or 15 minutes. In my experience, if I get myself to their level for a minute and relate with them, then ask what I can do to help them have a better morning, things get moving a lot quicker than if I yell at them, “hurry up!”

Let’s be real, there are going to be days when we lose our patience. The idea is to set the expectation that there will be days we have to move slower, and if we accept that in advance it’s a lot easier to manage. Here are some catch phrases that help me light a fire under my pokey children:

  • I see that you’re having a hard time waking up, can I snuggle you for one more minute before you get dressed?
  • Can I help you get dressed today?
  • Let’s see if you can beat me getting buckled! ready… set… go!
  • Would you like to bring that in the car to play with?
  • Or sometimes I just completely ignore that they’re moving slow and I distract them by being silly, like making a funny face at them or pretending that I’m falling asleep, or breaking into song and dance. It’s amazing what a little distraction can do. Sometimes if they realize you’re not going to argue with them, they quickly get over it.

Make accommodations

When our schedules inevitably get shaken up by a sick child, extracurricular activities, or exam week, we have to be flexible. Be prepared to make accommodations for these situations. Here are some ways I create space for flexibility:

  • Have easy meals on-hand. Whether it’s a frozen option, a go-to crockpot meal, or a favorite take out restaurant, have a backup for those days when it’s just impossible to make meals.
  • Know what classes I can miss. Some classes aren’t worth missing because it causes more stress than it’s worth. Other classes are possible to miss without much repercussion. This is where I do a cost-benefit analysis, so to speak. If there’s a window of opportunity to visit a child’s classroom, attend a field trip, arrange a play date, have lunch with them, etc, we should take it! Last semester my kindergartner begged me to come read to her class. I searched my schedule and the only possible time for me to do so was during finals week, immediately after my last final exam. I scheduled the date with her teacher, who also made an accommodation for me, and then my daughter counted down the days. It wasn’t as soon as she wanted me to go, but it meant so much to her that I made the time to do it. Ideally, I would have loved to go on one of the 5 field trips I missed, but this was the best I could offer, and it sufficed.
  • Put a positive spin on it. When my daughter has gymnastics class, I bring my books and study as I wait. I set aside particular subjects that are easier for me to study with interruptions, because it is important to her that I watch certain parts of her practice. When my son goes to scouts, I go along and find a quiet room where I can study as I wait for him. This is typically uninterrupted time so I can study more difficult subjects. If we’re creative, we can always find ways to make the best of our situation.
  • Be willing to say “Forget it!” Some days just don’t turn out right at all. When those days happen we sometimes have to hit the off switch and just do some damage control. It’s ok! What’s more important in the end is keeping our family intact. Put the books down, shut off the phone, the computer, and whatever else is necessary to tune out the world. Bring the focus to the family and find a way to hit reset. Play games together, sit and read books, have a tea party, go for a walk or bike ride, watch a Disney movie… just be a kid and throw caution to the wind. Tomorrow is a new day.


However you choose to do so, don’t forget to take the time to show gratitude to our creator. There’s something to be grateful for every day, something to learn from, and something we need help with. I choose to address all of these things through daily prayer morning, noon, and night. It helps me tremendously, and it helps my family when we pray together.

I hope these insights are helpful for you. Please know that I am far from perfect. While all of these ideas are easy to write, they’re sometimes very difficult to put into action. I often have to reevaluate my routine and try new approaches. Give yourself time to experiment, and give yourself space when things don’t go the way you planned.

Share your ideas below for how you hold it together as a #medschoomom!

Student life

Study Tip: How to Study Anatomy

Studying basic medical sciences requires active, not passive, study methods. You’re receiving a firehose of information every day. In order to commit everything to memory, I had the most success when I put pen to paper. This was especially important when studying anatomy.

For anatomy there are a lot of different ways to study actively. One way is to draw structures yourself. You can do this using a dry erase board, or plain white printer paper.

One thing that I find useful is getting a piece of printer paper and tracing an outline of the skeleton or the particular structure that I am studying. I then make several copies of that outline and use that to add details as I study. The first couple of times that I draw the details I have to reference my textbook. Then I start to quiz myself and try to draw things without looking at the book. This helps me find areas of weakness that I then study or review further.

Another method is to subscribe to anatomy programs. One of my favorites has been I found that repetition is so important to me in remembering anatomical structures, but I wasn’t getting enough repetition by drawing things myself, because it takes so much time. I made good use of my time using the online reference tools and taking particular quizzes over and over again. What’s great about this website is it also identifies your areas of weakness and compiles those into a specific exam that is tailored to you.

Most medical programs have a written and a practical component. The methods of drawing and re-drawing origins and insertions, arterial and nerve branches, and bone landmarks were most useful for me in the gross lab practical exams. When it came to the written component, however, there is vital clinical knowledge that cannot be ascertained through hours of staring at Netter’s atlas. My approach was, within 24 hours of the anatomy lecture, digesting the powerpoint slides into a comprehensive 1 page summary. The page was organized in a way that made most sense to me. I found it useful to hand write the notes, but typing them would also be beneficial if that works better for you.

No matter what study method you invest in, always ask yourself if you are actively or passively studying. Passive studying is just like reading, and much of the information swims around in your head and eventually drains out. Active studying means you’re somehow reorganizing the data, thinking critically, and asking yourself questions.