I write this on the 4th hour of my daily routine in the basement of my medical school. I have a water bottle, empty sushi package, and glass of cold brew coffee to my right. My laptop playing the last known Mac Miller songs is on my left with histology slides pulled up next to my faithful flashcard program. I just got done talking with another student after we took a break to walk around our campus, and upon sitting down I felt the need to detach from the rigor of medical school and talk about how I learn.
Like many schools, my medical school records lectures and frees students from being tethered to the time constraints of in-person lectures. Those lectures can be viewed at any time, and with the right program, at 3x speed to rapidly move through material. In addition to lecture, we have some mandatory sessions which focus on developing communication skills, clinical problem solving techniques, and essential physical exam maneuvers. However, by and large our curriculum supports a degree of autonomy. I have found this autonomy to be the key to my success.
I’m not saying how I’m approaching my medical education is the best for everyone, especially those who require human interaction. I spend much of my day alone nose deep in practice problems, lectures, flashcards, and research reviews. With control over my learning, I stay 2 weeks ahead of my medical school curriculum to practice spaced repetition. I have created a powerful routine that I finely tune after each exam to meet my goals, but very little of my education is based on my lectures. Its about me drawing diagrams, creating practice questions, synthesizing threads that run across training blocks. Its a lot more fluid and individualized, and my pace is different from what my medical school expects. Honestly, if I had known education could be like this in high school I feel I could have accomplished a lot more in my life.
This is not a condemnation of medical school curriculum or the failure of the broader educational system, but rather a case-study in learning. It has taken me 17 years of formal education to finally create a framework that allows me to learn any topic for a long period of time with the ability to apply my knowledge to novel situations. This lesson is for the frustrated student who feels they are being held back, and it is also for the student who feels they cannot keep up. It is for the musician learning a new song and the surgeon learning a new technique. It is a lesson I needed much earlier in my life: your education is yours and yours alone. Take control of it, and demand much of yourself. The internet is full of advice on how to enhance your studying and development of skills in the classroom, on the court, in the garage, or wherever your passions take you. It is up to you to find that information, fit it into your life, and pursue independent growth because if you do that, you will be better equipped for life. This is the permission we all need: learn what you want, when you want, and how you want to… but just make sure you are always learning.