Beginning your first year of medical school is daunting. Beginning your first year of med school in a pandemic, faced with varying degrees of remote learning, is even more daunting.
By and large, medical schools have made significant adjustments to their first-year curriculums to accommodate the specific challenges of social distancing in the classroom. Some schools have opted to go entirely online for first-year students. Others are employing a hybrid model with both online and in-person sessions.
Whether you are coming to med school right out of your undergraduate years with a semester of distance learning under your belt or returning to the classroom after time away, figuring out how to adapt to the demands of med school in an upside-down learning environment is crucial for success this fall. Here are some tips for first-year med students when adjusting to distance learning.
[Read: What a First-Year Medical School Student Can Expect.]
If you are attending med school fully online:
— Connect with your classmates.
— Get in touch with your professors.
— Know how to access learning support services.
Connect With Your Classmates
Establishing strong relationships with your fellow med students is a great way to get academic, social and emotional support as you navigate the shifting challenges of a medical education. However, remote learning can make connecting with your new classmates seem more difficult.
Ensure you go the extra mile to connect with your peers when you begin classes. Organize study sessions on Zoom or a similar platform, participate in any online social activities that are offered and join virtual groups with students who have similar interests. Be bold in asking your classmates for their phone numbers so you can reach out if you have difficulty with the coursework or adjusting to med school in general.
Get in Touch With Your Professors
Asking for clarification or more information on a topic can be difficult during a video meeting, especially in a large group setting. Do not be shy about emailing professors with questions after class, and if you are struggling ask about setting up a remote one-on-one meeting to address your confusion as quickly as possible.
[READ: What to Do if Your Medical School Is Online This Fall Due to Coronavirus.]
If your professors offer online office hours, be sure to attend them, as information highlighted in those sessions often sheds light on what content and skills are most important to master.
Know How to Access Learning Support Services
Even in typical years, many new medical students find they need outside help to learn how to study in med school. Distance learning may exacerbate these early struggles in coping with the sheer volume of information presented in classes.
Do not wait until you fail an exam to reach out to learning services for support. In your first week of school, identify the person you should direct an email to if you are overwhelmed, and contact that person at the first sign of trouble. If you have a learning difference or have struggled in the past, reaching out in the first week or two for advice on how to handle distance learning may be helpful, too.
If you are taking hybrid med school classes, meaning partially online and partially in person:
— Use information from remote learning activities to complement in-person learning.
— Examine the value of each in-person session.
— Use in-person class time to get to know peers.
Use Information from Remote Learning Activities to Complement In-Person Learning
Like many other programs, the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College plans to use a hybrid learning model for first-year medical students this fall. Students will attend large group activities remotely, while some small group activities will take place in classrooms arranged to promote social distancing.
[READ: Weigh the Pros, Cons of Taking a Gap Year Before Medical School.]
While a hybrid model is a good way to promote immersion in course materials, one drawback may be that the online and in-person sessions can feel like two separate courses. To prevent this, look for ways to connect what you learn online to in-person sessions. Annotate notes you took in online sessions with updated information given in person, and ask questions that explicitly relate information from the two forums.
Since the online and in-person classes are indeed part of the same course, you should find that they readily complement one another.
Examine the Value of Each In-Person Session
Coming into physical contact with anyone carries an inherent risk, however small and calculated, of contracting COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. As such, your course directors — those who oversee the development and implementation of your medical school classes — would not hold an in-person class unless they thought what it offers was very important.
Keep this in mind when you attend an in-person class. Ask yourself what you are supposed to get from the session, why it is so important to be physically present for it and how it specifically enriches your learning. Approaching in-person sessions with a critical eye may help you glean important takeaways embedded in the course material.
Use In-Person Class Time to Get to Know Peers
Nothing beats getting to know someone in person, so make every minute of your in-person class time count. Arrive five minutes ahead of time for the opportunity to chat with classmates and exchange contact information when possible. If permitted by your school’s policy, consider going on a socially distanced outing with a classmate or two to get to know one another better.
With these strategies, you will be better prepared to begin your online or hybrid med school classes.