— Hello?

— Hello, Bartek speaking. I am calling because I’ve got into medicine and essentially I have a lot of doubts. I talked to Adam and he recommended me you as a perfect match to help me with my problem. Would you have a moment to talk to me?

This way started the long conversation which I unexpectedly went through some years ago. Bartek’s next questions were like – how to prepare for studies, how daily living on each years of study looks like, how to behave at university and all departments, how to learn or as simply as best how to use this period – this all reminded me how little I knew myself about the reality of functioning at university. After this conversation I started collecting my reflections in relation to the time of studies which in time had reached the form of a blog post.

However it isn’t a guide or a set of universal principles, rather a flashback. Beginning from such seemingly trivial aspect as a place for learning, by building good habits up to time after class exploitation I’m trying to describe what I would tell myself today while being at the beginning of my studies.

I hope that it will also turn out to be useful for you. Have a pleasant reading!

This is right up my street 

It is known that studying is a kind of a lifestyle. We measure its value in many dimensions which manifest itself in various places, starting from lecture halls by dormitories and libraries up to parties and pubs. From each of them we come back home. In our proverbial four walls around we face the most important learning processes – systematizing the knowledge, grasping the new material, revisions…

I discovered how connecting the learning with the specific place is significant definitely too late. It isn’t a new concept – I recommend the lecture of Marty Lobdel ‘Study less, study smart’ which reaches out into the influence of habits on the productivity. When we warm up our mind that switching the lamp on the desk, closing the blinds to half, closing the door and sitting down by the desk is a time for the concentration, it comes much easier.

You learn for yourself

The start was fairly good. I studied, and at least this way it seemed to me, 2-3 hours per day. Over time – one hour and even later a few hours every week. Finally – only if it was necessary – entry/outro tests, exams etc. While getting notes it confirmed me in my belief that the process of learning is in a progress.

Today I know it was only an illusion. A bit of a cleverness is enough to quickly start winning against the system which doesn’t verify whether we remebered everything or not. Entry, exit, thank you, goodnight – well, I’m off. I have the impression that this apparent learning is a main reason of being not successfully graduated. We spend time on books, not really studying.

It isn’t only my conclusion. Many of us notice over time that we have actually never managed our self-learning. It is essentially a gained habit from previous stages of the education. However at my work it wasn’t my academic teacher evaluating me according to the answer key but patients and their health. So listen, Darek, start evaluate your knowledge and trust it as soon as possible. 

Knowledge is like a tower

In conversations with people who passed final exams with flying colours because above the 85%, I looked for the common denominator. I wondered if there was anything actually linking them because at first glance it seemed that it’s impossible. One were swots, other party animals, entrepreneurs, scientists and some already having a family life. Everyone studied the other amount of time, in other conditions and demonstrated other degree of stress connected with university. However there was one thing linking them: everyone systematically repeated what they had learnt earlier.

Paradoxically it caused the fact that they had spent less time on learning than the others, particularly in the second half of studies. In relation to the mode of an ad hoc learning which I described in the previous section, I myself devoted the time almost exclusively to the new material. I had my fingers burned during the 4th year of studies when I felt that basic information are missing. Instead of moving forward I tried to dig myself out of arrears. Later I didn’t have power for revisions. History was tireless so it had been stubbornly repeating. It ends up with situation where some of us don’t understand one of the most essential and repeating itself subject as coagulation system even during our last year of studies. We learn it every time anew while it would be sufficient to revise it at the beginning of the year.

Knowledge is like a tower. How we’ll build a base determines durability and height of a construction.

Learn how to learn

Most of my conclusions from today’s blog post focus on how to optimize. I don’t regret that it didn’t happen earlier but there is one exception: participation in speed or effective reading, memorising and noting courses.

It was a huge breakthrough. To that moment I dealt with my studies not too bad but for the price of a looong learning. Similarly at secondary school. From the beginning of courses month by month I felt that passing exams was much easier to me. I found the time for work, didn’t have to devote my friendship and results even improved. Win-win!

Now I know that it was a major investment in my life. Earlier I had been catching myself on putting flip-flops on just before exams and I squatted not thinking whether the amount or the quality of the learning is a problem. And during the period of total chill who thinks to invest half an hour per day to the improvement in the process of learning? Meanwhile a calculation of what you get in a year perspective speaks for itself and make us consider- you become better even by the 1% per week…

If you fly with the crows…

Finally spending hours on books yourself can’t replace interactions with other students

There are a lot of paths of development in medicine which require constant cooperation and contact with people. Most of us works in teams where mutual trust is crucial. I think that becoming more confident in professional relations is based on constant interaction and exchange of knowledge with acquaintances from university, not only from our group.

Common work can be exceptionally inspiring and motivating as well. Particularly when we surround ourselves with people having bigger knowledge and experience than we do. I often received from them valuable information, their experience let me go much more confidently through senior years. Some of them, the best, taught me to share the knowledge with others. All these experiences pay off at my current job.

I would also tell young Darek to put more heart into the work in students associations – international association of medical students (IFMSA), students scientific society (STN) or similar. During short episode in IFMSA a good thing came to me – my passion for teaching. Each of these organizations functions differently but they all make studies more gripping. From the additional knowledge and learning medicine ‘from the inside’, through the possibility of creating own academic achievements, up to travelling the whole world. I went beyond our local Polish medicine and it caused that I had started thinking about health care and education much more widely.

What to do after classes?

Eternal medical students’ dilemma – to work or not to work? There is always a risk that it can disturb in learning, travelling or following the passion. I decided to take a job during my 4th year and I don’t regret it. In that time I finished classes quite early so circumstances were supportive – it was only necessary to use them. It let me gain the experience and today I fully appreciate its importance.

Doctors as the occupational group enter the labour market relatively late. We almost fully devote ourselves to learning during secondary school and rare free time spend on just having a rest. As a result for many of us the postgraduate internship at the age of about 25 is actually the first job in an entire life. Then we experience a kind of shock connected with the number of duties, responsibilities, managing own time, making plans for an adult life…

During my last 3 years of University I worked at the reception desk in medical centre. Of course the scale of responsibility was disproportionate to the work of the doctor but I got there my first experience when it comes to good contact with people, keeping medical record and I got to know the legal and organizational reality of medical activity.

Everything depends on you

I got you everything I could. The rest is up to you. 

We are ourselves responsible for everything what we will learn during our studies. All choices we will make, will have a determined effect in the future. Therefore be conscious and consciously use it. Ask yourself permanently – why am I doing what I am doing? How will it influence my future? What can I learn from this situation?

And finally I am leaving you with TED – in my opinion it is worth to watch. If Tim Urban found his way to me, he… yeah, actually he will certainly find his way to you as well.