Dear Medical Student: A Letter To Every MS Year

Advice from an MS4 sharing all the ways to succeed in medical school in an open letter.

Hello fellow medical students! It is I, the elusive 4th year. I know you haven’t seen much of me lately, but I am here today and am honored to have a few minutes of your time to bestow wisdom I have picked up over the past four years. Medical school has taught me not only about physiology and clinical practice. I also learned from the hidden curriculum and about myself - what is important to me and how I respond to stress and struggle. I hope that I can be helpful and encouraging along your path to becoming a physician and the best version of yourself. I want you to thrive, not merely survive. 


Dear First Year

How exciting! You are in medical school and in four short years you can add the letters MD or DO behind your name! I know you are feeling excited and a little apprehensive about this massive undertaking you have signed yourself up for. My biggest advice to you is to know your priorities and stick to them. For most, medical school will hold that #1 spot, but I urge you to keep doing those things that bring joy to your life. Whether that is seeing undergrad friends, going to a post-test lunch with your fellow students, working out, or playing with your dog, keep a conscious effort to keep doing these things. There will be times when school will necessitate skipping them to study, but always go back. They refill your cup for when times get tougher. Life is more than just school, and to make the most out of this time I want to encourage you to seek these moments out and enjoy them without guilt.


Dear Second Year

Burnout is real, and it affects even the toughest among us. That time when the grind seems like it will never end, and you start to question why you thought this was a good idea. In my own experience, it helps to stay grateful. I started every day with the prayer/mantra of “I am thankful for the opportunity to be here”. Remember the anticipation and stress of applying to med school? Remember the feeling when you were accepted? That is the greatest feeling in the entire world. Hold on to that and stay positive. Next year you will be helping real life patients and in a few years you will be making a fantastic difference in your community. You will be easing the suffering of others. How fantastic is that? Stay strong, you’ve got this!


Dear Third Year

Third year comes with a massive shift in what medical school looks like, and moving into the hospital while working all day and studying all night can be rough to say the least. It is important to embrace the saying, “Do your best, and forget the rest”. You cannot be perfect all the time, and the hospital will surely sometimes throw a bit of humble pie in your face. Take that pie, clean it off, and move on. We all make mistakes. To keep it real I myself have passed out in the OR, broken sterile field while placing a cath and had to start over, and have mispronounced many common medical terms. I will still graduate and I promise my career was not affected by these blunders. It is also possible to stress to the max about each test and the fact that everyone you meet will be filling out an evaluation. I want you to work hard, study hard, and do your best, and after, accept the grade that comes. Don’t fret about it and have confidence because you know that you put your best foot forward. Learn from things and allow them to help you grow, and then let them go. This was a skill I learned later in the game, and I wish I could have mastered sooner to help with my own inner peace.


Dear Fourth Year

Figuring out what residencies to apply to (and sometimes what specialty to choose) can be immensely stressful, but I urge you to do your best on your applications/interviews and remember that residencies look over thousands of applications. At the end of the day, they speed read, skim, and skip, so don’t fret about it too much. A huge weight will be lifted once you hit submit and you will breathe deeply once more. 4th year is a fantastic time. For the first time in my life I feel like a normal adult. Going to my job during the day, and not even thinking about it at night. And if you are like me, you had no trouble dropping all that studying and enjoying your free time outside of the hospital. Pick up those hobbies that got tossed aside, make time for friends, and binge all your favorite shows. I’m proud of you. 

Even though I have spent more time studying in medical school than I have in my entire life combined, I grew immensely as a person and as a professional. I learned how to do hard things and how I respond when times get tough. I am thankful for the ways medical school has made me a better person and I know the same will happen for you as well. Work hard and keep your head up, you got this.

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