Surviving ZooMed School 101

Nida Ahmed, MS-2

By Nida Ahmed, MS-2.

Nida Ahmed is a second-year medical student at the California School of Podiatric Medicine at Samuel Merritt University. She received her bachelor’s degree in Global Disease Biology from UC Davis. She is passionate about mentoring pre-med students, advocating for patients, and raising awareness about social justice issues. In her free time, you can find her drinking chai with loved ones or stress baking cookies in the kitchen.

Congratulations on your acceptance to med school, Class of 2024! I vividly remember prepping to start my medical school career around this very time last year. There were so many emotions that surrounded the beginning of the new journey: excitement, nervousness, uncertainty, gratitude, joy, and a lot of first day jitters. If you’re starting medical school this year—online and in the middle of a pandemic—you might be feeling all those emotions, plus a dose of anxiety (and that’s okay!). After being a quarantined Zoom med student since March myself, I wanted to share some tips and tricks that worked for me, and may help you as you begin your trek into the wonderful world of online med school:

  1. Create a schedule + study space.
    With classes on Zoom and lectures accessible online, it is tempting to procrastinate on studying. Creating a schedule will help you organize your time efficiently, so you won’t fall behind. Make sure to include time slots for eating meals, working out, and watching Netflix in your schedule so you have something to look forward to after a hard day of studying! Along with a schedule, create a study space that is uncluttered and away from distractions to help you focus. For example, I love having my desk by a window to get some sunshine and fresh air.
  2. Experiment with different study techniques.
    When I started med school, I thought my study techniques were set and ready to go. I quickly came to realize that med school was a whole new ball game. My thorough and lengthy studying techniques may have worked when I was in undergrad, but the number of classes in med school wasn’t going to afford me the time I wanted to spend studying for each class. Having exams every week meant I would have to learn to be more efficient in the way I studied, so I learned different techniques for each class. Typing out notes worked for one class, while solely making Anki cards worked for a different class. Both methods have helped me learn and retain information for exams.

Having exams every week meant I would have to learn to be more efficient in the way I studied, so I learned different techniques for each class.

All of that to say – don’t be afraid to try different studying techniques! Studying, like everything else in medical school, is a learning curve. Tailor your studying techniques to find ways that work for you by experimenting and asking advice from upper-level students. Group studying via Zoom can also be helpful to learn from classmates or to review material together before a big exam. Changing studying habits from what you’re familiar with may sound daunting and uncomfortable at first, but I promise, it’ll only help in the long run.

  1. Ask for help!
    Asking for help shows how committed you are to your personal growth and learning. Reach out to upper-level students to ask for advice on how to excel in classes. Go to virtual office hours to meet with professors and ask questions to clarify material you were having trouble with. If your school offers tutoring services, I would highly recommend finding a tutor and working with them to learn material on a 1:1 basis. There are always ways we can help ourselves, but we just need to be brave enough to ask!
  2. Take breaks + breathe!
    Med school is a lot. Med school online is even more. Studying for hours upon hours in a day, staring at a screen with limited human contact can feel exhausting, overwhelming and stressful, to say the least. In those moments, it’s important to step away from your laptop, take a break, go on a walk, and/or just breathe. Your mental health is a priority in the marathon that is medical school. Create a list of healthy coping mechanisms that you can do when you’re feeling stressed. Whether that’s diffusing lavender essential oils or trying grounding exercises to center yourself, find what works for you.

Your mental health is a priority in the marathon that is medical school.

  1. Stay Connected
    In our completely virtual world, it’s easy to feel disconnected from those around you. Introducing yourself to your new classmates via class group chats or on Facebook is a great way to connect with them. Creating Zoom meetings to study together can also be an awesome way to get to bond with your classmates and do well in classes! As the semester starts, having a support system within your class is a wonderful way to know you’re not going through med school alone.
  2. Keep going.
    Med school will teach you a lot about yourself. There will be highs of getting the grade you wanted after days of studying, but there will also be lows of test scores that don’t reflect the hard work you’ve put in. Your life outside of med school will still keep moving with its own ups and downs as well. In everything, celebrate the little wins and don’t dwell on the losses. When it feels impossible to move, take a look at how far you’ve come with gratitude and keep moving forward, even if it’s just one baby step at a time.

I hope these tips were helpful in giving you some ideas on how to budget your time, (virtually) connect with those around you, and ease some anxieties before starting school this fall.

Good luck on your journey!

By Nida Ahmed, MS-2

School: California School of Podiatric Medicine

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