Secrets for Success in the 3rd Year of Medical School

Medical school is hard. Of course, for most people – even non-medical students – this is not particularly insightful. The third year of medical school is often a significant challenge for many students. It is in the third year that medical students are released on the wards of their school’s hospital. They begin to gain the invaluable experience that will be needed during the rest of their medical careers. In this article, I will share a few secrets for success that I learned in my years as a medical student.

Ask questions.

If you don’t know what you’re doing – ask! This may seem obvious, but I’ve seen dozens of medical students over the years try to do things that they are not ready for. They try to impress the junior and senior doctors, only to find themselves in a bind when they get themselves in over their heads.

Medical students aren’t expected to know everything. In fact, it’s assumed that they don’t really know much of anything. Asking questions is the sign of a student who knows his/her limits. Of course, it’s best not to ask the same question twelve thousand times – and it’s a good idea to keep the really dumb questions to a minimum – but if there is any risk that patient care could be put at risk – it’s vital to ask for help

Makes friends with the residents.

The residents are your best friends as a 3rd year medical student. Residents are the junior doctors on a hospital ward. They are only a few years (or less) ahead of a 3rd year medical student – so they are close to their educational roots. Many residents love to teach – after all, it wasn’t many years ago that they were 3rd year medical students.

A good working relationship with the residents on your rotation can make the experience much, much nicer. Although it will be the attending doctor who does your evaluation, many of your day-to-day responsibilities will be overseen by a resident. Residents can also get you “in” to see good cases.

Treat nurses and ancillary staff with respect.

I can’t count how many times I’ve seen 3rd year medical students thing they can treat a nurse badly. This is a big mistake. Nurses in a hospital are highly trained and very knowledgeable. They are an invaluable resource and they work their tails off. The same goes for technicians, secretaries, and other hospital staff. 

Maybe it’s my background as a research nurse before I went to medical school, but nothing grates me more than seeing a cocky 3rd year medical student think that he/she (usually a he) can be dismissive and rude to a nurse because he is “a doctor”. Nurses know a lot of medicine and are a great learning resource. Be kind and use them to help you learn.

Be present. Be on time.

The last secret for success in your 3rd year of medical school that I will share is a simple directive. Be present. Be on time. Again, this may seem obvious, but it often needs to be beaten in to some medical students. If something starts at 2pm, be there at 1:55pm. “Optional” events are often not as optional as you may think.

I’ve seen many a third year get a poor performance review because they seem to enjoy the break room more than the ward floor. It’s hard to write a good review for a student who is never seen.

So there you are, some secrets for success as a third year medical student. Sure, most of it may seem somewhat obvious, but it’s often amazing how obvious things often aren’t. Succeeding in medical school is hard, but not impossible. Work hard and you’ll see the reward at the end.