How To Succeed in Medical School

Amiethab Aiyer, MD | Jonathan Kaplan, MD | Matt Varacallo, MD

October 9, 2019

When it comes to medical school, unfortunately, there is no single ‘recipe for success.’ However, there are some general guidelines that may help you succeed along the way. Having a balanced approach can help ensure not only a well-rounded application when interview season comes along, but also ensures you are a well-rounded student upon graduation from medical school.

Be sure to follow Sounds From the Training Room for a deeper dive on how to truly succeed in each of these categories in future posts.


Some students learn best by sitting in a classroom taking notes while others prefer to spend their time in library studying the material independently. It is critical that you identify your preferred method (or combination of methods) in order to create an appropriate strategy for learning and retaining the material. Additionally, you should continue to build on this strategy in order to optimize efficiency in studying.


While you will, in theory, be preparing for the Step 1 and Step 2 tests through your coursework, it is also beneficial to plan ahead for the exams. Consider buying a review book early on in medical school and doing a brief review prior to starting each subject in your classes. This will give you a gauge as to what material may be most important for the exams. Additionally, you can compile notes in your review book as you go through your coursework, which will then provide you with a single, comprehensive source of review material for when you start to dedicate your time to truly studying for the exams.

3Clinical Rotations

As a medical student on the team, there are limitless ways to either elevate yourself above the rest or sink the ship… and both can happen quite easily. While these characteristics may seem obvious, it is important for a student to be hard working (show up early, stay late), communicate well, be genuine and always look for ways to help out (and not just in front of attending, but truly be a part of the team and help anyone possible). Try to be a sponge… pay attention to the dynamics of the team, the roles of each member and consider how you can incorporate into the team to help offload the work on everyone. Absorb all the material you can and then be proactive about applying yourself to the workflow and success of the team. Do NOT step on other’s toes or ingratiate yourself at the expense of other students or team members.


Again, we cannot emphasize enough the importance of being a well-rounded student. Getting involved in orthopedic research early on is beneficial on many levels. It not only gives you insight into the field of orthopedic surgery, but it also helps you learn the scientific principles of orthopedic surgery. Other extra-curricular activities may include getting involved in student government, volunteering at a free health clinic, joining your orthopedic student interest group, or even simply finding ways to give back to the community. Doing something is always better than doing nothing! In addition, be sure not to spread yourself too thin so that you can maximize your ability to succeed academically.

5Work/Life Balance

Success in medical school relies on your happiness outside of medical school. While we tend to think of ourselves as indestructible in medical school, we are not immune to the stressors of life… and those stressors will often carry into your responsibilities in medical school and may affect your success in the aforementioned categories. Be sure to find ways to remain happy and healthy, including eating (reasonably) well, exercising, optimizing time with friends and family (even if it is only a small amount of time, make sure you spend it well and spend it on loved ones), and most importantly, if you are having problems with finding this balance be sure to communicate with others for support and help getting there.

Visit the AAOS website for more Medical Student Resources

Remember to have fun. Life (and medical school) is about the journey, not the final destination!

DISCLOSURES: Dr. Aiyer American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society: Board or committee member, Delee & Drez Orthopaedic Sports Medicine (Elsevier): Publishing royalties, financial or material support, Medline: Paid consultant, Medshape: Paid consultant, Miller’s Review of Orthopaedics (Elsevier): Publishing royalties, financial or material support. Dr. Kaplan Medline: Paid consultant, Wright Medical Technology, Inc.: Paid consultant. Dr. Varacallo This individual reported nothing to disclose.

Read the AAOS Discussion Group Terms, Conditions and Disclaimers HERE

Copyright© 2019 by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

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