Note taking ….. How ?

Common Question. How do I take notes? It’s pretty funny because the answer is “however you damm well want to”. However, the prospect of studying Medicine can be a bit daunting and you may feel like you need to develop superhuman like powers to be able to cope. However, the secret is finding what works well for you. So, here is what worked for me !

1.The Lecture

“Read before the lecture”, that’s what you always get told. However, “you just haven’t got the time for that”. Here is an example of my 1st week timetable :

The only prep I did was to download the lecture slides onto OneNote. Maybe, read through them if we were told to. That is it though!

I used OneNote to take notes in all my lectures. That’s tip number one really, never and I mean never, try and write everything thats on the powerpoint in lectures. Go in with a copy of it and make your notes on that. You won’t keep up and often what the lecturer is saying will explain what maybe unclear on all the slides. You’ll have time to copy things from the slides later, listen to the lecturer now.

I downloaded all my powerpoints in PDF format and used my laptops fancy function of morphing into a tablet to take my notes on the PDF and the space beside the slides:

This is not one of my lecture slides (I didn’t want to be in trouble with copyright) but this is what my layout looks like when I write my notes during lectures.

This meant I had all the information from the slides AND the things my lecturers were saying all together. I organised all my notes into Blocks and then further into themes :

Blocks – Themes – Lecutres

This means all my notes are easy to find. It also means that all the extras such as group work, student peer support notes and anything else that happens (such as random lectures from the GMC or NHS bursary).

2. After the Lecture

After each lecture I then go and write up my notes. I did this by handwriting in the first couple of weeks of medical school. However, this became time consuming and I was spending to much time. The notes became unreadable and I just gave up. I then switched to typing out all my notes which soon became a dream to do. I could directly copy images I liked from the powerpoint. This also included equations which were a prominent feature in the heart and lungs block. My notes were quick to write up and ALWAYS legible and believe me, when I came to revision, my typed notes were a dream to work from.

This is an example of my pharmacology notes. I try and stick to bullet points so the notes are conscise. I also try and stick to no more than two sides of A4 but if the lecture is long, I let myself have a bit of leeway !

Some lectures though I could cut out the middle man and type my lecture notes in the lecture. This occurred in lectures such as Values, Laws and Ethics and Soc Pop. This also saved time but I would not do this during physiology as it was just too much to keep up with.

Anatomy however, was a different story. I ALWAYS hand wrote my notes during the lectures and my “typed” notes were also handwritten. This is because (no shock here) Anatomy requires a LOT of pictures. Typing long paragraphs just does not work for anantomy. Drawing out the concepts helps hugely and enables me to visualise them. Granted, at Warwick, Anatomy is well taught and we get a lot of teaching time to so my notes aren’t always the most detailed as I tend to pick things up but it was important to me that my notes made sense to me (even if it was re-writing the whole lecture). When it came to writing the notes up , I used the 3D anaotmy app on my tablet to draw around the bones and muscles so I could re-create the structures correctly, but still putting my own spin on it.

Behold, my six year old handwriting. I try and use a colour code sequence but it often just does not work.
The yellow line demonstrates my tracing. After I have finished the tracing I delete the 3D anatomy app picture and I have a perfect outline!

It doesn’t matter how you take your notes in the end. What does matter is that they make sense and that you try your best to get everything done as you go along. There is no worser feeling than getting to the end of the year and realising you have to go back to the beginning because you didn’t write up that week of lectures. Trust me. As long as you keep on top of it, you understand it and you keep going. Whatever method you use is the right one 😊

Expectations V Reality

This was actually a suggestion from one of my Instagram friends and I think it is brilliant. Scrolling through Instagram, it is obvious to see the “rose tinted glasses” of the pre-med world. So, I’ve decided to sit down and think about what I thought studying Medicine was all about in comparison to what it actually turned out to be, so here we go.

Expectation: I won’t have any time outside of Medicine to do anything else

Reality: I had PLENTY of time outside of Medicine, I just didn’t use it.

It’s true. It is so easy to fall into this thinking that Med Students only see the light of day when we graduate and that we spend hours sitting at desks and when we aren’t at the desk we are in hospital. Some days that is true but, it’s not what studying this degree is all about. Once you are here, it just feels like another degree. Sure, you do look at other students and wonder what it must be like to not have to learn over 200 PowerPoints for one exam but hey, this is what I want to do and that’s just how things happen. People have lives outside of their medical degrees, you don’t just become a walking encyclopaedia of Medicine.

Expectation: This will be too hard, and I won’t be able to cope

Reality: It was hard, but I managed it

I was a nervous wreck before Med School and even looking at peoples notes online scared me. I didn’t understand a word of what they were posting, and I felt it was all too much for me to handle. However, you just learn to adapt. I became used to long days and going home before 8pm felt weird when normally I would have been in my PJ’s by that stage. It just kind of becomes the norm. You will suddenly find yourself wondering how the hell you got through the year and how the hell you have managed to learn everything. No-one ever thinks they are going to find medicine easy. If they do, they are lying or a big shock is coming their way. You can do this, it is possible. It will just require a bit of work

Expectation: I’m going to enjoy every second because this is what I want to do

Reality: There were days where I questioned what the hell I had gotten myself into.

You can’t be happy 24/7, and this is speaking as someone who is like a pocket rocket. There were days when I just wanted to sit and disappear. These were the days where I just didn’t get what was going on and I questioned whether I was even good enough to be here. However, for every bad day. There are weeks where I felt on top of the world. I also found that these bad days were quickly fixed by small light-bulb moments, or when we were at bedside teaching and suddenly, I realised why I was spending hours glued to my desk. People have a habit of making medicine this crazy world, but when you are here, it can feel just like any other degree, just with the added factor of patient’s wellbeing in your hands once you graduate 😊

Expectation: Every lecture is going to be complicated and detailed

Reality: Some lectures are complicated, but rarely detailed.

Think back to GCSE. Remember the level of detail you needed back then? Well, that’s what you need for medicine. No-one needs their doctor to recite every detail of the Krebs cycle. You just need to know the basis of the physiology of what’s going wrong/ why you are giving the medications you are giving. The hardest block for me was Block 2 where we had a lot of physics hitting us left right and centre, but even then, there were only 4 lectures where this came into play. I never memorised the calcium-phosphate cycle, I never memorised the entire Krebs cycle (Disclaimer: Just because I didn’t doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ). It’s breadth not depth.

Expectation: I’ll be like those people on Instagram staying up till 2am working

Reality: I was in bed and zonked by 11pm.

You do what you need to do. I need sleep. So, I got sleep. No-one gets prizes for falling asleep during lectures 😉