“I don’t know where to start” – Studying during medical specialty training

Perhaps the commonest complaint of my trainees when they are in the first year of their specialty (medical oncology) training is that they just don’t know where to start. In one respect this is understandable – the party-line is you need to know everything.

These are my tips:

(1) study stuff that will make your job easier. If you don’t know how to prescribe anti-emetics to prevent chemotherapy-induced nausea then read up on this.

(2) study stuff you see in clinic or on the wards that you didn’t know anything about. This entails keeping a list – get a notebook, send yourself an SMS or email, use Evernote or a similar app to remind yourself what you need to look up.

(3) do sweat on the small stuff. In this case the small stuff is the basic science behind treatments. By knowing this you will be able to do the higher level activities better.

(4) have a plan. Set yourself a goal about knowing about a particular topic by a certain time.

(5) have a template of questions. Really – it is not possible to go and learn about ‘colon cancer’ without a targeted plan. Think of questions that that apply across disciplines e.g. is systemic chemotherapy useful for metastatic colon cancer, in monotherapy better than polychemotherapy, what is the optimal duration of therapy, etc, etc???

(6) study stuff that interests you – the other stuff will fall into place naturally

(7) volunteer to present at meeting or to teach – then you will be forced to study

(8) pick something you think you already know and revise it – get up-to-date

(9) close your eyes and drop your finger on a contents page

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