The Modern Medical Student Manual: A book review

Jonathan C. M. Wan1, Aidan C. Tan2, Prannoy Chaudhuri-Vayalambrone1, Benjamin Beresford-Jones1, Christopher E. McMurran1

1School of Clinical Medicine, University of Cambridge, Addenbrooke's Hospital, Hills Rd, Cambridge CB2 0SP
2University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

Corresponding author: [email protected]

Chris Lovejoy’s book ‘The Modern Medical Student Manual’ [1] combines personal anecdote and a philosophical approach that stands out for the shortness of its nature and the uniqueness of its disposition. There is something to be said for a short guide for medical students written by a recently graduated Foundation Year doctor. While the book occasionally falls short of the easy ebb and flow of other authors in the field, and perhaps, at times, attempts to stretch beyond its reach, it more than makes up in the authenticity of its voice and the quality of its personal reflection.

The first chapter, aptly titled ‘Medicine from Fifty Thousand Feet: Perspective, Targets and Limits’, introduces the time-weary tension between academic success and personal satisfaction. Lovejoy’s personal recollections of his own struggle to ameliorate this tension are likely to resonate with most medical students. The brevity and broad applicability of his story may sound a too-familiar note for senior medical students, but may ring the first rendition for a more junior audience. He discusses the union of targets and limits, which is a welcome conversation in a culture that tends to value clinical and research aspirations and achievement more than personal contentment and interpersonal relationships.

In the second chapter, ‘The Fundamentals of Fast Learning’ Lovejoy highlights a number of techniques he uses to learn efficiently. The chapter covers four key principles of efficient learning. The first is spaced repetition, an idea arising from the ‘forgetting curve’ concept proposed in 1885 by Ebbinghaus. Spaced repetition is not a novel concept, but Lovejoy suggests practical ways to implement this when learning, including the use of Anki flashcards and his own system for keeping track of topics requiring review [2]. Lovejoy similarly suggests techniques to learn for understanding (as opposed to memorisation), creating conditions for deep work and facilitating continual improvement. Lovejoy does not fully discuss the advantages of some of the techniques, such as the argument for deep work, but the chapter is peppered with several links to online references.

It is easy to forget that hospitals are not in fact built primarily to teach medical students, and learning opportunities on the wards need to be treated as such. Lovejoy discusses how to optimise this learning during clinical rotations at medical school in Chapter three. Lovejoy encourages clinical students to maximise the usefulness of clinical school and clearly explains the thought processes behind mastering clinical skills and physical examinations; any clinical student would do well to read and practise what is being preached here.

The book's fourth chapter suggests an overall approach for doctors in the 21st century to ‘Make [their] Mark on the Medical Field’. Lovejoy convincingly argues that beyond a particular threshold, doctors with more medical knowledge see diminishing returns in their ability to help patients. Doctors looking to increase their impact, therefore, ought to extend their work beyond the patients they see in clinical practice to actions affecting a greater number of people. Lovejoy views self-education as an important tool for achieving this goal, and devotes the latter half of the chapter to suggestions for incorporating self-education into one's life as a medical student. Later in the book he encourages students to spend time reflecting by themselves, encouraging creative thought within a system where clinical guidelines abound. Beneath the stream of ideas and suggestions lies an important fundamental point: linking one's passion to medicine is a difficult yet worthwhile route to actions that benefit more people in one's career as a doctor.

Lastly, Lovejoy touches on some of the more under-appreciated aspects of becoming a doctor and planning for a successful future career in medicine. The text balances medicine-specific approaches to embellishing a CV while developing skills in communication and teaching, with some potential for getting paid! The content is not a written guide to writing better essays or mastering teaching, but more of a thought-provoking manual on how to make your own opportunities to practise these critical skills, such as via essay competitions, or becoming a tutor.

In summary, Lovejoy’s central message is timeless: medical students must bridge the divide between academic accomplishment and personal fulfilment. For medical students who are only just beginning, this is an important message. By explaining frameworks and methods that the author himself uses, the book comes across as conversational and not overly didactic. Overall, we found this book both a fun and exceptionally easy read – and very informative – and so we at the CMJ would recommend this book to medical students.

Potential conflicts of interest: None declared.


[1] Lovejoy, C. The Modern Medical Student Manual. Amazon Digital Services LLC. 2017.

[2] Anki. Available from: [Accessed 15th Dec 2017]