Stories. We each have one of our own, a unique journey full of ups and downs, good times and bad, triumphs and failures. That’s one of the things I really like about this blog the school of medicine hosts; seeing the vastly different viewpoints of my peers and being able to contribute myself. Everyone’s experiences are different, and collectively they provide a really interesting look into what it’s like to attend medical school. It’s been fun reading posts from the new bloggers, and after a little time off this summer, I myself am looking forward to continue telling my story. Season 2, if you will. A lot has changed over the summer, and while some people would think I’m out of my mind for being so candid, the following is just another story from a larger book that my journey through medical school has been creating. Strap yourselves in; this will be one of my longer posts!
Why am I here? Why am I attending medical school?
When I last blogged, I was neck deep in preparing for MS2 final exams and Step 1. Life was crazy and seemed to be an endless cycle of studying, integrating, practicing, studying, integrating, practicing. My sophomore year of medical school was difficult, stressful, overwhelming, and just plain hard work, but at the same time, it was fascinating! The only thing that kept me from going crazy over the huge wealth of information I was expected to know, was that I LOVED it. Sure there were parts here and there that I didn’t find as interesting as others, but for the most part I really liked the curriculum.
Now as plenty of medical students will probably tell you, I struggled a lot adjusting to the increased workload of second year, trying once again to figure out the proper way to study. My strategies from 1st year didn’t seem to be working the same way as they had before, and so I had to figure out a way to assimilate and use even more information in a shorter amount of time then ever before. While 1st year felt more like an exercise in memorizing and regurgitating information, 2nd year involved a lot more integration across the sciences. For me, it required a different way of thinking. Unfortunately, when I attempted to survive the first round of 2nd year exams, I fell flat on my face. I knew something had to change; I did terribly! So after re-evaluating and discussing new methods with some of my professors, I made some big changes and tried again. I started doing MUCH better. But with that huge hole I had dug myself at the beginning of the year, it was going to take a lot of work to bring myself back up into a comfortable place. I’ll spare you the details, but in the end I made some of my best scores in all of medical school… but unfortunately, I was not able to restore two of my classes to above the lowest margin of passing. And so despite all my hard, hard work over the course of the year, I failed two classes. According to school policy, with two classes falling short of standards, I will have to repeat the entire sophomore curriculum on the basis of only a few points.
After learning I was going to have to repeat my second year of medical school, I went through an entire range of emotions. Anger, sorrow, embarrassment, confusion, despair, and many others put me on a weird sort of roller coaster as I tried to figure out how this happened. Without trying to sound arrogant, I asked the question one always does in this sort of situation: why? Why did this happen to me? I got all A’s in college. I was the President of my undergrad’s Pre-Medical Society. I rocked my MCAT. I was accepted to Loma Linda early in the morning of the very first day they do acceptances… why? How could I have possibly failed? I felt like I had let down my professors, my classmates, my fiancé, my parents, myself… even God. I felt the unquestionable call into this field of study, and so with God directing me into the practice of medicine, how could I have failed?
I wrestled with that question until I realized I had a decision to make. I could whine and complain, blame others for what happened, mope around, feel sorry for myself… OR… I could pick myself up, dust off some of the debris, and go again. Obviously it’s not ideal. I doubt anyone would want to spend more time in medical school then necessary. But what’s one more year compared to the several decades I am going to have practicing medicine, especially if it makes me a better doctor? In 20 years no one is going to ask whether I had to repeat a year or not. So instead of dwelling on the bad, I choose to see the good. I get to go through second year knowing now what I wish I would have known before. I’ll be that much better a doctor because of it. If I spend this year strengthening my competency as a professional instead of moping around feeling stuck, it will be time well spent.
I’ve always learned quickly by making mistakes, and with that said, I would be foolish not to name a few in the hopes that someone can learn from them as I have. To some, these might seem like common sense, but for me they are little things that can be easily over looked in pursuit of an MD:
1. Hit the ground running: It’s so easy to fall into the trap of staying on summer break for “just one more day.” While it may seem harmless to ease back in to studying, that is really a bad idea. Because for every little bit you get behind, you have to catch back up, and trust me, it is impossible to catch up in medical school. So while it may be tempting to start off slow and build up a study tolerance, that mentality should be avoided at all costs. There is never “just one more day” of break.
2. Study with other people: Some of you might not know of any other way to study, but I tried doing my second year completely alone. I locked myself up in my bedroom, slaving away for hours and hours in front of a desk. Not only is this super boring, someone with a brain like mine can’t handle hours upon hours like that. While studying does involve a lot of personal devotion, I saw a lot of my classmates making a social experience out of it. I tried this way too late. Not only does it help give you and your group (or study buddy) more accountability, it can even give studying a few laughs. Just make sure laughing isn’t the only thing you are doing.
3. Study walk everything in: I talked about this in a previous blog post, but for those of you that missed it, taking your notes and walking all over creation while you go over the material really helps. I’m not one to sit around for a long time, and I wish I had started doing this earlier in the school year. Just the simple act of walking really seemed to boost my memory, and subsequently my scores. Plus it feels good to just move!
4. Get help when you need it: I can’t stress this one enough. I was always the one doing tutoring in undergrad, so it was really hard for me to admit that there were certain subjects I needed extra help in. Take microbiology for example. That class is a lot, and I mean a LOT of detail that requires memorization. For some reason, I couldn’t wrap my head around the seemingly simple concepts. I really regret this, but it took me until halfway through the winter quarter to ask for help. I got hooked up with a really great tutor who provided me with some tips and tricks for memorizing the tiny details of microbiology, and my grades in that class skyrocketed. In fact I scored over 98% on my last final of the year! Asking for a tutor is not admitting you aren’t smart enough for med school, it’s simply tapping into another resource to help you succeed. The med school here wants us to do well, so we should take advantage of every type of help offered.
5. Come back from break two or three days early: I was definitely one of those students who reported back from vacation at the last possible minute. This carried over from undergrad into medical school. The only thing is, in undergrad, you don’t have to worry as much about getting back to real life. After returning from a break during medical school, I would spend the next few afternoons taking care of laundry, grocery shopping, and getting my apartment back into order. Studying was put on the back burner for a couple days while I got my life back in order, and I only spent probably half the time I needed to be studying. And like I said in #1, even that small setback can put one on a constant need to catch up. So in the future I’m going to cut my break as short as I need to in order to make sure I’m settled back in before I start studying again. The smaller the amount of distractions, the better!
6. Don’t memorize every little detail: Medical school throws a whole lot of information after you, and it is impossible to learn it all. That’s right, it is impossible to learn everything. Maybe it was a habit, maybe it was a compulsion, but I felt the need to read every sentence and try to learn every last tidbit. So instead of learning 70% of my material really well, I probably ended up learning 100% poorly. I would usually find exam weeks quickly approaching, having had spent so much time making study guides or flash cards of every last fact, that I would quickly be running out of time to finish it all. A panicked cramming would ensue that left me without the preparation I needed, not to mention not being able to look over the early material one more time. Second year is about integrating and finding what big pictures are important, not memorizing tiny facts and insignificant trivia. It’s something I’m still working on, and hopefully will perfect quickly into my second go around.
Those are just a few of the more important things I have learned. Even with some of those poor habits, I almost did succeed in passing my second year of medical school. But I feel a second run through of everything will be good for me in every way. I can avoid doing poorly on my first round of exams and work on solidifying the rest of the school year. It will be important to avoid the trap of feeling like I know it already and don’t need to study as much. I mean, I feel as though I have a pretty good grasp on a lot of it, but like I described above, there is still room for improvement.
It’s going to be a little weird at first. I am really going to miss the class of 2014 and all the relationships I formed throughout the last two years. I wish them all well as they go about their clinical rotations and am excited to rejoin them in that setting soon. It will feel strange working with an entirely new group of people, and I hope they will accept me as one of their own as I once again find myself in Alumni Hall, working hard and joking nervously about the looming USMLE Step I exam that will happen next summer. I’m not worried, but change feels funny at first. I’ve had tremendous support from my family, friends, and wife; more support then I could have ever imagined. I know everything is going to be ok.
I began this blog post with a question: why am I here? Why am I attending medical school? Well duh, it’s so I can become a doctor! So maybe I have gone about this whole medical school thing with the wrong idea. I’ve been studying so I can do well on tests and advance to the next level. A mentor of mine recently gave me one of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard since starting medical school. Don’t study to do well on tests. Study to become a better doctor and the rest will fall into place. I’m interested in mostly everything I have been studying, so why not focus on that instead of stressing about the exams? Study to become a better doctor and the rest will fall into place. Shouldn’t that be the main point of studying in the first place?
So instead of taking Step 1 and jumping into MS3 clincial rotations, I suddenly found myself experiencing a surprise summer break. What did I do with all the extra time? Well, simply things like become scuba certified, get married, win the final showcase on the Price is Right with my fiancé (now wife). Nothing major… more on that later… welcome to Season 2! 🙂