2nd Year…A Pause to Remember a Sacred Oath

Paige, Second Year Medical StudentAs is evident by the fact that this is my first blog post since the summer before year 2 of medical school commenced, 2nd year is BUSY!  Last year, we heard the 2nd year students grumble about how much they missed 1st year and how busy and completely consuming the ominous 2nd year was.  However, as a 1st year student, it was hard to believe that things could really be that much more difficult.  Little did I know, all the grumblings about 2nd year being one of the most difficult years of my academic life would indeed be indeed prove to be true.  In addition to a heavy academic load that includes: Pathophysiology, Pathology, Microbiology, Pharmacology, Neurology, Psychopathology, Preventive Medicine, and Biochemistry there are the additional requirements of labs, self-study lectures, continuity clinics, medical simulation labs, clinical skills OSCEs, and the ever-looming Step 1 test that will basically determine which residency programs we will be eligible for upon completing medical school.  Throw in extracurricular service activities, time to eat (cooking optional), exercise, spending time with loved ones, and devoting time to building a relationship with God and needless to say, there are never enough hours in the day to accomplish everything with the type of perfectionistic approach that we medical students desire.

If you have read my blog posts prior to this, you must be thinking, “Wow, this girl has suddenly become quite the Debbie Downer!”  I hope that you will continue to read however, because it has been this process of fully realizing the difficulty and challenges of medicine that has shown me even more of the immense value of this profession that I have chosen to pursue.  Moreover, it has shown me that even when things get tough—which they do—if you have the right support system, priorities, and determination, it can be done!

As I sit here on my last weekend of Christmas break and reflect over the past few months since beginning this year, I can honestly say that there have been many times, in fact, the majority of times when I have not had my priorities straight.  Relationships with family, friends, and God have all been stretched to the limit as I have put school again and again at the top of my priority list.  I have always had to work hard in school, but I have always been up for the challenge and have always truly enjoyed the process of learning.  Yet, at the beginning of this Christmas break I was exhausted, burnt out, and dreading the thought of once again immersing myself in the firehose of information that never gets turned off.  As far as I was concerned, the challenge was starting to look like it was a bit more than I could handle.

However, God showed me once again in a most unsuspecting way that He was the one guiding and sustaining me down this career path.  On New Year’s Eve my family had the opportunity to visit the Reagan National Library near my sister’s house in Ventura, California.  There are thousands of quotes scattered throughout this exhibition of President Reagan’s life story and accomplishments, and it would take days to read all of the information provided about the life of this incredible man.  We only had a few hours to walk the museum so we casually perused the information, taking note of just the main highlights.  One quote, tucked away in the volumes of information, stood out to me immediately.  It was spoken by President Reagan on his inauguration day and read, “I consider the trust that you have placed in me sacred, and I give you my sacred oath that I will do my utmost to justify your faith.”

Upon reading this quote, I was immediately struck with awe at the relevance it had in my own life.  It reminded me of that day a year and half ago when I recited a sacred oath “To Make Man Whole” and received a white coat that would signify the sacred trust of many patients that I would soon encounter.  I have no doubt that God used this quote to remind me of the reasons why I am currently working so diligently to conquer this difficult 2nd year of medical school.  As I look to begin this last 6 months of year 2, I am reinvigorated by this reminder of the sacred trust that has been placed in us as healthcare providers, and our sacred oath to be the best physicians that we can be in order to justify the faith that our future patients will have in us.

Second year growing pains

Kristina, Second Year Medical Student

First round of tests for second year is finished. I’m not going to sugar coat things. This year is a pretty big step up from last year, and it is taking me a little while to get used to things.

My summer was absolutely fantastic. I went to Europe with my family, volunteered with Dr. Appel in his clinic in Chad, Africa, hiked Half Dome, explored San Francisco…it really was more than I could ask for in the almost last summer break of my life.

The first day of orientation didn’t hit me, but the first day of classes sure did! I thought initially that I would try out different methods of studying to try and improve from last year. I used a lot of flash cards for my studies last year, so this year I thought about trying to read more and flash card less.

On I went. Week one, I was a mess. Week two a little less a mess. Week three a little less a mess. Week four – not sure what happened but it was a combination of that I lost my groove and family came to visit the weekend before tests. It’s incredible how such little things can throw you off your balance. To compensate for the time lost with hosting family, etc. I made myself study absolutely alone in my house for 2 days straight right up until the tests.

This test week has probably been the shakiest one for me since beginning medical school. I’m actually a little frustrated with myself.  For the first time in my career as a student, I’m now setting up meetings with some teachers to discuss how to improve my grade in a couple classes. Although it is a bit discouraging, I learned several things about myself and my studying.

  1. Don’t study alone. I am an extrovert. So much of my energy comes from people around me. Shutting myself away was absolutely terrible for my attitude, my outlook, and my studying.
  2. Back to my old methods! Obviously my new methods of studying in the classes I did poorly are not working. I should just stay with the habits that got me through last year! Lesson learned. Pulling out my flashcard program as I type.
  3. It’s ok to ask for help. I’ve always had the tendency to not want to ask for help. When I was little and my parents offered me help, I would shout out “NO! By myself! By myself!” My pride and stubbornness have been quite strong since an early age. I think this is a good experience in humility and accepting the advice and careful criticism of my mentors and teachers. Now it’s time to practice my listening

Even though it makes me feel like a crazy person, I really do love medical school. I have learned more about myself here than in any other experience in life. Loma Linda in particular is also my ticket to becoming a great doctor, and I wanted to take every advantage of my opportunities here to become just that. Time to get back to the grind to gear up for the next test set! With new advice, God by my side, and a newfound motivation, I’m sure it will be a much better experience than this last one.

– Kristina, MS2

Year One DONE!!!

Paige, First Year Medical Student

I can hardly believe it, but my first year of medical school is over!!  After 9 months of classes, 6 test sets, a week of cumulative finals, and a final OSCE, I can officially declare that I have made it through year one!  As you may have noticed from my complete absence of blog posts since Christmas, the end of the year has been incredibly busy!  However, now that I am finishing up the year with a few weeks of clinical rotations through the hospital wards, I thought that I would finally take the time to recap the latter half of this year.

The most challenging part of this year was by far our last quarter.  We not only had our 6th test set which was cumulative over 5 weeks of course information, but that week of testing was then immediately followed by a week of 4 cumulative mock board exams in the subjects of Physical Diagnosis, Anatomy, Physiology, and Cell Biology.  I have truly never studied so much in my life, and if you ask anyone who knows me, that’s really saying something coming from me!  However, I suppose I should start getting used to such a rigorous schedule because 2nd year students tell me that 2nd year only gets more intense!  All I know is that it’s a good thing I have an 8-week summer break to recover.

Nonetheless, all that hard work paid off in a year of medical school successfully completed.  I was actually quite amazed at how well our classes and instructors had prepared us for our cumulative mock board national examinations.  It was a huge relief to know that I could stack up against other students from medical schools across the nation and “hold my own.”

Despite all of the hard work and studying, I still managed to have an incredible time forming new friendships and even stronger bonds with my classmates.  There is absolutely nothing that can compare to the sense of camaraderie and companionship that comes with going through intense struggles such as medical school together.  I am so incredibly thankful to have the support of such incredible classmates and friends through these trials.  Most importantly, I know that I could not have accomplished this journey without God’s guiding hand, and though it is easy to think that I did good job getting through this year, it is actually the result of God working in my life that has allowed me to come this far.

465322_10151550310379178_1277426820_oOur Class on the Last Day of Instruction

My Secrets to 4th Year Success

Christine, Fourth Year Medical Student

Hello!  If you have been following along with my posts, you already know that I am a 4th year medical student here at Loma Linda University.  I recently matched to Loma Linda University Preliminary Internal Medicine and University of California San Diego Neurology Residency, and I am still super excited!  It feels great knowing that my lifelong dedication has paid off.  Throughout the year, some students have been asking for my advice, and I have been doing my best to share what I know.  Honestly, I’ve gotten overwhelmed by all the questions, so I decided to make a MEGA post to address the topics that I feel are important for success in the 4th year of medical school.  Anything not on here that you want to know, I suggest you find on official sources.

Note: Please take my words with a grain of salt.  I consider it important to be prepared for worst case scenarios, so I give people practical advice.  These are all my opinions, not necessarily the opinions of Loma Linda University, any particular faculty members, or my classmates, and my opinions may not apply to everyone.  For more of my thoughts, please read my past posts.  What I write may not work specifically for you, but this is what worked for me.

The best thing you can do is figure out your game plan yourself.  Talking to your deans, faculty advisors, and residents is helpful.  However, don’t count on anybody to spoon feed you information about every little thing.  Look at the official NRMP, ERAS, specific program websites, etc. to give you the basics.  If you got into medical school, you are smart enough to find these resources and use them to your advantage.  It will be your personal interactions at the interviews and discussions with your loved ones that will help guide your decisions.  This is your future; grab hold of it.  Now that I’ve successfully matched, I am excited for my upcoming graduation and to start my journey as a medical doctor!

Before 4th Year

This is a no-brainer, but I suggest you study hard on all your classes and rotations.  You will be amazed how much better you understand clinical care with a strong basic science foundation.  In addition, grades and comments from basic science and clinical years will be on your Dean’s letter that is sent to the programs you apply to.  Your Step 1 score and class rank do matter, especially if your goal is to match to a well-known institution and/or competitive specialty.  It’s not all about scores and grades, but some programs will not know how awesome you are unless you pass their filters.  There are way too many stellar applicants from all over the country vying for the same spots.  Red flags, such as failing a year of medical school, will limit you.  Unfortunately, if you have a red flag, you do not have the luxury of being picky.  Don’t expect to match to a top program if you are not a top student, but of course, you can always dream and apply everywhere to see what happens.  If you can afford it, go for it because it is hard to predict what programs are looking for.  God does work miracles.

Always strive to learn and improve.  Be appreciative of what God has given you.  Not everybody is given the chance, nor the capacity to be a medical student.  While you are in medical school, find some time to give back to others if you can.  Offer whole person care to every patient that comes your way.  It does take more time, but touching a patient’s life in a special way is invaluable.  Being a doctor is not just about having an immense amount of knowledge, but also taking care of people.  At the same time, don’t prioritize extracurricular activities over academic difficulties.  Achieving a balance is difficult, but that is something that you will have to learn to do.  Unlike other professionals, a physician’s job does not end when the clock ticks a certain time.

4th Year Schedule

What electives should I take?

Honestly, 4th year is your time to do whatever you want, and nobody really cares what you do with your schedule as long as you meet the requirements to graduate.  During your 3rd year, you will receive an information packet on the requirements you need to meet.  Read that carefully.  Refer to my first blog post, Exciting Choices in 4th Year, if you want to know what electives I chose.  However, my schedule has changed several times, so don’t worry if you are not exactly sure how you want to schedule everything.  I did not finalize my entire schedule until February 2013.  Some of my other posts also detail experiences from electives if you want to know more of what I think.

When should I do sub-internship/specialty of interest rotations?

You should do your rotation early enough to solidify your interest in a particular specialty and get recommendation letters.  The earliest you can submit residency applications is mid-September, so anytime in July or August is good.  Doing it early is also helpful if you are unsure of what specialty you want to go into.

Should I do an away rotation at a program I am interested in?

This is entirely your decision.  It may or may not help.  I have heard stories from both sides.  Some people matched at places they did away rotations.  Some people did not even receive an interview at places they did away rotations.  I didn’t do any away rotations for neurology programs, so I don’t know what it would have done for me.

When should I schedule vacation?

It’s up to you how to schedule.  Interviews can be anywhere between October and February. The majority of interviews are in November, December, and January.  I took off 2 weeks in November and 2 weeks in December.  Most students also take off April or May for traveling or just having fun in general.

When should I schedule tests, Step 2 CK and Step 2 CS?

Schedule them whenever you feel you will be ready.  They just need to be taken by LLU’s deadlines.  Refer to your information packet.  I took Step 2 CK in July to get it over with and so that it would be available before I submitted my residency applications.  I held off until December for Step 2 CS because I needed more time to get ready.  I think I might have written about these tests in a previous post as well.  All the information about these tests are on the official websites.

How should I study for Step 2 CK?

If you already took Step 1 and successfully made it through 3 years of medical school, you should know your study strategy.  What worked for me was practice questions from USMLE World and a review book, Step up to Step 2.

How should I study for Step 2 CS?

The most important thing to do is practice.  Grab a classmate and grab a book with practice case scenarios, such as First Aid to Step 2 CS.  Time yourself through the practice sessions.  You want to be done with the history and physical portion before the 5 minute warning.  After the H&P portion, time yourself writing a physician’s note.  Compare it to the book’s examples.  Another important aspect of Step 2 CS is empathy.  Treat the standardized patients like a real patient that you care about.  If you need more help, talk to the PDX office.  They are great at offering tips and helping you improve.

Applying for Residency

How much money should I save?

Interviews and 4th year in general are expensive. First of all, Step 2 CK and CS are about $2,000. Applying to programs can be about $500. You can check the prices on the ERAS website. I think it’s better to apply to more programs than you need to because it is hard to predict who will offer interviews.  I think it’s reasonable to save at least $5,000 for travel. It’s better to have more money and not use it than to have to cancel an interview at a place you really want to go to.

When should I create my CV?

ASAP.  There are sample CVs in the Dean’s office.  They also give you a sample copy during your 3rd year.  Follow that format.

When should I write my personal statement?

Do it early.  Start before September.  An articulate and well thought out personal statement actually takes longer than you expect.  I gave some advice about personal statements in my previous post, 4th Year Rotations and Residency Applications.

Who should I ask for recommendation letters?

This may vary, depending on your specialty. At least 1 letter must be from your specialty of interest.  1 should be from a core rotation like internal medicine, surgery, peds, etc. if you can get a strong one.  If not a strong letter, then choose whoever can write you a strong letter.  The last can be from any doctor.  Quality is very much more important than quantity of letters.  3 letters is good enough.  My advice would be to ask for them early.  You need to have a CV and personal statement ready by August, so that you can give them to letter writers.  If possible, the goal should be for the letters to be available by the 1st day of submission.

When should I start my application?

Start it before the first day of submission.  It can take at least a few hours to complete.  Make sure you double, triple, etc. check it before you submit.

When should I submit my application?

Submit it on the first day if possible.  I suspect that interviews are given on a rolling basis.  I submitted my application on the day that it opened, September 15, and I got my 1st interview invite on September 18.

What programs should I apply to?

My main advice would be to apply broadly and realistically.  Although I matched to an amazing spot, I didn’t even get interviews at some of the top programs I applied to.  As someone who prepares for worst case scenarios, I think it is extremely important to also apply to non-competitive spots.  That means outside of desirable areas in California, outside of the Ivy League, outside of any place that most people would be impressed with.  What is considered non-competitive also depends on your individual Step 1 score and grades.  This information can be found on the NRMP reports and talking to the experienced deans/faculty advisors.  Some people in my class did not match, and unfortunately, I don’t think that every student found a job in SOAP.  Your goal is to make sure that you apply smartly and go to enough interviews.  Yes, it is all expensive, but if you don’t get a residency position, you won’t have a job.  A job in some random place is much better than no job at all.

How many programs should I apply to?

This depends on what specialty you are applying to and how reputable the programs you apply to are.  For any specialty, I would recommend applying to at least 20 programs.  This is assuming that some of the programs you apply to would impress a layman.  I tend to be more on the cautious side, so I think you should apply to as many programs as you can afford.  If you are applying to well-known places, you need to apply to extra.  As a warning, just know that no matter how competitive an applicant you are, you will inevitably get rejected by programs.  Consult your deans and faculty advisors if you need help.  They have years of experience in helping students succeed.

What do you think about neurology programs?

Well, I think that neurology is the best specialty!  Some programs are categorical with all 4 years.  Some programs are advanced and also need an intern year.  You need to weigh the advantages and disadvantages yourself.  Applying to advanced programs means you have to spend extra time and money interviewing for preliminary spots, so prepare for that if you are planning to do so.  It is all personal preference, and no one can tell you what you should do.  After learning about different neurology programs, I found most programs are more or less the same with differences of prestige and location.  I thought that every neurology program I interviewed at was great in their own ways.  Everybody has different reasons for why they like or dislike something.  This is something that you will have to figure out on your own.

What are my chances of getting an interview and/or matching at a certain program?

I don’t know.  If I could predict the future, I would be rich by now.  The only way you will know is to apply.  The top programs obviously favor applicants with high board scores, above-average class rankings, and no red flags.  If you are not restricted by finances, then apply and leave it up to God.

Interviews

How much money should I expect to spend on interviews?

For local interviews, it will be gas price unless you stay at a nearby hotel, which could be $50-100/night. I think West Coast interviews by plane with hotel/ground transportation is may be about $300 each. Midwest and east coast may be about $500 each. It depends on if you can get some deals. Southwest was usually cheapest for flights, but for flights and hotels, it’s good to shop around. Look at the company’s site, priceline, hotwire, hotels.com, etc. to find the best deals. If possible, you can try to group interviews in the same region but it’s hard and doesn’t usually match up, so don’t count on it.

How many interviews should I go on?

I don’t have a clear answer, but I recommend aiming to go on at least 10 interviews.  The worse of an applicant you are, the more interviews you should go on.  If you get fewer than 10 interview invites, you should go to all of them.

How should I prepare for interviews?

Be yourself.  I wrote about interviews in a previous post, What It’s Like to Go on Interviews.  You can refer to that if you’d like.  There is also a practice interview session offered by LLU.  Go to that.

Should I contact programs after I have interviewed?

It is up to you.  I sent some thank you emails and some thank you cards.  In the end, I don’t know if it made any difference.

Match

How should I rank programs?

This is entirely your decision.  Please read the Match algorithm on the NRMP’s website if you are unfamiliar with how the Match works.  It explains things better than I possibly can.  Pros and cons of each program need to be decided on by you.  Don’t depend on others to spoon feed you their opinions.  Everybody has different personal reasons.  I ranked programs based on my overall feelings and desire to attend them.  This is not something I can describe, but you will have to experience it for yourself.

How does the SOAP work?

I do not know, and I do not want to know.  Luckily, I did not have to know.  I’m sure you can find this information on the NRMP website if you want to know.

What is Match Day like?

Please read my post, Some Thoughts on Match Day! for my thoughts on Match Day.  Also, watch the Match Day 2013 video, which is featured in my last post, Ice, Eyes, and Nice Comments!  Match Day is just simply the best day of medical school for me.

How do you feel about your match?

I am very happy!  I can’t believe I matched to such an awesome place!  I am excited that I get to stay in Southern California and be near my family for all of my residency training.  I feel blessed to match to UCSD’s neurology program.  I also feel blessed to stay at LLU for my intern year.  After 20+ years of nonstop schooling, I will finally start my first job soon, so I am grateful that I get to have my parents around to support me with my transition to the working world.  I know that this is where God wants me to be, and I am thankful for His wonderful plans for me.  I feel great knowing that all my dedication and hard work have paid off and that my dreams of becoming a doctor are coming true.  At the same time, I feel like wherever I matched, I would be a bit sad that it wasn’t one of the other programs because I enjoyed all my interviews and loved meeting people everywhere.  In a way, I’m glad that I’m not the one who makes the tough ultimate decision of where to train next.  Overall, I feel like this is the best time of my young life so far.  I am looking forward to many more special events to come during my lifetime. 🙂

My Final Thoughts

Making it to 4th year of medical school is already an accomplishment.  The first 3 years of medical school are very difficult, and only people who have been through it will understand what it takes.  Be prepared for new challenges in your final year.  Never stop learning.  You still need to give it your best on every rotation.  Treat every patient like they are a VIP.  You will also have more well-deserved free time than in other years of medical school, so spend time with those you love.  This is the last year for a long time in which your time is truly your own.

When seeking residency positions, it is better to play it safe, but reach for the stars if you can afford it.  Even if you think you are a desirable candidate, not everyone will agree.  The money you lose from applications and interview experiences is extremely miniscule compared to the huge disappointment of not matching.  Have fun on interviews.  Be nice to everyone you meet.  Be yourself.  Form your own unbiased opinions.

Enjoy 4th year.  Have fun.  Do things that make you happy.  Hang out with your family and friends.  Don’t worry about every little thing.  Get comfort from the ones who will be there when no one else cares, your family and God.  Remember that God has brought you this far, and He will be faithful.  No matter where you end up matching and even if it does not work out the way that you want, remember that what God chooses for you is even greater than what you choose for yourself.

Slow and steady

Marly, Second Year Medical Student

Second year… I can think of many words to describe the past few months.  Relaxing is not one of them.

I knew that second year would be more work than the first year.  Every one who talks about surviving year two had a clear message:  second year is not a joke.

I started the year off very optimistic.  I made it through first year, though there were plenty of times that I wasn’t sure that I would, so I can make it through the second year.  That optimism lasted about .02 seconds.  What have I gotten myself into??

The first set of exams came around and I quickly learned that I needed to change my study habits ASAP.  What worked for me first year was not working now.  I failed two exams and marginally passed another two.  I was confused, shocked, and honestly scared.  What if second year proved to be my downfall?  What if I wasn’t cut out for medical school?

I sought out a faculty advisor, and would occasionally meet with him for some pep talk and a little advice.  For example, following his recommendation, I learned that I study much better at home or a study room than I do at Starbucks.  I used to think studying in a quiet environment didn’t work for me, but it turns out I liked studying at Starbucks because I like to people watch (and therefore, be distracted).  I also started planning my week in advance.  By the time fall midterms came around, I was pretty confident.  I even left the exams Friday morning feeling confident.  I felt like I did well in all of my classes.

Then I got my scores.  I was in shock.  I did amazing on three of the exams, but failed the other three.  At that moment, I was failing two classes.  Needless to say, I didn’t have any more confidence.  What am I doing wrong?  It definitely wasn’t a lack of studying, I was studying more than I ever have.  Am I really not smart enough?

One thing though, I may doubt myself at times, but I am not a quitter.  I got tutors for the classes I was failing.  I revamped my studying even more and kept pushing through, even when I felt like I could not push anymore.

Then came fall finals.  Saying that I was terrified is a gross understatement.  I really doubted myself going in.  After each day, that doubt just grew.  By the third and last day of in-house exams, I had a horrible feeling in my gut.  When the scores were posted, I prepared myself mentally for what I expected to be the proof that even with help, second year would get the best of me.

I must have checked my scores at least 10 times.  There just had to be a mistake, these could not possibly be mine, especially not with the way I felt I performed.  After preparing myself for the worst and getting completely opposite results, I broke down and started crying.  I can actually do this, I can get through second year.

As I write this now, my scores are still the same (trust me, I just checked).  I passed every exam for each class, some to the point where I felt like there is a technical error (or a cruel joke).  I am currently passing all of my classes and I am able to go into winter break with a calm mind.

My experience so far has taught me a few lessons.  The biggest lesson:  it’s okay to ask for help.  I doubt I would have done well if I did not seek help when I needed it.

I also learned that it’s okay to have some fun and take a break!  After fall midterms, I actually took weekends completely off until Sunday evening.  I even got the most adorable puppy on the face of the planet.  By taking the time off to give myself a chance to regenerate and have fun, I was able to approach the week refreshed and ready to give 200% again.

Yes, second year is a lot of work, but it can be done.  I can do it.  Slow and steady wins the race, right?

Now for some adorable puppy pictures: this is Casper (previously named Zoe… that’s another story)

First day home:

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The dog really did eat my homework:

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He likes to study with me:

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His favorite place to sleep:

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