There have been some questions asked of me and statements said to me, especially during third year, that I’ve had to think long and hard about answering, making sure I didn’t say anything too weird or inappropriate.
1) “You must be so smart!”
At first, before med school even began, I may have actually secretly agreed with this well-intentioned compliment. I did decently on the MCAT and got interviews and acceptance to some great med schools – thus, in my mind’s eye, I imagined continuing my strong undergrad performance in medical school. Wrong. I cannot even begin to describe what a shock it was, realizing how different undergrad and medical school were. Not that my undergrad education didn’t prepare me well, but medical school demanded 500% more effort to simply pass. As I alluded to in an earlier post, I eventually realized how to change up my study habits and outlook about halfway through first year. Essentially, any decent grades or exam scores I have received since that point I can attribute solely to hard work.
Of course, having some degree of natural intelligence/sound reasoning is quite helpful too, but I passionately believe that medical school is still 90% extraordinarily hard work – hard work that entails ongoing sacrifices of a social life, normal emotional life, and even a little of your soul (I might be kidding about that last one – or maybe not). “Balance” is a great idea and a term that is thrown around a lot, but the “balanced” life of a solid medical student is skewed heavily towards his/her school and away from nearly everything else that a normal twenty-something year old experiences.
First and second year demand incessant studying. Take a day off if you are convicted in that regard, but the other 6 days of the week must be devoted to school. If they aren’t, you will fall drastically behind, or even fail. You will log onto Facebook and see friends and family incessantly posting pictures of hiking, traveling, shopping, – things that are now reserved to Christmas break or the rare full weekend off. What the heck did you do with your free time before you started medical school? During third year, and maybe even a rotation or two of fourth year, you will be waking up when it is pitch black and coming home when it is pitch black. Someone will ask, isn’t it really hot in Loma Linda right now? And you won’t know because you’re inside the hospital all day, on inhumanely long shifts. To receive honors on a third year rotation requires that you pass the respective board with flying colors (implying that you’ve been studying every moment of downtime you have – while eating, in the bathroom, grocery shopping, while on the treadmill), that you have consistently given 110% hard work on the rotation, especially when being watched by residents and attendings, and that you have done all the additional “if-you-want-to-receive-honors” requirements, such as writing pathophysiology papers and scoring well on quizzes. Third year is not a year of rest; it is all the mental demands of first and second year now coupled with performance and application based on that material.
My sheer hope is that this in no way comes across as a pity party. I want to simply dispel the notion that medical school requires of one to be placed on a pedestal; no, it is being an extraordinarily focused and devoted student for four straight years that will get you to graduation. Like I mentioned, intelligence still plays some part, but at least in my case (and I know many who would agree with me), the energy that keeps me going has little to do with intelligence but everything to do with raw diligence and perseverance, driven by a passionate thought of there is no other career in my life that I would rather be doing (honestly though, being a stunt women would be really awesome).
2) You speak Spanish?
Usually, I am tempted to say that I do – well, that my Spanish skills are decent, and if we are not looking for an in-depth conversation, I can get by. Unfortunately, trying to instantaneously translate as a patient is talking to me can be quite tricky.
Recently, in fact, I was in GI clinic and listening to a conversation between the doctor and the patient (both of whom are native Spanish speakers), while trying to translate in my head.
Doc: So how are you feeling?
Patient: Fine; I am thankful to God for the blue horses, and my family’s legs
Doc: Excellent. It appears to me and to you that to me that you appear to want to see results of the scopes.
Patient: Yes. Give protection and truth.
Doc: Everything is breakfast.
Patient: Why is running cancer?
Doc: Cancer is a low probability [YES. Got that one]
Patient: Next year we repeat the trip to the small shoe store?
Doc: No, in three years we repeat scope and tears from the sky, along with stomachs and arms.
Patient: I am confluent with you doctor. God bless you and your beetles.
This may be a slight exaggeration, but have it be known that I greatly look forward to refining my Spanish during the rest of my career, because I really need to do so.
3) So Women’s Health clinic went well today?
YEEEEEAAAAAH I’M THE PAP SMEAR QUEEN YO! (Note: This is never, ever, ever an acceptable Facebook status)
4) How do you do it all, remembering and retaining all that medical information?
Comfort food (Garlic and butter croutons during the week; frozen yogurt on the weekends),
Friends (someone to pat you on the back and remind you that your life has a small bit of inherent meaning to it. Regardless of the fact that your surgery attending’s main goal is to pulverize any self-worth that you have),
Exercise (cardio step classes set to mash-ups of Eminem/Justin Bieber – a mega dose of inspiration)
Incessant studying (see question #1. Do have any idea of how many times I have had to focus on my portable pharmacology flash card set while standing in line at the grocery store, and resist the temptation to read the tabloids’ headlines of Paris Hilton’s set of quintuplet love children with Bigfoot? Many times)
5) Tell me about one of the greatest challenges that you had during medical school (naturally this question is asked quite a few times by my interviewers during the residency interview season)
Well, off the top of my head one of the greatest challenges I’ve faced during medical school was on my surgery rotation. I was on a two-week block of vascular surgery and was waking up at 3:45am to make sure that saw all my patients in time, updated the list in time, began my notes in time, and providing offerings to the gods of vascular surgery – the vascular fellows and attendings.
Anyway, by the time rounds were underway around 8am or so, I was famished, starving, nearly emaciated. On this particular day, I had eaten blueberries and a junky little 90-calorie Special K bar that morning. Naturally I was desperate for food, anything. And as luck would have it, the first patient my team and I saw that morning was sitting up in bed, eating a tasty, mouth-watering meal straight off of the gourmet Loma Linda VA Hospital breakfast menu. Pancakes and no-sugar-added maple syrup, with a cranberry juice box and a link of dry sausage. I couldn’t help my staring – the food was right there in front of me, at that delectable lukewarm room temperature I so craved.
It wasn’t long before the patient caught me staring, my eyes glazed over as I the thoughts of eating one of those little silver dollar pancakes ran through my mind. I want that. I want that pancake. Please. Give. It. To. Me.
“You want this pancake?”
The patient was asking me this. What? No. No. How did he know? Was it the shrieking sound of my stomach over the beeping med-surg monitors? Possibly. That wild hungry look of a castaway lost at sea for a month? Perhaps. Did he know that I had been up since the wee hours of the morning running off of a Special K strawberry breakfast bar? Eh…I suppose so, if he had excellent intuition.
Nevertheless, I was in a major dilemma. Do I accept this patient’s kindhearted gesture and cram the pancake in my mouth while we are debriefing with the attending about the care of the patient? Or do I refuse this offer that may potentially save my life and prevent a fatal hypoglycemic episode in order to save face with the vascular team and prevent myself from going down in Loma Linda VA history as The Girl Who Ate The Pancake?
Fortunately for my reputation, and unfortunately for my stomach, I found a happy medium of gently, kindly refusing the patient’s offer and asking him to please enjoy his entire meal for me (in my mind, it was like YEAH YOU GO AHEAD AND EAT THOSE PANCAKES RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME, BUDDY) while I paid attention to what was going on in the discussion of the patient’s recovery and prognosis.
That afternoon I got a huge Caeser salad and curly fries, and at the end of the rotation I received an excellent letter of recommendation from the surgery clerkship director. So, I think my self-control paid off and I am a better person because of it.