Archive for December, 2009

Advice to First Years

December 4, 2009

About six months ago, a good friend of mine was just starting as a first year at my medical school.  In an attempt to be a good friend/good third year, I thought I’d jot down a list of pithy tidbits of “wisdom” I had accumulated over my two years here.  Some of this is specific to my medical school, but I feel like a lot of it is generally applicable.  Enjoy.

1.  If you are scared, everyone else is scared too.  They just aren’t showing it.

2.  Don’t fall into the trap of not seeing past your own nose (to use the Marry Poppins term).  If you’re stressed, then everyone else is stressed too, and small gestures to acknowledge that and to help other people through difficult times will be incredibly appreciated.

3.  Nobody expects you to learn it all.  Learn what you can, and move on to your next task or else you will get bogged down and miss the big picture.

4.  Don’t worry if you can’t see a ‘big picture.’  I’m a third year, and I am only now just beginning to pull the pieces together.

5.  Do what you have to do to learn best.  If that means skipping all the lectures and learning from syllabi and recordings at home, do it.  If it means sleeping all day and studying all night, do that too.  You are responsible for your own education, so use or cast aside the tools the school gives you to achieve that end as you please.

6.  Get your hands on a copy of First Aid for the USMLE Step 1, and peruse it as you go through your classes.  One of my biggest regrets in my first two years was studying for my classes, and not for the boards.  No one cares what percent you get in your class (so long as you pass [my medical school is just a pass/fail system]), but a good number of people will care what score you get on the Step 1.  Also, some classes at [my medical school] are not the best organized, and First Aid can really help summarize complicated and badly taught concepts.  And finally, if it is in First Aid, you should know it.  Use First Aid to help you learn for your classes, but also use your classes to learn what is in First Aid.

6.5.  What will get you a good score in your class is not necessarily what will get you a good score on Step 1.

7.  Make sure you take some time for yourself.  Everyone says this, and it’s true.  I played frisbee almost every Friday for two years, and I think I am mentally and physically better for it.  Plus, no one cares how good you are, and it’s a good chance to hang out with your classmates while not in school.

8.  Medall [our med school listserv] is for important stuff (and ultimate frisbee emails).  Like a good surgeon, think twice, email once.  Cuz once it’s out there. . . it won’t be coming back.

9.  Take time to get to know your classmates.  Everyone has an amazing story, and everyone is worth taking some time to meet.  And so if a classmate is sitting alone during lunch or break or at a party, take some time to meander over and exchange a few words.

10.  As an addendum to 9, LOOK OUT FOR EACH OTHER.  Medical school is very hard on the self-confidence and self-esteem.  One never knows when a kind word or gesture can reach through someone’s funk to brighten a gloomy day.

11.  DO NOT BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR HELP.  Medical school is quite possibly one of the hardest things you will ever do, and I cannot express just how stupid it is to think you can do it by yourself.  It takes courage to admit you need help, and NOBODY will ever hesitate to lend you a hand, a set of notes, a sympathetic ear or a shoulder to cry on.

12.  And as a corollary of 11, never, Ever, EVER ignore someone’s request for help.  And remember, people can ask for help with more than just their voices.

13.  When the helicopters rumble overhead, I like to pause and think about the doctors in the hospital getting ready to receive their patient, and how someday that is going to be me.

14.  The lobster bisque isn’t bad at the cafeteria.  Italian wedding and the clam chowder aren’t bad either.  And make sure to get the extra bread that comes with the soups.

15.  Medical school will take you outside of your comfort zone.  Whether that is hemisecting your cadaver’s pelvis, feeling out of your intellectual depth, or trying to do a blood draw on an IV drug user, you will feel uncomfortable in medical school.  That is a good thing.  I think one can learn a lot about themselves when they are out of their comfort zone.

16.  There are some amazing views to be had from the 14th floor of the hospital.

17.  Don’t forget your big and great-big sibs.  They’ve been through this before, and will have lots of tips, tricks, and a healthy dose of perspective to offer you.

18. You came to medical school because you wanted to be a doctor, but that is easy to forget if all you do is study.  Take some time to volunteer your time at the student run clinics, and to remember the altruism that brought you here in the first place.

19.  Take some time to reflect once in a while.  I keep a blog for some stuff, and a written journal for others.  This is a crazy experience, and taking some time to think about it not only helps put it in perspective, but also helps you get the most out of your experiences here.

20.  There are a fair number of bull-crap classes and small group sessions in medical school.  Don’t let yourself get bogged down in worrying about them, but don’t let them upset you for wasting your time either.  There is usually a point to the maddness, even if it could be made in 5 minutes in a lecture, rather than an hour in a small group.

21.  Carm will always have candy and a kind word for you.

22.  Take some time to shadow in the hospital.  You will be shocked at how different it feels to be part of the medical institution now, rather than just volunteering at its fringes.

23.  If you go to lecture, I highly recommend having at least one scrabulous game with your classmates going during class time.

24.  If you have a significant other, don’t forget that because you are working your ass off chasing down your dream, you have less time to spend with your boyfriend or girlfriend.  Your medical school experience is a sacrifice for them too.

25.  If you can get involved with the trauma study later in your first year, do so.  It is a great chance to get a watered down idea of what call is like, and to see some of the ‘highlights’ of the Emergency Room.  Plus they give you money.

26.  Get a copy of BRS Physiology.  Physio is a huge and hugely important subject, and BRS Physo helps greatly to keep you oriented, and serves as a good place to get simple explanations of complicated topics.

27.  Consider getting a copy of Lipencott’s Illustrated Reviews: Biochemistry.  Biochem is very confusing, and if you are more of a self-studier, it can be very helpful.

28.  Take lots of pictures.

29. Once a month, all the stores in [my city] are open waaaay late, and there are tons of free samples, live music, art on display, etc.  It’s a fun little promenade and good chance to see what normal people do with their spare time.

30.  If you cannot be friends with everyone in your class, at least find it in yourself to be civil.  You never know when you might find that person in your next small group, doctoring group, or third year rotation.

31.  Never forget that it is an honor and a privilege to be doing what you are doing.  Things might get hard, but before you complain, you should ask yourself “Is there anything else in the whole wide world I would rather be doing at this moment?”

32.  Medical school is about helping each other out; it’s about kind words, nice gestures and shared notes.  There have been times beyond counting that my class has carried one another through rough patches.  Be loyal to your class, because you will be getting through medical school together.

33.  And finally, enjoy yourself.  You will be working very hard, but don’t forget you are living your dream.  You will belong to a group of amazing people working very hard to learn how to become a doctor.  How much cooler can it get?