Monthly Archives: August 2013

Staying Sane is Important

My last blog post kind of made it seem like I am on the fast track to med-school burn out and/or mental illness. (Insert catatonic med student mumbling “must study….must study….”.) I want to reassure my readers that this is entirely not the case. I failed to mention several small but important built in preventive mechanisms that will hopefully ensure I make it through the next four years with my mind still intact. The hectic, soul crushing pace of medical school can be overwhelming–but only if you let it. Here are my top ten life-normalizing activities:

1. Exercise: I don’t have a choice, I need to get to school and my chosen mode of transportation is biking. This guarantees that I work-out at least 40 minutes every day. By far, this has been one of the best decisions I have made since starting medical school. Not only is it a great stress reliever, but it has worked wonders on my POTS (see my other posts on this topic). On the downside, I arrive to school sweaty and flushed and need to change out of my workout clothes, then spend the next 30 minutes making sure no one sits next to me so that they don’t see how I am continuing to sweat…but it’s well worth it. Aside from my commute, I try to go jogging 2-3 times a week (mainly on the weekends).

2. Stop what I am doing by 11 pm: No matter how much studying needs to happen I try to be done no later than 11 pm. There are significant diminishing returns if I try to keep studying late into the night and it usually just leads to zero retention and having to re-study– so a general waste of time. I then have one hour before I go to sleep to numb my brain with ridiculously-awesome crappy TV like Bravo.

3. Take mini study breaks: Studying for long periods at a time is equally non-productive and leads to the three S’s: sadness, sleepiness and a sudden urge to cry. I try to get up and do something else every hour or so; whether it’s making dinner, doing the laundry, taking a walk or spending 5 minutes laughing with my husband-my mini breaks keep me focused.

4. Naps: Naps are not just for kids or old people. I find it re-energizing to sleep for 30 minutes to 1 hour. There is no point in studying when your brain is too tired to remember what you are reviewing.

5. Study smart: By now we all have our study methods down. Although some are better than others. Repetition and color association are some of my favorites. Particularly when trying to memorize complicated pathways, I try to color coordinate the substrate, enzyme, regulation, which helps me recall the information later. I have also become a huge fan of making electronic flashcards (Anki on iPad). Just the act of making the cards is my study method. Then reading and re-reading my notes several times in one sitting helps to drive home the message and burn things into my brain (at least until the next exam).

6. Sense of humor: Medical school is a tough, long, tiring road–you need to find time to laugh. Luckily, my husband keeps me constantly entertained. The best part of the day is wrapping up for the night and laughing for a while before we go to sleep.

7. Attending the extracurricular stuff: Just focusing on the hard sciences is depressing and makes you feel like being a Dr. is years away and will involve painful regurgitation of facts and endless exams. Attending interest groups is a great way to put medical school in perspective. So far, I’ve attended events put on by the Ob/gyn and Emergency Department. They both have wonderful, energetic, charismatic faculty advisors that help you keep the ultimate goal in mind. Plus, there is free food, you meet new people and generally have a good time doing something that is not studying for an exam.

8. Sleep: This is a non-negotiable. I sleep 7 hours a night.

9. Continue my hobbies: Things that help me feel normal and still somewhat in control of my life include movie marathons; going out for late night frozen yogurt instead of turning in for the night; enjoying the beach; trying new food.

10. Friends: I am lucky in that I have a live-in best friend who is not in medical school and enjoys making me smile and laugh and not think about biochemistry. Medical school also puts you in very close contact with some awesome people–so make time to hang out with them–and not just as a study group.

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After 14 days of medical school (not counting a week of orientation fluff) I am finally resurfacing to recount what has become of my life. Perhaps most noticeably, my once-dormant addiction to studying has been unearthed. A couple of 4 hour biochemistry lectures was all it took to mutate my brain and rewire my neurons to an old familiar configuration– I am a full-blown study addict. I admit, I have issues. I feel guilty when I am not doing it. I can’t sleep without enough of it. I wake-up early on the weekends to do it. I say no to friends and social events to spend time with my addiction. But that is the kind of thing medical school does to you. You live for studying.

But let me back up here. I should explain that my addiction has blossomed entirely out of necessity. I had my first Histology exam on my 4th day of medical school. Which meant my first weekend was spent almost entirely on reviewing cell structure and earning a reputation among my classmates for making and sharing tons of flashcards (hey they worked!). I took the exam only to realize I had completely neglected biochemistry in the process and I had a biochemistry exam in 4 days! More studying ensued…

The old adage “medical school is like drinking from a fire hose” is there for a reason. We are bombarded by a semester worth of material and expected to process/understand/and memorize it within a week. This process is both exciting and completely brutal. Particularly for someone known to take studying to such extreme.

Here is what my typical day looks like:

6:40 am: Wake up, make 1st cup of coffee

7:00am-7:30am: Read and answer email for my part-time consultancy work, also take conference call if needed to answer questions and follow-up on pending assignments (yes, medical school is extremely expensive so I am making some money on the side by continuing to work on a very part-time basis for my old job)

7:30am: make 2nd cup of coffee, to-go

7:30am-7:50am: Bike roughly 4 miles to class (listen to Pandora- lately it has been set to Pretender’s Radio, which puts me in a great mood)

8:00am-10:00am: Biochem lecture

10:00am-12:00pm: Biochem lecture (by hour 3, I start to increasingly pay less attention and then inevitably end up re-watching the lecture online to review the sections I missed because I was busy googling LOL cats on the internet)

12:oopm-1:00pm: Free lunch presentation (we are fortunate to have tons of interest groups and special elective courses we can take during lunch; which often results in delicious free food! For example, this week I’ll be well fed four out of five days of the week; attending a mandatory dean’s lunch, Ob/Gyn interest group; Wilderness Medicine Lecture on Jellyfish injuries and an LGBT clinic information session)

1:00pm-3:00pm: Biochem lecture (shoot me now…)


1:oopm-5:00pm: Clinical Foundations, which means learning the skills of doctor-patient interactions. We have a simulation center modeled to look exactly like a Dr.’s office. Each week we have simulated patients who we practice our history taking (and eventually physical exam) skills on. One would think that learning “what brings you in today,” would be a fairly easy task. However, when you have a two page check-list of systems to review and social and family history questions to ask your brain revolts and you end up sounding like either a completely non-human doctor robot or you forget to ask the most obvious follow-up question. It does feel good in any case to wear that white coat and at least pretend to know why you are asking your patient if “they’ve recently had penile discharge,” and what it means.

5:00pm on ward: Sometimes there are interesting workshops to attend, such as the IUD placement workshop, which I went to last week. Otherwise I bike home to begin my nightly studying.

6:00pm-10:00pm: Re-watch lectures as needed; all of our lectures are posted as podcasts by the time I get home. Read sections in the book to clarify key concepts. Take extensive notes. Make extensive flashcards.

10:oopm-11:oopm: Do some work for my consultancy. So far I’ve logged 30 hours doing things like copy editing grants and proposals; submitting evaluation reports; updating our website.

By 11pm I am quite literally exhausted although strangely I am so excited to do it all over again I actually can’t wait to wake up so I can be in school again ( I am sure this will fade).

All in all, I have almost zero free time and nearly every hour of my day is accounted for. I happen to really like this feeling and enjoy having my old addiction back. Medical school will be and is intense. But so far so good. I am excited to get up in the morning and no longer dread Sunday nights–signifying the weekend is over ( it is quite literally the opposite)– after having worked for so many years, I know how rare this feeling is and I am so lucky to be doing something that makes me feel so happy.

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