It is hard to believe only six weeks remain of first year. The past 11 months have been a blur of studying–with moments of unforgettable milestones; motivation to keep at this sickening pace.
At times, when I was in the thick of it, with countless exams looming and new information piling on faster than my brain could accommodate I had a sinking feeling that I would never make it and was bound to fail. Somehow, I kept afloat. The now familiar pattern of stress, not-enough-time-in-the-day, repetition, anxiety, pressure–chance to display my new knowledge and euphoria of killing yet another exam, repeated in endless cycles. About 2/3 through the year something incredible happened– I got used to it. As with anything, the wonderful plasticity of our brain allows us to get used to even the most grueling and harrowing of conditions. Looking back now, with all those exams and hours of studying behind me, it doesn’t even seem that bad. I can take much worse. I am ready for much worse. Our gradual initiation into the increasingly more difficult training that is medicine has begun.
In reflecting on my first year I have the following advice for incoming MS1s:
1. Learn to study effectively: With so much to learn you will be doing yourself a huge favor if you learn very early on the most economical and effective study methods that work for you. There is no one perfect method. Some people like studying in groups. Others love flashcards. Some people love cramming late into the night right before an exam–ok, so that last one is just setting yourself up for failure. Avoid cramming late into the night before an exam because that just doesn’t work in med school. Get yourself on a study schedule. There will be a lot of information but you also have a lot of random blocks of free time in your first year. Use them. Train your brain to study even after a full day of classes–you will need to and it’s a great skill to be able to combat mental fatigue and keep going.
My experience: I studied a little bit every day and that made things much more manageable. I made high yield review sheets, flashcards, crude drawings (for anatomy). Repetition will be your best friend. It also helps if you enjoy what you are learning. Don’t become too myopic and try to think of the big picture. Each class is just a small piece of the foundation you will need to be a great physician. You are in school because you think the human body is amazing, don’t forget that. It’s much easier than you think to get disenchanted when you are knee-deep in biochem pathways or memorizing 108 pages of muscle functions/innervations. Some things you just have to get through.
2. Get involved with medicine from day one: You will be amazed how much access that white coat gets you. Studying and kicking ass in your classes are a given, but one of the best parts of year one is the free time you get to pursue all sorts of opportunities. Make it a priority to get your studying in. However, you will find that you still have time to take on some amazing experiences. There are interest groups to join, events to attend, but more importantly an entire teaching hospital with world renowned doctors to make contact with. Our school is very open to having medical students show up and learn about a specialty. Although it is technically called “shadowing”, don’t be fooled by the name. If you are curious, bright and show an interest in a specific specialty you will be able to take patient histories, present patients to attendings, suture wounds, scrub in on surgeries, perform ultrasound. The opportunities are really limitless, so be proactive.
My experience: I had a monthly preceptorship in the emergency department, which allowed me to put in my first sutures, assist the trauma team in resuscitation, interview patients and present to an attending, complete a physical exam. I decided not to limit myself to just emergency medicine and while exploring Ob/Gyn I saw my first birth and assisted on a C-section. These are the memories from first year that I will never forget. They were invigorating and helped motivate me to study even harder.
3. Don’t stress: Ok, so you will stress. A lot. But just know that as difficult and impossible as things seem to get because of the work load, you’ll get through it. You will get through biochem and anatomy. You will look back and think, that wasn’t that bad, even when in the middle of it you will have second thoughts about your chosen profession because all of your non-med school friends are out enjoying life and you are studying for 12 hours on a Saturday. Know that it gets better.
My experience: I am a freak of nature and have a sick love of studying. For the most part, I really enjoyed being super busy. But even for someone like myself who thinks that reading my notes is not a half-bad way to spend a Friday night, we all have a breaking point. I got pretty close a few times to reaching mine. The best thing you can do for yourself is recognize when you are getting close and take a break. Do something you loved before med school and keep sane. Have friends. Laugh. Drink good wine. Go to the gym. Whatever you need to do to get recharged.
4. Enjoy the ride. You are in for an experience. Enjoy it! It will go by so fast.