MS2 year hit me like a swift punch in the gut. Usually, when you think of the first week of school, warm fuzzy thoughts of seeing your old friends, catching up on summer experiences, easing into things with a couple of “orientation” lectures come to mind. All of those nice back-to-school pleasantries were abruptly cut short by the reality of the situation. There is no “easing in” with medicine. Time is short and there are unthinkable quantities of medicine to be learned. Not to mention a national licensing exam (known as Step One), which looms like a dark ominous cloud over every lecture.
MS2 year is brief–our last classes end on March 12th and with that marks the completion of our “formal” didactic lectures. We will have ostensibly learned all we need to know to not only pass (almost everyone does that) but excel in the USLME Step One exam. Fast forward a few months of intense studying, a quick 8 hour exam, and we move on to the clinical wards for 2 years of hospital based rotations. But I am getting ahead of myself here…
To say that the last two weeks have been an adjustment would be an understatement. Although I immensely enjoyed my summer, the break from the grueling daily grind of being a medical student served to dampen some of my once sharp neuronal connections. The year began so abruptly, you’d think it had never ended. There was no hand-holding- let’s review everything you forgot from MS1 year-before we bombard you with new information. MS2 is REAL medicine. Microbiology (the bugs), pharmacology (the drugs) and pathology (the clinical presentation). All of the basic science details we learned last year are a given–you are expected to know how the immune system works–now here are the disorders!
This is of course why we are in medical school in the first place, but actually learning the medicine and everything that can go wrong with us, while at the same time remembering the foundational details of how we work is harder than it appears. With the basic science behind us, I am now learning about things I have never heard of–ever. Which puts my brain at a distinct disadvantage, since repetition is the key to learning. Compounding my stress is a seemingly endless list of resources, all of which are magically dubbed “essential.”
Between reading the bible of medicine (Robbins), watching someone explain that bible in an easily digestible way (Pathoma), filling in the gaps (Kaplan videos), reviewing the information on a flashcard (Firecracker) and doing practice questions to make sure I actually truly did understand the information (Robbins Review Questions and Question Banks)–there is very little time left to go to lecture, listen to a professor explain the same in a slightly different way, take notes, and then review. Not to mention this is all happening with the assumption that I remember the basics from MS1 year–a generally poor assumption. So, in a nutshell, MS2 year is a juggling act. You have to balance learning the essential information (“medicine”) with a savvy review of the foundational science information all that medicine is based on. Never forgetting that Step One is the end goal for this year, so you better be annotating First Aid with all those new and important details. No wonder I am overwhelmed.
Have I found that perfect balance yet? No, far from it. But I am slowly seeing my brain change and adjust to the pace required for this year. Currently, I am studying and reviewing material from the time I get home from class, usually around 3pm until 11pm or midnight daily. I hope, as I get smarter about what study tools I use and my brain gets used to being asked to memorize and recall volumes of information, things will get easier. If not easier, at least at some point, the grueling medical school pace will be my new normal once again and it won’t feel so alarming to be studying 12 hours a day.