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Lessons Learned From First Year

Originally posted on The Differential on September 3, 2008

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I’m sitting here in my room on the island of Kauai. It’s the week before classes resume and my second year begins. Coincidentally, I’ve met two of my classmates on Kauai within two days of arriving on the island.

Being this close to the start of a new school year, I can’t help but remember the feelings I felt before starting first year. I also can’t help but think about what I’ve learned during the first school year.

My cousin, who is now an OB/GYN, told me to just study like I did in college. Unfortunately for me, I hardly studied at all in college. I was in an undergraduate program that was heavily math-based. I used to cram and be alright for tests because all I needed to know were theorems and/or concepts. The rest could be figured out or derived during an exam. Medical school was a big shift for me because now the majority of my studying consists of rote memorization.

So, from the perspective of someone who has had his share of first-year struggles, here are some of the lessons I learned from first year.

1. Figure out your learning style and figure it out fast. This one seems like it’d be common sense. But sometimes students find out that their way of studying isn’t working and instead of changing their approach, they go at it harder. Personally, I felt that going to lectures helped me. But I know many of my classmates hardly ever showed up. If you thrive in a good group study, seek out some classmates and make a group. If not, then don’t be forced into one. However, even lone “study-ers” can benefit from the occasional discussion with classmates.

2. Seek help. Students who make it into medical school are used to being near, if not at, the top of their respective classes. It might be hard to ask for help. If you need help, put aside your pride and ask for it. At my school there are tutors available for the first and second year students. I think that if I had sought out a tutor, I could have had some better scores. Don’t wait until it’s too late to get help.

3. Make time to do other things. It’s really easy to get caught up with studying when the pressure starts piling up. But it’s important to remember to make time to do things outside of schoolwork. Volunteer to tutor high school students. Take up a new hobby. Continue an old hobby. Go to the gym. Or even go and volunteer at a free clinic so you can get patient interaction. Don’t let studying define who you are.

4. Study hard. Push yourself — at least through the first semester. Then, you can decide how much you can afford to pull back while still attaining acceptable (in your eyes) scores. It’s easier to “ease off the throttle” because you’re studying more than you need to, than to “floor the pedal” trying to catch up at the end of the school year.

5. Finally, visualize. Remember the reason you wanted to go into medicine. Don’t forget it. Then, picture yourself done with medical school and residency, and practicing medicine. Aim for that goal. Try not to let the stuff in between — the grueling hours of studying in medical school or running around in residency — get you down. They might be necessary parts of the journey, but they sure aren’t the destinations.

Good luck!

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How Good Do You Want To Be?

Originally posted on The Differential on August 25, 2008

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I’ve been obsessed with these Olympics. It’s been so inspiring watching the athletes compete. The last event I saw was the Women’s Beam Final where America, led by Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin, won the gold and silver medals. After Shawn Johnson won the Gold Medal, the commentator talked about her background.

Ten years ago she bounced into Chow’s (her coach) gymnasium and began training at the age of six. During those years of training her coach asked her an important question: How good do you want to be?

That is a question every athlete must answer for himself or herself. The top athletes in the world only want to be the best. And they put their whole soul into achieving their goals, putting in hours and hours of training every day. The answer to that question determined what kind of training Shawn Johnson would need; it dictated the course of her childhood, finally culminating in an Olympic Gold Medal.

A couple of weeks ago I asked why we, as medical students, should bother learning something we’ll eventually forget. A number of people commented and left what they felt was the reason for learning such things. And I think they are all very useful answers to this question.

For me, the answer is best phrased in the question I heard while watching the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics competition -– the same question Shawn’s coach asked her: How good do you want to be?

At the end of my first year I spent almost two weeks on the General Surgery service. On the last day I was there I spoke with the chief resident who was less than a week from completing his general surgery residency. He spoke about his training and how he felt it was very well rounded. Because he had to rotate through many services, he felt comfortable speaking to internists, neurosurgeons, orthopedic surgeons, radiologists, etc. Even though those areas were not his specialty, he knew enough to communicate intelligently about a patient. These days, with multiple teams caring for a single patient, effective communication between healthcare providers is crucial.

Someone commented that a doctor with a broad base of medical knowledge is a well-rounded doctor.

A well rounded doctor means better care for patients. And it’s all about the patients, right?

So… How good do you want to be?