Single Greatest Piece of Advice for First Year Med Students…

On my first day of medical school, I entered the classroom full of confidence…

I had this internal plan of vigorously taking notes during all of my lectures and studying feverishly all night long. I envisioned myself participating in study groups with my classmates and holding my own during small group discussions. I’ll admit, I was not the “smartest” student during my college career, but I knew that medical school would be different. I was finally in an environment where I was learning material pertinent to my future career and was ready to give it my all.

However, within my first week of classes, I realized that my plan was completely falling apart. I found myself in an environment where I was convinced that everyone was smarter than me and knew what he/she was doing. I started anatomy feeling powerful, but left my first lab in tears because I was convinced that I was somehow already behind. Finding myself dedicating hours drawing out all of the muscles of the back and upper extremity, yet somehow still managed to fail my first anatomy quiz. After that, I arrived to every lecture and lab with a smile on my face while on the inside I was wondering how all of my classmates seemed to have it all together. No matter how vigorously I took notes in lecture or how feverishly I studied, I simply felt like I could not keep up.

 A few weeks into medical school, I found myself emailing my anatomy professor asking for help.

I knew I was not doing well in anatomy, and needed tips on how to study. The afternoon I walked into his office, I could tell that he had seen many students before me with similar concerns. After telling him my problems with keeping up with the material, he looked me right in the eye and told me the last piece of advice I ever expected to hear. “No matter what you do or how much you study, you will never, EVER know everything.” I remember feeling surprised, and continued on with how much trouble I was having with memorizing the muscle attachments of the hand. He interrupted me by saying, “Breanna, do you ever plan on becoming a hand surgeon? The only instance where you are going to need to know every single muscle of the hand is if you have to operate on a patient after years of training.” He then went on explaining how I need to cut my losses and focus on the material that I felt more comfortable with. And although I left the meeting feeling just as stressed as when I went in, I knew deep down that he was right.

From that point on, I tried my best to forgive myself while I was studying. If I came across minute details that I just could not remember, I reminded myself that there was no way I was going to know the answer to every single answer on the test. After anatomy lab one day, I found myself listening to a classmate talk to me about how she was convinced that she was behind and would never catch up. Even one year later, friend who I perceived to be one of the smartest people in my class confessed to me that he thought that he was the dumbest one in the room during the first few weeks of medical school. I realized that my fears were not unique, and that even the people who seemed to know it all had their doubts.

I wish I could say that this realization was my turning point during my medical school career, but forgiving myself for my weaknesses while studying is a skill that I am still continuing to work on.

Now I would be lying if I said that I did not feel angry at myself for forgetting a fact that I knew I studied in the past or for getting a pimp question wrong. That is something that we all struggle with but don’t always admit to others. I even found myself listening to a senior physician on morning rounds telling me about studying for his board exams and how he continuously feels humbled by how much he does not know about medicine. Again, I realized that no matter what I do or how hard I try, I will never know everything. Even the greatest physician in the world will still get questions wrong. We all feel like the dumbest person in the room sometimes. We all feel guilty when we spend an hour surfing the web instead of studying for our board exams. And we will all forget things. We are all human, we are all incredible, and we all just have to give ourselves a break.

Leave a comment