Tag Archives: life of a med student

Single Greatest Piece of Advice for First Year Med Students…

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.

How To Do Well In Medical School – 3 Reasons Why You Need A Daily Task List

How To Do Well In Medical School – 3 Reasons Why You Need A Daily Task List

Medical school is chaotic. You are balancing school itself, the extracurriculars helping to propel you towards a residency, maintaining the relationships that comprise your support network, and not to mention basic human necessities like eating, exercising, and showering. Just reading this sentence can cause your mind to swirl. So, here are three reasons you need to make a daily task list and start your own medical school organization.

 

1. It Reduces Anxiety

As I alluded to above, medical school is anxiety provoking. I would argue that daily task lists actually reduce this anxiety and should be utilized by everyone for optimal medical school organization and performance. You take a mess of tasks and neatly organize them into discrete, digestible components. Moreover, once your list is made, there is nothing to worry about. It is time to buckle down and start crossing things off.

Side Note-A Running List Furthers Anxiety Reduction

Continuing on the above thoughts, additional tasks will undoubtedly come to mind while diligently working through your list. No problem, have a running to do list next to your daily tasks. This is simply a place to write down thoughts as they organically present themselves. For instance, if you suddenly remember that you need to call your mom or complete a pre-class quiz, just jot that down on your running list. Now your mind is not distracted with thoughts of that and you are able to better focus on whatever task may be at hand. Note, this is to be utilized for short-term things you intend to complete that day!

 

2. It Increases Productivity

I honestly believe organization increases productivity. You have complete control over your daily task list. Therefore, you can set your priorities and create a roadmap for the day reflecting this. In our Finding Your Focal Point piece, we discussed the value of goal setting. This holds true here as well. You are essentially setting goals for the day, rather than haphazardly accomplishing tasks. While the later may seem just as efficient, I assure you that long-term, meticulously charting out your path to success is more optimizing.

3. It Provides a Sense of Accomplishment

Unlike undergrad, which is generally filled with endless tasks, such as assignments and papers, medical school is just the opposite. Most semesters consist of a few rounds of tests or a mid-term and a final. That only equates to a few boxes to check off. In the interim, you are persevering through vast amounts of material with no defined starting or stopping points (other than the exams of course). This can weight on your psyche. To combat this, I started creating more boxes to check. For instance, my daily task list includes things like watch Microbiome lecture or review sexually transmitted infections lecture. I don’t know why it is so satisfying, but I absolutely love crossing things a to do list!

Your turn:

Daily Task List

  1. Read: How To Do Well In Medical School – 3 Reasons You Need A Daily Task List
  2. Starting making Daily Task Lists

 

Why Most Medical Students and Doctors are Hypocrites (And How We Can Change)

Why Most Medical Students and Doctors are Hypocrites (And How We Can Change)

Social Histories

If you were to sit in on any routine doctor’s visit, you are bound to hear a few common questions. “Do you smoke? How much alcohol do you drink, if any? What is your diet like? How much exercise do you get weekly?” These are questions we are trained to ask as early as the first week of medical school. We are taught to treat not just the conditions a patient presents with, but also inquire about their overall health and instruct them on ways to improve it.

Addressing negative social habits that can impact patient’s health is a recurring theme throughout medical school.

My classmates and I have learned how to recognize drug addiction and drug-seeking behavior, how to determine if our patients were alcoholics, and effective ways to counsel people on healthier diets. As much as we future doctors know what qualifies as “good” health, and how to attain it, I wonder how closely we follow our own advice.

Medical students work incredibly hard, studying for hours on end for very difficult exams, as well as spending long days in the hospital without pay. With this amount of dedication, certain things are almost automatically erased from our lives. Sleep deprivation is the first thing that comes to mind, and I am constantly aware that this will only get worse when I start residency. Though the field of medicine has made great strides in ensuring that residents have work hour limitations, and the days of sleeping in the hospital all weekend are largely behind us, the amount of work still leaves many constantly fatigued. We counsel our patients to have good sleep hygiene, and often attribute lack of sleep to problems with mood, concentration, and general quality of life. But what about us? We set ourselves up for failure in these areas when six hours of sleep is a good night’s rest.

Doctor Non-Compliance

This lack of good sleep directly leads to an increase in the amount of stress we put on our bodies and minds as students and physicians. Let’s face it: medical school is stressful. This is a point that needs no clarification. Passing exams, getting honors on clerkships, and resting all of our hopes on a few board exams is pressure nobody enjoys. The stresses that come along with a career in medicine are certainly matched in other fields, but most other professionals do not spend their days advising their clients to avoid stress. How ironic is that? I have seen the effects stress can have on people, including my classmates: dissolution of relationships, family strife, and depression, to name a few. While we tell our patients to go easy on themselves when they are having trouble in their personal life or at work, we do not afford ourselves the same luxury.

The last, and possibly most important, area that I notice physicians and other healthcare professionals not taking their own advice is in our indulgences.

Long hours, high student debt, and a relatively low salary can restrict medical students and residents from having the healthiest habits in terms of diet and exercise. When you have to round quickly on patients and get to the OR by 7 am, it is not uncommon that all you have the chance to eat is a light snack or coffee. Throughout the day the demands of the patient wards may prevent you from having a real meal, and the vending machine seems like it may as well be a Michelin star restaurant. In spite of this, I am constantly impressed by a small subset of my peers who manage to make exercise a focal point of their day, whether it be at 5 in the morning or 10 at night. Many of us—and our patients—do not have this will power or motivation, and will collapse into our beds the second we have a minute to do so.

Other indulgences include drugs and alcohol, the unspoken hidden addictions many doctors struggle to control. The House of God provides anecdotal evidence:

“the classic novel where residents take swigs out of a flask at work and aim to be inebriated as often as possible when off the clock. This is a work of fiction, but it is based in reality.”

Physicians are often incredibly vulnerable to addiction when it comes to alcohol and drugs. It may be because we self-medicate, thinking we can recognize a problem more easily since that is what we were trained to do. Hence, we quickly and easily enter the world of self-denial. It is not uncommon to hear stories of physicians overdosing on prescription drugs or attending AA meetings. This is nothing to be ashamed of, and it is always good to get help when it is needed. However, the pressure placed on us not to have such problems—and to hide them if we do—makes it harder to identify and treat addictions when they do exist.

Some Of Our Own Medicine

We should strive to be the best versions of ourselves always, but also recognize that we are not above the maladies that may afflict our patients. If a patient states they are struggling with work and feel they need to drink more lately, it is okay to recognize that you as a doctor have experienced that problem too. When you advise your patient to cut back on the booze, take a day off work, and get better, remember that can be an option for you as well. The next time you ask your patient if they are downplaying a problem, ask yourself the same question. It is just as important to care for yourself as it is to care for others. Remember, just because there’s no lecture on it in med school, doesn’t make the problem any less real.

 

Jessica Celine Morgan
MD Candidate  |  Class of 2017
New York University School of Medicine