Tag Archives: managing priorities

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.

Develop Resiliency: A How-to Guide

Develop Resiliency: A How-to Guide

What is resiliency?

Medical schools say they desire this in candidates and in response applicants strive to demonstrate this quality in their written application, as well as interviews. Easy enough, just talk about how you recovered from a significant setback, whether it be in your personal life or career. The more important question though, is not how we portray this quality, but instead how we develop it. Some may say it is inherent and fixed, but that could not be further from the truth. I believe it can be refined and needs to be refined to prepare you for the challenges ahead. What follows is how to develop resiliency.

 

Past Achievements

Doubt is an interesting phenomenon in that it can creep into everyone’s mind, even the most elite. Given the humbling nature of medicine, its breadth and lack of mercy in presentation, I assure you that even the most badass physician has had to stare it down. When this happens, look to your past achievements. In my mind, past success is the greatest predictor of future success. If you are a premed, you have likely begun the process of crafting your resume, including research, volunteering, shadowing, work experience, etc. There are definitely notable achievements buried in here. If you are a medical student, don’t forget that your body of work earned you matriculation over literally thousands of qualified candidates. The point is, in times of uncertainty, lean on your past. I guarantee it significantly outweighs a single poor event and should illustrate your ability to triumphantly bounce back.

 

Fake it Until You Make It

This mantra permeates all aspects of life. There is a reason though, it’s true. Faking it until you make it is all about projecting positively. In clinic, given my limited knowledge base thus far, I feel like an imposter. I wander around in my short white coat, take histories and examine patients, and then present to my preceptor. To put it bluntly, my presentations are horrible. However, if I focused on all that I did not know and all that I was doing wrong, it would weight me down. Instead, I zero in on what I do know. This allows me to calmly connect the dots and recognize the strides I have made. I know that this attitude will serve me well going forward because I won’t have “made it,” being defined as a competent physician, for at least a decade.

 

Faith

This is not faith in any sort of a religious sense, but rather a deep seeded belief that everything is going to work out. That is different for everyone. For some, it may encompass balancing competing demands in your personal life and work. For others, it may focus more so on matching in a specific specialty. Faking it until you make it plays into this some, in that you may not have an organic belief that everything will be okay. No matter, saying it to yourself enough times will cement it as a natural response. Ultimately, this takes a tremendous amount of pressure off of yourself because you focus on the things inside of your control, rather than those outside of it.

 

Life, especially within medicine, is a roller coaster. Therefore, you will need to rely on these tactics time and time again. I alluded to the badass physician who still combats insecurity. Writing this has been therapeutic for me too, normalizing my intermittent feelings of doubt and reminding myself of the tools to squash it!

By Bryan Miles

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

 

Pre-Med Research – Do Med Schools Require Research Experience?

Pre-Med Research – Do Med Schools Require Research Experience?


Is Pre-Med Research a Requirement? Yes or No?

If you know me in the real world in any context, you know I love research. I was the kid who was excited when he got a chemistry set for his 5th birthday. It was only much later that I realized my passion for serving and caring for people directly. Even then, I’m hoping for an 80/20 career split between lab and clinic.

Heck, I’ve gone on record saying I should’ve pursued a PhD in physics before med school. And given the now horrified look on your face, dear reader, you’d probably expect me to answer the question posed in the title of this essay with a resounding yes, of course. Well, not to disappoint or to break with  dogma (scratch that, I hate dogma, unless it’s the fact that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell), but you don’t have to do research to be a successful medical school applicant. You hear that? Research isn’t required to get into medical school.

A Thirst for Knowledge

Got that? Good, now we can go home, right? Wrong. Please don’t misunderstand-research is my heart and passion-something I encourage everyone student to at least dip their toes into before and possibly during medical school. It is the lifeblood of the most meaningful advances in medicine-thank God for penicillin. My problem is that we students have conflated research experience with a thirst for knowledge and innovation. Make no mistake, these two things are not the same. The former is something to put on a CV (and can at times demonstrate our hunger for information). The latter is an inherent quality: it cannot be taught, and it must define in part or in whole, the life of any physician.

While every good physician should at their heart be a scientist- hungry to ask questions, push boundaries maybe scientific research is not for you (bench or otherwise). AdComs use research experience as shorthand for our intellection, to see if we can ask deep, probing questions and work through to answer these questions methodically and with perseverance.

Often, it’s decent shorthand. But honestly ask yourself, are you doing research to check a box, or is it because you have a genuine passion for asking hard, often unsolvable questions? That’s what you’re career as a physician will inevitably be-to ask questions of yourself, your patients, systems of people and processes, diseases- and move forward towards finding answers. I ask you, if you don’t have this passion, is a career as a physician the one for you?

Another Way

But here’s the thing: research is not the only way to demonstrate the hunger, the longing for knowledge that plays as magnificent countermelody to a physician’s passion for people. If working at the bench or in the dank-basement doing chart review isn’t for you, demonstrate your love for questions in another way.

Perhaps that’s starting a club or program on campus to address a problem, or working on a service project of your own design where you ask the question, or perhaps it’s starting an innovative business. I don’t really know what else is out there. But show that you can ask questions. Demonstrate to the AdComs that you’re more than grades, more than a love of people (though that’s also key)-show them that at your heart, you are a challenger, a question-asker, a problem-solver; someone who dives headlong into the unknown and is unafraid to keep moving forward.

So no, you don’t have to do scientific research to become an awesome candidate for medical school. What you must have, I think, can best be described as an explorer’s mind. Research just happens to be a convenient way to prove it. If you love research, great. Even so I encourage you to think more deeply, to ask yourself in what other ways you can express your inquisitive spirit, and how that spirit will make you a scientist, doctor, and human. No matter what, never lose your fire for discovery, future physician.

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