lessons from pre-clinical years

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I recently wrapped up my first two years of medical school, essentially my entire pre-clinical education. I still have to get through step one before I officially move on to rotations so I’m not letting myself completely celebrate yet but I do want to share some of the lessons I’ve learned thus far on this journey. Most medical schools in the U.S. have two years in mostly in the classroom, learning the ins and outs of the human body and all the ways it can quit on us. The third and fourth year are done in a clinical setting: hospitals, doctor’s offices, etc. As with most people who want to go into medicine, I’m here for the interaction with patients and helping them to better their lives – not to sit in classrooms and at our desks for hours on end trying to cram as much information in our brains as possible. But as with anything worth having, we’ve all gotta struggle a little. So below are some of the lessons I’ve learned in the many, many hours spent studying and trying to get through the madness.

  • Remember why you’re here. So much of why I blog is to stay grounded and remind me of how far I’ve come and how much further I still have to go. I often read my personal statement to remind myself of my journey thus far. I have the oath we took the day of our white coat ceremony taped on our bathroom mirror to remind me what a privilege this is and what a huge responsibility I have to learn as much as possible.
  • Have perspective. Remember that you’re spending endless hours of studying because you will one day be the responsible for caring for people during some of the most difficult moments in their lives. This is a huge responsibility. You, of course, need to do everything necessary to take care of yourself but remember that people are depending on us to know what we need to know to care for them.
  • Maintain balance in your life. Your entire life cannot be about medical school, especially in the first two years when you actually have a lot of free time if you plan your days well. It’s important to do things to retain your sanity and take care of your own health. Eat well, exercise, read, watch movies, etc. Do everything you want and need to make sure you’re centered and ready to learn. When you invest time in taking care of yourself, your studying will become much more efficient and you won’t have to spend the entire day going over the same lecture.
  • It’s okay that every day doesn’t feel good. There will be (seemingly too many) days when you’ll question why you’re paying thousands of dollars to spend your days studying. But there will also be days when you’ll realize how amazing the human body is. Days when you see patients and they’re so grateful that you’re spending a little extra time trying to figure out what’s going on with them. Days when you learn something in lecture and then go to clinic later that day and see someone surviving, with great quality of life, the same illness because of the work done by those who came before you. You’re entering a noble profession but path to getting there won’t always feel noble.
  • Reflect on your intentions and your happiness often. While it’s normal to have days or maybe even weeks of feeling like you’re in over your head, make sure you check in with yourself every month or so and reflect on how you’re doing. If you’re feeling depressed or anxious or just plain unhappy with where you are, please talk to someone. There is absolutely no reason for you to continue feeling this way. Medical students are at much higher risk for depression and suicidal ideation than the general population.
  • Find mentors you trust. This is something that I’m still working on but you have to realize that in every professional setting, you will not click with everyone and that’s okay. Finding a mentor to talk to about a certain issue is kind of like knowing which friend to go to depending on what you need out of the conversation. If you want someone to tell it like it is, go to the person you know will be honest with you no matter what happens. If you’re looking for someone to remind you why you’re working so hard and that you can do this, go to the person who will be be supportive and compassionate. And if you’re really lucky, you’ll find a mentor (or a few) who can do both and know when you need which. Mentoring relationships should never start with the question ‘will you be my mentor?’ I’ve never asked that question of a single person I consider a mentor. Instead, ask a question regarding their life or work or something you need advice on and based on the way they respond, you’ll know if this person is a potential mentor. This type of relationship should unfold naturally.
  • Find your village, hold them close and thank them often. I’ve said this before and I’ll keep saying it: it takes a village to raise a doctor. It takes a village of people who love you, support you, remind you of why you’re doing all this – that the sacrifices are worth it, and understand why you can’t always be around. I truly believe that God puts something special in the people who support doctors in training. This, unfortunately, also means that you’ll likely lose some people in your life because they may need more attention than you can provide at this moment in your life and that’s fine. It’s difficult but it’s honestly a part of growing up. Not everyone is meant to stay in your life forever. But those who do choose to go on this wild journey with you, hold them close and make sure they know how much you love and appreciate them.

Medical school is no joke. So many people told me beforehand that the hardest part is getting in. And it’s completely true that I worked very hard to get to where I am today, but it’s also true that the ‘hardest part’ varies from person to person. Some people thrive in the first two years because they have studying and exam taking down. I’m not that person so the past two years have felt nearly impossible and I’ve thought about quitting more often than I’d like to admit. But I truly believe that all of this is worth it, that my aspirations will be confirmed next month when I’m back in clinical settings and spending the majority of my day with patients. And it’s entirely possible that I may be wrong but I’ve already put in several years towards this goal so what’s another couple months?

I’m taking step one early next week so positive vibes and prayers are greatly appreciated!

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5 thoughts on “lessons from pre-clinical years

  1. Good luck for step 1. This post reminded me of the feelings I had in the first couple years of medical school and I can definitely feel those feelings making an appearance again in the run up to graduation

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  2. I’m starting my first year on Monday so I truly appreciate your encouragement. I wish you the very best of luck on your step one and rotations. I’m sure you’ll be great.

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