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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a day in the life: MS2

I’ve been wanting to do this post for a few weeks now and I thought today would be a good day to do it since there are a good variety of things I can talk about (and the whole post won’t be about me sitting at my desk in my PJs studying all day). I’ve seen quite a few bloggers do similar posts and I think it’s a really neat way to get to know the more ‘behind the scenes’ of the day.

  • 9:00 AM – We didn’t have lecture until later this morning so I got to sleep in, which was really nice. Originally, I wanted to go on a quick run before class but didn’t sleep very well and woke up exhausted so just ended up going back to sleep. The weather has been really nice here in the mornings so I made a cup of coffee and had breakfast on the balcony.
  • 10:00 AM – 12:15 PM – We had another microbiology lecture this morning on a bunch of bacterias (corynebacteria, bordatella, pseudomonas and heliobacter for those of you who are curious). One of our professors likes to do a ‘flipped classroom’ style with his lectures and I personally really love it. It forces me to prepare ahead of time and also makes much more sense because he provides reasoning for why everything works the way it does. Microbiology is so memorization heavy, which is pretty much what I’m the worst at, so any reasoning/logic to why things work the way they do is so helpful. He also teaches using cases instead of just presenting the facts about the pathogens, which helps put it all in a clinical context. 
  • 12:30 PM – 1:00 PM – After lecture, I rushed home to shower and change into formal clothes for pediatric rounds. I finally got to style these slacks I got from LOFT over summer. 
  • 1:00 PM – 1:40 PM – Before heading to rounds, I had lunch with my dad and hubby at one of my favorite restaurant downtown and had the most delicious open face veggie sandwich. The food there is so fresh and they serve the best fresh fruits as a side.
  • 1:40 PM – 2:00 PM – Rushed to the hospital to meet the pediatrician for rounds. There was a bit of traffic but fortunately didn’t take that long. It was only my second time at this hospital so I didn’t really know my way around but luckily it didn’t take too long to figure out where I was going.
  • 2:00 PM – 4:20 PM – I saw pediatric patients with one of my classmates shadowing a pediatrician in our community. It was my first time every working with goobers in a medical setting and it was really interesting to see the differences between caring for adults and children. We also saw a variety of ages and it was interesting to see how providing care varied from a 3 week old, to a 2 year old, to a 6 year old and a 15 year old. Also picked up some cool tricks from the pediatrician on how to get younger patients to cooperate with physical exam. Tiny humans also tend to attract various pathogens because their immune systems are still developing so we got a lot of exposure to the material we’ve been learning in microbio this block. I’m not sure if pediatrics is something I’d ever pursue as a career but it was definitely a really fun afternoon.
  • 4:20 PM – 5:00 PM – There was a bit of traffic on the drive home so it took about twice as long to get back home as it did to get to the hospital. I usually get really annoyed in traffic but I’d been having such a great day, it didn’t really get to me.
  • 5:00 PM – 6:45 PM – Hung out with hubby and watched a couple episodes of Dexter/The West Wing on Netflix and worked on the beginnings of this post/edited photos to add in here. I’ve recently been watching The West Wing as my ‘study break’ show and I like it way more than House of Cards. HOC was waaaaaay to dark for me. I feel like TWW keeps it real but also is somewhat uplifting at times. And the last thing I need when I’m tired of studying is to lose even more faith in the world.
  • 6:45 PM – 7:15 PM – Went on a walk with hubby. We try to do this every evening that we’re home and it isn’t scorching outside. Today was a really nice day and I reached my goal of 5k steps! I know that’s not really much but when you spend most of your day just sitting around and studying, it can be difficult.
  • 7:15 PM – 9:00 PM – I had put some meat in the fridge to thaw earlier in the day so that I could make dinner but we ended up having leftovers from lunch with my dad so we just reheated that. I made a iced mango black tea in bulk yesterday so I’ve been sipping that throughout the evening.
  • 9:00 PM – 11:00 PM – I’ll be reviewing the bacterium that we learned about in lecture today and going over the mini-paper I’ll be presenting in PBL (problem based learning) on Friday morning. Also going to try to a quick run through of the lecture we’re having tomorrow morning before PBL so that it’s not completely foreign in class.
  • 11:00 PM – 11:30 PM – Continue reading The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. I’m about halfway through the book right now and really want to finish it during this block. I try to read at least one book per block. So far this text has been really educational and eyeopening. I’ll probably do a book review/summary once I’m finished.
  • 11:30 PM –  And then it’s lights out! I try to sleep before midnight when I can so that I can actually process what’s going on in lecture and all that the following day.

Hope that helped give some insight into what a typical day usually looks like! There’s usually a couple more hours of studying involved but second year has been a lot nicer in terms of the numbers of hours we’re actually at school/doing required activities. So on the days that run to about 4-5 PM, I consider them more self care days. We have the long weekend coming up and I’ll be reviewing all the material we’ve covered in the block thus far and will probably try to take a day completely off to spend with family and friends. Hope you all have a great weekend!

finals attire

Firstly, I just wanted to share with you all that I passed my exam!! I’m officially a second year medical student!! Thank you so so much to all of you who reached out with love and support. It truly means so much and I’m so grateful. And so excited to finally enjoy summer!

Before moving on, I just wanted to quickly share what I usually wear to non-clinical finals/exams. The name of the game is definitely comfort in these instances because you don’t want anything to cause you to lose focus. I purchased this t-shirt from an online Islamic clothing store called 5ivepillars a few months ago and have worn it to every final ever since. Actually now that I think of it the only time I forgot to wear it was the musculoskeletal exam and I failed that one, so…

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