The awkward moment when you ended up doing EXACTLY what you told yourself not to do. I thought I would keep up with my blog throughout the semester. Sad. Tomorrow is my LAST DAY OF CLASSES for SEMESTER ONE of medical school at Ross University and I am in pure disbelief. When I say it feels like I wrote my initial blog post yesterday, I mean it feels like yesterday. To the extent that I’m still not convinced it was not yesterday.
My biggest fear before starting this semester was that I would mess up in some inevitable way and potentially wish for a reset button, a way to start over and do it all again. Multiple times throughout this semester, that fear has come true. I have had to face this fear over and over again- before and after every test, the days I did not feel well or the days when missing home was my priority. Right now, it feels like I’ve repeated my mistakes. If this has ever happened to you, you know this is a really frustrating feeling.
But the important thing is: none of this is over. It is JUST the beginning. I still have three exams to go, I have second chances, I have opportunities to redeem myself and ultimately, I know that I want this so badly I am not going to let anything get in my way. During orientation and even from other students, I’ve been told that medical school is like drinking water from a fire hydrant. The sheer amount of information and content that you are expected to understand fully is unmatched. I do not disagree with this. But there is a more crucial analogy to be made: medical school is a MARATHON, not a race. By far, it is going to be unlike anything you have ever done before. I wish I was personally better informed on what to expect.
Whenever I asked, I was given vague generalizations or an overview of what goes on. Usually the people speaking are student ambassadors or representatives of the school- really telling you what they want you to know. The excitement and transition of making it to medical school oversees a lot of the important questions. Like how does one actually go from a job or an undergraduate career or anything else to studying 8+ hours a day, taking 100+ question exams and memorizing more information than anyone would deem humanly possible?
You pace yourself. You are here. You got yourself here. Not the people you meet here, befriend here, or are surrounded by. Do not listen to them. Do not listen to the atmosphere of competition, the statistics about residency, the score reports that you need and seem impossible. You focus on you. You are here to be a doctor. Do not let the system destroy that. Do not let the system disable you. This is the hardest thing you will take on. We need it to be hard. We are responsible for patient lives, changing lives, training ourselves to heal others. It is the most rewarding thing I have ever witnessed. So study. Put in the work. Go with the system. Ask your questions, not to be the top of your class or the one with the highest grades but because those questions matter to you. Those subjects matter to you. You need them to understand how to better take care of the people you will be put in charge of.
The exams are not here to hurt you, nor are they here to ruin you. They are here to measure you, your growth. Growth takes time. Sometimes, growth needs you to change. Instead of trying to make the system accommodate you, mend yourself. More often than not, students are complaining about everything they can think of. They use it as a way to cope with the stress, with the mass changes in their environment. But the side effects to the people around them are severe. They leave their negative energy, their demotivating mindset and unfortunate anxiety on whoever was around to hear them.
If you contribute to making a positive environment for yourself and those around you- there is a significantly better chance you will get more done. Not only that, you will be happier. Medical school is rough, it requires a lot from the student and it is extremely difficult- there is no denying that. But it is also what you make it. You will have your moments of defeat and your moments of glory- treat them equally. Treat your mistakes as methods to learn better. The worst thing you can do is punish yourself when the entire reason you are even here is to be the great person that helps others. You cannot accomplish any of that without helping yourself, first.
I have a few goals for my second semester of medical school, as well as the time period that will mark 8 months of living away from home (2300 miles with only a 2.5 week break) but before I share that, I want to share (concisely) what I’ve learned so far.
1. If the thought of sitting down to study makes you uncomfortable, seek out a friend. It doesn’t matter if 8 of the 9 people you ask turn you down and prefer to study alone, find the one person who will agree and help each other.
2. Do not isolate yourself. This is a competitive and occasionally hostile environment. Still, do not give up. I found one of my absolute best friends because I took a chance and complimented her hair. I was so nervous to speak to her, I had no idea whether she was even looking for someone to talk to or a new friend. I’m blessed and fortunate in that she needed both. Be honest with your needs. If someone tells you they prefer to keep to themselves, do not be disheartened, respect their wishes and find someone else! The benefit to medical school is you’re with like-minded people.
3. What does start studying on the first day really mean? It means: you may be overwhelmed and already exhausted because you are on 5 hours of sleep and think the first day’s material is manageable. Take your nap, go for a run, take a shower, clean your room, do whatever you need to feel better and then? GO THROUGH THE LECTURE. Replay it, if you can. Quiz yourself on concepts. Explain what you learned to a friend or significant other. Reiterate the lecture and put it in your own words. Do not and I mean do NOT think you can get away with putting it off for another day.
4. That being said, your mental and physical health always comes first and do not let anyone else tell you otherwise. If someone judges you for wanting to take care of yourself while you are sick, you have my permission to ask them: if as doctors we are expected to tell our patients to take time off work and school and recover- why do we not practice the same? You may/may not also follow up with subliminally rude questions like have you never been sick in your life? Do you know what it feels like when you need help just to sit-up and drink a sip of water then feel like the water is burning fire down your inflamed, sore throat? Actually, practice your ability as a future doctor to be compassionate and patient and do not say that. Instead, advocate for yourself as you would a patient.
5. Know the difference between excuses for yourself and genuine problems that you have. External blame and internal blame. There’s a lot more to this one but this is all I’m getting into for now.