As I walked on stage, it started to settle in. The years of late-night studying, shadowing clinicians and taking exam after exam was for this moment. There are no words to describe the emotions felt when my white coat was slipped on my arms by a seasoned clinician. I stood on stage watching my family cheer and celebrate this unique milestone. It was a moment of clarity; all my hard work paid off, the sacrifices were worth it, but this was still the beginning. I am now halfway through my first year as an Osteopathic Medical Student.
Studying in medical school is unlike studying in an undergraduate or even a graduate program. The information comes fast, but I learned the key to success is to review the lecture content constantly. I tried different techniques, but after realizing my learning style and personality type, I developed strategies that allowed me to optimize learning. I review the class objectives, take notes, and condense the information in one to two pages for review. I believe the best method of learning is individualistic and highly dependent on the medical school curriculum. I heard the saying, “medical education is like drinking from a fire hose,” but it wasn’t until the first week that I realized the truth in these words.
My school’s curriculum is organ system based. We are covering all aspects of an organ system at a time: physiology, pathology, microbiology, pharmacology, anatomy, immunology, etc. We are also learning important clinical skills. Since the third week of medical school, I have had to demonstrate history taking and certain physical exams during timed standardized patient encounters. The hardest part by far has been to learn everything quickly and demonstrate proficiencywithin a short period. Lectures are from 8 am to 5 pm but on Wednesdays, we typically have a half day. On Fridays, we meet as a small group to discuss medical cases that incorporate what we learned for the week. My goal is to review the week’s lecture material multiple times to be able to discuss the cases. I can usually tell what I need to further review for the weekend.
Only a Medical Student
During orientation, we were told that people outside of medicine believe medical students are doctors, but we were reminded that we were not doctors yet. While it’s true that I can’t give medical advice, I have learned the basics of reading X-rays, Ultrasounds, EKGs and lab reports. My family and friends are constantly sending me their medical records and sharing their symptoms. My motivation to learn is to be able to answer their questions.
During Thanksgiving break, I flew back home to NY and was bombarded with medical questions. I had completed most of my neuromuscular block but was not too confident in providing medical advice. However, I did utilize my OMT skills on anyone allowing me to practice. I can’t say I cured anyone, but I was able to tend to muscular induced pain using counterstain and muscle energy techniques.
One of my friends had injured his shoulders months before. He took pain relievers, went to a masseuse, tried different stretches, but nothing seemed to help his pain. I diagnosed the source of his muscular dysfunction and noticed my intervention improved his range of motion and alleviated his pain. While moments like these were encouraging, I was also humbled by the many questions I could not answer. The pressure to learn everything is high in medical school and can become overwhelming.
There is a lot to learn as a medical student but as equally important is self-care. We learn the knowledge and skills that will make us great doctors to our patients, but many students maintain a state of overdrive that carries forward when we practice. A 2018 survey found 78% of physicians felt burned out. As a medical student, I have been overwhelmed and sacrificed my sleep and other parts of my personal life way too many times. It is still something I am struggling to improve but have made systemic changes. I have inserted non-negotiable breaks in my day, I try to control my diet by meal prepping, and started taking advantage of the recorded lectures my school supplies. I control when my day starts and ends and I seek activities outside of the library.
Aside from academics, I have opted to pursue volunteer opportunities and experiences that I find relaxing. I have helped in health fairs, stood standby in medical tents, and packed food for communities in need. I also believe maintaining a social life is important. After our Monday morning exams, I take the rest of the day off to go out with friends to bowl, golf or just dinner. I find these study breaks recharge me enough to power through the things I need to learn. These past few months have been a privilege, and I look forward to the next three years because I found my purpose, I have a strong support system, and a white coat that fits perfectly.