It’s December 9th. It’s been almost five months since my last entry. In the time that has elapsed: I traveled (to Dallas, Atlanta, and Cancún), I read many novels, and I returned to school. I’ve thought about posting; in fact, I started a few posts and never got around to editing or publishing. I’ve received emails, some panicked, about my hiatus. The panicked emails sound something like: “are you not posting as regularly because second year is significantly harder than first year?” Good question.
Two of my classmates (shout-out to Ken & Liz) asked me, a few months back, why I had (essentially) abandoned my blog. My response: “Can we just agree that second year is crazy? I haven’t had the energy to write about medical school. I’m just trying to get through it.” Take note that I had just spent 2.5 hours chatting outside of the library, so my response was very melodramatic and I obviously have time to blog.
I’ve begrudgingly realized that vacation is coming to a close. In a little over two weeks, I’ll be back in class (okay…at home) . Many of you are soon to start your first year of medical school and I would be surprised if you aren’t a bit nervous. My greatest concerns, I’ll admit, were academic in nature. I found it difficult to find legitimate advice about first year courses. In far too many blogs, MS1s compared medical school to drinking out of a firehose.
Okay sure, they aren’t wrong. Okay sure, I’ve said that myself. Yet, I found those blog posts to be anything but helpful.
It’s official: I am not longer a first year medical student. Two weeks ago, I completed my third neuroscience examination and with that, my first year curriculum at TUSOM. I’m giddy albeit apprehensive. The end of first year does not, unfortunately, mark the beginning of summer. Here at TUSOM, we complete first year with neuroscience (this is a six week course that terminates early May) and swiftly plunge into second year material. Next week marks the end of the immunology/inflammation block and our brief introduction to pharmacology and pathology. And that is why I am both excited but terrified. The immunology/inflammation block concludes with an examination on May 29th (my birthday–huzzah!?) and then I am free until the first week of August. I. cannot. wait. for. summer.
Now that I have survived my first year of medical school (I still can’t believe it!), I figure it is as good as time as any to share pearls of wisdom in regard to the first year curriculum at TUSOM: anatomy, biochemistry, embryology, genetics, neuroscience, and physiology. Some readers have emailed me / tweeted me / messaged me about the academic nature of medical school and I’ve been working my way through those responses. I realized that other readers / future readers may have the same questions; thus, here begins a series of blog posts: How to Survive Medical School. I found that many inquiries have been about anatomy. In an earlier post, I shared the personal aspects of my experience in anatomy lab. Although I vaguely mentioned / vented about anatomy coursework on both this blog and the Twitterverse, I have not really shared specifics about the academic aspect of the course. I know, I know — better late than never, right?
I wanted to write a different post. I tried to write about how the pace of my medical education has changed dramatically since winter vacation. I tried to write a how to survive anatomy guide. I tried to write an upbeat post about Med Prom. I wanted to write a different post but it felt dishonest. Those posts (disorganized drafts on my desktop) seem better fit for another time.
I look back at my expectations for medical school and I cannot help but laugh. The disparity between my expectations and my reality knows no bounds. I had a lot of fanciful ideas prior to matriculation. I imagined that I would attend every lecture; I imagined that I would study in coffee shops; I imagined that I would have more time to engage with the city in which I now live; I imagined that my cohort would be filled with the best people I had ever met. That expectation — that my cohort would be an inseparable collection of 186 individuals — is the one that I talk about most often with my friends at other medical schools. We have been disappointed by the culture inherent to our respective medical schools. It is probably not appropriate for me to share their personal reflections in this post, but I will share my expectations and in what way reality has fallen short of these expectations.
That was how I started the conversation. Not with hello. Not with any of the standard greetings with which I am well acquainted. It was as though the experience of which I spoke rendered me mannerless. And she responded: “how did you feel about it?” This particular friend has an habit of responding to statements with either (1) “oh, how was that?” or (2) “how did you feel about that?” For some reason, I could never predict when she would ask either of those questions; I never had an eloquent response prepared.
“Oh.”I sat cross-legged on the floor of my apartment; I had a copy of Netter’s Atlas opened to the colorful sketches of the brain. There was really no comparison between the color-coded brain in the atlas and the brain I was able to study in the anatomy lab. “I…I don’t know. There was the initial shock factor which was soon followed by awe and humility. In that moment, I was holding the cadaver-donor’s personhood. In a way, it felt really personal.” In previous posts, I made half-promises to: (1) comment on my experience in anatomy, (2) address resources I used to survive the course, as well as (3) resources for the shelf exam. I think I may cover all of those aspects in upcoming posts but as I am on vacation / in a pensive mood, this post will serve primarily as a reflection.