Welcome back faithful (and/or new) readers! I wouldn’t be welcoming you back if I didn’t go anywhere, but where did I go? I wasn’t on a safari in Africa, or hiking the Andes. I wasn’t even inoculating babies in Burma. Well, let’s just start from the beginning…
In short, I went home. If you take a look back on some of my posts from last year, I struggled with balancing my life (Who knew eating and sleeping were so important?!) Well as I lightly derailed over the semester, I found out that out first-hand. Unfortunately, I didn’t need a metabolism lecture to show me this. See, I’ve got this driven, Type-A, grab life by the horns, and take no prisoners mentality. This can be both good and bad. Unfortunately, last semester it turned into the latter.
As I struggled with keeping up in my classes week after week, I was determined to not give up. My motivation and drive were high—I didn’t want to get discouraged. I compensated by working harder…and harder…and harder. It comes to a point where the benefits of this start to plateau, and after a while, those benefits plummet.
I stressed myself out so much that before the first exam, I pulled not one but TWO all-nighters. For you those keeping score at home, this resulted in almost 60 hours of no sleep. I still remember what time I woke up on Saturday that weekend—10AM (trust me, if you pulled two all-nighters you wouldn’t forget either). I remember trying to take a nap on Sunday afternoon, just to recharge a little. My body wanted sleep but my mind was so stressed it wouldn’t let me relax enough to nap. As you can imagine, Monday’s exams didn’t go too well.
I spent the rest of the semester trying to pull up my grades. While I learned a lot from this experience I had a lot more learning to do throughout the semester. My biggest lesson learned was you must first take care of yourself before you can expect to perform well. Sure, an all-nighter here and there isn’t too big of a deal, and maybe skipping an occasional meal won’t hurt, but prolonged sacrifice of your body’s daily needs WILL catch up with you. There is a reason our bodies need 7-8 hours of sleep and 3 meals a day (a car doesn’t get very far if it is out of gas or overheating does it?).
By the end of the semester I learned that in medical school I can’t study like I did during undergrad. I had the time to study every lecture inside and out; I could easily know every possible detail. Typically in medical school, it doesn’t work that way (or at least not for me). How could I be failing the same classes that I made “A’s” in a couple years before? I made “A’s” in almost all my undergraduate biology courses (cell biology, microbiology, molecular biology, immunology, etc.) It isn’t studying for details anymore as much as studying for conceptual understanding.
Here is what I mean: if one class had 20 lectures on the exam, instead of knowing all lectures at say 75% (of the material), I studied in succession. By this, I mean I would study the 1st lecture until I knew it inside and out—at 100%. I would then move onto the next lecture. By it was time for the test there were several lectures I had not even studied yet. When I got my feedback from the exam, the concepts basically came back to me in that same fashion. If there were 5 questions on the first lecture, I would get more times than not, all 5 correct. However, for the concepts listed in the last lecture, I would only get 1-2 of the questions correct. This will NOT work in medical school! We were told (several times) during orientation that it isn’t the difficulty of the information that trips a medical student up—it is the sheer amount of volume we’re required to process in such a short amount of time.
As with a lot of situations, perspective has a lot to do with how you handle a situation. At the end of the semester, I FAILED two classes. After meeting with my advisor, the deans, professors, my parents, and everyone else in between, it was decided for me to take a year off. Here is where the perspective comes into play:
I could look at my situation this way: I FAILED two courses. I am a year behind. Is medicine for me? Can I do it? What will people think of me? Does it even matter?
But I chose to see it this way: I have some time off. I can relax. I can recharge. I need this. I can know the material from the two classes I have to retake at a much deeper level. I can become a better physician because of this. I am better equipped to help my classmates if they need it. (More on what I did during my time off next post!)
The irony in all this is that over the course of all 5 tests, my test scores progressively increased. At the beginning of the semester I was WELL below class average. By the last test however, I not only was ABOVE class average but also nearly made a 100 on one of the tests. I failed one class by only 2 questions, and the other with a 67.
It is important to remember though, that whatever may work for me, may not work for another student. That is one of the first things I like to mention to new or potential students. Take all advice (including my own) with a grain of salt. Put it into perspective for your life, and see how it fits. Don’t take anything as an absolute until you get the chance to check it out for yourself (I may be talking from experience here, hint hint). I want to maintain neutrality when relaying information when I blog. I do not want to sugar coat or over dramatize the medical experience. These two things get too often and have a tendency to deter potential students, discourage my fellow classmates, and set up unrealistic expectations.
I learned these concepts by the end of the semester, but unfortunately I learned the hard way (and a little too late)—and I am perfectly okay with that. I learned who I am as a student. I got to know myself and how I operate on a much deeper level, which can only help me in the future. I hope that my experience can help someone else, whether they are a new or returning medical student—or any student for that matter. This is one of the reasons I chose to write this blog: to share my experience in hopes that it can offer support and make someone else’s life a little easier. You’re not alone.
And without further adieu, I would like to introduce you to LMU-DCOM’s Class of 2017!!!