Whoops, it’s been over a year since I last blogged again. 🙈 At least this time I have a good excuse of med school being busy…yada yada, right? 🙂
I was thinking recently how during high school and college, medical student blogs like Dr. Andrea Tooley were so helpful for me to understand what medical school was really like day-to-day and know for sure that I was interested in this path. So now, maybe more than ever, I thought it was important that I kept that tradition going.
So what’s happened since the last time I blogged? Let’s catch up–I’ll try to go back a bit and recap the past year. After a super fun, restful, educational gap year working as an EMT + vacations + family visits + NO studying (woot 🎉) I started med school with the white coat ceremony.
My medical school revamped its curriculum a few years ago, and we now start with 2 weeks of “Transitions”–essentially a very calm, easy time for us to get to know each other and adjust to being back in school. Technically we learned a baseline of ethics, biostats, vital signs, service-learning, patient-centered care, etc….but most of these ideas are reiterated again throughout the years.
After transitions though, we hit the ground running. First semester consisted of 3 classes that ran the entire semester: an Anatomy/Human Structure course, a foundation biology/genetics/biochem course, and then a “how to be doctor” course. Three classes for a semester does not sound bad (especially for those who took 5-7 throughout undergrad), but each of these courses is essentially a combination of many subjects. For example, our anatomy classes consisted of anatomy (dissection + lectures), embryology, basic radiology, and histology combined on a single exam. Because of this and the general content load of medical school, first semester was a difficult balancing yo-yoing game trying to focus between the two classes. I definitely had weeks where I essentially ignored one to focus on the other’s upcoming exam. It was helpful that I was a biology major in college, so the foundational science course was significantly easier for me to pick up than Anatomy. Throughout the semester I really wished I had taken Anatomy in undergrad so I would’ve had more previous exposure to help navigate the information.
Medical school is obviously a lot of studying. We are told in the first days that it’s like “drinking water from a fire hose”–most of the content is not generally hard to understand at baseline, but the speed and size of the content is what makes it hard. That said, the first two years also have a lot of free time. Medical schools are required to provide a certain amount of “independent learning time”–so my schedule often had many mornings and all weekends free first semester. It’s easy to look at the amount of content you have to learn and feel like all that free time must be devoted to studying, but I am not the type of person who studies non-stop all day everyday. It helps that our curriculum is pass/fail and we are not ranked, so there is less of the peer/grade stress pressure too. But I do believe it’s important to make time for hobbies, family, service projects–there’s a lot to gain (especially as future physicians) from the interactions/experiences we have outside of staring at books…and it’s also good for our own mental health. So first semester consisted of a lot of new, nonacademic activities for me too, like…
Exercising! (who am I?!) I began med school thinking that it’s important I start exercising before I tell other people to exercise–but this also began somewhat randomly too. My friend and I signed up for swimming classes at the Y, and ended up buying a membership so that we could practice outside of class too. After we had a membership, we thought, why not try some of these group exercise classes since we have access? So we started going to a variety of classes including BodyPump, Turbokick, Zumba, etc. It’s been super fun! I have to say–I don’t love exercising, I regret being in most of the classes halfway through (haha), and I don’t walk out feeling more energized. But the logical side of my brain realizes how important this is for my health so I try to make it a few times a week (does not always happen, especially on exam weeks).
I also continued teaching (Islamic) Sunday School throughout my entire first year. This was a super fun thing during my gap year, and I kept at it first year because I knew I could make the time on weekends and it honestly helped me a lot too. Creating a lesson plan meant a few hours of reading books, watching videos, and synthesizing information–which meant I learned a lot about my faith and the history. I have spent a lot of my life growing up in a small, American town justifying/defending Islam and answering questions, mostly with the knowledge from family traditions. But learning the primary sources and quotes and historical background to back-up the baseline beliefs was insightful. And since most of my students were growing up in the same environments I did, I had the opportunity to prep them a bit for the type of questions & stereotypes they’d face–with the evidence-based facts, history, and context.
I also did a lot of henna/mehndi events first semester too! Henna in many ways is a #wellness activity for me, but I’ve mostly always done it for fun or for fundraising events. This semester, I actually was hired a few times to do henna, which was a fun random side gig that came up. After the few events, though, I was glad I was not running a business because I am not cut out for that world.
The other main activity that was a central part of the my entire first year was working with the local free clinics in town. After a year of seeing people come to the Emergency department for non-urgent complaints (or urgent complaints that were not controlled earlier) due to lack of insurance, health literacy, access, and other barriers, I was very interested in working to understand/decrease the upstream barriers. Free clinics seemed like a good place to start, so I bounced between my school’s weekend clinic, a clinic associated with a local Christian ministry, and a clinic associated with a group of Muslim doctors. As an MS1, I couldn’t contribute much to the healthcare side, so I was mostly learning & working with paperwork/admin type tasks. Free clinics are interesting spaces–they are very much “band-aids on bullet wounds”–they don’t solve systemic issues, and sometimes even deter people from opting for more sustainable healthcare options. Those are the lessons I learned very strongly during my time with these different groups, and it left me with more questions, concerns, and avenues to explore. As of writing this as an MS2–I still work a lot with the clinics, especially our school one, but my goals and perception of them have shifted since the first semester of bright-eyed exploring.
During advising meetings, our advisors like to discuss our “non-negotiables”–things that we don’t want to fall through the cracks when things get tough with school. I’m pretty bad with verbalizing these things, but even with difficult weeks I tried to continue family traditions, celebrate holidays fully, and attend fun things that I felt like attending.
Medical school is definitely a lot of studying, stress, moments of self-doubt, fears of failing, imposter syndrome, and other difficult/uncomfortable moments. But it’s also full of learning so many exciting things, cool opportunities, amazing people, and growth. As difficult as this first semester was, there were also sooo many “pinch me” moments where I still couldn’t believe I was HERE and having the chance to live and do what I had literally dreamed of for so long.
Some of this continues and much of this stayed the same as I continued to second semester–but let’s move that to another post. 🙂 Excited to be back in the blogging world!