7 Things I Learned During My First Year of Medical School

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"7 things I learned my first year of medical school"

Goal: Communicate how an individual can change and what a student can learn beyond what is in the textbooks during one year in medical school.

1. Success is a locked door, and flexibility is the key.

All throughout the interview cycle I heard students talk about how everyone entering medical school is used to being high achievers and you need to get used to not getting all As or being the top of your class. This is true, every single classmate of mine is an amazing and accomplished individual, but someone was ranked first in our class, and it definitely wasn’t me.

It can be a hard transition when you are applying for opportunities against other highly successful people because the truth is someone will be rejected. But this doesn’t mean they are no longer successful. You might get everything you will ever want in medical school, or maybe you will fail a class. If your goal was to hold X and Y position while maintaining a B average and you are not able to achieve that, that is okay! Remember the greater intent here is to become a physician and that may require you to reevaluate how you need to achieve that.

During my first year, I sometimes felt mediocre because I was not performing as well as my peers, yet my family and friends at home were still so impressed and proud of me for being a medical student, period. So stay open minded about your progress and remember that a medical student who earns all C’s is still called doctor.

2. Growth doesn’t happen inside our comfort zone.

Bracing workshop I almost didn’t go to because my friends were not going

Once people get to know me, I am super loud and energetic, however in new or uncomfortable environments I am extremely shy. I knew that in order to make friends during medical school, an important goal for myself, I would have to face my fears and allow myself to be vulnerable with my new peers. During orientation I forced myself to sit with a new group of people every day at lunch. If their was an event I wanted to go to, but my closest friends did not want to go, I motivated myself to still participate in interesting events even if I was scared about going alone. Looking back, I had some awesome conversations with my classmates and even if all of my lunch companions are not my closest friends right now, I appreciate having a friendly face around campus.

The key to growth is not letting your fears take hold of the wheel, but letting them be a road map for you to utilize. For me, acknowledging my hesitations and then practicing courage allowed me to have more fulfilling experiences during my first year of medical school and set myself up for improvement.

3. Grey’s Anatomy, or any medical drama, is no longer a safe mindless show to watch- but that’s actually pretty cool.

The moment tragedy struck

I remember the exact moment – the Thursday after our Musculoskeletal exam on the back and upper extremity. My friend and I had just sat down with our popcorn and wine to watch the Season 16 premiere of Grey’s Anatomy, a welcome night off from the grind of medical school where we could relax without the weight of our textbooks on our shoulders. Then tragedy struck when a patient needed surgery on her brachial plexus to regain movement and sensation in her arm! The panic invaded our bodies as we tried to recall which branch of the plexus was most likely injured… HELLO I’m just trying to have a good time here! After that first time, it started to become rewarding to understand what was going on in the show from a medical standpoint and actually helps me remember certain conditions better when studying. In fact it’s become a complete replacement for studying altogether- totally joking, if only this were true!

4. I am more than just a medical student.

Hiking during our fall break

Part of what caused so much stress for me during the year was rooting my identity so closely with being a “smart person”. All of my goals I made, and often failed at, were intertwined with my idea of what a successful medical student looks like, but even worse, every single goal was about about medical school. I mentioned above adjusting your perception of what success is, but the other side of that coin is identifying other areas of your identity to cultivate. Work on relationships with family and friends, hobbies and interests, exercise and cooking. Having a creative outlet is pretty important in my opinion, so find one! I personally feel happier when my life is balanced and I look forward to creating more outside goals during second year (like creating for the BombJopCOM)!

5. Medical school is not fun, so you need to make it fun.

A++ meme about the history of osteopathic medicine

We study the majority of our day. We are drowning in information that we cannot possibly learn all of before the exam but are doing our best to know as much as our brain can fit. The stakes run as high as as tension. You will be miserable if you just live each day of medical school trying to get to the next and repeat to yourself “One day I’ll be a physician, one day I’ll be happy”. TODAY IS THE DAY TO BE HAPPY!

The best way I learned this past year was joking around with my friends making up weird mnemonics and other connections to the material. I will never in a million years forget “the facial nerve closes the eye” because of the inside jokes my friends and I shared. In our class GroupMe the day before an exam, my classmates are posting awesome memes, some of which have actually helped us answer test questions.

One of our classmates started wearing big hoop earrings on test today because according to her, there’s no way to lack confidence when you wear big hoops. What started with one person has now become a group of bomb ladies rocking our hoops, pumping each other up, setting ourselves up for success, and having fun! #BigHoopEnergy

6. Gap Years are Blessings in Disguise

Me on The Price Is Right

I never realized going into my first year of medical school how grateful I would be for being a semi-untraditional applicant. I value it so much that I would highly encourage other pre-med students to plan on taking a year or two off after university before beginning medical school. I worked as a scribe for my two gap years and it helped so much, particularly with learning the language of medicine. I was super familiar with different drugs, procedure names, and other terms that can be confusing for someone who was never exposed to them before. Some of my classmates worked as phlebotomists, lab techs, or radiology techs. All of our past experiences that occurred between college and medical school made us better med students and in my opinion, cooler people.

An additional benefit is getting a break from the school environment of studying and classes and just living a regular adult life. My gap years were not intentional, but my lifestyle change allowed me to take up photography, teach myself how to knit, go on The Price Is Right, and travel to Israel and Jordan for two weeks all while spending more time with family.

Disclaimer: This is my own opinion based on my own experiences. I also have many classmates who did not take any gap years and are perfectly happy living their lives. At the end of the day, you do you.

7. It takes the whole village.

Encouraging posters OMS II students made for our first MSK exam

Part of what has made my medical journey so enjoyable, and bearable, is the community at school. My classmates’ preference for collaboration over competition has set a standard on campus. The second year students work as tutors, share Anki flashcard decks and notes, as well as passing down helpful tips they used when they were in our shoes. The faculty and staff support our success through accessibility and helpfulness. One of our Immunology professors was on campus the entire 18 hours campus was open during the days leading up to an exam so she could answer student questions. Each of my classmates have their own strengths and weaknesses. Our professors always tell us “healthcare is a team sport” and my classmates and I know there is room for all of us to be successful physicians. What I am most looking forward to during second year is the ability to keep paying it forward by welcoming the new first year students into our community and continue our campus’s supportive environment!

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