First Year Lessons: What I Wish I Knew When I Started Medical School
I can't believe that I am officially an M2! That's a second year med student for those of you who aren't in this field or who just don't know. This time last year, I was packing my bags and saying my goodbyes to my friends and family in sunny Los Angeles and making the move out here to Grand Rapids.
When I think about how much I have done in 11 months, it blows my mind. To share a few, I started this new website as a personal outlet, started working as an independently contracted photographer for my university, became student council co-president, did a print fundraiser for hurricane victims in the Virgin Islands, completed a fellowship with the Student National Medical Association and joined their national board of directors, joined an amazing urogynecologic surgery research project, did some creative photography projects, hosted our schools annual med ball, went on two international medical missions trips to Cuba and Ecuador, helped friends with their med school apps, paneled at two conferences, sat on three different councils at school, edited wedding photos (since the wedding I had booked a year ago fell on the same day as my white coat ceremony), went to ten different states and five different countries, and made it through a winter. OK?! And that list still doesn't count EVERYTHING, I've done, but I still finished and passed my first year of medical school.
Why am I telling you all of these things? No, it's not to say that I'm an amazing person (somedays I do think I am just that), but it is to say that there is no cookie cutter method to getting through medical school. I knew that I needed to do things that made me happy because adjusting to changing seasons (winter is a beast y'all), a new environment, and distance from family and friends can affect people differently. So my focus was not on being a "gunner" and studying 20 hours a day, but on finding my balance and peace during this new season.
I want to share the things I wish I knew when I started. I didn't come to medical school fresh out of college, so know that ya girl had some wisdom from life experiences and STILL had some struggles. I hope this helps you on whatever path you are on.
1. You belong.
You belong here. You belong here. You belong here.
I repeated that to myself so many times over the first few months of my first year. Imposter syndrome, that feeling that you don't belong in a space, despite how hard you worked or how qualified you are, is something that a lot of people go through in any field. Speaking from my experience as an African-American woman, there were so many things that triggered me to feeling like an outsider. Whether it was the individuals that didn't want to bother with my name, or the comments made about my hair, or just the overall lack of diversities in medical schools across the nation, I was reminded that I was not the norm. ON TOP OF THAT, I moved from my sunny, diverse Los Angeles, to Grand Rapids, a predominantly caucasian, conservative town. It took a few months for me to realize that being different was a blessing. I have the unique opportunity to share my uniqueness with people who have never been graced with all of this goodness! LOL. While sharing of yourself, your story, can be draining, it is a gift to others, and the gift we get in return was when someone thanked me in a random coffee shop for sharing my heart on my instagram. In the middle of Grand Rapids. Random yes. But one of the best gifts I've ever received.
2. You have enough time.
A lot of my panicky moments stemmed from feeling like I did not have enough time to study, see friends, build new relationships, rest, etc. Maybe you've heard the analogy about trying to drink water out of a fire hydrant. You just can't catch every drop because it's like a flood of water coming at you fast! That is what medical school is like. You have so much material to cover, and a seemingly short amount of time to do it while maintaining your sanity. I saw this quote somewhere a while back and wrote it down:
You just do your best, use the time you have, and let God handle the rest. If you are a naturally organized person, you're ahead of the game! I am not, so making a schedule and sticking to it was a game changer. But on the flip side, I had to learn to give myself grace on the days (many) when I fell off schedule. You might not get all the information the first time, but there is enough time overall a good handle on everything.
3. Stay true to yourself.
I started school thinking I was going to turn a new leaf. There are so many things that I love to do, like photography if you haven't already noticed. In college, I spread myself too thin serving in a billion and one student orgs and community service projects in addition to working. I did not want to have the same experience, and decided to cut out everything except school. But after the first six weeks of school, I felt so off balance and antsy. Once I slowly started incorporating the things that I loved back into my life, things began to feel normal. Do not stop doing the things you are passionate about! Be mindful of the time it takes to study and succeed in medical school. BUT. Don't be fake out here because your spirit will shake you up real quick!
4. Don't be afraid to go against the grain.
This is a medical school specific tip. My curriculum is an alien of all curriculums. We essentially have a flipped classroom and have to teach ourselves the information. They give us chapters and videos, etc every week for the topics we will be covering, but it was always so much. I asked a few students in the year above me, and they all recommended utilizing outside resources (Boards and Beyond, Sketchy, Pathoma, Firecracker, Online Med Ed, Osmosis, etc). It took me a long time to truly take their advice because I felt like I would miss out on things by using other material. I was very wrong. Listen to those who have already walked the path before you, no matter how different their approach was from the norm! Try different methods out based on your learning style, and do what works specifically for you. I spent way too much time comparing what I was doing to what other students were doing when I had the advice I needed to be most efficient. Experiment with different study methods until you find what works for you, and stick with it.
I hope these tips were helpful! They were pretty much the big picture things I learned, but if you have any specific questions, just comment below!