My first year of medical school is officially in the books and I must say that I’m glad to move on. First year was definitely challenging in many ways, but it also made me stronger – very much a ‘trial by fire’ sort of affair. At times (many times) it seemed like I made a terrible decision to go to medical school, but after a refreshing summer break and beginning second year (which is MUCH better, so far) I can say it’s worth it in the end. Although I have repressed much of my first year experiences, I am going to summarize the good times and the other times from the first year of med school:
Year one starts out so happily with everyone brimming with excitement and energy. It is such a big deal to get into medical school that it’s surreal to be in a classroom full of medical students and realize that you’re actually one of the students. I remember how thrilled I was to be sitting in class and to think back about the times during interviews that I walked past lecture halls full of medical students, in awe of every student in the room. Now that is me in there.
Then the excitement calms a bit and the lectures start. I remember my first week of lectures: I was shocked. We had 27 hours of lecture in the first week, plus 3 hours of lab. I was already swamped with reading, notes, lectures, flash cards, etc. from one week of classes. All weekend I tried to review the material from the first week, and then suddenly it was Monday morning and the second week was starting. The work was piling up before my very eyes and I just couldn’t keep up. So I quickly changed my study habits and focused more on summarizing and condensing the material. Then I added more note cards to my study technique, and finally white boards. When I finally got my rhythm down it was nearly Thanksgiving.
After a while I realized that first year of medical school is not like the idea of medical school I had in my mind. There is hardly any clinical experience, hardly any time wearing your white coat, no time working with real patients, and even very little time learning about diseases. At the very end of first year you get a taste of medicine by learning all the drugs in pharmacology, but until then it’s very basic – cell signaling, tissue types, cell types, hormones, genetics, biochemistry. I can tell you now that what you imagine as medical school is really your second year and beyond, not so much your first year.
That being said, we did learn a lot of things that seemed to be very ‘doctorly’, such as the rubric for a proper history and physical exam. In fact we had to learn and practice theses so much that at the end of the year we had to conduct a full patient encounter (simulation) including the history, review of systems, and physical exam from memory. That was pretty rewarding.
Additionally, life is always going on outside of your studies. I know that my life was crazy for the first year of medical school. I had just gotten married and my wife was finishing school 4 hours away, so we lived apart. We also had two dogs and (by default) had to rent two apartments. We saw each other every other week for a couple of days. It was crazy but it was something we had to do to make it work. I definitely owe my wife BIG TIME for how understanding and generous she was during that time. We made it through and now life is infinitely better. It was just another one of the hurdles I had to get over.
I know that these challenges are expected of medical school, but I know that some people don’t think about what it means for their daily lives. It is challenging on a daily basis but you just have to be tough. I still believe deep in my bones that the rewards of being a physician are exponentially more than the challenges, costs, and hurdles that must be overcome to get there. It’s all part of the marathon that is medical school.