So, the flowers and sunshine have faded.
I had my first exam block two weeks ago and to say that it was hard was an understatement. Perhaps the most maddening thing about medical school, though, is that the material is not conceptually hard. When I had dinner with a friend from my post-baccalaureate program two weeks into medical school and I told her this, she said,
“So our post-bacc. professors were lying to us when they kept saying, ‘you’ll need to learn this in more detail later?’”
To a degree, yes. Because unless you are getting a Ph.D. in molecular biology, knowing the specific receptors, pathways, and signal proteins that make something happen isn’t nearly as important as knowing 1. Where it happens, 2. Why it happens, 3. What’s going to go wrong if it doesn’t happen. The research scientists do the mechanism side; physicians do the clinical side.
What makes medical school difficult is the sheer physical stamina that’s needed to plow through an inordinate amount of material and commit it to memory. I think everyone in my class is struggling to find the right way to study because old techniques that brought us this far just won’t work under these circumstances:
There’s usually no time to review flash cards, if you put in the effort to make them.
Writing or drawing things out can take longer than anticipated.
Reading all the books and articles assigned for a lecture would take far too much time.
There's just not enough time!
Which is probably why, of course, my first exam block was so awful. My medical school prides itself on not encouraging cramming, but we are tested in exam “blocks,” which are week long sets of exams (as in, 6 exams in 6 days) scheduled every four to five weeks. This arrangement is unfortunately, perfectly conducive to cramming!
I think under ordinary scheduling (two exams per day, with a day off in between exams), I could probably handle this system, even though I’m not a “crammer.” Because of a scheduling conflict with the public health students during our last exam block, though, we had two exam days back to back. So, one exam day ended at 3 p.m. on a Tuesday and the next one started at 8 a.m. Wednesday morning. The 8 a.m. exam also happened to be Part I of my Gross Anatomy exam—the class that has the most information and that I’ve also been struggling the most with. I was exhausted by that last day of testing and frustrated that the reason I wasn’t going to do as well as I wanted wasn’t from lack of studying as much as lack of review time before the exam.
I won’t get into specifics of how I dealt with the frustration of this, but my day of sleep deprivation and caffeine intoxication ended with a meltdown in Rich's apartment screaming about how medicine is the worst profession ever and takes the longest amount of time, costs the most amount of money, and then when it’s all said and done, you still have MORE training to do and then Rich is still going to make more money than me in the end, so I can’t even count that as an incentive, and what’s the point anyway?
I like to stay positive like that.
It’s just that for someone who has had another career (which many of us have), it’s difficult to know how grueling this particular path is (in comparison to others) and how long it will take to reach the end. Especially when you’re sick (which I am).
Unfortunately, because it’s MEDICAL SCHOOL (which entails being in and out of the hospital and doctors’ offices) there are pathogens literally everywhere, all the time, so it’s pretty much guaranteed that you’ll get sick some time. In fact, it’s sort of miraculous that it took me this long to get sick. (My roommate first got sick two or three weeks into school).
I am still pushing through, but I’m not as excited or thrilled as I was those first few weeks. There are a lot of things that are exciting about being in medical school (I can see patients! And they take me seriously!), but right now, the end seems far off and there’s a lot of work to be accomplished in the interim.