Reflections on My First Year of Medical School

"Whew.  It's finally over."

Sometimes our thoughts betray us.  Passing vapors of emotion creep into our consciousness and can leave us puzzled, wondering why on earth we would or could feel that way.  Truthfully, these times represent our emotions in a small sliver of time, a minuscule sample of the great big picture.  And yet, I think this thought was the first that crept into my mind as I walked out of the anatomy lab for the last time, done with nasty scrubs and nasty shoes, done with the smell of formaldehyde, and done with semester one.  Now that I've had a couple weeks to be completely non-functional, my mind has settled, and I am left to collect my thoughts before diving back in and starting Common Mechanisms of Disease (yummy).  So, here are my thoughts of semester one and some things that I wish I would have known.

Dear mother of God, there's so much material.

My initial thought coming in was that it was going to be bad, but bad isn't the word.  It isn't really "bad".  Forming the foundation of your career should be exciting to anyone serious about what they're going into, and especially in medicine, you are warned adequately that you are not going into a field of cake walks.  Having said that, getting into the habit of averaging eight hours a day studying SUCKS.  I mean really sucks.  It's unlike anything I'd ever done before.  If you'd have told my 20 year old self how much material I'd assimilate in one semester, I'd think you were lying.  In the end though, it was worth it.  The hard work pays off.  Habits are formed, and the material stops becoming so terrifying.  Unless it's the pelvis/perineum.  That was still brutal.

Whoa, I can actually do stuff now.

It's pretty odd going from a scribe/researcher/undergrad student/whatever you were before med school to actually getting to do things.  It's super weird knowing how to test the ligaments in the knee for injury, or how to do an Allen test, or check some ears and throats.  Perks to the aforementioned huge volume of material.  Just because there's a ton of it doesn't mean that it's not super interesting and practical.

Find the musician in the class and force him to write a song before every test.

You know who you are.  We need this.

Thank God for the gym.

Fresh off of our first exam, despite my score being rather good, I felt panicked and scheduled a meeting with one of the faculty members to ensure I was doing EVERYTHING I could to ensure success.  After a "what are you doing here look", we got to business and the first advice she told me was, "Get a hobby.  Don't neglect yourself.  Take some time to take a walk every now and then."  Not everyone is into fitness.  I get that.  I would say I'm about 73% into it.  The point here is that there is an absolute necessity to find an outlet when you're having to study so much.  Video games.  Running.  Crafts.  Music.  Cooking.  Napping.  Anything to free your mind for an hour a day so that you can relax a little.  Were it not for my developing a habit of going to the gym or playing basketball, I'd have become a crazy person, and I'm not talking about the sort of crazy yet still functional crazy person.  I'm talking top of the frontal lobotomy list crazy.  Outlets are good.  We all need them.

So many mnemonics.

I'm pretty sure I have a mnemonic for my essential grocery list.  Seriously, there have been times that I've rattled off a catchy yet mildly inappropriate saying and have zero clue as to what it means or pertains to.  Mnemonics are life savers, but organization is imperative.  Especially in anatomy.  Also, if you're reading this and aren't in medical school, rest assured that most of the mnemonics are not PG.  I don't know why but they're just not.

Leave the cubicle every now and then.

Branching out is important.  At this point in our lives, it should be easy.  The more I got to know our class, the more I realized that I was surrounded by one of the most awesome, smart, qualified, hilarious, and generally beautiful human beings that I'd ever seen, and that I would get to enjoy their presence for the next four years before we all drifted to different corners of the world to save lives in our own special way.  From world champion dog breeders to radioactive rock collectors to people who should probably put their medical school music videos on Youtube, never has there been assembled a more unique group of individuals, and taking advantage of the opportunities to hang with them and discuss how many times you've cried this block is totes worth every second.

Go to the costume party.

Reasonably self explanatory.

Try to meal prep.

Seriously, if you don't, you'll end up spending $80 in one week on Subway...  like my friend.

Keep an eye out for free food events.

Medical school is different from undergrad in a ton of ways.  However, it's similar in some ways, one of those being the abundance of student groups/interest things.  And with student groups/interest things, you have meetings, and with meetings, you can get free food sometimes.  Score.  Another thing that's totes worth going to campus.

Study finances and take control of yours.

Medical school is stressful.  I lost my hair over it.  But it's even more stressful if you're having to contemplate selling one of your kidneys to pay your rent (through careful study, I have determined that you do, in fact, have two kidneys and you can, in fact, function without one of them).  Instead of selling body parts, take some time and SERIOUSLY (key word) study out your financial situation.  What are your bills?  How much money do you have?  How much is your kidney actually worth?  How much money am I spending?  How much can I save?  Again, totes worth.  Also,  TALK TO THE FINANCIAL ADVISERS AT THE SCHOOL.  THEY CAN HELP YOU.

Anatomy lab is an amazing experience.

I cried a little as I was driving home at the thought of not having anatomy lab.  It was honestly one of the most humbling experiences of my life.  There are no words to explain why it was, no words to explain what it was like.  To learn about the human body in lecture is one beast, but to physically touch and study all of the structures is another entirely.  To dissect and study the entire essence of a human being that made the decision to give you such an opportunity is a strange feeling.  The first cut was the most difficult, but for some reason, dissection was never something you really got used to.  Every day, the cadaver, your first patient, had something new to show, something new to teach.  I am grateful for the opportunity to learn from such a teacher.

That wasn't as cutthroat as I'd anticipated.

Going into medical school, an image was painted, at least in my mind, that once I got there it was every man/woman for him/herself.  After finishing the semester, I've found the opposite to be true.  I have met some of the most compassionate, friendly, helpful people in the past four months and am fortunate now to call most of my classmates my friends in addition to colleagues.  While there is some healthy competition among smaller groups of friends, most everyone in the class cares about the success of the class, a camaraderie that surprised me but one that I am thankful to have.  I count myself honored to be a part of such an amazing group of people, and to be friends with such an amazing group of people.  I have fought, laughed, prayed, stressed, dissected, struggled, studied, struggled more, and now triumphed over the first semester with this group of people, my friends.

It's okay not to have a clue.

I think that over the last two weeks, this thought has stuck with me most.  Going into medical school, I wanted so much to be in control of my future.  I wanted to know what I was doing at all times.  In the lab, in the classroom, in the clinic.  Whatever the situation, I wanted to be above it.  I wanted to know which specialty I would end in with absolute surety.  I wanted to be good at anything I did because this is my future.  It's no longer a Western Civ class.  THIS IS DOCTOR SCHOOL.  And yet, after doing well in the first semester, I've realized that while all of that is good, we're still students.  There is so much to learn.  So much to improve upon.  So much that we don't know.  So much that needs work.  And that's okay.  Being able to acknowledge shortcomings is a trait that breeds excellence, eventually.  It's okay to struggle.  We can't all be amazing at ultrasound, or a wizard in the cadaver lab, or a genius in molecular biology.  There will be ups, and there will be downs.  There will be times when we actually feel like doctors, and times when we feel helpless and useless, and that's okay, because we'll survive one way or another and eventually end up with an MD behind our names and (hopefully) no organs floating around for sale on the black market.


Follow me on Twitter @WesleySlaven and on Instagram @rwesleyslaven.