Well, it’s becoming increasingly clear that I have significantly less time to blog than last semester. I have significantly less time to do anything, really, aside from study, work out, eat, and sleep. “Eat when you can, sleep when you can” is the advice I received pretty consistently from my physician friends before embarking on this journey, and I think that pretty much says it all.
I’ve been on this medical school grind for over a month now, and I have had to completely transform the way that I approach learning. Kevin sometimes makes fun of me because I’m literally “learning how to learn” which he thinks is adorable somehow. During my undergraduate years at UNM, I realize now that I never actually had to study to get good grades – “study” means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, and there’s a ton of argument about quantity vs. quality of study techniques, but when I think of studying, it all boils down to putting in the time. I never really put in the time during undergrad, which is evidenced by my excellent grades in classes that I could essentially “bullshit” if necessary, and my not-so-stellar marks in the courses that really required a time commitment for any sort of fundamental understanding (i.e. physics, quantitative chemistry, biochem). My attitude in undergrad was basically this – if I decided I didn’t like a subject, I stopped caring about it and just wouldn’t spend any more time on it than was absolutely necessary. Of course, there were topics I found fascinating (forensic anthropology! also genetics and evolutionary biology) and I poured my time and effort into these courses. But those subjects that didn’t truly interest me, the ones that were simply stepping stones toward the end-goal of getting my bachelor’s degree, I neglected. This now seems like a pretty shitty attitude toward learning, and incidentally, it probably explains my lackluster MCAT scores as well.
Flash forward to the first term of medical school, where EVERYTHING COUNTS and EVERYTHING MATTERS, and there are actual real-world consequences for not knowing the material, like becoming a bad physician or making an incorrect diagnosis or treating a patient with the wrong drug or KILLING SOMEONE and ruining a family. A little dramatic, sure, but all real possibilities. So yeah, now I’m paying a bit more attention to the material, even though topics composing the first module – basically a review of everything we did in undergrad, like biochemistry, genetics, histology, cell biology, and some rudimentary pharmacology, but in far more mind-numbing detail – is admittedly bone-dry at times, but with interspersed clinical correlates and mechanisms of disease that provide just enough meaningfulness to get through the long hours of studying. I’m truly finding myself interested in all of it, mainly because I now have the gift of time that I never had in undergrad. I was obsessed with working and making money then, partly because I had to, but mostly because it was rewarding and satisfying in the short-term. Now I’m being forced to think long-term, and not having to work while in school has become the greatest gift in my years of education. I feel like I’ve earned this.
Learning how to study here seems to be a difficult adjustment for most students. Obviously, no one is going to scrape by here like they did in college, and many of their tried-and-true methods from those years have become obsolete as we try to drink in as much as we can from this firehose of information being blasted at us every day. I’ve been to several study workshops put on by the Department of Educational Services (DES) – a free tutoring service provided by the school that we are so lucky to have – with topics ranging from test-taking strategies for multiple choice exams, test anxiety, study skills, time management, etc. All of the information and suggestions have been extremely helpful, and as we move into the week before our second exam, I feel quite confident that I have found my magical studying “groove” that the upper-termers tell us about.
We have four hour-long lectures each day from Monday through Friday, excluding a few days that we have IMCQ (Interactive Multiple Choice Questions) sessions in place of lectures, usually in preparation for an upcoming exam. According to DES learning strategists, students should spend 10-15 minutes previewing each lecture, one hour during lecture taking “active notes,” and 90 minutes reviewing the lecture within 24 hours to seal in the material. Multiple choice questions are stressed as an imperative daily tool to be used for self-testing during the week and reviewing on the weekend, which helps you confront your shortcomings and identify weak points that need further review. Saturday and Sunday are days to review, integrate concepts, and prep for the following week’s lab/small group sessions.
There is only one rule in medical school – whatever you do, DON’T FALL BEHIND. So far, I’ve managed to keep up with all of my lectures by using my laptop to highlight and annotate powerpoints during lectures, then take extensive hand-written notes for my review, and finally, transcribe these notes into neat, concise one-page outlines as a final review that can be quickly accessed at any time, along with countless multiple choice questions to test my knowledge. I like math, so let’s see how many hours I’ve spent studying just the lecture material for this first module, WITHOUT including any weekend review time:
80 lectures x (15 mins preview + 60 minutes lecture + 90 minutes review) = 13,200 minutes = 220 hours
More than 220 hours of studying in the first six weeks of medical school. And I still wouldn’t trade it for anything.