When I woke up this morning, I realized that there are just over 3 weeks until M2 year begins. The recent weeks have been full of public health research, exercise, travel, and relaxing. It has been really great. I’m doing social epidemiology research, and I love being back at the School of Public Health and surrounded by people doing fascinating research. When I’m not researching, I’ve been enjoying the summer and have spent as much time outside as I can.
With all of the extra free time, I’ve had a chance to be rather sentimental about all of the things that I have learned in the past year. After all, in a little over a week, the new class of M1s will be receiving their white coats, marking almost a solid year that I’ve been at Michigan Med. I look back at where I was last year versus this year, and I realize that I have learned a lot. I notice it in small ways in my position in the Student-Run Free Clinic, as I now have a better idea of the questions I need to ask patients to get the information I need from them, and I am more attuned to the times when I need to contact the medical director about a particularly concerning condition. At the same time, other situations make me realize that I have so much more to learn. In addition to the knowledge acquisition, I have also grown as a person because it turns out that medical school is about more than learning everything in a textbook.
Thus, I decided to share ten of the lessons that I’ve learned during my first year of med school. I promise that being succinct is still not one of them, but I’m working on it, so hang in there during this very long post.
It’s okay to try new things.
This one was a bit hard for me at first, and I don’t think that’s abnormal. How many times have we heard the phrase, “Humans are creatures of habit”? It’s kind of true, but it turns out that we miss a lot if we stay inside our comfort zones all of the time. In the past year, I’ve tried new things, like running a half marathon, dancing in front of an audience, and trying new restaurants, among many other things. Shaking things up keeps life interesting, and it has definitely led to some really fun experiences.
If your study method doesn’t work, find a new one. Repeat until you find one you love and then trust your method.
This one is pretty self-explanatory, but I, like everyone else, came in with a study method that worked for me in undergrad. Unfortunately, that method did NOT work in medical school. It took some trial and error, but I came up with a method I love and that works for me. So now I’ll stick with it until it no longer works.
One of the most important things that the students ahead of me have told me is to stay humble. When things are going well, it’s so easy to become overconfident, but that can be really dangerous for the patients. I try to constantly remind myself of what a privilege it is to be here, and when I forget, I am lucky enough to have a group of people who remind me. Humility doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it can save lives, not to mention your patients and the members of your team will appreciate it.
Figure out what drives you.
Motivation can come from many different sources and is very person-specific. I was fortunate enough to begin med school with a pretty good picture of what motivates me based on my background and many of the activities I participated in during undergrad and grad school. To put it as succinctly as possible, health inequity drives me. The fact that some of the populations that I’ve worked with are never given a fighting chance due to disparities in health care and education is what keeps me awake at night, what pushes me out of bed in the morning, and what determines the activities I’m involved with. Find what motivates you and hang onto it because some days will be difficult, and you’ll definitely need the reminder of why you came to medical school in the first place.
This is a sacrifice, but it will be worth it.
Since I took two years out between undergrad and medical school to go to grad school, many of my friends experienced at least the first couple years of med school before me. They had told me many times of the sacrifice involved, but it was easy to convince myself that they were exaggerating or just overly exhausted and complaining. It turns out that sometimes they were doing these things, but it also turns out that there is a lot of sacrifice involved in this process, as there must be. In a few short years, people will trust us with their lives, and that is an incredible responsibility. Thus, there are sacrifices that we must make. For me, the hardest one has been not being able to see my family and friends as much as I’d like. However, I’m fortunate to have friends and family who are supportive of my pursuits and who understand that sometimes I won’t be able to make it to events or that I may have to cancel plans. They, as well as I, know that this is temporary but necessary, and it will definitely be worth it on the other side.
Find your people.
Your support system is absolutely and unequivocally what will get you through medical school, so it’s very important to have a good one. Everyone’s support system looks different, but they are important nonetheless. Mine is a mix of family, friends from home, college, and grad school, my friends/study group at school, the members of the Black Medical Association (BMA), and mentors from the various stages of my education. These are the people I talk to when I’m having my best and worst days, and they’re the ones who have gotten me through the year.
Things won’t always go as planned, and that’s okay.
So many of us started med school with this grand plan and the idea that everything would go perfectly. False. There are bumps along the road, and flexibility is an incredibly important trait to have as a physician (because illnesses almost never read the text book). Last year, I learned that sometimes I could make the best study plan and it just wouldn’t work out. Other times, I learned that sometimes I just needed a day off, and I’d have to readjust my study plans for the rest of the week. Flexibility is key because stressing yourself out over things you can’t control is definitely a waste of time (and you never want to waste time).
It’s okay to ask for help.
It’s not only okay—it’s crucial. However, so many med students went through school always understanding everything and never really having to ask for help, but there are times in medical school when you just don’t know. At these times, it’s so important to ask for help, whether from classmates, faculty, or others. This will be especially important later on the wards because patients can really suffer if you don’t know what you’re doing and you don’t ask for help. It may take some humility initially, but you may be surprised that people are often more than happy to teach you and are often glad that you asked… not to mention that others often have the same issue but are afraid to ask.
You’re still a person and that’s okay.
This may mean that sometimes you need a day off, so take a day off or push through until you can. There are also times that you’ll have a really emotional encounter with a patient or something bad will happen in your life outside of medical school. At these times, it’s so important to take care of yourself. As much as I’d love to have the efficiency of a robot, that’s not the case sometimes. However, I figure that the fact that I am aware that I’m still a person will make me a better physician down the road.
There isn’t anything else in the world I’d rather do than medicine and public health.
If there was anything else I’d rather do, I would be doing it, but there isn’t. While I was still in undergrad, one of my advisors said that if there was anything else that I’d rather be doing in the world besides medicine, I should do it. After doing a lot of soul searching, I decided that the combination of public health and medicine was exactly what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. There was nothing else that could make me as happy or fulfilled, and that was when I knew this was the path I should take. Throughout the year, this decision has been reaffirmed for me many times. Yes, there are some days where I question the decision, but I always know deep down that this is the right one and that I wouldn’t be nearly as happy doing anything else. It’s one of the best feelings I’ve experienced.
As always, thanks for reading. I’m off to enjoy another lovely summer weekend. Best of luck to the M0s who officially become M1s in a little over a week!
Don’t miss the next Dose of Reality.
Angelica is a fourth-year medical student at the University of Michigan Medical School. When she’s not on the wards, you can find her on a run around Ann Arbor or passionately discussing medicine and public health over tea.