Two posts from me in one week. Crazy, right? On this, the eve of my official entry onto the wards, I thought I would take a quick moment to reflect on the past year. I’ve experienced a lot and learned a lot, so I decided to share ten things that I learned this year. Once again, being succinct is not yet one of my specialties so hang in there during my rather long musings.
M2 year is worse than M1 year, but at the same time also so much better.
At first this statement doesn’t seem to make sense, but I promise it does. M2 year is worse than M1 year because the stakes are higher. Step 1 is at the end of the year, and some blocks only have an exam and no quizzes. I always felt like I had to be much more prepared pretty much all of the time this year. At the same time, the material was SO much more interesting than during M1 year. This year, we focused on abnormal systems, so we got to learn what happens when things in the body go very wrong. The material covered this year felt much more like what I imagined medical school would be like.
Med student syndrome is a real thing.
I may or may not have self-diagnosed myself with a multitude of medical issues. I was mostly wrong, except for that one time I was right—that day, I was pretty proud of myself. In all seriousness, however, learning about tons of diseases with vague symptoms can get to you after a while, and more than one of my classmates has admitted to being more of a hypochondriac than when they entered med school. More often than not, our concerns are just us being neurotic, but if you’re really concerned about something, be sure to see your doctor.
Your study method is perfect until it isn’t.
Coming into M2 year, I thought that I had perfected my study method until I came to Neuro, when I quickly realized that my study method wasn’t cutting it. Instead of self-destructing like I would have last year, I changed what I was doing. It seems like a small and relatively obvious step, but if nothing else, medical students are creatures of habit. We study in the same places in the same way day after day. The simple fact that I had learned to adjust at some point over the past two years is an amazing step, and one that will be very helpful on the wards.
Step 1 is still scary, but what’s on the other side matters so much more.
Let’s be real: Step 1 is incredibly scary because it always feels like so much is riding on that 3-digit score. I think that it’s sometimes easy to forget that we haven’t spent the last two years exclusively preparing for Step. Instead, we have spent the last two years learning the basic science foundations of the diseases that our patients will have so that we can one day learn how to take care of them. Step 1 is merely the gateway that we must pass through in order to do so. When we forget that everything we do is actually about the patients, trouble arises. Some of my worst days during study period were those in which I forgot that everything I do and all of the sacrifices that I make are for my future patients. On my absolute worst Step 1 study day when I was in an awful mood and the absolute worst version of myself, I walked up to school and saw a patient going into the cancer center for chemo. It hit me hard and fast that there are real people suffering from real diseases out there, and in the grand scheme of everything, one exam didn’t mean that much. Here I was griping about this one-day exam that I had to take when there are people out there fighting for their lives. That encounter quickly put things into perspective and snapped me out of my awful mood. Patients are what we are here for and what this whole journey is all about.
Things still won’t always go as planned, and it’s still okay.
Sometimes life comes at you hard. People that we love pass away, relationships end, friendships hit rocky points, and sicknesses occur. Life doesn’t just stop because you’re in medical school. Sometimes, it’s important to take a step away from medicine to take care of life. Yes, this puts you behind on your study schedule, but sometimes, it’s more important to be present in your own life. I’m the absolute worst at this, but even I definitely had to take a couple deferrals this year due to illness. The most important thing at that point was that I was back to functioning and ready to go, even if it meant taking my exam 2 days late and being behind on the next block. We are still people, even if we want to be invincible, and it’s okay if something affects us now and then.
Some days are really hard.
Just as there were many good days this year, there were also days that seriously made me reconsider my decision to go into medicine. For example, in my clinical reasoning elective, I had a really troubling encounter with a patient. The health care system failed this patient in a big way, and I found this incredibly distressing. I always knew that the health care system isn’t perfect, and I had dealt with its over-arching fallout in public health. However, this was the first time that I truly realized that by entering the health care system, I was now a part of the problem and would be fighting this for the rest of my life. I am now part of a system that tries to do right by patients but can actually hurt them significantly in the process. It’s easy to talk about failures of the health care system, but it’s an entirely different situation to see how patients’ lives are impacted. It’s an encounter that has stuck with me, and I get the feeling that it will be one of those that I will never forget.
Find your role model.
One of the best parts of being at an amazing academic medical center is that there are role models everywhere. Every now and then, there is a physician who shows me exactly what I don’t want to be when I’m practicing (which is also useful), but for the most part, I’m surrounded by truly amazing physicians who genuinely care about their patients and are all-around fantastic humans. One such amazing physician was my clinical reasoning elective preceptor. She taught me so much about how the social determinants of health can impact patients’ lives in big ways, and her actions made it more than obvious that she cared about her patients and went above and beyond expectations for them. I want to be her when I grow up. The physicians who are our role models teach us about the art of medicine, which is something that can’t be taught in a classroom but is just as important as medical knowledge. In short, we all need people to look up to, and there is no better time to find a role model than when you’re surrounded by so many of them.
Take time for yourself.
Disclaimer: I am horrible at this. I have this really bad habit of hitting the gas pedal and neglecting the brakes until illness forces me to slow down. However, this year, I tried to do nice things for myself now and then. I tried to go for runs or to yoga, I made an effort to spend time with friends and family, and I bought myself some fancy loose-leaf tea to enjoy. Those seem like small things, but when life is otherwise ridiculously busy, the small things make all the difference. It’s important to find a couple things that keep you sane and make sure that they find their way into your schedule. The time away from studying doesn’t seem worth it sometimes, but I promise that it is.
Lean on your people.
My support system is still the reason why I have made it this far. I don’t know what I’d do without my family, friends, and mentors. They’re the reason that I keep going on my worst days, and they’re always behind me in my best moments. I can’t imagine making this journey without them, and I am so grateful to have them in my life. I can’t thank them enough for all of the encouragement in the past year and for putting up with me on the days when I was at my absolute worst (I’m looking at you Step 1 study period).
There is still truly nothing that I want to do more than medicine and public health.
This year, someone asked me if I would take the same pathway if I were given the choice again. I can stand here confidently and say yes. There are still days when I question the decision, but in all seriousness, I would absolutely do this again. The intersection of public health and medicine is where I am in my happy place, it’s my calling, it’s where I belong. I was talking with one of my friends who is about to start residency, and he mentioned how he can’t imagine having a job that was just a job. He’s right. Medicine isn’t for those who want a job where they can clock in and out at whatever time and leave everything behind. Medical school is a sacrifice, and the sacrifice certainly doesn’t end when you have M.D. behind your name. However, it is so worth it when you realize that lives can be absolutely changed because of the work you do. It’s a gift that comes with huge responsibility, but I really can’t imagine doing anything else, and I would do this a thousand times over.
Tomorrow, I will wake up, don my white coat, and head to my first day of clinic. While I’m glad to put M2 year behind me, I am also glad that I had the experiences I did. Hopefully, some of the lessons I’ve learned will help me on the wards, but I know that these lessons have also shaped the person I’ve become since starting medical school. Now, however, it’s time to begin a whole new set of experiences. I can’t wait to see what the next year brings.
As always, thanks for reading. Until next time, here’s to lessons learned and new beginnings.
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.