When you receive an interview from the University of Michigan Medical School, they ask you to share something unique about yourself that you can do. While some responses are funny, like being able to eat a 3-lb. cinnamon roll or talk like Stitch from “Lilo and Stitch.” Others are more serious:
“Can run an ultramarathon.”
“Can read Arabic and Hebrew script.”
“Can build and race cars.”
I can honestly say everyone in my class has a passion outside of medicine, a skill they are trying to enhance, or a hobby they love. Whatever this may be for you, I think a natural concern for applicants is, “Can I continue this while in medical school?”
After graduating from college three years ago, I set out to learn Spanish. This involved living in a Spanish-speaking country, traveling and getting involved with organizations locally. One of my main goals when starting medical school was to not only maintain the progress I had gained, but also improve.
I have found the opportunities to learn, practice and apply a second (or third, or fourth) language are everywhere if you search for them. Since starting medical school four months ago, I have been able to translate at a free clinic for migrant workers, where medical student Spanish-speakers are paired with non-Spanish speaking clinicians. I have worked with Washtenaw Health Initiative to help Spanish-speaking community members enroll in health care coverage. I have also helped orient Spanish-speaking patients at the U-M Student-Run Free Clinic in Livingston County.
These experiences have been some of my favorite experiences thus far in medical school; however, my most educational Spanish language experience has been the student-run medical Spanish elective. This is a class where a small group of medical students meet in the evenings two or three times a month with a Michigan Medicine physician who is either a fluent or native Spanish speaker. The session is entirely in Spanish and usually begins with the physician pretending to be a patient as the students walk through an entire visit, starting with taking a complete history. We then discuss the case in-depth, and possible diagnoses and treatments.
During a year where our academic material focuses on the details of organ systems, drug mechanisms and anatomy, this course, refreshingly, has an entirely clinical focus. We not only learn Spanish medical vocabulary and phrases, but as a group we walk through creating a differential diagnosis and learn more about how doctors think. It has also been a wonderful opportunity for students among different classes to spend time together.
Whether you are interested in improving on a second language, taking piano lessons (seriously, these are offered to medical students), or perfecting your Disney character impersonations (consider auditioning for The Smoker), just because you are in medical school does not mean you need to put these goals away for four years. In fact, I’m learning it’s better if you don’t.
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Chelsea Finkbeiner is a first-year medical student at the University of Michigan Medical School. She is interested in primary care, with an emphasis on women’s health and family planning. Her inbox is open to any applicants who want to reach out.