Medicine From The Trenches

Experiences from undergradute, graduate school, medical school, residency and beyond.

Summer between First and Second Year

I spent the summer between my first and second year of medical school teaching biochemistry in our pre-matriculation program. This program provided an opportunity for 25 students (20 who anticipated medical school and 5 that anticipated dental school) to experience three medical school classes. The classes presented were Gross Anatomy, Biochemistry and Microbiology. The program was six weeks long and pretty grueling for the students who participated. If a participant passed all three courses, they were automatically admitted to our medical or dental school that fall.

The pre-matriculation participants receive books, supplies, meals and housing during the six weeks of the program. They are expected to attend lectures and participate in dissections and study skills workshops. They learn to adjust their study skills to the heavy information load of medical school in addition to getting a huge “head start” in terms of two demanding classes of the freshman year.

As instructors, were were chosen because we had done very well in our first year coursework. We also went through a rigorous training session in order to handle all of the problems that might arise. We bonded as a group during these sessions and became pretty cohesive ourselves. In addition, we had an experienced faculty member who guided us through matters like lecture style, test making and course organization. Until you have to create an exam, you have no idea of how difficult this task can be. Questions that seem so clear to us (the instructors) could be confusing to the students who were being exposed to much of this material for the first time.

Our students were simply some of the most motivated and interesting people. There was an equal number of males and females. There was also a wide variety of ages from 21 to 49. Some were fresh from undergraduate and some had been out of school for awhile. There were mothers and fathers along with single folks. The diversity of the group was refreshing and wonderful. They all shared a dedication to mastery of learning that was great to see. It was six weeks of very difficult study but in the end, everyone did well.

Our faculty advisor was a great mentor. He coached us but allowed us to take the lead on preparing every lecture for these students. His wise counsel was one of the highlights of my medical school experience. This professor was an expert in the mechanisms of Diabetes Mellitus and was one of our most dynamic lecturers. He gave us just enough freedom to allow us to make our own mistakes but guided us in our development as new instructors.

Since Biochemistry is a very demanding course for most freshman medical students, my teaching partner and I vowed to make the course as useful as possible. One day when we were co-teaching, I caught a glimpse of the department chairman listening to our lectures and presentations. Later I heard that he was very impressed with how we presented the material. We spent countless hours coaching our students and encouraging them to not fear any learning opportunity. We taught them organization and mastery.

In addition to our teaching our students, we became the summer mentors for undergraduates and high school students who were visiting our medical school as part of a summer exposure to health professsions. We participated in a panel discussion with physican assistant students, nursing students, pharmacy students and medical technology students.

For some of the high schoolers, it was an awakening. When one of our orthopedic surgery residents (5’9″ tall weighing 269 lbs bodybuilder) stood up and reminded them that the road to success in any of our professions is long and difficult. In addition, you needed to have something that would keep discipline in your life. For him, that “something” was bodybuilding. I could see the wide open eyes of several young men when this resident flexed his biceps. He explained how bodybuilding fit well with disciplined study and preparation. He also brought slides of some of his surgical cases which he described in great detail. I am sure that many of those young high school students left with new-found strategy to master their lessons too.

At the end of our program, we were happy to report a 100% pass rate for all 25 of our students. They had worked harder that summer and it was great to celebrate their success. I also saw a great transformation in these students because they would become the leaders in their classes in the fall. We had armed them with solid study skills and some great knowledge that would get them off to a strong start when classes got underway in the next few weeks.

The best part of spending the summer teaching in our pre-matriculation program was my interaction with the programs director. She was a Ph.D in psychology and brilliant. Her interests were in retention of every medical student. Through many of our discussions, we analyzed why students fail in medical school. The one recurring theme is that something prevents them from putting in the time necessary to master a challenging curriculum.

Common inteferences can be illness (personal or family), financial stress and emotional stress . In world of today’s medical student, many have families that have needs which must be met. To go from being the person who was the main provider for the family to medical student where time is very limited is very difficult and requires a huge adjustment. Many times, the stress of providing support for family and the stress of mastery of coursework could take a huge toll on the emotions of a medical student with a family. It was a very difficult road that many navigated well. The one thing that was never the case was a student not being academically capable of mastery of them medical school course material.

My summer between my first and second year was a period of great enlightenment for me. I was selected as a peer tutor for students in the dental school as a second-year student. I learned to appreciate their labs and studies. I found that dentistry is as interesting as medicine and far more academically challenging. I loved watching the tooth-carving in the occlusion labs. For people who are interested in a very hands-on profession, dentistry is a wonderful option.

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15 January, 2007 - Posted by | academics, medical school, pre-matriculation programs

4 Comments »

  1. There is generally some selection process for the Pre-Matric programs. Students may not “opt-in” but may ask to be considered for selection.

    Comment by Drnjbmd | 22 January, 2007 | Reply

  2. Can those students who are already accepted opt-in for a pre-matriculation program? It seems that those classes would be beneficial to all incoming students!

    How great that your school offered that!

    Comment by Meg | 22 January, 2007 | Reply

  3. Students are selected by the Dean of Admissions to participate in the Pre-Matriculation program at my medical school. They generally hold a “conditional” acceptance and the Pre-Matriculation program is that “condition” that leads to acceptance.

    Other medical schools have Pre-Matriculation programs that students may apply to. They are a great idea if you have the time and the interest. You can check websites of various medical schools. Often these programs are listed with Diversity Affairs or Minority Affairs but these program are not just for Underrepresented Minorities but any student who needs the boost in transitioning to medical school.

    Comment by Drnjbmd | 16 January, 2007 | Reply

  4. I can totally relate to what the ortho resident said. I too have developed my discipline through bodybuilding.
    How does one get into a pre-matriculation program? Did they apply specifically for this program or did they apply with everyone else and were “accepted” based on their summer performance?

    Comment by Jacqueline | 16 January, 2007 | Reply


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