Medicine From The Trenches

Experiences from medical school, residency and beyond.

Biochemistry, our first lecture as a medical student.

Orientation week was over and frankly, I was exhausted from a week of being hearded for ID photos, syllabi, microscopes and shots (Yes, we all had to roll up our sleeves for Hepatitis B vaccination). We had barbecues, lunches, mixers and drinking “fests” with the incoming dental and law students over the weekend. In addition, we had a great “White Coat Ceremony” featuring Ben Carson, M.D., chief of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University Hospital which was totally awesome (I will write more about that later).

On that Monday morning at 0800h, we all crawled (hungover and half-asleep), into our lecture hall for our first authentic medical school lecture. I had arrived early, thanks to nerves and good luck with the subway system, with plenty of time to do one more cursory pre-read of the material that was in our syllabus. The lecture would be a Review of Organic Chemistry by one of the Biochemistry professors that had been affectionately nicknamed “Rocket” by our upperclass advisors. I was feeling pretty confident since I had plenty of background in Biochemistry and had done extremely well in Organic chemistry. I had reviewed the syllabus and I was far ahead in my text reading. I sat in my seat (about 4 rows back from the front) with my multicolored pen poised (clicked to black) and ready for the lecture to begin.

Rocket came “out of the shute” with “guns blazing” and “white-lightening”. I would never have believed any human being could cover an entire semester of Organic Chemistry in one hour (actually 50 minutes) but Rocket lived up to his name. Reactions rolled off his tongue like Eminem in 8-Mile. After two minutes, I just sat back and marveled. (Thank goodness for my little micro tape recorder). I just made a list of every topic that he mentioned and said a prayer of pity for the person who was assigned to cover this lecture for note service. The fee that I had paid for noteservice already seemed a bargin.

After 50 minutes, we were given a 10-minute break. I looked around the room which, was silent. All of us were sitting there in total terror. Rocket had taken us all out and we were too numb to even get up and mill around. After the break, he started up again, this time explaining the fine points of ph and Buffers. He finished the lecture with a problem sheet that he indicated would be due in two days. I looked at the sheet and shook my head. It was going to take a couple of hours but I would get these problems done.

My best friend looked at the problem sheet and pronounced it “extreme”. I told her not to worry, I would get the problems done and I would write out an explanation of how I did them and share. Well, it turned out that I was the only person in class to finish all of the problems and my solutions went into noteservice for the class with much gratitude from my classmates.
Making buffers and solving buffer problems were pretty routine for me since I had been involved in research before starting medical school. I was happy to help.

During the semester, I would participate in many study sessions with my classmates. It was quite common for one or two of us to write up summary sheets or study sheets that would be shared with the class. I also became one of the primary notetakers for Biochemistry because of my familarity with the subject matter. We, as a class, tried to make sure that every person had the best shot of passing this difficult class. No matter what, there were some folks that just didn’t get Biochemistry on the first try. They would be in summer school that year.

I have to say that I found Medical Biochemistry quite differerent from the graduate school Biochemistry course that I had been used to. Instead of chasing electrons and working on endless problems in enzyme kinetics, Medical Biochemistry had a distinct practical side. One needed to be able to use Biochemistry as a tool in the care of patients. To that end, we didn’t chase electrons but spent some quality time chasing nutrition facts, hemoglobin disorders, molecular biology (theoretical and applied), pathways and numerous disorders such as diabetes, starvation and metabolic defects. It was all good learning and very detailed.

Biochemistry would be the second most demanding course of our first semester of our first year. Gross Anatomy took the top spot in terms of preparation time and study time. For me, since I had a strong background in Biochemistry, I was able to put in loads of extra time in Anatomy while holding my ground in Biochemistry with my usual pre-read, study lecture and repeat the schedule all over again the next day. I never attended lecture unprepared and I always stayed far ahead of the lecturer in case I became ill.

I kept very detailed notes and spent hours of time helping my classmates. They in turn, helped me to hone my teaching skills. When you attempt to explain something to another person, you hone your own learning. To my great pleasure, Biochemistry was a blessing in many ways. It was challenging but totally managable for me and it was my introduction into becoming a good colleague, something that I continue to work at today.

Rocket was our first introduction to the sheer volume-overload that was to come. He certainly received our rapt attention on that first day. We later learned that while he spoke rapidly, he made up the most awesome handouts. It was all good and we were on our way.

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25 January, 2007 - Posted by | Uncategorized

3 Comments »

  1. You sound like you were a very organized student. My USMLE step 1 is coming up next year and I want to plan ahead. Any suggestions? Thanks

    Comment by John | 7 March, 2009 | Reply

  2. I was always a very, very organized student. At the beginning of every semester, I plotted the entire semester in terms of my schedule. The key to following through was to keep up and get ahead if possible.

    I made drill tapes for types of material that needed to be drilled like the branches of the external carotid artery or the cranial nerves. For other materials, I made summaries either on a large white board or on a blackboard. I also spent at least one day with my study group.

    Preparation was very key for me and paying close attention to the manner in which material is presented both in the textbook and in the lecture. I am not a student who “reacts” to material but a student who “proacts” to learning.

    My most common schedule was preview lecture objectives and read textbook, listen to lecture picking out the important topics, study lecture and text (if needed) review the previous lecture’s material and the preview again. On the weekend, I would study the previous week’s work.

    I also studied as if the test was the week before the actual test so that I peaked on test day. When many of my classmates were playing “catch-up” on reading days, these were review days for me.

    In medical school, anything presented in lecture, in the assigned readings and in laboratory was fair game for testing material. I could never just rely on my notes.

    Comment by Drnjbmd | 25 January, 2007 | Reply

  3. Since returning to school last year (i’m a nontrad premedder) I’ve found that I’m a much better student than when I was younger, but I am still developing my “study style”. How did you develop such great study habits? Were you always a good/organized student? In previous posts you mentioned tapes you woud make for yourself to listen to while working out, ect…what was your method for making these tapes? Did you just read back your notes? do Q & A?
    Also, could you write a post about how/when you decided to go to med school and what the process was like for you as a non-trad?

    Thanks! Love your blog 🙂
    J

    Comment by Jacqueline | 25 January, 2007 | Reply


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