Medicine From The Trenches

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

First Semester of Medical School (it’s over and done)…

For many people, the first semester of medical school is complete. By today – barring being snowed in and delayed at one of the east coast airports – you are on your way or at home for the holiday break. Many folks worked harder this first semester than in any aspect of their previous academic endeavors only to find that they didn’t do as well as they wanted or anticipated. The good news is that the semester is over and the bad news is that you have to go back and face second semester in a few short weeks.

My first piece of advice is to take a bit of time to assess what worked (and didn’t work) in terms of getting the material mastered for this past semester. There is little use in anguishing over grades (you get what you get when you get it) or what you “could have done”.  You put everything regardless of good or bad, behind you and move into the next semester renewed. If you failed, it’s behind you until you have to re-mediate. If you passed, it’s behind you and you have to move forward. That’s one of the great things about medical school in that it carries you along at a relentless pace.

As you take stock of the things that worked well for you, see if there is something that you can do to enhance your efficiency. You are going to have to be more efficient in the upcoming semester and into next year so why not take a look at what you can “tweak” to make better. If you are totally satisfied with your work, still look at adding some activities such as physical conditioning or stress relief. Trust me on this one, stress can come out at any time in medical school no matter how well you are doing. Having some kind of a stress relief plan is a good thing. Even if you walk around the block a couple of times, it will just relieve some of the stress.

Resist the urge to try to study for Boards during this holiday. You NEED rest and relaxation. If  you feel that you must do something, then have a cursory look at First Aid for Step I but there is little that you can do that will make any meaningful “dent” in what you will have to review after next year is done. Your best prep now is rest and relaxation. Don’t even try to use these next couple of weeks to “read ahead” for the next semester. Work on a plan for increased efficiency but you know that you will have ample time to study for the next semester of coursework.

Take this time to catch up with old college mates who have gone into something besides medical school. I found this practice most fulfilling because they wouldn’t allow me to “talk shop” during our get-together. I could hoist a brew or enjoy the holiday lights without feeling compelled to study something or plan to study something. If you were fortunate enough to complete your Gross Anatomy course, relish in the fact that you can burn those formaldehyde-scented scrubs now. See, there is always something to put behind you. If you are not done with Gross Anatomy, well, you are at least further along that when you started.

I also used the holiday break to catch up on some of the latest movies, non-medical reading and other nice non-medical pursuits. Even today, as I have completed submitting grades and evaluations for the students that I teach, I am contemplating the movies that I will catch up on this week. I have some holiday clinical duties but as I have posted in past posts, I actually enjoy the hospital during the holidays. The patients are grateful that you are working in addition to the wonderful decorations everywhere. I love to take a couple of minutes to sniff the branches of the huge lobby Christmas tree just to get that holiday feeling.  I also enjoy hearing the Christmas carolers strolling the halls to serenade the few patients who are left in the hospital.

In short, take the time to enjoy your time with your family and friends, to celebrate that you have gotten through your first semester and to face the upcoming semester with some anticipation.  Try to remember that this whole “medical school thing” is a process and not a commentary on your worth as a human being. My bet is that you are far more complicated than your studies. 

If you didn’t get the grades you wanted or feel that everything you have learned has “leaked out of your brain” relax because that hasn’t happened. You definitely know more than you think you know. Every medical student feels that they are forgetting everything that they have learned. You may not remember every tiny detail but the neural pattern is there and can be recovered with a bit of review. In short, relax, that knowledge is in there and will be there for you. Next semester will build upon what you went through this semester but isn’t dependent upon you having done a “perfect” job with this semester’s material. You will have another shot at anything presented this semester next year and for Step I study. Again, this is why you can relax right now.

Finally, to those who may have to re-mediate, put off the self-flagellation. You have learned what not to do so concentrate on thinking about what you will do differently. Assess what worked and resolve to hone that what worked for you. Don’t be ashamed and don’t keep running thoughts around in your mind that you have closed any doors to having a fine medical career. You haven’t closed off anything. Remember that the vast majority of medical students will have something to face in the future that will cause a hiccup or a step-back. If you had your hiccup now, you are done. Put it behind you and know that you are going to move forward to enjoy a great career.

Happy Holidays!!!!!

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21 December, 2009 - Posted by | academics, failure, first-year, medical school coursework, success in medical school

3 Comments »

  1. I am in my second year and this post was a encouraging reminder not to be discouraged. I don’t always get the grades that I want or feel like I have mastered anything at all, but med school just keeps plowing forward. Have a Merry Christmas!

    Comment by medaholic | 24 December, 2009 | Reply

  2. Great post! Thanks for taking the time to write it! 🙂

    Comment by Rishi | 24 December, 2009 | Reply

  3. Thanks for your post. It was very encouraging. Much appreciated!

    Comment by Patrick | 22 December, 2009 | Reply


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