Medicine From The Trenches

Experiences from medical school, residency and beyond.

It’s medical school (or any other school) orientation day (week)!

Well, you made it into medical school! Congratulations on that accomplishment but resist the urge to look around and size up what you believe is the “competition”. Your fellow classmates are far from your competition. They are a bit like your family in the sense that they are going to annoy you in the years to come. Additionally, you have no control over their identities or actions (waste of time to be annoyed with them) and you will come to appreciate them when they bail you out of a struggle or provide “comic relief” when the stress is causing you to lose part of your soul. In short, you inherit a bunch of brothers and sisters who will travel the experience of learning with you. Take a minute to take in the atmosphere, test out the “vibe” that you get from your class and enjoy orientation because it’s one of two periods of time that medical school will be totally enjoyable. Once the classes start, the work begins.

Many orientation sessions will have loads of information for you. Just like your coursework, get this stuff mastered! The check in and schedule is most important so that you know where you want to be and when you need to be there. This is also a time when you realize that you need to spring for a 140 db alarm clock without a snooze button for those days that you just can’t hear the one with the buzzer. My “super alarm” was my best friend on many a Monday morning when I was in medical school. By general surgery residency time, I found that I didn’t need it as I woke up when the curtains rustled; surgery makes one a light sleeper by necessity. You also do not want to get into the habit of hitting the snooze because you can’t hit that beeper once you get into practice. In short, you have to get up and get rolling on the first alarm. You will also need comfortable walking shoes and a car with a trunk so that you can carry home all of those books that you will buy, or in my case inherit, from your upper-class advisers. I watched in amazement as a few of my classmates carried what looked like a “house” on their backs as they marched to the underground or bus stop to go home. I drove during orientation week so that I could get my “loot” home comfortably.

If you haven’t done so, get all of the stuff that you need for your apartment (crib/loft) arranged and unboxed. I can’t emphasize more, how little time you are going to be spending there during first year but you don’t want to waste any time trying to arrange things when you need to be studying. Orientation week for medical school is also orientation week for getting your housing together too. Make your place as efficient as possible. Stock up on “the noble necessity – bathroom tissue” , soap, deodorant, ramen noodles- can be enjoyed in 2 minutes 1,000 ways, laundry detergent and most important for me, coffee. If you don’t purchase at least a semester’s supply of the necessities, it will be during exam week when you have no time that you discover you have no TP! Don’t let this happen. (If you have a roommate, put a couple of extra rolls under the foot of your bed so that you always have a stash in emergencies).

I will also recommend finding a 24-hour gym that is close-by because you never know when you are going to get an hour for a workout. My biggest mistake in medical school was not keeping in good physical condition.  Regular aerobic exercise diminishes stress and just makes you a more efficient student.  It also helps to keep your immune system polished (drinking tap water helps too) and ready to fend off your classmates’ viruses and bacteria that they will try to share with you. In short, driving yourself to burnout is less likely if you have a means of working out. You don’t have to have an elaborate routine just 30 minutes or so of walking on the treadmill plus 30 or so minutes of weights. I can’t tell you how much weight work helps to keep you focused on your studies. I have learned that fact after many years of teaching and practice. Take the time to pump some iron for your sanity and your health!

Go to all of those social events during orientation. They may seem stupid but you want to get to know as many of your fellow students as possible. No, you are not running for office (don’t run for office unless you know you can get your class work mastered well- our class president didn’t do so well first year and being a class officer is pretty meaningless for residency so don’t take a chance on this) but you want to have a cordial/professional  relationship with everyone in your class. Resist the urge to form cliques (many students do this by ethnicity) because your future colleagues are going to be every ethnicity and color and you have to work with them. Get along with everyone and have a sunny relationship with everyone even if you have a family at home. You need to be able to work with your classmates on projects and in the future on the wards. It’s also your classmates that will cover for you when you need to take that sick kid to the doctor or leave early because there’s an emergency. Go to those social events and get to know everyone. I met my best friend from medical school while we were in a line to shake hands with the deans at the Deans Reception. We studied together, cried together and graduated together. Even today, I miss those great times that we had even though we thought we were suffering.  The greatest thing about my best friend is that she spoke to everyone in the class and worked easily with everyone. She is truly a gifted person.

Make sure that your study area at home and at school is well equipped (plenty of note paper, pens and highlighters) and easily accessible. Don’t seek out the darkest and most remote area of the library (too dangerous) and don’t seek out the most popular area ( you won’t get much accomplished). Find a place where you and a couple of like-minded individuals can study (watch each others stuff when you need to use the facilities) and get something accomplished. I found that I studied best at home (not an option if you have a family that will compete for your attention) with a couple of beagles at my feet. My “facilities” were next to my office and any telly, video games and other distractions were far away. Once a week or so, I would do a group study with my study partners but not until I had mastered my work (see my post about my study habits).

As I have said in other posts, the two times that you can truly enjoy medical school are during orientation week and during fourth year after you match, unless you haven’t taken Step II. Orientation week is a time to get to know as much as possible about your school, your classmates and how you can set a strategy to navigate the next year or two. I can’t encourage you more strongly to read all of the information in those handouts and student handbooks so that you know where things are  and know who to contact if you have trouble. If you are given course syllabi (we were), look though them and get an idea of how much work you are going to need to set aside for your courses. Planning and organization are two of the most important tasks for medical (or any other professional school) success. Have fun for this week because the classes are going live too soon!

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4 June, 2011 - Posted by | medical school, orientation to medical school, success in medical school

1 Comment »

  1. Thanks, orientation is starting in three days. Your blog is always super useful.

    Comment by Mark | 5 August, 2011 | Reply


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