As promised, here is the Q& A interview from a Johns Hopkins M2 student going onto M3. Her identity has been withheld to retain her privacy, within the article her answers are identifiable from her label Johns Hopkins School of Medicine student (JHSM student), if I interjected then the comments from me were labeled under Boston University School of Medicine student (BUSM student). The questions were taken from my followers on Twitter, enjoy:
Q. “what’s one thing she wish she knew about medschool before starting?”
A (JHSM student). Oh so many things ha ha. Honestly, if I had to pick one, the thing I wish I knew most was that it’s okay to struggle and if you’re struggling, I can guarantee you’re not the only one. The first year of medical school is difficult both academically and in terms of adjusting to a new lifestyle. This is complicated by the fact that a lot of medical students are used to being above average and so sometimes it can feel like a sign of weakness if you admit that the material or some other aspect of medical school is difficult for you. I fell into this trap at the beginning of my first year because I was afraid to admit that I thought anatomy was difficult and it was unpleasant being in a room with a cadaver for that many hours a day but didn’t want my classmates to think I was ‘dumb’, for lack of a better word. Only later after I made some closer friends did I realize that MOST of our class struggled through our anatomy block and found that period of medical school to be generally depressing, but no one was talking to each other about it. It might have been nicer if we had been able to talk to each other about our struggles and realize that we weren’t alone.
Also just to add on to that, I’d like to say it gets better! The first year of medical school for me (and I later found out for many of my classmates) was one of the most depressing years of my life because I didn’t know how to be a medical student yet, but after the second year you kind of learn how to game the system, you make really good friends and you get to see/do increasingly cool medical ‘stuff’
Q. The next question is also from a Twitter follower, they ask ” [During ] undergrad. for example, if you receive a C+ in a chemistry course, would it be impossible for me to get into medical school. Should I retake it?”
A. (JHSM student): in general, a C won’t kill your chances, I think I once got a C in chemistry once as well. It just needs to not be a pattern
A. (BUSM student): same here, I’ve had a C show up on my transcript, it wasn’t a big deal because I performed well in the upper level courses. For example, I may of received one C in general chemistry, but then I went onto rock organic and biochemistry. Also, it’s important to remember that AAMC looks at all of your grades, so they’d probably like to so a upward spiral rather — this is especially true if retaking the course won’t really result in any statistical difference in either your science or “other” GPA. You should sit down and do the math, if your GPA can absorb the C+ then I’d just take it and be sure to do better in higher level material. Again, one C+ won’t kill you, just don’t make it a habit.
Q. Knowing what you know now, how would you study differently for year one if you could go back? Also, are are the first semesters of year 1 different?
A. JHSM student: I suppose that’s curriculum specific in some ways. Generally though, if I could go back I think I would work harder in certain blocks. My school is pass/fail so once I knew I had enough knowledge to be in the ‘passing’ range sometimes it was very tempting to just stop studying then. I wish I had learned more in the blocks where I did that because the pre-clinical curriculum gives you the opportunity and time to learn and really understand medical science in greater depth than you can on rotations. There’s not time when you’re studying for boards or during rotations to go back and learn the basic science of everything so if you don’t understand the basics by then, you’re kind of stuck just memorizing.
Q. So, the big question, “Why medicine?”
A. JHSM student: I got stuck thinking about why medicine. It’s difficult because it’s a question that we’re asked all the time and anyone who applies to medical school is asked to compress their answer into a succinct 400 word statement. I think in some ways, though, this creates the false impression that the reason people decide to do things is always based on one dramatic was actually supposed to read “life changing experience or one goal that a future physician might wish to accomplish to make the world a better place, etc. but in reality I think the reason people make any huge life decision is ultimately complex and multifactorial. For me, I went through an intense period of weighing the pros and cons of different careers. I personally really, profoundly love science, especially life science. I was actually undecided between graduate school and medical school up to the summer before I started medical school, after I had gotten in. I think what made medicine win out over graduate school was the opportunity to really learn an organism in complete depth from the molecular level up to the social level (I particularly love systems biology), an opportunity rarely afforded in pure research. I also relish the relatively instant gratification medicine can provide over research, seeing a patient improve in hours or days instead of waiting years for research ideas to either pan out or not pan out. Lifestyle was also another important factor for me and I guess I enjoyed the idea that going into medicine would afford me the opportunity to work in a research position but wouldn’t leave me obligated to scratch out a living based on my ability to write convincing grants because I could always fall back on clinical practice. One thing I wish I had done before coming to medical school was getting more experience working with patients. I did do a fair amount of volunteer work in medical settings but retrospectively the things I did were more clerical and really didn’t give me an idea of what it’s like to work with sick people. I was actually really luck because I didn’t realize it at the time, but since coming to medical school I’ve realized I really enjoy working with patients and I think I have somewhat of a knack for it but I know that’s not true for everyone.
Q. You were wait listed at Johns Hopkins, but later accepted (so it obviously worked out well), any idea why you were wait listed in the first place?
A. JHSM student: I’m assuming it’s because I wasn’t as a competitive a candidate as people who were directly offered positions lol. I think the biggest weakness in my application packet was my relative dearth of hands-on clinical experience. A very large number of my classmates had worked as EMTs and taught CPR classes, etc but my clinical experience was much less hands on.
Q. Who were the influential people in making your decision to go to medical school?
A. JHSM student: To be honest I think I was the most influential person in deciding to go to medical school and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Going to medical school is an amazing, amazing opportunity but it carries with it a huge amount of opportunity cost in terms of the other potential careers you’re giving up, free time, going into debt, etc. In terms of people who inspired me, I would say primarily the heads of the labs I worked in who always believed in me and stuck by me even when I made mistakes. There was also one physician whose office I worked in for several months who really encouraged and inspired me.
Q. You’re interested in the realm of primary car despite recent articles out there disparaging new applicants (especially those interested in FM or PCP), do you have any words of encouragement — or a take on the trend?
A. JHSM student: For new applicants, all I can say is the world is changing fast around us and it’s hard to predict what practicing medicine will be like 20 years from now. Medicine 20 years ago is certainly different then medicine today and it will continue to change. As far as the grim outlook for primary care physicians goes I can only say that many of the primary care attendings at my school have indicated that they think that the semi-absurd compensation gap between specialists and primary care physicians is likely to shrink with health care reform due to changes from a per-procedure payment which benefits opthamologists or radiologists for example who do a large number of procedures in a short time to different types of payment plans.
Q. Describe an average school day and weekend for you as a first year.
A. JHSM student: Average school day during pre -clinical curriculum, for me: wake up at 9:00 am, shower, get to school by 10:00 am for required small group activities which run until noon, then lunch, then in the afternoon we’d either have lectures until 3:00 pm or clinic time depending on the day of the week. During my first year I had a once a week clerkship at a pediatricians office. That was usually done by 5. Then home by 5:30, I’d watch the 8:00 am and 9:00 am lectures that I missed (my school took video recording of all our lectures and posted them online ) at 1.5x speed then check my email, study a little until 9:30, by then I would usually stop working and engage in self-care activities (cooking, cleaning, friends, etc) until around midnight and then to bed and repeat the next day. Of course as exams got closer the studying time would usually increase lol.
Q. For the final question, it’s pretty hard for a lot of medical students to decide what to specialize in, when did it become more to clear to you about what you may specialize in?
A. JHSM student: Oh well it’s still not really clear to me lol. I have an idea about what I want to specialize in that I think really came about from interacting with the faculty from the different blocks. I felt like the physicians and professors from our micro/ ID block were ” like me” in that they were kind of fun and a little bit quirky in addition to really enjoying the material itself. That said I think the specialities people are attracted to are influenced by the people they interact with from that speciality but I don’t think that’s the sole determinant: for example there was one really weird week during medical school where I really thought I wanted to become a pathologist. I really liked the faculty for that section and I thought it was interesting. I ended up shadowing a pathologist for a couple days to learn more and no offense to future pathologists out there, but I quickly realized it was just not for me.
JHSM student is has just completed her USLME Step 1, and will start her 3rd year rotations soon. She was kind enough to give this interview during her vacation right after completing Step 1.
Thanks for reading. If you want to ask questions to a medical student leave a Tweet, and it’ll be added to the Q & A archive — similar questions will be grouped together. Twitter: https://twitter.com/doctorORbust