Medical Student

Should I take time off before med school?

A lot of people ask about taking time off before medical school. The average entering medical student now is 24-25 years old. In college, I personally never considered taking time off before medical school. But having entered straight after my senior year, there are some factors I wish I had considered, so I figured I would share my thoughts.

 

Going straight through means you’re still in school mode

It was definitely easier to jump right into Fall lectures having just been in school in the Spring. I did hear from a few of my classmates that it was an adjustment getting back to classes at 8 am and studying after having taken a few years off.

 

Time off can make your application more competitive 

Taking a few years off to do research, work, or volunteering helps make you a more well-rounded individual as well as make your application to medical school more competitive. Many students apply multiple cycles prior to entry so a few extra experiences can only help.

 

Learning to adult first could be nice

I do wish I had some time prior to balancing classes to live on my own – get used to food prepping, make new friends outside of college, budgeting etc. I think the adjustment to med school life would have been a lot easier.

 

Maturity 

Sometimes I definitely feel way too young, especially when compared to my classmates. I feel like a child accidentally sitting at the grown up lunch table. I think if I was a few years older I may feel more settled and less self conscious.

 

Overall, it’s a very personal decision. I hope some of my insights help you all in your decision and I’d love to hear your own thoughts!

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Medical Student

Studying Bacteria

How am I supposed to memorize all this?

The hundreds of flashcards in my backpack were starting to feel ridiculous a week into bacteriology. At what point would they stop being helpful, especially if it took me hours to work through them? There had to be a better way.

 

Luckily, there is, at least for me.

 

Being a visual learner with a storytelling background (I write novels for fun), I decided that I needed to somehow personify these bacteria and morph them into characters rather than factoids. I can remember each and every one of my main characters’ birthdays, favorite foods, and every scar on their body. So, it made sense that if I somehow personified the bacteria, I’d have an easier time remembering them too.

 

How can I characterize them? How do I visualize them? What symbols can I use?

 

diplococci_edited
Some of the bugs are drawn in duos since they appear as paired spheres (diplococci) in a gram stain

 

Similar to hieroglyphics, I utilized different symbols to represent different aspects and factors for these bugs. For example, the bugs are either pink or purple based on if they are gram stain negative or positive (a laboratory test to classify different bacteria). The shape of their body is based on the shape of the bacteria with many being rods or spheres. A bright pink bow on their head meant that they fermented lactose because those bacteria turn certain agar plates bright pink. Mustaches mean that one of the bacteria’s virulence factor is disguise.

Then there were a few details that only specific bacteria had. H. pylori is a stomach bacteria that can cause painful ulcers. It survives in the acidic stomach environment by secreting urease which creates a more basic pH. To help me remember this unique detail, I made H. pylori into a bass-playing music man who love to jam out. the image of him swaying to the beat with his guitar is easier for my brain to retain. I see the bass guitar and think ‘base’ which primes me for the urease detail.

 

ecoli_edited
H. pylori was definitely one of my favorites – even though he causes painful ulcers, I think he’s adorable 🙂

 

Now, this may seem kooky. In fact, it is. When I first came into lecture with my colorful little guys, I felt like a kindergartener sitting at the PhD student table. But it worked for me! My test scores have been the best they’ve ever been and I honestly attribute that to me engaging in the material in a more creative way. My mind is naturally creating stories and characters, so it only makes sense to apply that natural tendency to my studying approach.

 

I hope this approach gives you some of your own study ideas. Please share any tricks you use to actively engage in the material and any goofy characters you make!

 

 

Medical Student

What exactly is a standardized patient?

While investigating medical school or attending interview days, you probably heard the words ‘SPs’ and ‘SIM lab’ thrown around as if they were common knowledge. To me, they most certainly were not. Now that I’ve been in school for a few months though, these words are part of my weekly schedule and crucial to my learning.

 

SP stands for Standardized Patient.

These are people that are trained to be patients for medical students. This allows us to interact with patients in a safe environment so that we can develop professionalism and bedside manner. Additionally, we can practice physical exams and patient interview skills. At Larner College of Medicine, we tend to work with our SPs about once a week with a new focus every week. Today, I’ll be learning how to perform eyes, ears, nose, and throat exams. It usually works with us having readings and watching a demo video prior then working through the exams with our SPs and learning what it’s like to perform them on a living, breathing human.

 

play acting as a doctor
How I think I look most days

 

SIM labs are Simulation Labs.

Often times, these mean working with the SPs in rooms designed to emulate doctor’s offices. You wear your white coat and your stethoscope and when you walk in, you act the part. *Yes it still feels like acting to me*

There are, however, other aspects to SIM labs including using point-of-care ultrasound techniques or ‘dummy’ bodies that you can practice techniques on. One of my favorites is Harvey who resembles a crash-test dummy but has different heart beats and sounds so that we can learn how to identify murmurs and diagnose different cardiac issues.

medical dummy

 

 

I hope this clears up some of the confusion that I had prior to starting med school. Please let me know if you have any other specific questions because I’d love to be able to target my content to your curiosity 🙂

 

 

Medical Student

So, you’ve decided to take the MCAT

So, you’ve decided to take the MCAT, congratulations! Now, what?

 

The Medical College admission Test (MCAT) is a beast of a test that is required for prospective medical students in the United Sates. It takes 7.5 hours to complete, is a significant component of your application, and causes some students to spend months studying in preparation. So, what do you need to know about?

 

mcat books

The MCAT recently changed

The test had a huge redesign in 2015. Thus, if you’re planning on buying old books to save money, it may not be worth the cash saved to get a book prior to 2015. The biggest changes to the MCAT were the elimination of the writing portion and less math. Now, there are four sections: Biological and Biochemical Foundations, Chemical and Physical Foundations, Social and Biological Foundations, and Critical Analysis and Reasoning.

When you take it is important

Admissions are rolling. Even though you want to be as prepared as possible, if you are taking the exam in the same year you are applying, you want to receive your scores early enough to apply earlier in the cycle.

mcat studying

Know your study plan

Create a study plan before you start studying. Are you going to break it down by class or mix it up? How often will you take practice exams? With creating a rough outline, you need to consider if you’re actively taking classes or

Be smart with your study supplies

You will not read every single textbook or prep book. Do not make flashcards for every concept. Do what you think will be useful and focus on that. I recommend one set of prep books (I read the seven Kaplan books myself). Then re-use old notes and online practice exams.

 

Good luck with your studies!

Medical Student · School

Study Technique: Frontloading

As a relatively new medical student, something that is often on my mind is metacognition or ‘thinking about thinking’. What I mean by this is that I often wonder about how I learn and if how I’m studying is the best way to support my learning. Recently, I had a meeting with my academic adviser to discuss my current study strategies. She encouraged me to continue with my group studying, approach to anatomy lab, and utilization of study hours and tutors. Her strongest suggestion was switching to a study approach called frontloading.

elle woods studying

Prior to lecture:

  •  Fill out study guide (based on objectives provided by professors)
  •   Read through PowerPoint, notes, or readings
  • Self-assess (either through refilling study guide or available self quizzes)
  • Highlight what I’ve missed
  • Focus on highlights during lecture, fill out study guide more thoroughly during lecture

My biggest concerns – Is this reasonable with how much time I have? Will I save more time in the long run? Am I smart enough to teach myself the material beforehand? How can I best discipline myself to keep up with this? What if the professors don’t post assignments early enough?

 

Thus, I’ve decided to slowly make the transition to frontloading my work rather than learning and reviewing topics after lecture. 

An easy way to frontload that I’ve implemented is ‘previewing’ lectures. Before, I would simply scroll through the next day’s powerpoint to get an idea of what we’d be discussing. Now, I do the same thing but with a bit more focus. I create a list of key words that I don’t know. Basically, I form a vocab list and I also include new acronyms so that during lecture, I can reference my created cheat sheet to help keep track of all the new information. This only takes about 10 minutes to do but helps me feel a lot more prepared. It really helps especially when topics have dozens of acronyms and new terms to keep track off. That way, I can be more focused on understanding the themes and concepts during lecture instead of the meanings of a few words.

study gif

Additionally, I am taking the professor provided self quizzes after lecture prior to my studying. The thought is that by assessing what I already know, I can avoid wasting time reviewing concepts that I am already comfortable with and instead hone in on the questions I got incorrect. 

 

I started utilizing this technique this week and plan to continue it into my next med school block to see if I like it and to see how it impacts my success. I’m excited to see how it goes! Do any of you frontload? If so, let me know how you like it and if you have any tips – I’d really appreciate it 🙂

Medical Student

How much time do med students have, really?

Everyone has heard it – med students are so busy and study all day and all night. But how accurate is this?

Here is a break down of my average week day. Please keep in mind, this is specific to me and to my school’s curriculum.

late rabbit

6-7: Wake up, pack lunch, walk to school.

7-8: Eat breakfast at school, get coffee, get organized for the day

8-3: Classes including lectures, labs, and workshops, generally last from 8-3 on the average day with a one-hour break for lunch.

3-4: Head home. I usually try to give myself one hour off so that my mind can get a break. I’d like to say I’m productive but I usually use this time to text friends, play games on my phone, and watch YouTube videos. Sometimes, the brain just needs to be mindless after a full day.

4-6: Homework. This can include pre-reading and materials for tomorrow’s lectures, taking online quizzes, or prepping for dissections.

6-7: Cooking and eating dinner. I can save time by eating leftovers which I often do by cooking two large meals early in the week. If I’m particularly stressed, I do reading while eating but I try to avoid this.

busy
How it feels sometimes

7-10: Either continue doing homework or, if I’m finished, start studying old material. I do this in a variety of ways in the week including creating study guides, flashcards, or rereading various power points and materials that were confusing.

10-11: This is my ‘wind down’ time. I shower, get ready for the next day, maybe clean my room and maybe write. I try to be in my bed by 10:30 but this often doesn’t happen. The true goal is to be asleep by midnight so I can get at least six hours before the next day.

 

Overall, it’s a fairly tight schedule. There’s usually twenty minutes or so in between classes where you get some free time to socialize or jot ideas down in a notebook. I often write blog ideas in between classes. But as you can see, there’s not a lot of large free time to do things like get groceries, watch a movie with friends, do laundry, or clean. Thus, most of these things are allotted to the weekends. If I get out of class early or have a light load of work, I try to take advantage of that by either going for a run, getting ahead of my work, and doing some chores.

 

 

Medical Student

What to Bring on Interview Day

Hey everyone! I apologize for the radio silence the last couple of weeks – school has been crazy with anatomy practicals but I am slowly learning how to balance school and my personal life so I promise to work harder at posting more regularly! My goal is to post at least once a week, most likely on Wednesdays. That being said, please let me know if there’s particular content, particularly about med school, that you’d like to see 😊

 

It is officially medical school interview season! This time can be stressful enough whether you’re waiting for an interview, searching for the perfect suit, or perfecting your answer to “why do you want to be a doctor?”

I am someone who attempts to quell my nerves by over-preparing and being ready for the worst-case scenario. Thus, on every interview, I took my little ‘emergency kit’ that I thought I would share with you now.

I stored these items in a medium sized make up product bag. I chose a small black one that looked professional thrown into my tote. Avoid sheer bags so the contents can remain private.

 

My Interview Emergency Kit:

  • Tampon and light days (I’m a female, these always need to be on hand just in case)
  • Pill box with Advil
  • Tissues
  • Safety pin (for outfit mishaps)
  • Q-tips
  • Powder and lip gloss
  • Extra bobby pins and hair ties (I have a lot of hair and it MUST stay out of my face)
  • Extra panty hose (I have a fear of getting runs in mine)
  • Dryer sheet (to avoid static cling)
  • Some cash and quarters (especially if you have to pay for parking)

 

interview emergency kit

The make up bag is from Charming Charlie. The pill box is from Francesca’s. I personally use the Sephora line of matte perfection powder for touch ups.

 

I should note, on most interviews I maybe used one to two of these items but it made me feel better just knowing they were available in case the need arose. Feel free to add or trim down on my emergency kit as you deem necessary. I hope these helps calm your nerves for the big day, even if just a little. But remember, spending less energy worrying about the possible mishaps will give you more to bragging about your awesome self and impressing your prospective school.

 

Good luck!

Medical Student

How I prep for Anatomy Lab

This week has been anatomy filled with my medical class dissecting the back and posterior neck region. Having taken an anatomy class last year, I was eager to begin lab and have been loving it thus far. My lab uses human-donor bodies which can be an adjustment for many people emotionally (Check out my post post about it). However, preparing for lab can also be an academic adjustment so I thought I’d share how I prepare for each lab in a scholastic sense.

 

Watch dissection videos

Schools usually provide these for you although some can be found online. I watch them once the night before then try to re-watch them just prior to the actual lab in the morning.

 

Coloring Books

Here is a link to the coloring book I use. It is my favorite because it has so many different perspectives of the muscles, bones, and nerves. Plus, it feels a little less like studying and a little more like art so it can be a nice break while still being productive.

anatomy coloring book

Effective flashcards

Having a thousand flashcards is not going to be helpful. I try to keep one flashcard per muscle and include attachments, function, and innervation.

 

Utilize multiple diagrams

I look up diagrams online in addition to ones provided by faculty. This way I see a variety of ways in which the material is presented and tested. The internet is a great resource and can be really helpful for finding quizzes or unlabeled diagrams that you can self-test yourself with.

anatomy drawings

While in lab…

I try to teach my lab group members what I know and then we alternate and they teach me. We like to quiz each other sporadically throughout to help us study as well.

I also make time to wander around the lab and check out what the other donors look like since there is a lot of variation and it’s important to be able to identify structures on all bodies.

 

 

I hope some of these tips help. Anatomy is so great so be sure to enjoy it and get the most of your experience!

Medical Student · School

Active Learning Study Tips

I just had my first real medical school exam this past Friday (*shriek*). I tried hard these past three weeks to utilize effective and efficient study methods that focused on active learning to help me prepare. With school just starting, it’s a great time to try out new methods and integrate them into your studying repertoire. So, I thought I’d share some of the new techniques that helped me.

 

Studying for all the senses.

While rereading the textbook can seem effective, it has been proven to be one of the most ineffective study techniques out there. Active learning is better. Active learning means listening, drawing, and moving. Rewrite your notes. Draw out diagrams. Listen to podcasts. Perform practice questions. The more ways you come into contact with the information, the better you will retain it.

 

pictures in notes
I add little doodles here and there in my notes to keep my mind focused. Plus, sometimes a random analogy (i.e. separating Romeo and Juliet) helps me remember concepts.

 

 

Identify your ideal noise level.

Some people need absolute silence and thus should find designated ‘quiet’ areas on campus or invest in ear plugs. I personally do better with some ambient noise so I like to sit at a semi-crowded café. I also found this amazing site that makes ambient noise mixes so that it sounds like I am sitting in the Slytherin common room at Hogwarts.

 

Base study guides off objectives. 

This is something that is emphasized a lot at my school and I wish I had focused on this more in undergrad. Most professors have a list of learning objectives or focuses that they introduce at the beginning of each new section. Use these to your advantage! They are a fabulous guide to what you should focus your studying on. These topics are likely to be high yield – meaning they’ll show up on a test the most and are thus more worthy of your study time.

 

study guides
Study guides directly based on the list of objectives

 

Teach and be taught. 

They say that you truly understand something when you can teach it to someone else. Now, we don’t all have roommates kind enough for us to teach them all of our lectures. I recommend a study group (my ideal size is 4-7 people) who can talk out hard concepts. If you’re struggling with one topic, try teaching what you can to the group and allow them to jump in when you mess up or forget something. Then do the same for them.

 

I hope some of these tips help you all as much as they helped me with my first exam. Have a great start of the semester and happy studying! 🙂

Medical Student

Wellbeing in Med School

Last year, my senior year of college, I really did not focus on my physical and mental well-being as I should have. I didn’t eat well, was sick often, and rarely exercised or made time for things I loved. I socialized with friends and focused on my academics, but infrequently checked in on how I was doing.

 

How I was last spring is not sustainable now that I am in medical school. If I continue with my old habits, my body will be exhausted and I will definitely fall victim to burn out. Three weeks into medical school and I’m doing much better. I’ve created a few easy rules for myself to follow to force myself to take better care of my body and mental health that I am hoping to maintain. After all, if I’m here to learn how to help my future patients stay healthy, I should probably lead by example.

 

Packing lunches ahead of time

I make 1-2 large meals on the weekends and then have been taking the left overs to school for lunch. I pack everything, being sure to  include healthy snacks the night before so I am not as tempted to pick up some sugary treats while on campus. This has also been helping my budget.

Walking to school 

Sometimes, the 15 minute walk to and from class is the only exercise I get. It’s a nice wake up in the morning and gives me some time to be outside and clear my head. On especially busy days, I multitask and call my mom during it so I can catch up with the family and then solely focus on work when I’m home.

mickey walking

Take my lunch break off

Most days, we get a full hour for lunch. Many take half that time and then study for the rest or get ahead on homework. I try to relax for the full break, chat with friends, or pick up some coffee so I’m refreshed and ready to go for the afternoon lectures.

Commit to things that are important to you

No matter how tired I am, as of now I refuse to not put make up on in the morning even if it means losing out on fifteen extra minutes of rest. Putting on my make-up wakes me up and helps me feel prepared for the day. It’s something I prioritize in my morning routine and I won’t be letting it go any time soon. I will also work extra hard Sunday day so I can enjoy the Game of Thrones finale that night – no way I’m missing that! 😊

Tracking my Interests

In my bullet journal, I track healthy habits and interests including… not hitting the snooze button, hitting my calorie goal, writing, and meditating. By keeping a numeric diary of what I am doing throughout the week encourages me to do them more. Even just a ten minute meditation or twenty minutes creative writing every once in a while is good for me. One of my favorite quotes is “sleep won’t help if it’s your soul that’s tired.” As much as I love science, sometimes my soul needs a more creative break.

Sleep is priority.

Over everything. I got an extra hour yesterday instead of flat-ironing my hair (something I’ve been wanting to do for days) and I have no regrets. My bed is my most important companion these past few weeks and I have no shame in saying that. If I get anything less than 6.5 hours, I’ll be useless and its too early for me to attach myself to a caffeine IV.