Hey friends. Long time no update. I wish I had a more exciting reason as to why I’ve been MIA for almost a full year on here but unfortunately it just comes down to medical school being ridiculously busy and taking priority over writing. But, here I am, sitting by a cozy fireplace in the mountains with a glass of wine on yet another semester break, feeling a newly found sense of restoration and I thought it would be the perfect time to jot down some thoughts and updates.
Where to begin? Since my last entry in my second semester, the workload got heavier and harder, free time was harder to come by, and every few months we would hold our breaths and wait for the school to announce that yet again we would be remaining home for an online semester.
To summarize how the first year of courses went, I will give a little bit of background. My school has five semesters (roughly two years) of Basic Sciences, or classroom work before writing a giant scary board exam (or two if you want to practice in Canada) and then about two years of clinical rotations, where we get to go into a hospital or clinical setting and work with patients. The latter portion is obviously the most exciting for me, as I miss working with patients daily.
MED1 was a nice icebreaker into medical school, and having completed the GMP program it made the transition into “real” med courses a lot easier. It involved anatomy (lecture and lab), histology, and our first introduction into clinical skills. Histology was definitely the hardest class out of the group, simply based on how new the concepts were. It took a while to fully understand what we were looking at and to stop seeing pictures of blobs in various shades of pink, purple and red. The clinical skills class was interesting and taught us the various ways on how to interview and speak to patients. Thankfully nursing yet again came in clutch and made this process a bit nicer to learn. I kept my head down and worked my ass off, and thankfully my grades were evidence of that.
This was also our first exposure to shelf exams and if there is any advice I can give to first year med students, it’s to expose yourself to practice question banks early on – or the shelf is going to look like some terrifying foreign language devil exam. (I’m looking at you histology). While the content we learned in class translated well to our block exams, the standardized shelf exams were a whole different beast. Looking back now I wish I started doing practice questions earlier on, and I think this could have helped my mindset going into the shelf exam. Now, that’s not to say you need to go out and spend $10000 on prep books and every question bank subscription there is in your first semester. Keep in mind the earlier you purchase these, the more times you will have to renew them before the actual Step exam.
Fast forward to MED2. I was a more nervous for this term as the course load itself was doubled. Micro (think bugs and drugs), genetics, another clinical skills class, ethics, evidence-based medicine, and biochemistry. I knew that I would have to stay on top of things, and it would be incredibly easy to fall behind. My days revolved around studying and running, which was pretty much the only thing I had enough energy for after class to clear my head. Again, I wish I had started doing practice questions earlier on to better prepare myself for the shelf exams of this term.
Getting 3 weeks off in the summer felt like the greatest reward after having survived that slog that was MED2. I tried to be in the sunshine as much as I could, and ran in the early mornings before the rogue heatwave would start. I even went out on a few dates (wild), which is something I went back and forth with since starting school. What was the point? What if I had to go to campus soon and then it was all a waste of time? What if they hated that I was in medicine and wasn’t immediately all aboard the white picket fence train? No no, I should wait until med school is done to go on a date. But then I’ll be in residency, with even less free time or control over my schedule.
It’s fine, I’ll wait until residency is done…at 39…
I quickly realized that there was never going to be a “right time” to try and date in med school, and that either way I’d have to try and explain my weird circumstances and unpredictable future and hope they didn’t instantly get weirded out and hit the hills. Some – no, most, were incredibly weird and immediately reminded me as to why I hated dating and dating apps in the first place, but one was beyond refreshing.
He was wildly interesting, and we had a shared love of movies, music, tennis and running. I mean I guess he was also pretty dang cute too. I explained (as best as I could) my weird nomadic-but-not situation with school, and he didn’t bolt? Instead we saw each other more and tried to get as much time together as we could, and just played the future by ear. Which, as a type-A-as-shit person is incredibly difficult to do might I add. I like plans, but as I’m sure I’ve talked about in previous posts, med school especially through an IMG route absolutely abolishes most opportunities for plans and routine. So you know what, I went with it.
Before I knew it, it was already time to get back into school mode. MED3 entailed neuro, psych, yet another clinical skills class, and our first intro into ‘Systems and Disease’ – think pathology, physiology and pharmacology on steroids. Now I wanted to still kick ass in my courses, but also try to maintain some semblance of a personal life – especially now that I had found another human that I very much enjoyed spending time with. I definitely felt a bit more torn for time this term, but it ended up being a nice balance. Mitchell had every other week with his son, and I would try to get as much of my studying in during these times, and maybe squeeze in a weeknight movie after the tiny human went to bed.
We started making more plans for future times, and even though there was so much uncertainty I still found myself getting excited. But I still had to focus on the semester in front of me. I failed my very first exam during this semester by 1% (passing is a 70%), which was beyond frustrating but gave me the push I needed to reign in my focus (after a slight imposter syndrome fuelled mental breakdown of course). I got into a better study routine, did more practice questions with my amazingly genius friend and study partner, and set out to crush finals and two more shelf exams. I felt quite pleased with the way MED3 finished, and while every semester kept getting more and more daunting as we went on (to be expected I suppose) it made me that much more excited to be nearing the end of preclinicals.
That, plus we were finally told we got to stay home for yet another semester, so I was ecstatic. A relaxing Christmas at home, more time of getting to study in my pajamas, and a few more months of handsome man. 😊
On to MED4. I don’t even know what to say about MED4 other than it was the biggest shit show I have ever encountered in med school thus far (and why the current vacation I am on is so necessary). It seemed like there was an overhaul of new professors this term, so trying to get accustomed to their specific teaching styles took some work.
There was also some pretty big events that took place this term between admin and more than a few students which caused some lost focus time that maybe one day I’ll talk more about (aka when I graduate lol) but until then let’s just leave it at: there were a lot of frustrated tears, more emails and phone calls than I have ever made in my life, and the continued realization that I have some pretty fucking amazing humans in my class that are going to make phenomenal physicians that go to BAT for their patients.
Mix that with the regular run of the mill exam stress, the back and forth about going to the island/staying home, and waiting for exam marks – my brain felt officially broken. Any ounce of self-care had gone out the window and I was running on fumes, mental health level 0, moving forward simply based on spiteful productivity and through the encouragement from some amazing friends who were constantly there for me even when they knew I didn’t have the capacity to reciprocate the same level of effort at that given time.
This term I had the lowest grades I have ever had going into finals and while I was nervous as shit, I refused to let the BS that had gone on during the term keep me from passing. I queued up the Elle Woods “What, like it’s hard?” motivational musical montage and got to work. I have never studied so hard for finals in my life and thankfully it paid off and then some, largely in part to my fantastic study partners. I now write this with a melted, healing brain and this break could not have come at a better time.
The one silver lining from this term was that we didn’t have to write any shelf exams (yay) but, BUT that is only because we have THREE next term which are a culmination of all of the ‘Systems and Disease’ classes we have taken/will take in Med3, 4, and 5. Physiology. Pharmacology. Pathology. Rinse. Repeat. Not only that, but we must pass ALL 3 of them just to be able to sit for the comprehensive exam. And you HAVE to pass the Comprehensive exam to be able to officially graduate from Basic Sciences and get to sit for our board exam.
To say I am terrified of the upcoming semester and all the moving parts is an understatement but my brilliant friends and I have been working so hard of so I know we will get through these. This semester break, while it is so beyond appreciated, will unfortunately be mostly living as though studying as my day job, so I can get a head start on exam prep for next term. So I am definitely trying to soak up all of the mountain relaxation while I can.
Once we go back in May, we have about 7 weeks of coursework before final exams and then the rollercoaster of review, exam prep, and shelf exams will take over. I know it’s going to be an absolute whirlwind, but I am so close to finishing Basic Sciences and I can’t believe I am already here. It seems like yesterday that I was just getting geared up to start GMP.
I am going to try (keyword try) to be a bit more active on here and as always try to keep it as realistic and un-sugar-coated as possible. This journey is no joke, and I know nothing that I say or do is the gold standard for the way things should be done. Am I doing everything right? Nope. Would I recommend this whole life plan to someone else? Who can say. But in the meantime, I am going to pour another glass of wine and kick my boyfriend’s ass at jeopardy before entering a beautiful pasta carb coma.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you so much for following along on this messy as hell experience.