Thursday, October 18, 2007

Shout Out to All the First Year Med Students

Inspired by comments to this post at TruMed, I felt the need to drag out some advice to any first year med students who might need a little reassurance right about now:

Take some time out and BREATHE, now. Stat.

Hear me out: What you do in your first two years of medical school will not necessarily determine the rest of your life. Your job is to survive, and pass your exams. That's it.

But, TS, the speaker at the surgery interest group said I should make the best grades possible in order to be a surgeon! And my buddy is a super ultra gunner who told me that we'll never get into residency with any high pass grades! Help!

Seriously, breathe, and think logically.

1) If you are a med student in the US who plans to practice in the US, you are automatically ahead of the thousands of people who graduated from programs outside the US who are applying here. I'm not saying FMG's are stupid, or poorly educated, but the reality is that most US programs will accept a US grad over an FMG who is similarly qualified. Therefore, you already have an advantage.

2) If you are able to achieve passing grades in your classes, you are ahead of those people who don't. This sounds lame, but there are always people who fail classes for various reasons. Guess what? There are residency spots available for people who failed first year biochemistry, or for people who needed extra time for basic sciences.

3) The majority of med students have "average" grades. It's a simple bell curve, right? So the majority of the class falls somewhere in the middle. If there were no residency spots for people with average grades, then med school classes would be a hell of a lot smaller. In other words, most of your attendings made "average" grades, and now they're attendings. Conversely, the majority of your attendings did not make AOA, and they're still attendings.

4) Check out this article at Student Doctor Network. Residency directors care FAR more about your clinical rotation grades than about basic science grades (or USMLE scores). It's more important to show them you can think and act like a doctor than like a college student. This even applied to residency directors in ophthalmology, a highly competitive specialty.

5) Whether you know exactly what specialty you'd like to pursue, or have no idea, don't worry about it. Many people change their minds, even if they were sure at the beginning. So long as you are passing your basic science courses, you have a shot at most specialties.

6) There are ways to bolster a CV, even if your grades aren't as high as you'd like them. Want to do dermatology, but can't quite honor gross anatomy? Think about doing some research in the department. Kick ass on the Step 1. Can't handle standardized tests? Rock your clinical rotations. Do some volunteer work. It's not all about the grades, after all.

7) Lastly, whether you are a super ultra gunner type, and insist on making honors in everything, or a "P=MD" type, you should also insist on having a life. Sure, you're studying a LOT, and your apartment is filthy for a month before exams, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't take some time for yourself somewhere. Work out, or go out with your friends, or spend time with your significant other--whatever it is, take some time for yourself outside of medical school.

Remember, those two years will eventually be over, just like mine were (and I really didn't think they'd ever end), and you can get on with the rest of your life.

Thank goodness I'm not a first year anymore!


Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot for this great post. I would like to know more about how your life has changed after the first 2 years and any tips you can give.
Please reply!

Tiny Shrink said...

My life has changed: clinical rotations are more meaningful and more closely related to what you want to do with your life. I no longer study for several hours a day; I may read a few hours a week in preparation for an exam, or cram the night before, etc. More of my studying now is looking stuff up on UpToDate or PubMed in order to work with a specific patient, which helps me learn better, anyway. On different teams of students, I've gotten to know classmates I had never spoken to before third year. I've been exposed to different specialties and chosen a career I'd never previously considered.

Granted, I'm more tired than I was as a basic science student; my free time is much more limited; on many rotations, you have call and/or work weekends, and get insanely jealous of friends in "real jobs" who work 40 hour weeks and consider it rough. All in all, though, it's so much better than the first two years that I don't think I'd go back and do it over if I had to do so. You make it through and move on, and realize that the first two years (though containing some useful information to prepare you for rotations) are nothing like what the rest of your medical career will be (unless perhaps you do pathology).

Thanks for the comment! Hope this helps!

Anonymous said...

I'm interested in psychiatry, as I gather from your name, are you. :) I was wondering if you could tell which classes are most important for honoring toward a psychiatry residency (i.e., like anatomy is for pathology, biochem is for anesthesia). Do you have any advice for someone wanting to pursue psychiatry? Thanks for your help. I loved your post.