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Medical Student Perspective: Preclinical Pointers: Tips for 1st & 2nd Year

The first two years of medical school are peculiar spaces of time that seem to separate themselves from the rest of human existence. You sleep and shower less than seems acceptable and drink more coffee than seems advisable. You spend hours in a single location without moving while snacking and committing to memory the pathophysiology of atherosclerosis, osteoarthritis, and diabetes. You pore over images that would make a normal person nauseous while casually eating breakfast. It's an odd dissociation from the rest of the world. Even phone conversations to home seem to amplify the distance: YES, you are still studying, and NO, you haven't done anything interesting lately. YES, you’ll be studying all night. YES, you’ll be studying this weekend.

Suddenly preclinical is done. You move to the hospital where you find yourself busier than before, but it is a new kind of busy. An all-encompassing amnesia envelopes your first two years. You recall how horrible it was and you can recount the struggles you went through, but it is as if you we're recapping an episode of Scandal, not your own life. You get annoyed with junior students who complain about how hard their lives are, thinking that you never complained when the going got tough. You’re shocked to find how “easy” these first and second year students have it. You dissociate quite quickly from your preclinical years and that detachment grows wider as the months and years stretch on.

So now, it is interesting for me to view the first two years from the “other side” (I am currently serving as a graduate teaching assistant in the Department of Clinical Sciences at my medical school). My current position allows an extra year between my third and fourth year of medical school to teach first- and second-year students. I am an odd hybrid of student and faculty and it has given me some interesting insight on the first and second years of our training.

Here are some recommendations for those of you in the midst of your preclinical years:

1. Establish good habits. The habits you develop now will persist into your clinical years and (I imagine) beyond. Someone once told me that the first and second year were similar to marathon training; you may not see the results of your training in every test or quiz you take, but the good habits you are creating will enable you to succeed when preparing for your clinical years, internship, the boards and beyond. I have found this to be an accurate statement. Maintain a healthy lifestyle -- after all, you won't have more time as a third year to eat right, and the hospital cafeteria is packed with delicious artery-clogging dishes. You’ll have even less time to exercise than you do now. Start today and make it a habit. This will serve you well as you counsel your patients on lifestyle changes.

2. Complaining is your prerogative, but don't expect anything to change. You're entering a well-established profession. Medical education has--of course—adapted, but it's similar or “easier” than training that your mentor and his or her mentor experienced. Feel free to complain if it makes you feel better—it always made me feel much better—but don't get angry. Don’t demand change. Don’t neglect to do the work.

3. Trust the training. A frustrated student once complained to me that it was "pointless to learn this! It's just information we need to pass our Step 1: It's never going to be used when I am practicing medicine!" She was referring to the mechanisms behind antibiotics, something I have referenced several times in my short time in clinical practice. Trust in your training. Everything you learn has a place and a reason. You may never use a certain fact a professor throws out but, one of your colleagues might. Trust in it.

4. Build a good foundation. One of my preceptors was fond of saying "You only get one foundation” and it’s very true. What you learn over these preclinical years will serve as the basis for your entire career. Remember this when you’re studying and it will be far easier to suffer through. Don't take shortcuts. Excel.

Kathryn E. Kaye, MS-III
Graduate Teaching Assistant: Department of Clinical Skills
West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine
kkaye@osteo.wvsom.edu


Back to July 2014 Issue of IMpact

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