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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
July 2014 Issue of IMpact
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