Reflections on the First 3 Weeks of Medical School

I have just experienced my first three weeks of medical school and it has been amazing! The first week was a series of orientation sessions to get us familiar with the medical program while the second week was the official start of classes.

I would love to share my experiences with you!

  • What I love about the program:  Fantastic classmates, passionate teachers, fascinating material, plenty of support, small group sessions, mentors, a focus on wellness, and the opportunity to shadow physicians right from Week 1! So far, I have had some exposure to family medicine, obstetrics and pathology. I loved being in the birthing center where I got to meet a patient who had just given birth by cesarean section. There was something so profound about being with someone at such a life-changing moment. I have also enjoyed my histology labs where we have been identifying different types of cells and tissues. Interestingly, it seems that pathology is moving away from using microscopes and instead using very high resolution images on the computer screen.
  • Challenges: The biggest challenges so far are being away from my children and the 2-3 hour daily commute. Traffic has been much worse than anticipated so I am making the most of my commute time to listen to lectures and also to decompress at the end of a busy day. I am very grateful to my husband for his tremendous support in helping out around the house and with the kids.
  • Surprises: The orientation and first few days of class focused on physicianship, the social aspects of medicine, indigenous health and the disparities in healthcare among the aboriginal population. Where as I thought we would be diving straight into hard science and performing dissections in the anatomy lab, it was interesting to learn about the social side of medicine and how so many factors affect health. I have also been pleasantly surprised by the vast array of backgrounds that my classmates have. It is such a diverse group!
  • Strategies for survival: I have had to adjust my study methods compared to the last time I was in school. The material is too voluminous for one to completely master every detail so I am learning the art of determining what is the most essential and what fits into the big picture of becoming a doctor. So far, I am mostly using the lecture material and my own created flashcards to summarize the material. Upper year students have also created some useful summaries that they have graciously handed down to us newbies.
  • Tips and advice: An important tip that I have heard from many seasoned medical students and doctors is to not neglect my life outside of medicine. I am trying to create a positive habit early on of having protected time for my husband, kids, devotional time, adequate sleep and exercise. I will also try to keep up with one or two hobbies, some friends and family.  There are several activities and organizations on campus I am interested in joining but I will have to be selective and not take on too much. Flexibility is important and I realize that I may not always be on top of things, but I will do the best that I can and enjoy the adventure!

Although I am only at the very beginning of my training and there is much more to come, I am really enjoying medical school so far and feel so grateful to have been given this opportunity!

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My new stethoscope just arrived! If you are wondering what brand to buy for medical school, this one comes highly recommended and is offered in an array of colors.

 

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Living a Less Distracted Life…Focusing on What Counts

Today, I was reminded once again what an incredible blessing it is to have children. I cannot think of another experience in my life that has challenged me, refined me and simultaneously made my heart full more than being a mother.

There are days when I am in tears from the frustration and exhaustion of parenting two little ones. But then are those days, when I finish the day feeling elated, needed and vastly important in the eyes of those two little souls who look at me with such hope, dependence and love. It almost takes my breath away.

Today was one of those happy days when I couldn’t take my eyes off my children. Their quirkiness, curiosity and energy had me mesmerized and I decided early in the day, that this was would be a day free of distractions. A day when I would be fully attentive to the needs of my children. The emails, internet, dishes, and other chores were going to take second fiddle.

One of my favorite parts of the day was when my 4.5 year old asked me what the heart was. I felt my nerdy “biology-ness” kicking into gear as I tried to explain what the heart was. Finally, we went on an expedition to our basement to leaf through one of my old biology textbooks. My son’s eyes opened wide as I showed him a schematic of the heart with all its chambers, arteries and veins. He was fascinated! He then proceeded to ask me how the brain works so we perused the biology textbook for a diagram of the brain and I explained the best that I could so that a  4.5 year old would understand.

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Our son Caleb having fun with our microscope

Our science lesson for the day concluded with my son asking if he could take a look at our microscope. At first he was frustrated that he couldn’t see anything through the eye-pieces but with some gentle manipulation of the reflective mirror, he was able to see at least a circle of light (note to self, time to find some slides and cover slips so we can observe some actual specimens). He was ecstatic when he saw the circle of light and I felt so proud of him for persevering. I think we have the makings of a young scientist! Despite my 2-year old daughter being sick and feverish the last two days, she was generally in good spirits today and regularly showered me with hugs and kisses.

As I took pictures and videos of my children doing various activities, I was reminded how precious this time with them is. I cannot take it for granted. I want to make more effort going forward to lead a less distracted life and zoom in on what I consider most important and worthy of my time. How many times has my son tried to get my attention but I’m too busy reading an email on my phone? It’s no wonder he was getting frustrated sometimes. Technology such as the internet is beneficial in many ways but I wonder how much of the outside world we miss when we get caught up in its web (no pun intended).

As I sit and write this, the house is quiet but I still hear in my mind the sound of laughter ringing from earlier in the day. Today reminded me that there can be a different way to live…a simple, less distracted life…a more focused life.

The funny things kids say:

“Mummy, you saved the day! You’re a super-hero!” Caleb said to mummy after she miraculously fixed one of his broken toys.

Mummy, just so you know, we’re going to marry ourselves…I’m going to marry Namz” Caleb informing mummy that he and his sister will be getting married.

“Mummy, why aren’t girls boys?” Caleb looking puzzled about the female ‘species’.

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Life is fun when you’re riding a stuffed monkey
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Our little musician…jamming on the piano!
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Our inseparable munchkins
Caleb and Naomi January 2016
Brother-sister love…our darlings Caleb and Naomi

 

Ten Tips to Be at Your Best on MCAT Exam Day

You’ve studied. You’ve given it your best. And now exam day is nearly here. I would like to share with you some tips that helped me to be at my best in the lead up to the MCAT and finally on the day of the exam itself.

  1. Start getting to bed early and slow down on studying: Because the exam is now about 7 hours long, there are no options to take the exam in the afternoon. Therefore you are going to have to be at the testing center by about 7:30am at the latest for the exam that starts at 8am. Training your body to get up early will help to ensure you get a full nights rest before the exam and give you the stamina to get through the exam and ace it! Depending on your philosophy, taking a day-off from studying the day and night before the exam could be a good way to give you a small break before you take the actual exam.
  2. Psychological factors:  I drove to the testing center location (which was 30 minutes away) two days before the exam, scouted out the parking options and went right into the testing center to see what the layout looked like. This had a profound effect on my frame of mind the day of the exam because I knew exactly where I needed to go. I wasn’t worrying about it the night before the exam. Not everyone has the luxury of going to the testing center beforehand. But in my situation, I found it to be a big psychological help to have been to the testing center before the actual exam.
  3. Take a deep breath: Before I started each section of the exam, I would take some deep breaths and try to get focused before diving into the passage and questions. It’s true that you have to be fast on the exam, but you can probably afford 5-10 seconds before the start of each section to regroup your thoughts.
  4. Test-taking strategies: You may have developed a strategy for answering questions as you went through the practice tests. Mine was not to linger on a question for more than 1 minute. If I was stuck, I marked it and came back to it at the end of the section. Also, if a passage had a lot of dense information, I did not read the passage word for word. I breezed over it quickly for the general idea then looked at the questions to determine what was really needed from the passage. This will save you time as a lot of information on the passages is extraneous.
  5. What is the basic science? As you have probably already gleaned from the practice tests, there are some passages where it will seem like you have no idea what the passage is about. The material will be disguising itself under a veil of the unknown. Try to remind yourself that the MCAT generally only tests the fundamentals of science you have studied. Try to tease this out from the passage and apply what you know.
  6. One answer is more “correct” than the other: There will be some answer choices that both seem “correct” however you have to ask yourself whether the answer is addressing the question being asked. Pay attention to key words like “Except”, “Most likely”, “Explicitly”, “Implicitly. This will guide you to the truly correct answer.
  7. Carry snacks, lunch and water: Its important to keep your energy up so carry enough food and water to sustain you throughout the day.
  8. Breaks are shorter than you think: Depending on the number of examinees and the level of security at your testing center, allow 2-4 minutes total to be “processed” in and out of the exam room every time you leave for a scheduled break. The 10 minute breaks in particular go by very fast so be quick if you need to go to the bathroom and have a snack. Psychologically, you don’t want to end up feeling flustered because the next section started before you got back to your seat.
  9. Finish a section and then forget about it: From my own experience and from other MCAT takers I have spoken to, it is difficult to judge your performance from how you feel. Therefore, I decided that no matter how I felt about a section, I was not going to dwell on it once it was finished. I was going to give the next section my best shot no matter how discouraged or unsure I felt about the previous section.
  10. Don’t give up: By the time I got to the last section of the exam (Psychology), my brain was exhausted. I had a hard time concentrating on the passage and was finding myself unhelpfully re-reading it over and over. I stopped reading, looked down at my desk, said a prayer for strength, took a few deep breaths and kept going. Don’t get discouraged. The MCAT is a marathon but you can make it through to the end! Taking a few seconds here and there to regroup your thoughts can be helpful in renewing your focus.

I wish you the very best as you prepare for your exam. You can do it!

Related posts:

How to Achieve Success on the MCAT…Lessons Learned from Two Retakes

Ten Strategies to Avoid Burnout While Preparing for the MCAT

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at freedigitalphotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at freedigitalphotos.net

The Beauty of Mentorship…A Brother’s Love

When I was growing up, I had the privilege of attending the Johnny Academy. This was not your typical school or institution. This was a valuable one-on-one learning experience with none another than my big brother Jonathan (hence the “Johnny” Academy). He was 13 years old and I was 7 when we first started. It was during the school holidays and he was developing an interest in teaching so here I was, his guinea pig student.

Nintendo Donkey Kong. Image courtesy of wikipedia.
The Nintendo Donkey Kong I used to play during “class breaks”. Image courtesy of wikipedia.

It started off with English lessons where we went through grammar and vocabulary. Then we dived into French conjugation and Math multiplication tables. The next thing I knew, he was announcing that there would be a final exam complete with report card! During the breaks between ‘classes’, he allowed me to indulge in 3 or 4 games of Donkey Kong as a reward for being focused in class. He also promised me a big bar of Cadbury’s chocolate if I finished the entire Famous Five series of books by Enid Blyton.

During other classes, we had “laboratory” sessions where we dived into chemistry experiments using the best chemistry set I had ever seen that had been given to us as a Christmas present. My eyes opened wide at all the unique powders in the set. I’m not sure they make them like that anymore. It had the potential to blow things up! The most fascinating experiment my brother ever showed me was the principal of a burning flame using up oxygen. It was a simple apparatus. A lit candle placed under a glass dome inside a basin of water. As the candle used up oxygen, the volume of air inside the dome decreased and the water from the basin rose up inside the glass dome to replace the space previously occupied by the oxygen. It seemed so magical to me, as if the water had a life of its own!

Chemistry set. Image courtesy of Brighton Toy and Model Museum
Chemistry set. Image courtesy of Brighton Toy and Model Museum

There was no end to the variety of lessons and experiments my brother showed me. I remember deciphering secret messages that had been written in lemon juice by gently heating under the paper, making the letters darken and become visible to the naked eye. So simple, yet so fascinating! We had a very basic microscope that we used to view random samples from the backyard. Our house was filled with all kinds of books, my favorite series being “Tell me why”.

My brother also entertained me by performing magic tricks and card tricks. He encouraged me to be active by taking me out to play tennis, soccer and badminton. He sometimes pretended to let me win!

My brother has been my mentor from a young age. His passion for teaching and his concern for me developed my fascination for science, reading and learning. I love to find out how things work and to this day we still have nerdy conversations. As a former Theater professor who has just finished his fourth year of medical school in the States, he continues to encourage me and mentor me as I embark on my journey to medical school. His drive to succeed motivates me and shows me that if he can do it, I can do it too.

Mentorship is a beautiful thing. It draws on one’s experiences to help another person learn and overcome similar hurdles. It says to another “Here I am to help you get through this, to figure it out and to help you succeed!”.

Jonathan sneaking into my crib
Jonathan sneaking into my crib when we were children
Jonathan and I opening up Christmas presents when we were children
Jonathan and I opening up Christmas presents when we were children
Jonathan and I visiting Kenya where we grew up
Jonathan and I visiting Kenya where we grew up