A Letter to First Year Med Students

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

This time last year, I was starting my first year of med school (again), and even though I had been through the hell of first year, at least partially, I was terrified. One thing that made me feeling amazingly better was a card and care package that LF sent me before I started. In the spirit of that card, here is a letter for first year med students everywhere.

Dear First Year Med Student,

Well, you made it. The hours of studying, the countless times you rewrote your personal statement, the expense of applying, and the stress of interviews all paid off and now you're here! Congratulations! I'm proud of you.

Some of you are fresh out of undergrad. To you, I say, "You think you know, but you have no idea." I don't care if you were first in your class at Harvard, you're all big fish in a big pond here. At times, you might feel like a guppy in an ocean full of whales; I promise, you belong here.

Some of you have worked in "the real world" for awhile, and now you're re-entering the life of a student. To you I say, "This is completely different from where you were before. It might seem harder, it might seem easier, but it's definitely different."

Some of you, maybe, are like me, and are starting first year again for the second time. You're probably really nervous and maybe feeling kind of down on yourself. That's okay. You will be the person that other first years come to with questions, especially if you're starting first year at the same program. Don't rest on your laurels, though. This is still quite the endeavor. (But you're such a badass for coming back. Never forget that.)

To all of you, this is a huge opportunity, right here in front of you. You're going to have to focus hard and put all of your energy into this new job and you will succeed. There is no doubt that you can do this; you wouldn't be here if you couldn't. You have to take care of yourself first, though, in order to make it through. And so, some advice.

Study hard, then fuck it and go to bed. Sleep at least 6 hours the night before each exam. That extra sleep will help you more than the extra hours of studying. And you don't want to be the person who falls asleep in the middle of an exam. Your professors will not wake you.

Get some Febreeze. There was a point last year where I got into my car after lab and realized my car smelled like Trudy, our cadaver. Don't let this happen to you. It was very upsetting.

Highlighters. Find the ones you like and buy them in bulk. Some people prefer the clicky ones; who has time to mess with caps? I like the ones with a see-through tip because I like to see where I'm highlighting. The more colors, the better.

The same goes for pens. I am obsessed with color-coding, and my favorite pens are either the Sharpie brand ones, or Staedtler Triplus Fineliner brand. They come in a ton of colors, and I use them all the time from organizing my planner to drawing diagrams for physiology.

If you are in a relationship, be warned that this is going to test it like nothing else. If you're dating a non-med student, they're probably not going to understand what the hell you're going through. If you're dating another med student, you either will never see them or you'll see them all the damn time and want to punch them in the face. Or maybe you're one of those unicorns that can toe the line between those two. My sincere recommendation is that you don't date someone in your own class, but there are people who meet in med school, fall in love, get married, and live happily ever after. Just... don't expect that to happen. That being said, if you want to maintain your relationship, whether you're dating, engaged, married, cohabitating on a permanent basis, (insert life partnership phrase here), you're going to need date night. If you can manage it once a week, that's great. No sweatpants, put on a little make-up or do your hair or shave or whatever. Even if you don't go out (because let's face it, being a med student means you're broke a lot of the time), that's okay. Just spend some time together, not talking about school, remembering what it's like to be a human being.

Take naps. But not small comas. Get enough sleep at night. Trust me.

Therapy. I know a lot of people will disagree with me and fight me tooth and nail on going to therapy, but trust me, you will be glad you have a neutral, third party to tell you that you aren't a failure, that you aren't going to die, and that yes, people do actually graduate from medical school. I am an equal-opportunity therapy pusher, so if I know you in real life and tell you to go to therapy, it's not because I think you're insane or broken, it's because I care about you and don't want you to walk into traffic over an exam. Also, I think therapy is great for everyone.

Don't listen to anyone. Okay, maybe listen to a few people. Find your people. The ones who don't make you want to push them down a flight of stairs, the ones who build you up instead of stress you out, the ones who make you laugh when you're ready to cry, and the ones who will cry with you and tell you that, yes, this is insane and no fun and the worst, but that it will be okay. Somehow. Most people are just noise, though. You'll hear all kinds things about how much people studied or didn't study; take it all with a grain of salt. If someone says they honored something, don't believe them unless they're willing to pull out their grade and show you. Really, if you can avoid talking about grades in general, you'll all be better for it. It just stresses people out, and spoiler alert, as long as you pass, it doesn't really matter what your grades are, because residency programs care way more about board scores, rotation scores, and recommendations.

Figure out how you study. What you did in undergrad might work for you still, but it's okay if it doesn't. It might take you a bit to figure out your new groove, but it will happen. When you figure it out, don't switch it up unless it stops working for you. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, etc. If you like text books, buy text books. Find a second year who you trust and ask how they studied.

Stay off of forums on Student Doctor Network; it's like GOMI for med students. It's full of crazy people, occasionally amusing, and before you know it, you've spent 4 hours reading nonsense and you should have been studying. Also, remember: Assholes are like opinions. Everyone has one.

You are going to hear a ton of advice, including this piece right here! Listen to it all, choose what works for you, and throw the rest out.

But seriously, medical school is fucking hard. You'll hear this over and over, but it's not the material that's difficult (for the most part), it's the sheer volume. Hopefully, you're at a school that cares about its students' well-being, where there is at least some attempt at making life not supremely hellacious for students. If you are not at a place like that, I am sorry. But you will get through it. And remember, this is your dream. This is what you've worked for for so long. It's right here in front of you. Go out there and grab it.

See in you 2019, doctors. Glad to have you aboard.

PS: I wrote a helpful guide to the care and keeping of your med student, so feel free to check it out and give it to all of your friends and loved ones. They'll thank you. 

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