07 January 2007

First Year of Medical School

A short while back, some of my pre-med students asked me about memories of medical school. I thought it might be fun to write about some of those here as well as residency experience so here goes from the beginning...

My medical school had a classical curriculum with problem-based-learning intergrated. We had the typical first-year, second-year types of classes. Lectures went from 0800h to 1600h daily. We had some Tuesdays or Thursdays when we would be able to get out earlier but we spent loads of time in class (way more than students currently attending). Some of my classes had computer-based-learning exercises and some had laboratory projects that had to be completed. In short, school was the equivalent of a full-time job with much time spent on weekends reviewing and keeping up with the pace. The best thing was that all of my classes were very interesting.

My first lecture of medical school was in Biochemistry. The professor essentially covered an entire Organic Chemistry course in a 50-minute lecture. The material was extremely detailed and presented in volumes. This particular professor had a reputation for "rocket" lecture delivery and he got the job done. The great thing was that I understood everything well and could see that this was the basis of the next 50-minute lecture which started off with lipid biochemistry.

My next class was the first part of Gross Anatomy. Our lecture was on surface anatomy and types of neurons. Each lecture was 50 minutes followed by a 10-minute break. I think those 50-minute lectures were the beginning of my 50-minute attention span. After lunch, Gross Anatomy lab started with a brief introduction and then a long laboratory on the vertebral column. We were all given bone boxes (containing human bones) to take home for further study. Every bone was present except the skull bones. Needless to say, we were required to learn every bone and every part of every bone.

By the time the day was done, I had received the equivalent of about 3 weeks worth of undergraduate lectures on one day. Since I had my syllabi, I knew what would be covered in lecture and I knew what readings and material would have to be previewed for the next days lecture. After each lecture was completed, I would quickly fill in any gaps in my notes and briefly scan through my notes for completeness. Over lunch, I would start to memorize as much of my morning lecture as possible too. We had an hour for lunch so I would grab something quick and then spend the rest of the time pouring over my notes.

On the way home, I would study some more or just watch people. I took public transportation because I didn't want to worry about driving. My commute time was my time to relax and think about the day or plan my evening. When I got home, I would grab my gym bag so that I could get a quick swim in before dinner. I would dine with my fiance and then hit the books for a couple of hours. By that time, it would be around 8pm so I would go to bed. I would wake up at 2am and study until 6 am. I would then take a shower and get off to school.

When I was studying, I would finish studying the material that had been presented that day. I would then review the lectures for the day before and preview the materials for the next day's lecture. On the weekend, I would review the entire week's lectures in addition to reviewing an entire week's dissection in the Gross Anatomy lab.

I made study tapes to drill structures and notes so that I could listen to them while I was walking or running. I would also make concept maps and fill them in on large sheets of paper as I went through biochemistry. I always wanted to keep the "big" picture in mind as I studied.

We had an exam week about every five weeks during the semester. There would be two "reading" days (read catch up) and then exams would begin. For Gross Anatomy, we would have the lecture exam in the morning and the laboratory practical exam in the afternoon. Between the exams, I would go to the art museum and get completely away from campus. I couldn't stand to be around people who were so stressed about the exams.

In addition to Anatomy and Biochemistry, we had lectures in Psychiatry and Introduction to the Practice of Medicine. The Psychiatry lectures were always interesting and covered topics like development, personality disorders, sexuality, psychiatric drugs and the roles of various types of psychiatrists. Lectures in the practice of medicine covered topics like law and medicine, types of practices, alternative and complimentary medicine, history of medicine and medical education models. Psychiatry and Introduction to Medicine provided a bit of relief from the rigor of Biochemistry and Gross Anatomy but we were tested on these subjects so they required our attention too.

Our first semester ran from the middle of August to the second week of December. I can promise that the time goes by very quickly and soon Christmas vacation upon us. At the end of the first semester, we were done with Gross Anatomy and Biochemistry but still had more lectures in Psychiatry and Practice of Medicine. In addition, we had Histology, Microbiology/Immunology and Neuroscience lectures too. Second semester had a bit more material and more lectures. In addition, we had to dissect brains and spinal cords in Neuroanatomy. We were also given slide boxes with every type of tissue for histology. We would learn to recognize tissues and electron micrographs of every type of cell.

By the time second semester is over, we had learned a huge amount of material. Most people were happy to get exams done and get home for the summer. I was selected to become an instructor for the students who would be coming into our pre-matriculation program. I would be teaching Biochemistry primarily in addition to Gross Anatomy and Immunology. It was an honor to be asked to instruct in this program and I knew that I would enjoy working with these students.

The students who participated in the prematriculation program were medical and dental students with a conditional acceptance into medical or dental school. By successfully completing this program, these students are offered a seat in the school that they were conditionally admitted to. During this rigorous summer, we gave study tips, extensive reviews and got to know some very determined folks. In addition, these students have a huge head start when the actual courses start because they have been exposed to the material. It is a great program and I enjoyed the summer. In addition, we, the instructors are paid very nicely and can get some research done at the same time.

I finished my first year strong with honors and a much stronger interest in medicine than before I started school. When I looked back on all that I had learned, I was amazed. Little did I know that second year had even more to learn and would build upon my foundation of first year.


Jacqueline said...

Your description is just what i've always imagined it to be, awesome! My time will come :)

Dr. Marion Carroll said...

Great post Drnjbmd. I'm an Assistant Professor teaching Biochemistry at Xavier University in New Orleans and I like to help my students understand what will be expected of them in med school. My wife is in family practice and we were married when she went through her training. I share my experiences with her going through med school and residency with my students and many find it revealing. What you're are doing here in your blog may become pretty popular among pre-meds. Keep it up.