01 July 2007

Orientation Week

You have received your acceptance letter and sent in your deposit. You now know where you will be attending medical school in the fall -or should I say late summer. The next step in your adventure will be Medical School Orientation Week. Why does it take a week? How about Orientation Day and then you can get to the business of getting started with first year of medical school.

Orientation Week usually starts out with some type of "check-in". In my case, the Dean of Students called names from a roll. We had previously been warned that if we were not present for roll call, our "seat" would be given to the next person on the wait list. Needless to say, everyone was present and accounted-for that morning. Following roll call, there was the obligatory introduction of the Deans. This was followed by a speech given by a speaker that was chosen by the second-year students the year before.

By the time the introductions and speeches were over, the greater part of the morning had disappeared. There was a meeting of your second-year advisers (second-year medical students) who would share their advice on navigating the curriculum. This meet-and-greet was filled with horror stories about certain professors and warnings about behaviors to avoid. With some of the tales of woe, I wondered how anyone survived the first year and made it into second year.

My own second-year adviser was a lovely but quite young lady. She was the daughter of a registered nurse and was very enthusiastic about all of the adventures that she had experienced in first year. She and her tight-knit group of friends, gathered us together and spoke to us (their advisees) as a group. We were able to get the benefit of a collective experience rather than single reports. This turned out to be a blessing. My second-year adviser also led me to her car where she presented me with a cardboard box of old exam, used and filled-in course syllabi and her books from first year. "I started putting this together for year after my first exams last year", she said almost apologetically. I was speechless but thanked her profusely. That box turned out to be one of the major keys to my success during my first year. I happily passed on her stuff and mine to my two advisees when I became a second-year student.

After our meetings with our second-year advisers, it was time to get our photographs done for the student directory. We lined up and had out photos taken by the medical photography service. Following the photo for the student directory, we were taken to the Student Services building for photo identification cards. Our physical examination papers were collected along with our immunization records as we moved from Student Services to student health. Once we had accepted admission to medical school, we were told to bring proof of immunization and undergo a physical examination by a physician. (My uncle took care of this for me, had his office staff copy my records and put together a nice package).

During the evening of our first day, we were bused and car-pooled to a local park where the second-year students had prepared a cookout for us. This was our first introduction to the wonderful world of "free-food" in medical school. Our first day of orientation ended around 8pm.

On the second day, we were introduced to our microscopes and course syllabi. Each of us was issued a microscope (if you didn't have your own as I did ) and were issued thick syllabi for Biochemistry, Gross Anatomy, Introduction to the Practice of Medicine and Psychiatry. In addition, we were given a couple of hours to purchase books (already furnished by my second-year adviser). We also had lockers issued (I could actually stand in my huge locker) where we could store our necessities. On this day, the student health department singled out students whose records were not complete and gave them strategies for getting their immunizations and records done. This meant downtime for me. At the end of the day, free pizza courtesy of one of the student organizations.

On the third day, which turned out to be a Thursday, we were treated to a morning meeting with Financial Aid and Student Organizations. The Student Organizations had set up tables with sign-up sheets for us to join groups. I signed up for the American Medical Association and new organization called "Students with Families" (a non-traditional student organization). The afternoon was spent organizing our class and electing temporary class officers. We elected temporary officers because we actually didn't know anyone and would elect permanent officers later in the year. I actually volunteered to become the Vice-President for Education in charge of note-service because I had some experience from graduate school with running a note service.

The Dean's Reception was held on the evening of the third day. This is where I met my best friend from medical school. Over the four years, we would share triumphs and tragedies but it was at this reception that we met the various Deans up close and shared a line or two of conversation. In addition, there was more free food and an opportunity to wear something other than our jeans and T-Shir's that had become our orientation outfit.

On our last full day of orientation, we had information sessions from the chairmen of various departments. This gave us an opportunity to mingle with the faculty. We were also introduced to the school's computing system and issued laptop computers if we didn't already own a suitable laptop. Again, that locker was getting full. For students who were not immune to Hepatitis B, there was the first in a series of three Hep B vaccination shots (thankfully, I could bypass this step too). On the evening of our last day of orientation, there was a White Coat Ceremony where we were cloaked in our white coats by graduates of our medical school and issued the Hippocratic Oath.

Orientation had taken the better part of a week. Many of us were not ready to just get down to the business of attending classes and adjusting to the course schedule. Our syllabi need to be filled in and mastered, our textbooks read and highlighted. On the next Monday, we would be "going live" in terms of our classwork.

Over the first week, I came to have a list of things that I could not do without. These things were carried in my backpack and spread on my table in front of me during lectures. These were:

  • My laptop computer for downloading power-points and the professors writing on the "smart board".
  • My pens of four colors: black for notes, red for emphasis, green for projects and blue for notes from the text book.
  • My Easy Reader book stand that held my looseleaf notebook that contained pages from my textbooks that were cut and 3-hole punched.
  • My highlighters in four colors: bright yellow, pink, green and blue.
  • A micro tape recorder (now replaced by a digital tape recorder) for making sure I didn't miss anything if I fell asleep in class.
  • A sweatshirt as the lecture room was always freezing even if the outside temperature was above 100F.
  • My travel coffee mug and a thermos of fresh coffee (Starbucks was a short walk from the lecture hall).
  • A liter-bottle of water (kept me awake in the afternoon).
  • My Walkman (now replaced by an MP-3 player).

These were my daily companions during first and second year of medical school. Even today, I always read and study with my pens and highlighters handy. My Easy Reader book stand is also with me as is my Sony Viao laptop computer for making notes and reading the myriad of PDF documents that I have downloaded.

Other things that I would learn but not mentioned during Orientation Week, was not to worry so much about not doing well on my first set of exams. I more than passed every exam but I saw many of my classmates head into a "tail-spin" after receiving their first failing grades. On our first Gross Anatomy exam, 85% of the class failed the exam. For some students, this was their first failure ever and they had difficulty shaking it off and moving on. In my case, I remembered that my wonderful second-year adviser had said, "You are going to encounter something that will give you problems, ask for help and put your failures behind you fast.". She also encouraged me to help my fellow students who as she said, would "become colleagues that I would refer patients to in the future". She was right because the more I helped my fellow students, the higher my grades became.

We all survived that first semester but we lost a couple of students at the end of second semester. One of my classmates decided that he wasn't going to spend another moment doing that much studying for anything. Another had illnesses and just wasn't able to keep up with the material. In the end, we all experienced the molding that would mark us as physicians.

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