What I Learned From My First Semester of Medical School

Thursday, February 20, 2014

So I thought it was about time I did a first semester of medical school recap...ya know, since it's been over for two months now.

I'm gonna tell you all the same thing I tell everyone else when they ask how my first semester went - "I survived." But really, that's the best way to describe it. The first semester wasn't pretty - it was filled with blood, sweat, and lots of tears. Lots of self-doubt, lots of challenges, and lots of complaining. Despite all that, I loved it.

That's right. I LOVE medical school (most days). 

For the first time in my life, I feel like I'm finally getting somewhere. I feel like I see tangible results in my hard work. I'm not just taking classes to fulfill an arbitrary requirement (coming from the girl who took a classes about birds and chocolate in college) - I'm learning this knowledge so I can be a good doctor one day & help people (or at least pass my boards so I can get into residency and become a good doctor). 

Here are a few of the things I learned from my first semester!

Medical school is lonely.
There were many times over last semester that I felt lonely. I missed my family and friends and I really, really missed Nick - don't live in different city than your fiancĂ©...it sucks!  I don't know what I would do without the friends I've made here at school - we're like a little family! I'm especially grateful that I have a great roommate so I'm not completely alone. Even though I'm around people most of the time, sitting in silence studying or constantly being focused on school just gets kind of sad, maybe a little a lot depressing. There are so many demands on your time that it's really easy to forget to call family or text back your friends (or blog!) but you have to make time for those things or you will go crazy!

Medical school is pretty selfish.
On one of the first days of orientation, one of our docs said that medical school is one of the most selfish endevours you can choose to undertake. Clearly the decision to pursue higher education requires tremendous personal sacrifice but it also means your loved ones will also make sacrifices as well. One obvious example in my life is that my educational goals are causing Nick to completely uproot his life and career to move here to Indianapolis. While there are certainly many positives to this, I know that I'm putting a huge strain on us - financially, emotionally, etc. by being away from our families, friends, and everything we've known for the past 24 years. 

My Grammy!

From a financial standpoint, it's a selfish short-term decision. I am increasing my student loan debt by 10 times the amount I owned for undergrad. I'm not contributing any income to our lives and I'm relying on other people to help me out with a lot of things still - I don't feel like a 24 year old at this point!

Most of all, med school doesn't always allow you to cultivate and maintain relationships with others in a way that you're used to. Many times I've been invited out with non-school friends or to an event back home which I couldn't attend. A lot of times people just don't understand that, yes, you really are studying on a Saturday night. Hopefully the people in your life that love you will understand and you will find ways to combat these issues!

The only people who truly "get it" are those who've been through it.
A professor at orientation likened the closeness and camaraderie between those in medical field to that of a band of brothers during war. You go through this terribly stressful time together and come out of it with this connection that no one else really understands. I can't say my class is 100% there yet, but I know what the professor is talking about now.  We all just "get" each other. We understand the demands and the sacrifices. We understand the inside jokes, the somewhat morbid humor, and the eccentric, Type-A habits that come along with this experience. And sometimes, we just get that you need to have an Long Island on the Monday after an exam...

If you're in DO school, find some friends who are good at OMM.
After studying for hours and hours hunched over your Netter's Atlas, your neck, back, hips - you name it, start to get a little less friendly. Find classmates that rock at OMM and get them to treat you! Better yet, get all your friends together and practice treating each other - everyone needs a little soft tissue technique & you'll get some studying in! 

You can't do this alone.
I think the stereotypical presentation of a medical student is someone who sits in a solitary room in the basement of a library and studies their life away, alone. Or maybe the gunner who sends out study guides with purposeful errors and rips important pages out of books (hey, these are all things I've heard). In my opinion, you cannot get through medical school alone! 

First of all, there is too much material! For a little while, I was trying to study like I did in undergrad (which I should've known wasn't very effective because it wasn't effective in undergrad either). I would try to outline each lecture on my own which would take hours, leaving me no time to actually commit it to memory. Then I joined a "study group" - we share the lecture outline responsibility. I also have a group that I like to study for practicals and miscelaneous other things with - I like to float around and have many different friends so I can get multiple perspectives on the material - and have some type of a social life.

From a personal well-being standpoint, it's imperative to get some social interaction once in a while even if it's just taking a coffee break between lectures or getting dinner with a few friends. Do not isolate yourself! As I said before, medical school is lonely and it's really easy to get depressed. 

One more note - medicine is becoming very team-based. You have to learn to work well with other people! If standing at an anatomy table for 8 hours a week with the same 4 people taught me anything it's that you have to be a team player - be helpful, be kind, be compassionate, and be dependable - but also expect the same of your team members.

You have to change the way you do things.
I don't think anyone comes out of first semester doing EXACTLY the same thing they did on day one. School requires a lot of trial-and-error, especially with studying. As I said before, trying to carry over my study habits from college was less than successful - mostly because I have very poorly developed habits and even worse discipline. I'm just now figuring out what works for me and sometimes it's a struggle not to go back to my old ways - old habits die hard. 

Mistakes happen. Learn from them!

You learn to prioritize.
Medical school will FORCE you to examine how you spend your time and learn where you can cut the fat so you have more time to do the things you need to do and a little time for the things you enjoy. I try to make time to get a workout in, multi-task with chores, watch a show or two, and talk to family and friends when I'm not studying. That's pretty much the extent of my free time. On a weekend, especially when Nick is here, we'll go to dinner or out for the night. Sometimes I make time for blogging, reading journals & other blogs, etc. I still am working on the prioritizing my life though - I can waste time on Facebook or online shopping just as much as the next girl!

I AM happy that school has forced me to keep wedding planning SIMPLE. I don't have time to worry about the little details of planning, so I just don't. Honestly it has made the experience so much better - I'm more easy-going about the whole process because I just have to be. I didn't stress over bridesmaids dresses, I had my maids pick their own. I ask for help from friends and family to work on smaller details like transportation, hotels, and anything else random. DELEGATE! I'll do a post soon about how wedding planning is going!

What do you want to hear about next? Classes? Meal planning? Wedding? More medical posts? Let me know below!


  1. All of this sounds waaay too familiar...except from the opposite end! :) My fiancee is halfway through dental school and it's rough. Thankfully, that first year was really the worst and now that he's taken his first set of boards, he's feeling a lot more confident! ONLY TWO MORE YEARS LEFT, lol. :)
    ps. we're getting married just a little bit over two months after you! August 23rd! :)

  2. Well put, well put! And coming from the end of med school (I am done in a little over a month - eeks), enjoy it while you can. It's going to go by SO FAST! :)

  3. That is so exciting! I'm just a freshman in college, but want to eventually become a physical therapist and am learning the importance of group studying already! It's crazy how much better it is!

  4. I agree wholeheartedly with the lessons you've learned. Especially the last one; I am so relaxed and logical with everyday problems/dramas from friends or family, because medicine puts life into perspective. It really makes you appreciate what's important!

  5. Can you share the basics of how you study. I'm working on my NP and having difficulty with the sheer volume of information!

  6. WOW! Sounds like you're kicking butt! Super impressive. Keep up the hard work, seems like you're totally driven.

  7. Meal planning! Have you made any nutritionist friends? :)

  8. Girl, just keep going! I thought I would DIE trying to get through Nursing School...14 years later, it's all worth it!!

  9. Ooooh girl you are rocking this! I am so impressed with you (I'm a hoosier too, btw...isn't Indianapolis great :) ? Keep on keeping on. I want to hear about meal planning!