Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Medical School Was Not Meant To Be Easy

Here I am...rapidly coming towards the end of my penultimate year of medical school and, you know what? I couldn't feel any less prepared for my final year. I'm sure I've said this before but being in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit this rotation has made me realise this even more. Don't get me wrong. I'm loving my time in SICU and I'm learning so much but I'm also learning just how much I can't remember! And what I do remember, I have much difficulty bringing across verbally. That information would flow ever so smoothly on any writing surface. Gosh.

But graduating from medical school was never meant to be a simple feat to accomplish. Here are some reasons (in no particular order) why:
  • Overcoming your own drawbacks.
I've had two major personality clashes with this career path: shyness and quietness. Over the past three years, I've been able to conquer the dominating shyness but, as I've never been much of a talker, putting my thoughts across verbally has always been a bit difficult and still poses a problem...a rather large one at that. I've got only one more year to get past that hurdle.
  • The sheer volume of information.
There are so many aspects of medicine that need to be covered before graduation and these are found within each system of the body. Of course, there's a reason why there are so many clinical specialties in the field. Not a single person can know ALL there is to know in medicine, however, as students, we're expected to know about...90% of ALL there is to know. Actually, I've been told that in this career, you're peak knowledge is in the months before the final FINAL examination...you know, the one that either ends with you becoming Dr. _____ or not.

  • Learning a new language.
Medicine is a language all by itself. Just the other day one of my closest friends who's studying law said to me, "Do you guys speak and write in code like they do on E.R.?" It sounds like the silliest question since, to me, it's normal everyday language but it's easy (at this point) to forget that it was a language I was trained into. My vocabulary has drastically been expanded, including all sorts of new and exotic words like ipsilateral, phaeochromocytoma and craniopharyngioma down to all sorts of abbreviations. There are words that make you stumble over your own tongue and then there are words like "bleb". Yes, that's actually a medical term. A bleb is exactly what it sounds like. A bleb. Learning medicine is a lot like learning Latin...after all, many terms are based off of Latin words.
  • Developing an entirely new lifestyle.
Straight up: lots more studying than ever before (cramming is hardly helpful in the long run...and medicine is about having the knowledge for the long run), eating less, sleeping less. Once upon a time, I was a crammer. In a way, I still am. I've been trying to get rid of that terrible habit...but lifelong habits are difficult to just wean off of. But I don't really have a choice. The typical life of a medical student includes very little sleep...admittedly, I refuse to accept this unless I'm on call and so far sleeping 7 hours a night has done me absolutely no harm over the past 4 years. Eating habits don't really change a whole lot until clinical years when your eating times become wonky because ward rounds or clinic go from 9 AM to 2 PM without a lunch break, followed by many other activities which may leave you hungry until you get "lunch" at 5 PM. I've developed a new eating habit to prevent afternoon starvation and it's doing my stomach great justice.
  • Taking responsibility for lives.
As a student in clinical years, you begin to take responsibility for patients becoming integrated as part of the medical team (albeit the lowest life-form existing on the team, but you're on the team nevertheless). The team's patients are our patients and we're expected to bear responsibility for everything we do and say to our patients.
  • The vicious circle of learning A.K.A. embarrassment.
"Come to the hospital every day expecting to be embarrassment and embrace it." ~ Kind words from a consultant in Anaesthesiology. Embrace the embarrassment. The learning curve as a medical student is much like a loop, moreso than a curve. You learn something, spew it out confidently and get shot down like it's hunting season. Every now and then, you get a little positive encouragement. Confidence is something that's vital in medical school but not something you can feel on a continuous spectrum. Wouldn't want you getting over-confident and cocky before you even get the big degree, would we?
  • Losing friends.
If you're friends are true friends, you won't lose them...you'll just spend a lot less time with them and they'll understand and accept that. And if they can't, they just...drift away over time. Even if you can't hang out often, keeping in contact is usually enough to keep a good friendship intact. I feel blessed to still have my secondary school friends with me in my life (I've known some of them for 10 years!) and I've become even closer to one or two of them despite the distance/lack of time. Be sure to keep your true non-med friends! They help you retain your sanity through the stress and hectic lifestyle of the medical career. And of course, you're gonna make new friends throughout your medical career (which starts the moment you enter medical school).
  • Having less "me" time.
A lot of things are sacrificed in the name of good grades and graduation. Many things you once liked to do eventually get pushed aside. Hobbies and interests are reduced to the bare minimum, if not discarded altogether. Gym time? It's there if you make the time but you won't want to be hanging out in there quite as often. Those TV shows you love watching? Don't expect to catch them on television. Admittedly, I've given myself quite a lot of 'me' time over the past 4 years but with this final year coming, those necessary sacrifices will have to be made. So far, I've already reduced my anime/manga intake drastically. In the very near future, I'm going to have to cut it out almost entirely. Once the ongoing manga series I'm reading are complete, that'll be the end of my manga-reading years. Anime...might still have a chance. Primetime TV? Gonna have to cut down on the number of shows and watch what I miss online when I get a chance (during a lunch break or something maybe?). Oh, and say bye bye to Facebook!

I'll admit that I'm a bit of a hypocrite...I crammed my way through most of medical school but after a certain point, cramming fails you and in the long-term, you look like an idiot because you don't remember anything. I managed to keep up a proper study routine for one semester and it turned out to be the best semester I've had in terms of grades: all A's. Unfortunately, that trend never continued.

I'm planning to make those sacrifices I mentioned by the time my 5th year rolls around, not suddenly of course, because that wouldn't end successfully. As for my new eating regimen...well, I can go through that another time.

If you're not in medicine, you may be thinking that the points I've made apply to you as well. Naturally, they aren't unique to medicine but the experiences themselves are what make medicine as difficult as it is...and they're also what make medicine as wonderful as it is.

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