Saturday, June 30, 2007


It is the end of June, and I would be remiss if I did not discuss the unrivaled heat and humidity of a Washington, D.C., summer. I have been to Hawaii, Florida, Central America, the Caribbean and nothing can compare. Walking out into a D.C. Summer day feels like walking straight into someone's mouth: a steamy 98.6 degrees, not a Winterfresh mouth.

You will sweat. All the time. Whether you are taking a casual stroll through Georgetown, sitting calmly under the shade of a tree in Rock Creek Park or making a quick run to the nearest corner store, you will sweat. You will sweat so much that, if you didn't know better, you may believe you were suffering from hyperhidrosis. If you live in D.C., you know what I'm talking about.

Air conditioning in your house or apartment is not optional. Seriously. If anyone tells you otherwise, they wish you much misery. The Facilities Management department at my medical school, on the other hand, does not share my belief that air conditioning is essential during the summer. Orientation began early (traumatic enough) and we were horrified to find that the air conditioning had not been turned on in our lecture hall. I believe Facilities Management enjoyed making us suffer until a set number of complaints were logged. Until that threshold was reached, I should have done what many classmates did and extended my final Summer break.

Friday, June 29, 2007


Your home, the space in which you live, should be a place where you can rest yourself. As I mentioned in the "Introduction" post, medical school is demanding and draining. The last thing you need while attending medical school is a stressful living environment. After a long day of sitting in a darkened lecture hall, digging through fat on your cadaver and studying until your eyes start to cross, you want to go home to a place that is calming and rises up to meet you. You should be able to sleep well and feel renewed in the morning when you walk out the door.

Having said that, the exterior, your home, will match your interior. As exam time approaches, dishes will pile up in the sink, laundry will pile up on the closet floor, and books and papers will manage to cover every square foot of the apartment. At least that is what happens to me. After the exam, I will usually take a day off to get things (my apartment, my self) back to "normal."

I am fortunate to have found a great deal through a former co-worker. I live close to school in a one-bedroom apartment that has a stacked washer-dryer in the unit (a luxury). I was able to furnish the apartment with a couple of hand-me-downs as well as numerous items from the incomparable IKEA. On the walls I have framed art (very adult-like) and have scattered framed photographs of family and friends throughout the apartment. I am no Nate Berkus, but I think I did a good job given my medical student budget.

Thursday, June 28, 2007


Being dependent on Federal Direct Loans makes life feel all the more restricted during medical school. For the first two years of medical school (I just recieved my award letter for second-year), I have accumulated nearly $80,000 of debt. Combined with the balance of the loans used to pay for my undergraduate education, that figure jumps to well over $90,000. Just looking at the numbers makes my stomach ache a bit. I understood that medical training was expensive and that the average medical student graduates with about $130,000 of educational debt, but living that reality moves the awareness of medical student indebtedness from the brain to the stomach and, yes, even to the back of the throat.

The loans forced me to cut back on many social activities during my first year of medical school. These activities included movies, happy hours and, the hardest to curb, dining out. I had worked for several years prior to attending medical school, so these lifestyle adjustments felt isolating. I quickly learned to take advantage of all of the free activities that D.C. has to offer, especially the museums and parks. There are some truly beautiful spaces throughout the city.

Although I have to keep spending to a minimum during medical school, that does not mean I have to isolate myself. As I mentioned above, D.C., being the nation's capital, has many free activities. And when I feel a strong urge to go out to dinner or a bar or a movie, I do. At the end of the day, what is most important is staying connected with family and my closest friends. Yes, during my copious free-time.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


You cannot survive medical school alone. In the previous post I wrote that you could not expect instructors to teach you all the material that you need to know. I also wrote that ultimately, it is up to you, the medical student, to teach yourself. That, however, is not the whole story.

To get through medical school, it is best to work as a team. In my case, that involved meeting weekly (and later, bi-weekly) with two classmates to review the week's lectures. Every week, we assigned ourselves lectures to present, and we made sure that we covered all of the main points. Being part of the team also involved taking notes for the class as one of ten class note takers. Additionally, it involved picking up an extra handout for friends that may have been absent on a given day. They, in turn, would do the same for me. Being part of the team also meant checking in with fellow classmates. If I saw or heard someone near me having a hard time with something, I tried to help them as best as I could.

One of the distinguishing qualities of the medical school I attend is the student body's teamwork. Within the class we help each other out. Between classes we help each other out. At times it feels as if we are more than a team. We are a family. A dysfunctional family at times, absolutely, but generally we support each other on our journeys toward M.D.'s.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Teaching, the ability to communicate knowledge effectively, is a skill that I found lacking in too many of my instructors during my first year of medical school. At my school, the vast majority of first-year instructors use PowerPoint presentations during their lectures whether they know how to use the teaching aid or not. Given the countless discussions of PowerPoint on the web, I am confident that most of you have had to suffer through an incoherent PowerPoint presentation or two. You know the kind: too many words and undefined symbols on each slide, too many slides to cover in the allotted time, nothing said by the presenter to tie everything together.

In medical school, there is no time for poor instruction. A lousy lecture translated to me having to spend extra time organizing the material for myself. That took away from valuable study time and hurt my academic performance in some units. Thankfully, most of the gross anatomy instructors had great PowerPoint presentations which made that part of each unit relatively painless.

Being able to adapt quickly to the various instructors' teaching styles was critical to surviving my first year of medical school. In hindsight I realize that a key skill to have as a medical student is to be able to identify an instructor's teaching style, and then work with it. Once I learned this (unfortunately, later rather than sooner) it became much easier to go through the material. I could pick out important points or topics that I knew were likely to show up on the exam and make sure I concentrated my efforts there. Also, just as important, knowing your learning style is key. I tend to be a visual learning, so I would modify or create PowerPoint presentations for myself that contained a lot of figures and made use of colors to help me remember key concepts.

In the end, it is up to you to teach yourself.

Monday, June 25, 2007


I begin writing at the end. The end of first year, that is. It has been over a month since I completed my first year of medical school. Over the past several weeks I have found myself spending more time on the Internet, especially catching up on blogs that I use to read before I began my medical training. Medical school is demanding, draining, isolating -- all of those things that I am sure you have already heard and read about. Yet in spite of this, I know that medical school is exactly where I am suppose to be.

I have decided to chronicle my medical school experience, having been inspired by the many blogs I have enjoyed reading recently. My goal is to post at least once a week during the school year, and to post more often during the remainder of my summer break. I hope to not only produce for myself a record of the ups and downs of my medical training experience, but to offer you another glimpse into life as a medical student.