Tag Archives: Lecture

Test Taking and Last Summer Ever

As usual, I find myself in the mood to write on Sunday afternoon. I suspect that my weekly doughnut at church on Sunday morning has something to do with my inspiration to publish posts on WordPress. Maybe my muse is a maple doughnut. Anyways, this week I was asked the following question: “When was the last time you felt mediocre?” Since I’m in medical school, the answer is “every single day”. I’ve written before about how much stress is caused by combining a bunch of smart people into one class and suddenly having smart become “average”, and it’s something our deans have mentioned about twice a month since August.

Our tests reinforce this every week. Consider our last pathology quiz/exam. Fifty multiple choice questions taken using secure software installed on our laptops. It covered hundreds of pages from Robbins (the holy grail of pathology, it’s a huge book the size of a watermelon) and was a fairly difficult exam. When we got our results, the median came out to be 80%, which is actually pretty good. Some inconsiderate soul actually got a 98%, and one person barely passed with a 50% (because of the way our quizzes are graded, you can still pass with a 50%, even though it’s normally an F). The median was 80%, and by definition half of our class has to fall underneath that score. That’s just the way math works. For those that are under it, there is a perception of inadequacy. For those above it, life must be awesome. I hop frequently between being just above and just below the median score, so I’m doing okay.

So obviously our 98% guy was an outlier, because the next best score was a 90. So the 98% guy needs to let himself out of the library. The 50% guy was also an outlier, and he needs to find the library. A full 55% of our class got between a 76%-84% on the exam. I know what that means in real life….we all did just fine. Yet I am annoyed when I score a few points below the average on a particular exam, even though I know that means I’m tracking just fine along with everyone else. I’m sure the guy that got a 98% is upset as well (not 100%? No sleep for me next week!!).

On to my next subject…summer time. I need it to be summer ASAP. I grew up in California, enjoying nearly endless summer weather, and after I moved to the Midwest I discovered that I am solar powered. When we have cloudy, gloomy, grey weather for weeks on end I lose any motivation to keep up with life (exercise, study hard, clean the house, wear pants, etc). This summer has a special feature…it will be my LAST SUMMER EVER. Yes indeed. After (hopefully) passing Hematology on June 6th, I get 8 full weeks off of school. Next summer I will have time off. Instead, I will start my third year (clinical rotations), which is simultaneously exciting and terrifying.

So what do MS1’s tend to do with their LAST SUMMER EVER? Some people do career enhancing activities like research fellowships, internships, volunteer activities, etc. Other people travel for fun. Some people get part time jobs, others do nothing for the summer. Because I felt the pressure to do important things, I currently have applied for a number of summer fellowships that would be good for my CV and pay me a small amount of money for six weeks. Then I talked with a professor who changed my mind a little. He said that if I only wanted to do research to have it on my CV, then I shouldn’t do it. Instead, I should do whatever sounded enjoyable to me. As the director of a residency program at our hospital, he said it really doesn’t matter what they did over their M1 summer (unless they singlehandedly saved an African village from an exotic virus). He’s far more interested in their board scores and letters of recommendation from rotations. So while I have hopes for landing a fellowship this summer, much of the stress in the competition of getting that spot is reduced, if not gone. I can’t do nothing all summer, because historically I get cabin fever after 4 days of break from school. If nothing works out, I will probably get involved with ministries at my church, study for boards, and run a lot. We’ll see how it works out. What are your summer plans?

Thanks for reading!

Tales from Anatomy – The Long Post

I just finished anatomy. The last eight weeks have been a complete blur, but last Friday I took the final exam and most likely identified enough body parts to pass the class. I needed to get 38% on this final test in order to pass anatomy. Because of how hard the test was, I am not completely sure I got 38%, just reasonably sure. The test was hard. My score will likely be the lowest score I have every received in my life. Ever. On anything. To sum up my experience this final week of anatomy, I have to share this screencap someone posted on our Facebook page before the test. This should go on our class T-shirts.

I spent this last week studying hard, spending extra time in the lab, and cramming “high-yield” study tips. I studied with my dissection group, with random people, with lab TA’s, and anyone else who would help me. My wife quizzed me on insertions and innervations of muscles, and my little puppy was intent on helping however she could. Admittedly, she has a tiny brain and no thumbs, so she wasn’t much use. She’s mostly a ten inch tall Roomba (with a slightly lower chance of tumbling down the stairs to her death), trotting around the house and eating anything she finds on the floor. Even after all that studying, I still felt really dumb at the exam. Anatomy has a way of doing that to me. I would study all week on assigned materials, then drive in to take the practice exam on Sunday. Number 1 would say “What is this thing?” and I would have absolutely no idea. Was that even assigned to us?

I also realize I was fortunate during this class. First of all, I took a tough anatomy course in undergrad, so I was roughly familiar with most subjects. Second, I have a quick memory and uncanny ability to remember pointless details from lectures several weeks ago. We seem to get tested on pointless details all of the time, so I get those questions during the exam (most of the time). I also learned anatomy the hard way. I did the dissections, pored through atlases, and did the leg work required to learn relationships and functions. Compare that to a certain member of my lab group, who we will call Leo. Leo doesn’t dissect. Leo doesn’t even help his group during dissection. Instead, he drifts around the lab like a knowledge mosquito, stopping briefly at each groups table and learning a few factoids from each group. Then, during exam week, he becomes the king of mnemonics (more on those below). He has mnemonics for everything. He has primary, secondary, and tertiary mnemonics to remember his mnemonics. He confuses his mnemonics with others, and ultimately forget it all and have to relearn it. Also, he probably can’t problem solve as well when he mostly knows mnemonics.

There are two kinds of anatomy geniuses. The first kind was my dissection partner. He could study a picture and a cadaver, then somehow reconstruct everything into a mental, 3-dimensional structure that he could then picture anytime, from any angle. He was always oriented, and always knew where structures came from and where they were going. It must have been awesome to be him. The second kind of anatomy genius (and the kind I actually understand) are the ones who understand relationships. There is no intricate mental picture stored in their super-brains. Instead, they know where a structure is based on the structures that surround it. They can use the context to identify what a specific structure is, much like confirming the location of your house by locating your hoarder neighbors house. Yes I used to live next to a hoarder.

I also used mnemonics, which are tools to help you remember something. For example, there are 13 cranial nerves that every medical student must memorize. Here they are, in order: Olfactory, Optic, Oculomotor, Trochlear, Trigeminal, Abducens, Facial, Vestibulocochlear (auditory), Glossopharyngeal, Vagus, (Spinal) Accessory, and Hypoglossal.

Here they are demonstrated on a cartoon brain.

That’s quite a list to remember. Instead, we first memorized “On Old Olympus’ Towering Top, A Finn and German Viewed Some Hops”. We then knew the first letter for each nerve in order (OOOTTAFAGVSH). Any sentence works, really, as long as the letters fit that pattern. There are incredibly dirty mnemonics I won’t post here, and some creative ones involving Harry Potter, the Hunger Games, and certain faculty members at the school. Everyone uses these to some extent, but I think students like Leo (not his actual name) ended up getting buried in mnemonics, so they are only somewhat helpful.

So what were my “takeaway lessons” from anatomy? I definitely liked it, enough that my interest in surgery has been validated. I enjoyed working with my hands and learning how knowledge of anatomy is applied to procedures and therapies. I also gained an appreciation for all of the material I still don’t know. We learned a vast amount of information in just eight weeks, and no one learned everything that was assigned to us. That amount of material isn’t necessarily unknowable, but it is probably unlearnable over the course of two months. I know that I will need to go back and re-learn critical areas during rotations, and should I decide to become a shoulder surgeon I will learn that anatomy at an even more detailed level. Lastly, I am even more amazed at the intricate design and daily function of our bodies. Even studying a single organ, like the kidney, is absolutely fascinating, totally reinforcing my decision to attend medical school.

Of course the good news of anatomy being done is that I can spend more time on my favorite activities, one of which is blogging! I have this entire week of Thanksgiving off, which will be completely glorious. There is nothing for me to study. Nothing at all. I will likely pick up the pace at which I post here, because I have a lot I want to discuss. I read some blogs that are easily categorized. There are “mommy blogs”, “medical school blogs”, “tech blogs”, “political blogs”, etc. While the general theme here will always be medical school, I can and will branch out write about whatever is on my mind. I’ve gotten a lot of support lately, despite my complete lack of regular posting, and I really appreciate it.

Two weeks ago I made the unfortunate decision to start reading Game of Thrones when my friend (so he calls himself) lent me the first book, which I promptly read in one week. Now I’m hooked, on book 2, and have thousands of pages left to read (and probably hundreds on main characters yet to die, if the next books are like the first). I am also doing a lot of outside reading on religion, so expect posts as I finish reading other religious texts. I realized that despite my college education and multiple classes on world religion, I had done little firsthand reading of any religious text besides the Bible, which I have read cover to cover multiple times. I am now working my way through the Qur’an, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Pearl of Great Price, with more to come afterwards. That was a good decision, since even my early readings were very interesting.

Of course I will also spend time playing Call of Duty, training my puppy, and eating at the new Chick-fil-a that opened RIGHT BY MY HOUSE. I may or may not have camped out and received 52 combo meals, which I am eager to claim for delicious free chicken. Finally, as I get ready to publish this post, I can see that all of the recommended posts from WordPress are posts that I wrote myself. Weird. I’ll leave you with another picture of my cute puppy.

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Thanks for reading! sortadrwordpress@gmail.com

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Tales from Anatomy Part 2

As you may have noticed, it’s been awhile. There are lots of good reasons for not writing posts while in anatomy, and I am here to share them. Actually, I think I am doing pretty good at maintaining a normal lifestyle during the first half of this block. I have several classmates that live in the lab, study constantly, know everything, and are thoroughly miserable. I have studied a little, read a book for fun, and enjoyed myself for the last three weeks or so. My grades for the first exam have yet to be posted, so I don’t know how well this strategy has paid off.

Speaking of tests, we took a whopper of a test on Monday. It was the first half (AKA the top half) of anatomy in a giant afternoon of testing. Not only did we take a standard multiple choice test, we also took a practical test in the lab (identifying tagged structures on cadavers and organs) and a slide exam in a lecture hall (identifying structures from images projected on the front of the room). The written test was par for the course, since we have all taken a bazillion of those. The other formats were more difficult for me. First of all, they weren’t multiple choice. We had to think of the answer all by ourselves (and spelling also counted). Second, they moved at an amazingly slow pace. Ninety seconds per question is way more than enough time to either figure out the answer or realize that you don’t know the answer. I take tests quickly, and being forced to wait 82 seconds before I can go to the next question just drives me crazy.

As far as the course itself, I actually like it a lot. Dissecting is difficult and tedious and lots of work, but at the end of the day it is infinitely cooler than sitting in a lecture hall listening to metabolism lectures all day. The coolest part is being able to see all of the anatomy in three dimensions, oriented in an actual body, and begin to put all of the pieces together mentally. Anatomy can’t be learned by listening to a PowerPoint lecture of a muscle group, it has to be learned directly, seeing the muscles, tendons, and nerves together.

Dissecting takes a lot of time out of your day, and I think it makes us students confront our own humanity in a certain way. While we cut through organs, vessels, muscle, and tissue, the thought is constantly in the back of your mind that these same muscles and nerves were part of a person who loved, dreamed, hoped, and lived a full life. This person left behind a family and friends, but they thought ahead and left part of the stuff that made them human behind for us to take apart and look at first hand. That makes anatomy class a privilege, and it encourages me to make the most of my time in lab, so that I can take the most of this opportunity to learn.

The pace can be overwhelming. Most of the time we have no idea where we are supposed to be or what we are supposed to be doing (the “remodeling” of our course has left it a little short on directions). All things considered, it’s a pretty good time. It is interesting the division of labor among group members. With only three members per group, there is much to do and often too many hands. When we dissected the heart, for instance, only one person could work on it at a time. I have one lab partner who was an anatomy TA at his undergrad, so he is knowledgeable and talented in dissection. My other partner has never taken anatomy, and usually asks very basic questions like “Which one is the spleen?” I’m somewhere in between those two extremes. I can almost always tell when I’m looking at a spleen. So me and my awesome lab partner do most of the dissecting, while the not so helpful partner does the accounting to make sure we find everything and makes tags to place on the structures we identify. Most of us aren’t squeamish, but there are two kinds of people in anatomy lab. On chest day, we got to use a saw to cut through the ribs and get into the thorax. One kind of med student wants to use the saw, the other kind of med student plugs it in and hands it to me (or whoever wants to use it).

That’s all for tonight! Thanks for reading. As always, feel free to comment below or email me at sortadrwordpress@gmail.com

So You Have A Blog

Note: I am actually writing this from a “microscopy lab”. Don’t let the name fool you. I haven’t looked through a single microscope since undergrad (thank God). I believe the actual lab room is being used by “other people” (according to our rulers), so we all sit in the lecture hall and watch a recording of our professor looking through a teaching microscope while teaching last years class. This process is as hilariously ineffective as you imagine it to be. In addition, the video isn’t buffering today, so we get to watch it in 30 second intervals and then wait a few minutes for it to load. Awesome. And I almost studied from home today!

So some of you reading this have your own blog. Others don’t, at least yet, but every single person that reads this has a Facebook, I bet. We all maintain this “online presence” that is a bit like our public personality. When applying for jobs, scholarships, or residencies, you can bet that people will be looking you up on Facebook, Twitter, and simply Googling your name to see if anything nefarious comes up. When I was applying to medical school I was urged to “clean up” my Facebook page (which is private), getting rid of bad pictures, deleting posts, and making myself look better in case anyone came snooping. I didn’t have to clean anything up (because I am generally not a prolific Facebooker), but I know some friends that needed to do some “editing”.

Fact is, anything posted on the internet will be there forever, and may someday come back to haunt you. The most obvious way to avoid this is to carefully filter what you put on the internet, and to avoid doing something dumb and unintentionally starring in a YouTube video.

But what if you have a blog? Blog posts are inherently one dimensional. After I post this it will exist forever, exactly as I left it, and people will run across this post as time goes by (hello future readers!). Any opinions I express are recorded for all time, and are made readily available for anyone curious enough to do some reading.

If you have a blog it may be personal. You have friends and family that follow it, and you post pictures of your friends, family, pets, and life events. That’s probably fine, but that’s not what this blog is. I prefer to hide behind a small veil of anonymity. I enjoy the freedom to mock my school, classmates, and otherwise write whatever I want. In order to maintain that I try to be generally vague about myself. If someone REALLY wanted to find me, they probably could. One could pick pieces of information and put together a fairly accurate picture about myself. And that’s okay. I’m cool with the fact that no one is truly anonymous on the internet. That’s it for this mini-post (short and no pictures. oops)

Thanks for reading!

Sharp

One week down. Arguably, this may have been the easiest week of medical school we will yet experience, but I am starting to get a feel for the routine I will need to establish. I have been waking up a few hours before lecture and having breakfast while reviewing material for lecture that day. I then head to class and attend all of the lecture and small group sessions (this is around 6-8hrs a day). After that I have time to go home and get a quick run in before I grab dinner and spend perhaps another hour reviewing what we went over. That gives me plenty of time in the evening to relax and unwind a bit. This will likely change when exams and quizzes come around, but I seem to be getting through the material with pretty recall so far. In two weeks my wife will finally move in and start her new job, forcing me to do things like “clean” and “shower”. Lame. (just kidding, I actually do most of the cleaning because I have a thing about cleaning)

I went to a panel earlier this week. The AMA sponsored several fourth years with high board scores and strong residency applications to come and give us some advice on Step 1, study habits, and other things that they learned during their four years of medical school. The most common theme in their advice was to enjoy the first few years of medical school, make friends, and study enough to pass. There is no need to study for Step 1, try to shadow, or do anything extra, according to the fourth years. Just pass your classes and set yourself up to do well in the coming years.

That’s kind of hard to hear, especially since we are all eager-beaver first year students. Every single student attended training to volunteer at our campus free clinic that offers healthcare for uninsured in the area. Several people in our class are working on getting research spots in labs. Why? Probably because most people in our class are pretty smart.

That’s a generalization, don’t get me wrong. There are several people I have already noticed seem to be a few fries short of a happy meal, but most of the class seems to be generally intelligent. I can tell this by the attitude in the class. In every class I have ever been in that was considered “hard” (organic chemistry, anatomy, even general chemistry for some people), every lecture was followed with something like “How are we supposed to learn all of this? We covered so much material today! There’s no way I am going to learn this!” Even after flying through a lot of Cell Biology in this first section, I have’t heard a single person mention feeling overwhelmed or even the least bit daunted by the volume yet. There is this feeling of grim optimism/determination to get through the material and do well. I like it. It’s contagious.

So there are lots of people that are really good at a huge variety of things. Last week during venipuncture practice I discovered that a new friend of mine has years and years of phlebotomy experience and could probably draw blood from me blindfolded. I managed to get my sticks done in one shot (beginner’s luck) but I felt like a baby giraffe trying to walk for the first time. I got the job done. I was also told repeatedly that I have great friends, and my partner got envious looks from the girl next to me, who had spend quite a while searching desperately for a vein in her partners arm.

I also went to a lecture given by a neurosurgeon at our associated hospital who is a total stud (I go to these lectures for the free food, by the way. I’m not a gunner or anything). What I thought would be a Q+A session for the gunners looking for neurosurgery residency spots ended up being a video demonstration of this guy doing cranial bypasses, stitching vessels together under a microscope with thread so thin that the naked eye can’t even see it.

The AMA panel featured people who had scored “240+” on their Step 1, and I happen to know of a certain first year who sits behind me that scored north of 42 on his/her MCAT. Yikes.

So all of these smart people are currently studying hard for our first exam type thing this Friday, and I’m writing online while waiting for my car to get a new set of tires (and it’s taking forever). Then I realized that I do have some advantages going for me, if I think very hard. I certainly have an advantage in physical endurance. I’m the only triathlete in the class (unless someone is living at home and watching lectures online), and I have stood out at the first few softball/frisbee/football games, so I’ve got that going for me. I also probably drink the most sweet tea of anyone in the class. That’s about it.

Sweet, my car is ready. Thanks for reading.