Tag Archives: Study Tips

Tales from Anatomy Part 3

As I near the final week of anatomy, several questions come to mind? First, where did October go? Where was I for that month? Oh right, the anatomy lab. Second, will I pass anatomy? As long as I am alive on the day of the final, I should do just fine. Third, what could I have done better in the beginning of the class to improve my study habits? This was me at the beginning of anatomy:

I was thinking about this a few nights ago as I sat in my backyard recycling (burning) all of the leaves and grass that are piled everywhere. The previous owners of our house left us many of these silly bushes:

As you may or may not know, these need to be trimmed down before winter each year. This left me with a pile of grass roughly the size of my SUV, which I set on the curb in the misguided hope that the trash guys would have mercy on me and take it all (along with our weekly ONE BAG of house trash). Of course they didn’t. They probably just laughed at me and drove off. So now I have a metric ton of freaking bush grass, plus my yard’s monopoly on all of the fallen leaves in my zip code. That’s why I was “recycling” the other night. I have lived in the country long enough that I’m perfectly fine with pushing it all in a big pile, dumping some gas on it, and burning it all at once. Since I now live in a metropolitan area, I have to “use a fire pit” and “have a hose ready” and “extinguish the neighbors tree”. Gosh. City people.

So I’m sitting outside recycling, and I am thinking about anatomy. Here is a typical day for me during the first few weeks of anatomy. I go in to campus and up to the anatomy lab around 8. I then attempt to learn something from Group B regarding the previous day’s dissection (if they didn’t destroy everything) or teach Group B what we learned (so that they can destroy it later that day). We all walk down for a few hours of lecture by professors that I don’t understand, and I spend most of the lectures surfing the internet on my phone or reading Game of Thrones under my desk (don’t judge me). I then troop back up to the lab, where I fumble around attempting to “dissect” the structures I “learned about” in lecture, and I have no idea what’s going on. Finally, late in the afternoon or early evening, I wearily return home, only to realize that I didn’t learn anything, so I have to start all over on that unit.

Here’s my NEW, IMPROVED plan! I wake up and don’t go to class. During the morning, I look at the unit we are going to cover for the day. I google stuff, look in my atlas, and familiarize myself with what the goal for the day is. Then I drive in to lab later in the morning, and I actually know where things are! I see a nerve and think “that must be the _______, since it’s immediately lateral to the ______”. That’s actually learning something. Previously, I would announce that I had most definitely found a “thing” and wait for a TA to come and ID it for me. After leaving dissection, I hop on the interweb and watch the lecture from that morning on double speed, but since I am familiar with the structures from dissection, it just helps me tie everything together, learn the innervations and blood supply, etc. It’s far more effective that the previous method

I’ll continue this for another week, after which I will have an incredibly glorious full week of Thanksgiving with no class at all. I expect to put together a few more anatomy posts over the next week or so, as well as some posts regarding some fun stuff that came up in the past few weeks. I’ll leave you with this cute picture of my dog eating a stick.

As always, thanks for reading!

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How to Not Get Into Medical School

Since I have an exam tomorrow, it is natural to assume that I am doing lots of things that are not studying. We were given the entire day off to prepare for this exam, and I have managed maybe 4-5 hours of actual studying today. The rest I spent distracted for no reason, or helping my wife with stuff around the house. Now I’m writing, soon to go for a run, and maybe at some point study again.

I do want to touch on a topic that I think many people wonder, especially pre-meds that stumble onto this blog in the future. Also, I get asked this all the time by friends I made during undergrad that have been doing their AMCAS over the last summer. As an undergrad, I wanted to know how to get into medical school, and I wanted it straight from the source: the medical students. I figured that because they got in, they must have it figured out.

Then I got accepted into medical school and realized the truth. While there are some real lessons to be more successful, medical school admissions can be a pretty arbitrary process. It’s actually more of a crap shoot than you would like to think. I gave myself less than a 1% chance of getting in to my current school, yet here I am. My state school, where I considered myself very competitive (higher than average stats, etc) didn’t even put me on their waitlist. Why? No clue.

And so if you are looking for tips on getting in (and I know you are), I would like to refer you to anywhere else except this blog. I actually have far more experience being rejected by schools than accepted by them, so that will be my focus for this post. If you do these things, you will make yourself a much easier rejection.

1. Tank the MCAT.

I almost don’t want to start here, but I think I should. I’m not saying it’s fair, and I’m not saying I like it, but medicine is very performance based. Medical schools care a lot about the way you will perform on bigger and harder tests, and the best way for them to judge that is your score on your most recent test. There may or may not be a minimum score at your dream school, but my admissions directly told our class (quite honestly, I thought) that they make a HUGE first cut based solely off of MCAT scores. He acknowledged that there were likely great applicants in that category, but due to time constraints they had to draw a line somewhere. If you are currently pre-med, I’m sorry. This only adds to the stress associated with the test, and I get that. I want to encourage you that it isn’t that bad. Just don’t screw it up 🙂

2- Do anything really stupid.

This should go without saying, but it happens fairly often and is really important. Do not cheat (or even worse, get caught cheating). If at all possible, do not withdraw from a class during undergrad. If possible, stay at the same school for four years. DO NOT GET CONVICTED WITH A FELONY. If you make it to the interview part of applications, your chances are much improved. At this point, they are mostly looking for red flags, and part of that search is a standard background check. Even misdemeanors can be red flags. Your goal is not to be perfect, just to give them less things to worry about when considering your application. They will notice things like withdrawals, and ask you about them, so either stick it out or have a good reason for it. This dovetails nicely with my next point

3- Fail A Class

It is nice to have a good GPA, but that’s about it. What’s the difference between a 3.7 and a 3.85 if the students went to two different schools, took different classes, and had different professors? Who knows? Who cares? GPA is dumb, and most applicants will have pretty solid GPA’s. A surprising number will have 3.9+. You don’t need a 4.0 to get in to a medical school, but if you fail a class (or a few) you will make life much harder. In undergrad, especially, there are so many ways to improve your score. Seek help from the professor, classmates, tutors, etc. Ask for extra credit, or ways to improve your score. Don’t bother your professor and beg for extra points if you get a B in Organic Chemistry, but make sure you work hard enough that you never find yourself begging for a C.

4 – Expect Too Much

I will tie this in to a talk our deans gave us on the first week. They told us that on the first exam, half of our scores would fall below the median (that’s just math). For most of those who scored less than the median, it would be the first time that has happened to us EVER. So by the same token, do not enter the application process convinced of your own superior abilities. Nothing will make you feel more inferior than meeting a genius in your class. I’m talking guys like William Hwang, absolutely legendary (think very hard before reading his bio). If you are considering medical school, you have probably been one of the smartest people in your class since forever. Realize that your class will be, on average, just as smart as you (or in my case, much smarter). Even if your uncle happens to be a Dean at __________ School of Medicine, just understand how many insanely talented people are lining up to pay them 40k per year to go to school.

5- Be Boring

So you’re a biology/chemistry/biochemistry major from __________ University? You volunteered at some clinics and hospitals, did some research in undergrad, and shadowed a neurosurgeon/heart surgeon/ER doc? You’ve also got a minor or two, some fun hobbies, and were involved in six different charities during college? EMT? On academic scholarships? Get in line! Ok, so I’m joking a little bit, but that is a stereotypical mold for medical students. Why? Personally, I think it’s a self fulfilling cycle. Medical schools accept those students because a majority of good applicants fit that mold, so the next cycle of good applicants also fits that mold, so medical schools accept more of the same kind……..repeating over and over again. Otherwise, I have no idea. The point of this is to try to do something interesting, so that you stand out a little bit more. I don’t mean doing another thousand hours of volunteer work, I just mean whatever it is that makes you unique is what you need to capitalize on. Make sure they understand that you also started a business, wrote a book, lived in another country for a few years, etc. I’m the only Ironman triathlete in my class. I don’t know if that helped my application, but I bet it didn’t hurt.

6 – Be a Tool

Doing all of the above will get you rejected from medical school fairly quickly. This last one has more to do with the school than with you. Your MCAT, Step 1, and other stats don’t tell too much about how good of a doctor you will be one day. Schools want to turn out good doctors, both because it’s the right thing to do and because it makes them look better, therefore making them more money. Our Dean told us (at the interview day) that they try to detect traits that can’t be measured, but that will someday make us good doctors. Translation = they try to sift out all the jerks and narcissists as best as they can. Don’t be that guy. I can tell you already that they missed a few, based solely off of a few students that crashed an otherwise productive study session I was having with some friends today. Plus, everyone has a story to share about some terrible doctor they’ve met before, right?

I hope that helped! In all seriousness, feel free to ask questions (or add your own advice) so that over time, somebody, somewhere, will somehow find this useful.

Now what else can I do before I study?

Thanks for reading!

Mind Games

Have you ever taken an IQ test? A real IQ test. By real I mean it is not online, administered by a professional, and takes a few hours to administer. If you’re like me, this probably doesn’t sound like much fun. I had to take one of these back in high school, and it was really interesting. 

One of the exercises was simple memory recall. The person doing the test read me numbers, which I parroted back to him. It started out with him saying something like “Four, six” and I would obediently reply “Four, Six”. Of course he kept going, and next thing I knew I was trying to remember upwards of a dozen random digits. Here’s a test for you to do at home. Read these numbers to yourself, out loud, then close your eyes and try to say them again from memory. Ready? Go.

14829731864

How many did you get? All of them? Most of them? Three of them? Doesn’t matter. Here’s the second part of the test. A different set of random numbers. Repeat the test above

1 583 548 9624

I bet you got most of them that time. Why? Well it’s a phone number! Turns out brains can remember things better when they are grouped into chunks like this. That’s why phone numbers have their distinct pattern of groups, and some states have license plates that consist of two groups of numbers and letters (the phone example isn’t as good as it once was, since most people my age don’t actually know any phone numbers, as they are stored in our iPhones and not our brains.)

That’s a memory trick. Sitting in that IQ test in high school, I began doing this naturally when the numbers I had to remember started to get bigger (more than six stressed my little brain).

So today we were handed our syllabus in class. In most classes the syllabus is a sheet of paper with basic course info and contact info for the professor. At my medical school, however, the syllabus is a set of phone books that, when stacked, are about as high as a coffee mug. They represent the sum total of everything we need to learn before October 4th, at which point we will be given a new set of books and start over. The administration itself has likened the process of learning all of this to “drinking from a fire hose”.

A Dean actually used this slide during orientation last week

So I’m pretty interested in memory tricks. I bet you are as well, whether you are in medical school or elementary school, much of your academic success relies on your ability to retain information and supply it when required on exams. Eventually, just knowing the information is no longer enough, and you are actually required to apply it solve new problems (gasp). 

My school is offering optional memory training sessions for us later in the year, but I need to be learning things today. Thankfully, Year One of medical school is also just like starting 17th grade, so I already have some tricks up my sleeve. Hopefully I’ll learn more and share them with you all (both of you that read my blog 🙂

My first trick is to start with what I know best, then work my way to the hard stuff, then recap on what I know well. This is like…uh..building a bridge over a river, begin and ending with familiar, solid ground. I do this because it helps integrate the harder stuff with the easy stuff, which is my second trick. Some things are just stupid and impossible to learn (I’m looking at you, Organic Chemistry). In these instances, I’ve always benefited by trying to understand how something I don’t understand (that’s pretty much everything) is like something else I do understand (a very small and useless set of knowledge, by the way). 

I also study actively. I don’t just read my notes while watching Netflix. I may have just lied. I sometimes do that, but I first go through and actively outline chapters, draw pathways, summarize systems, etc. This is not a very eco-friendly process. I use up lots of plain paper and sticky notes trying to put all of the pieces together, but then I’ve usually got it. Some people are freaking geniuses and can sort of glance over material, scan it into some freakish mental hard drive, and just recall it at will (I’m not bitter), but I am not one of those people, and you probably aren’t either. Grab your pen or start typing, and the info will stick better. 

Final memory/study tip before I call it quits: go for a run. Or exercise somehow. If I were a responsible writer (which I’m clearly not), I would link to some journal article with a clear positive correlation between exercise and academic success. All I can share is my own personal experience with running, and I KNOW it has made me a better student. Also, I find it hard to believe that having gallons and gallons of highly oxygenated blood pump around your skull a few times can be anything but beneficial.

Class is going well so far. My greatest struggle has been staying warm in our ridiculously frigid lecture hall all day. I’m going to wear a sweater to class tomorrow in the middle of August…crazy. 

Thanks for reading.