Tag Archives: Studying

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!

sortadrwordpress@gmail.com

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Habits

I have a Sunday afternoon ritual, one that has lasted for at least six years. After spending the morning at church and with the family, we get to the (potentially) best time of the week: Sunday afternoon. This wonderful time of the week can be spent doing whatever you want. Some of my favorites include napping, reading, cycling, watching football, and writing. This is why I can go an entire week without a post, but have a remarkable consistency on Sunday blogs. Unfortunately, none of these other activities are a habit for me on Sundays.

On most Sunday afternoons I come to terms with the assignments or exams due on Monday. I crack down and get started, only to be sidetracked by a blog or a funny YouTube video. During anatomy, we have a quiz or exam every Monday morning on the material from last week. That’s what I’m supposed to be studying for right now. During college I usually had lab reports due on Monday morning, and during Organic Chemistry the reports would regularly exceed 15 pages a week. One semester I completed a half-Ironman triathlon on Sunday morning, drove home during the afternoon, and then spent 3 hours that night finishing my lab report for the next day.

So I make a habit out of putting things off until Sunday afternoon, then trying to get them done quickly. It’s worked for me in the past, since I am usually pretty efficient and can pull a good grade out of last minute studying. I may have done myself in this last week, however. My birthday was last week, as well as the release of Call of Duty Ghosts, as well as some other extracurricular activities and generally gloomy weather that all combined to make me not very productive on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Now I have to dig myself out of this mess, which means time in the lab all weekend long and extra studying next week to catch up and stay caught up with new material. Yikes.

Thankfully, I have an awesome teacher to help me get caught up. In fact, she is probably the best teacher I have ever had, and I don’t even know her name. I’m talking about the cadaver I have been dissecting for the last month or so. Learning anatomy from textbooks and pictures is terrible. Learning anatomy in the lab doing dissection is awesome. We can learn with our hands, learn from our mistakes, and learn the critical relationships that could never be grasped by looking at a book. Whoever this lady was, she gave a great gift to our group of students.

A few days ago we held a memorial service for all of the 200 or cadavers donated to the medical school. All of the families came and packed into a Catholic church (which is super old, but beautiful). The medical students then honored those that gave their bodies through music, reflections, and a prayer from each of the religions represented in the class. It was really moving, and a great way to thank the families whose relatives donated their bodies. I volunteered as well, but didn’t do anything too special. I drove a golf cart from the parking garage to the memorial service for those who couldn’t walk. True story.

If you are driving one of these and wearing a suit with a nametag, you can go anywhere you want.

I have no idea who this lady was. How many kids did she have? What was she like? Was she a night owl or a morning person? Who were her friends? She is a complete mystery to me. The only things I know about her are that she made a generous decision to help students she would never meet, and she was selfless in her gift. That’s pretty special. What we received from her was the capsule of what was a person. We get the chance to look inside and see the structures that made her human. Ultimately, that’s the reason I am going into the lab on Sunday afternoon to study. I know that this chance I have is special, and I want to honor the people whose gifts gave me this chance.

Thanks for reading.

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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

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.