Studying In Med School – Find Your Study Style

Being in medical school means I often find myself spending the entire day alone at a coffee shop table meant for 6 people with four books, my laptop, a barrage of notes, a white erase board and occasionally a strange teaching tool like “Big Tim.” It also means I sometimes have a powerpoint open in public and don’t realize that I have inadvertently exposed an unsuspecting Comm major to the world of Syphilis and Intestinal Worms while I went to pee. (Actually I just leave disturbing images pulled up on my computer so people won’t steal my laptop while I’m gone ordering my 14th espresso shot.)

It also means that in the midst of all that studying, sometimes I get really, extremely bored. When I’m sick of looking at power point notes…

Power Point Notes on Colitis.

I will occasionally move on to studying like this:

White Board Depiction of Renal Physiology.

When you start med school all the more seasoned med students tell you “Find your study style and stick to it.” Well, I thought I knew my study style – I mean, I made it through undergrad, right? Wrong.* I did okay in my first 3 blocks using my undergrad study method (go to class, skim book, cram 3 days before the test), but it was not until our Microbiology block that I figured out how to actually do well in Medical School classes.

Intestinal and Urogenital Protozoa Flow Chart.

My study style is visual and flow-charty. I had no idea. I had never studied like this in my life. I started making flow charts for everything last year. 

They almost all have pictures. And when I feel like I cannot draw one. more. flow chart. I draw really fun, slightly scary, pictures to help me remember stuff. 

Holy Grail of Gram (+) Bugs.
I am a med student, not an artist.
Don’t judge my stick figures.

And the craziest thing happened, when the test came around I could redraw these charts in my head. And, if I couldn’t remember something I could at least cross off a few answers by thinking about where on the chart page they were located. I also stopped going to class all together. A lot of people scoff when they hear that, but it works for me. I listen to our audio recordings, I can pause, rewind, look something up, etc. and not get behind. I can also listen on 1.5x or 2x speed if I’m getting distracted due to slow speaking. My grades went up a lot when I stopped attending classes. I’m too easily distracted when I sit in the lecture hall.

A lot of our interviewees ask me “What should I do before I start med school?” and they want to hear things like “Memorize Netter’s. Befriend Dr. Goljan and siphon his Pathology knowledge. Read Costanzo Phys 14 times. Sleep with Micro Made Ridiculously Simple for the entire summer before you start.” but I think all of those things would be a huge waste of time.

I wrote this blog in hopes that I can encourage any pre-meds who are reading this to start investigating their study style. Don’t study for med school before you’re here. Med school is not harder than undergrad – it’s just a larger volume of material in a smaller time span. Start looking into what you can do to improve your study efficiency while you’re in undergrad, that way when you get to med school you’ll already have it down pat. I promise you will be so much happier if you don’t do what I did and have to struggle to keep your head above water for the first three blocks while you’re figuring out how to study. 

Also, when you get to medical school don’t let anyone criticize or change your study method. I have a (really awesome, gorgeous, ridiculously smart**) friend that makes a note card for everything. She seriously has enough notecards to fill up a bathtub. I tried making notecards first year and it did not work for me. It was very time consuming and I got behind and frustrated way too easily. She also attends every. single. class. It works for her. She is extremely smart and makes wonderful grades, but when I used those methods I was not doing so hot in my classes. So, now I stay home and make millions of flow charts. Don’t ever let people, whether it’s friends, classmates or parents, make you feel guilty for doing what works for you!

*Err – Right I made it through undergrad. Wrong because I did not, in fact, know my study style. I knew a study style and it worked for undergrad, but it was not efficient enough for medical school. 

**She might be reading this, so I had to throw in something to embarrass her a little. 🙂

Prayers For New Zealand

The pictures coming out of New Zealand following Tuesday’s earthquake are equal parts terrifying and heart breaking.

Photo Courtesy of Washington Post.
For more pictures and a great article, click the link.

My thoughts, and more importantly my prayers, are with all those who have been affected by the earthquake in New Zealand. I would greatly appreciate if my NZ readers, especially those who commented on my recent post about the beautiful pacific island, would let me know they are okay whenever they have internet access/see this. mealzrox88, you’re blinking? You guys ok?

My mom’s husband has cousins that live in Christchurch as missionaries. We heard from them yesterday – they are okay, but their house is destroyed. They are currently camping at the location of their crumbled home to prevent looters from taking whatever they have left. Incredibly sad to have to be in that situation. Keep them in your prayers, please.

Wonderful cleft palate repair example.
Photo Courtesy of The Wu’s Photoland on Flickr

Every time there is a disaster like this I think about my future as a physician. I want nothing more than to be able to travel places and help with post-disaster healthcare and aid. I can’t wait to be able to use my career and training as a tool to give back. I know that healthcare gives back in other ways, but it has long been my dream to work in some sort of medical missions and disaster relief at some point in my future. Operation Smile, an organization that travels to countries with little health care to do cleft palate repairs, used to be at the very top of my list, but considering surgery is at the very bottom of my specialty list I may have to find a different organization.

And now I will selfishly change the subject out of pure excitement. My insanelygoodwithmoneymanagement husband figured out a savings plan for us and, since my car will be paid off as soon as we get our tax refund in, he has determined that we will likely be able to save enough money to travel to New Zealand at the end of the year. Since I can’t help much with healthcare at the current time, I guess I can help stimulate the economy a bit. And on that note, I need you to let me know you are ok, blogger friends, because I fully intend on conning you into showing me around if we’re anywhere near you when we visit. 🙂

All Helmets Are Not Created Equal

I really thought this was common sense…

Had I not just written a post about parents knowingly putting their young children in danger’s way, I would write a long and judgmental blog right now about how I wanted to yell obscenities at a father yesterday while taking a leisurely walk with my husband and our dogs. Instead, I’ll just tell you what I saw.

A man riding a dirt bike through our neighborhood (Strike 1 – Not a street legal bike) with his toddler-age son (Strike 2 – Not a double occupancy bike) who was wearing a foam bicycle helmet (Strike 3 – Not gonna help much your child flies 100 feet and lands head first on the pavement). 

Let me end this by saying that I am in no way anti-motorcycle. I grew up riding and racing dirt bikes and ATVs and I think they are a lot of fun, albeit inherently dangerous, when used in the right context and with appropriate safety equipment. My dad has a gorgeous red Harley and he loves it, but I’m not sure I could ever get on one again…after working in the ER they scare the bejeezus out of me 
 (on that note, dad – please for the love of God get a helmet for that thing). If you want to endanger your life, then that’s your choice but please, use your brain when operating heavy machinery and think twice before putting your child’s life at risk.

We’re Moving To New Zealand

Only enjoyable through a window.
Photo courtesy of Ryan Holst on Flickr.

I despise the cold weather. If you follow me on Twitter you probably already know that because of all the complaining I managed to do (I know, me complain? Never!) when the windchill here was -16°F for several days in a row. Luckily, Texas weather changes really quickly and today we broke record highs by making it to 85°F – I’ll take that in February any day. But really, what is there to like about cold weather? You have to wear umpteen shirts, tights under your pants and boots on your feet. Ice causes car accidents, snow keeps you from getting places, and wind makes your nose turn red. No fun. All fun-sucking.

So, the hubs and I are pretty set on, God-willing, never living more North than we currently live (yes, the Panhandle of Texas is North for me. Listen – Minnesota, Vermont, Wisconsin, all those other states located in the Arctic, the do not exist in my world). We hope that I will match to a residency program somewhere in South or Central Texas…heck I guess we’d even take Florida if you twisted our arms, but it’d take a lot of convincing to get us up North anywhere. 

We decided a long time ago we are moving to New Zealand and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. Okay, mostly it’s just something we joke about, because New Zealand has some of the best SCUBA diving in the world and it looks like such a beautiful place to live (plus it’s so expensive to get there that we most definitely would not be able to afford to fly ourselves back if we ever visited). 

Last week on one of those hypothermic days I was staring at an online radar map using my mind to will the clouds into dumping snow on us so I wouldn’t have to leave the house for my meeting the next morning and what I can only interpret as a sign from above greeted me on the radar map page:

“New Zealand never leaves you. Start Planning”
Yep,, in conjunction with the good Lord in Heaven and the interwebz advertising elves, has informed us that we do in fact need to move to the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

My mom was pretty upset about this until I informed her that this would be our new house:

and this would be the view from the guest quarters: 

Obviously we are not really moving to New Zealand any time soon*, but we are honestly trying to figure out a way that we could afford a visit to the island world. While we’re there we’ll probably just go ahead and buy a house on the coast and move in. You guys will ship our furniture (and dogs) to us, right?

All this imaginary move-planning got me curious about some stuff and I was hoping my infinitely intelligent readers could help me out:

How does it work if someone with a US MD wants to move to another country? If it depends on the country, tell me about the ones you know about. How does it even work if someone with a foreign medical license wants to move to the US? Do they have to take licensing exams again? That would be awful. *nauseous*

Oh, and has anyone ever been to New Zealand? Better yet – please, please tell me one of my readers lives there and can tell me all about it! 🙂

What do you think of cold weather? What about hot weather? 

*Stop hyperventilating mom (and other family members reading this), we are not really moving to New Zealand. We may, however, miss Christmas this year if we can figure out how to save enough money for a vacation over there during the last month of 2011. The weather is best in New Zealand during our winter season. Feel free to start saving and tag along with us! 🙂

I Need Your Input

I’ve been considering moving to a new URL hosted by WordPress for a while now. My infinitely intelligent husband suggested I blog from there to begin with, but I insisted that Blogger was the way to go. As per usual, he was right and I’m now wishing I had listened to him. I have nothing personal against Blogger – I think it’s a great platform and I appreciate that it’s generally user friendly. I really do like using it – the problem is post formatting. 

Photo Courtesy of DirkSchaefer on Flickr.
The layout and buttons are so finicky!! I can write a blog post in 30 minutes, but it takes me 45 minutes to get it formatted like I want. Then I press right align on a picture and it aligns to the left and it won’t change and it drives me insane, because I am totally type A and no blog post of mine is going out looking like that. Go change into a more appropriate outfit, child.

To get the post to format just like I want it I usually end up having to write it out in HTML, which is a huge hassle and usually involves at least some amount of help from my husband (who I’m sure wants to come home and help me program a blog post after he’s been programming all day long at work). 

So, I want your opinions. What blogging platform do you use? What do you like about it and what do you not like about it? If you use Blogger, do you have these issues with the post formatting? 

Indian Giving Medical School Acceptances

If you’ve read any of my blog at all you probably know by now that I’m a medical student. Applying to medical school is a long, exhausting process. I know because, well, I did it twice.

In Texas we have a little bit of a different system than other states. You apply starting in June-ish and interview throughout the Fall semester of the year before you want to start school. Most people do this during Fall of the senior year of college, hoping to begin medical school the July/August after graduation. 

 Acceptance offers to Texas medical schools* go out in 3 waves:

  1. “Pre-Match” – Acceptances offered from November 1 – December 31
  2. “The Match” – A process that involves ranking every school you interviewed at from favorite to least favorite. The idea is that this enhances the number of students who get to go to their top choice school. At midnight on Feb. 1 you log onto TMDSAS and find out if which, if any, school accepted you. If you have a “pre-match” offer to a school, but “match” to a school you ranked higher you automatically forfeit your pre-match offer and are enrolled in the higher ranked school’s class. 
  3. “Waitlists” – Usually accept a few people in random waves from about March 1 up until the first day of each school’s orientation.
So, this past Monday was “match day” for the students applying to Texas med school classes of 2015. Many of these students are college seniors and hoping to go straight to med school after graduation. 
My “Match Day” Announcement from 2009

Texas A&M College of Medicine (a school I like and respect a lot, it’s also the med school of my undergrad alma mater) is a really great medical school. Unfortunately, this year they really screwed up. And I mean big time. 
Somehow, over the course of pre-match and match offers, they managed to overfill their class by EIGHTY seats. They are now forcing 80 of their students to defer (put off beginning school) their acceptance for a year. 

There are students who ranked A&M higher in the match than another school they already had an acceptance to, got “matched” to A&M (thus automatically forfeiting the previous acceptance) and immediately received an email stating that 80 people were going to be chosen to defer. So, while they are not truly “indian givers” in the sense that these students will eventually get to attend medical school, they left them with the impression they were accepted to attend this coming fall and are now going back on that.

This is appalling on so many levels. Presumably, the admissions at A&M knew they were already overfilled – so, why did they not notify students before match rankings were due to allow those with other offers to keep their acceptance at a different school? And why did they go ahead and accept more people in the match? And why, in their follow-up email to their new students, did they not own up to their mistake, apologize and tell them they were working out a solution instead of threatening a lottery-choice for who would defer?

Now, I know this sounds like not so big of a deal to those of you who haven’t been through this process, but consider these points:

  1. In this year of forced deferral some students will have undergrad loan payments that come due – many who have degrees in things you cannot easily get a job with right out of college (Psychology, Biomedical Science, etc.)…especially with the job market like it is right now. 
  2. These students will be searching for a job for one year. They know they will be quitting in June of next year. What are the chances of being hired under those conditions in this economy with a degree like “Biochemistry?” 
  3. This takes away an entire year of earning potential. Med school will be the same length no matter when they begin and so will residency. So, what they are taking from these students is an entire year of future earning potential. For many of them that will be the equivalent of losing a six-figure paycheck. 

In my opinion TMDSAS (the application service) should be limiting schools on how many offers they can send out in the pre-match period. No school should be allowed to offer more spots than they actually have just because they assume that some people will decline. This is poor practice and sets admissions committees up to be in a position like A&M is now in.

What would do you think A&M should do? How should they choose who has to defer and do these students deserve some kind of stipend? How much makes up for a mistake like this? How do they redeem themselves after this kind of mistake?

*When I say “Texas Medical Schools” I am including 8 of the 9 actual TX medical schools (UT Southwesters, UNT-HSC Texas College Of Osteopathic Medicine, UT Medical Branch at Galveston, Texas A&M HSC College of Medicine, Texas Tech HSC School of Medicine, UT Health Science Center in Houston, UT HSC in San Antonio and Texas Tech HSC Paul L. Foster School of Medicine). I have purposely excluded Baylor College of Medicine – they do not participate in the Texas match because they are way to proper for those sorts of things. Or they’re a private school so they don’t have to. Whatever.

My Cattle Dog Is A Criminal

Highjacked Bouncy Ball

Last week I was taking the trash out and Mae, our 5 year old Red Heeler, brought me this ball to play fetch. She is a fetching machine, seriously – as long as you throw the ball (or frisbee, she is actually partial to frisbees) she will bring it back to you. Anyway, so what’s the big deal? Well, that ball is not ours. No, that ball belongs to Callie & Brunson, the neighbor’s dogs.

Allow me to explain…

I remember the day we figured out what was happening…the handsome guy that I eventually conned into sharing my med school debt marrying me and I had been sitting on the (disgusting blue, dirty, bachelor pad-esque excuse for a) couch, most likely procrastinating some type of school work, when a trio of knocks
resonated through the room. 

We answered the door to find Redneck Neighbor:
“Yir red dawg out dur is jumpin’ my fence and eatin’ my pup’s food.”

What’d that crazy cowboy say ’bout me?
He’s lying.

I think at the time we both thought he was crazy, little did we know this would become a defining moment in our animal-parenting lives. We chose to do nothing and we ended up raising a hardcore canine criminal.

It wasn’t until about almost two years later that I thought about this again. I pulled up to Donnie’s house and
 who do you think I saw basking in the sun with her ears pointed straight to the sky? (no…not her…she uses an all natural, citrus fruit-based spray to get that sun-baked look) Yup, I saw Mae the red dog in all her fence-jumping glory. And, when she spotted me, she fled – directly over a 6 feet wooden picket fence. It was more like a leap-anchor-catapult move, but she made it over nonetheless and I saw it with my own two eyes.

Obstacle in the way of frisbee? No problem.

Other than the fact that her jumping has made for some seriously stressful missing-dog events….and oh man has it made for some seriously stressful missing-dog events (3 days missing in the woods after fleeing from a boarding facility…oh purina…I’m nauseous thinking about it…) it really hasn’t been too big of a hassle. In fact it’s been a source of occasional amusement – she’s great fun to watch catching frisbees, backflipping if you toss a tennis ball just right and climbing trees.

Anyway, here in West Texas we have some really awesome neighbors. The Hearn’s are a couple who love their four-legged children as much as we love ours and they are really, freakin’ awesome people on top of that. Naturally, since they like their dogs so much, they keep a plethora of squeaky, colorful, plastic things stockpiled in their back yard. 

**Let it be known, before I continue this story, that our dogs have toys, as well. Lots of them. More than any three dogs should ever have. In fact there is currently enough stuffing in my hallway to stock a Build-A-Bear shop for 6 years.**

When I started walking outside last year and finding toys I didn’t recognize, it didn’t take me too long to figure out what was going on. There were really only two explanations…

  1. The neighbors bought their dogs really flippin’ sweet toys that could, as my grandmother would say, grow legs and walk to our yard or…
  2. My fur-child was an all out thief of all things round & squeaky.

Luckily, as I mentioned before, these neighbors are really great and they find it pretty hilarious that Mae likes to mosey on over and snatch things from their yard. They offered to cut a hole in the fence so it wouldn’t be so much trouble for her, but I’m pretty sure she’d just start heading for the other neighbor’s yard if we did that (and they have a very small chihuahua that I’m almost certain could be mistaken for a squeaky toy). 

Yes, people, my dog is a thief. She is an unabashed, Kong-stealing, criminal. I’m just waiting for the fateful day when the feds to show up to inform me that they matched her paw print to the scene of a massive Petsmart heist.

Now, excuse me while I walk my delinquent dog to the
neighbor’s and make her apologize for what she’s done.

Until that day I’ll just keep tossing abducted tennis balls back over the fence while I lecture Mae on how her toys really are just as cool as theirs (unless I’m wrong & those toys do pull a Toy Story worthy stunt to get to our house….in that case, the neighbor dog’s toys are, in fact, far cooler than any tennis ball I’ve ever paid for). 

Did you ever steal something as a child? Or maybe your child highjacked a candy bar from the grocery store (I swear I have no personal experience with that…don’t ask my mother, though)? I would ask for stories of thieving pets, but I’m pretty sure I’m the only one raising a criminal Cattle Dog. Tell me your stories!