This evening, I listened to a talk by Dr. Rachel Naomi Reman on “The Art of Living Every Minute of Your Life.”  In her thought-stirring lecture, she spoke about the way stories help us to discover meaning and gain new perspective in life. This stood out to me because writing is a way in which I understand myself and the world around me. Like my post yesterday on perspective, I’ve found that writing helps me to examine and re-form my perceptions and responses. It is as if I’m able to pull the thoughts from my mind and hold them at arm’s length like molten glass so I can shape them into something productive and life-giving.

It’s a way of processing life—these rigid letters aligned in fluid sentences. And the past few months have needed a lot of processing.

Medical school is hard.

I knew this in my mind, but my heart was still caught off guard by some of the struggles I’ve experienced this past quarter. This time of new beginnings is also a time of intense adjustment—a time when so many things come into question.

Even things as deeply engrained as study habits can be upended. I thought I had my study skills honed to a point after four and a half years in undergrad, but I lost my footing at the start of fall quarter and didn’t begin to recover it until around the week before finals.

In the scramble that followed Thanksgiving break, I have finally confirmed that yes, some of the key study strategies used in undergrad do indeed work in medical school. I am a Google Images sleuth, a person of sketches, diagrams, and pictures. Accordingly, I spent a good part of the interlude between Thanksgiving and finals scouring the internet for images and animations, creating cartoons for Developmental Biology, and sketching out structures for Anatomy.

Developmental Biology…I remember the transcription factors best when they become animals such as frogs (FGF), hedgehogs (SHH), confused flies (WNT), and “things that go bump in the night” (BMP).  Thanks to one of our great TA’s for sparking this idea!
Anatomical labyrinths and silly mnemonics

Pictures, animations, and 3D models make me happy.

Coffee also makes me happy.

You could say I’m a caffeinated visual learner.

More Developmental Biology: how to make a heart

I do wish that I had started employing these study strategies sooner, rather than second-guessing my learning style. I had heard that study habits which work well in undergrad are also applicable in medical school, but for some reason, I didn’t act on this knowledge as quickly as I could have.

Perhaps it is because when you become a medical student, your world changes in so many ways. No matter how supportive the environment is (and Stanford is truly everything I could ask for), it happens. Suddenly, you’re trying to digest enormous amounts of information while learning how to relate to others as a budding medical professional. You’re wondering whether it’s normal to feel confused and insecure, whether you’re good enough to be a medical student, and whether your classmates feel the same way you do. You’re hoping that your dissections are neat enough, that your answers sound smart enough, and that your coffee habit stays under control.

In all of this, study habits are lost…and found again. But more importantly, friends are found. Classmates share listening ears and their own struggles, and I realize that I’m not nearly so alone after all. In a slow, beautiful way, the tenuous threads of relationships woven during the first few weeks of medical school begin to coalesce and strengthen. I begin to see them shimmering in the halls, labs, classrooms, and elevators—a support network among my classmates.

We share our stories.

And as we do, we find we’re not alone in this wonderful, crazy, amazing journey into medicine.