I learned several things about myself this past year, and I am grateful for the post-bac program for giving me the opportunity to do so even though some lessons were harder than others. A lot of what I learned also directly ties back to a post I wrote last September, which was a to do list for the year. So here is a not so concise list of what I learned:
1. Exercise keeps me sane
I’ve heard this a million times from many people, but I truly came to know what this meant this past year. When I started the program last summer, I had plenty of time to still go out and ride my bike for 20-30 miles at a time and run afterwords. But when the school year started, my exercise habits went down the toilet. I barely ran once a week the first semester and gained about 5-7lbs, which is a lot on 5’1 frame!
Shortly after winter break and getting back to Buffalo to start Spring semester, a slew of medical issues hit me. First I developed an abscess on my gums after a tooth cleaning which I was given penicillin for. The penicillin must have wiped out my good flora, because I then got 2 secondary bacterial infections. Around the same time, I found out through a routine eye exam that my retina decided to detach. It was in such a peripheral part of my eye that I was asymptomatic. Apparently, women with severe myopia (very near-sighted) are the population at highest risk for randomly detaching retinas and retinal schesis (when little blisters form between layers of the retina). On top of all this, I contracted E. Coli poisoning from my microbiology lab (I hypothesize, since my lab partner was careless and spilled it on my stuff the day before I got ill). So in the middle of a horrible winter, in a city I was growing to hate, battling one bacterial infection after another and feeling like I was rotting from the inside out from the antibiotics I was taking, I had to drive myself several time to a retinal specialist where I eventually got retinal laser surgery.
I was feeling so miserable and lonely during this time. Sure I had post-bac friends, but I was away from family and my boyfriend, loved ones that used to be my go-to social support network. It was taking a toll. My body kept getting such horrible stress reactions: upper back cramps, eye twitching, headaches, sleeplessness despite the extreme lethargy, weight gain and most definitely some mild depression.
Slowly but surely I started to snap out of it, especially since my first few grades of Spring semester were not my best and I couldn’t let anything get in my way of getting into medical school. I began doing yoga once a week, taking a class at the Universities gym. The stretching, breathing, and reflection were exactly what my body was aching for. Then I started adding in some running, which had to be on the treadmill since, for what ever reason, the city of Buffalo didn’t properly plow sidewalks and roads (It was truly a miserable city to live in). But I discovered that I learn anatomy really REALLY well on a treadmill! Who knew! I was baffled that I never saw another student studying on the treadmill, since it just makes so much sense now. I’d park myself on there for an hour at a time, first walking and slowing working into a jog. By the end of the semester I was running up to 5-6 miles on the treadmill memorizing origin, insertion, innervation, and action of hundreds of muscles.
2. Staying sane (and healthy) is a 2 sided coin, and on the other side is….
Nutrition! Exercise really helped me get out of my slump, but changing my
diet dietary patterns really helped me keep going and I believe helped me heal faster. After taking a human nutrition course, I was left very curious about many things. Where does our food come from, what happens when it gets processed, what does it do when it enters our bodies? I binge watched many food documentaries and did my own research on PubMed and was overwhelmed with the evidence that I really needed to cut out most animal products. Easier said than done for this meat lover! Its still a struggle, and I by no means label myself a vegetarian or vegan, but I have overhauled my nutrition and now include as many veggies and fruits as my stomach and wallet can handle. I am only one person, not at all proof or example of a trend, but changing my nutrition nearly overnight really started to make me feel so much better inside and out.
I FINALLY became more regular in a GI and menstrual sense (the infections and antibiotics really messed all that up…TMI? I dont care…), certain aches and pains began to fade away (some I know are here to stay), and my overall quality of and outlook on life improved. It took a couple months, and I’m still working on finding a balance between the veggies/fruits/and meats but I do believe eating a mostly plant based diet can really turn around many people’s health.
3. I’m in love, I’m in love, and I don’t care who knows it!
Part of my to do list last year was to fall in love with science. I don’t know what else to say except, mission accomplished! I have always loved science, and despite taking some courses that were very difficult I enjoyed every bit of it. Also, not being competitive out loud was rather easy for me, because I didn’t need to parade around my grades and put people down to know I did a good job. Loving what I was learning really helped with this. Thats not to say I’d over-hear people talking about grades and get the urge to jump in. I’m mighty competitive in many things, but I think competing with grades really devalues the purpose of why you are learning it all in the first place. No one “wins” Medical school -_- And no one…NO ONE…likes a douche bag who brags about their grades, even the people who did better than them.
4. I’m a very VERY visual learner
I’ve heard and read many medical students say they spent a large portion of their first year trying to figure out the best way they learn. I was fortunate to figure that out pretty early on during my post-bac year. I quickly realized that when I was having issues on a question on an exam, I’d close my eyes and try to picture my notes, or index cards, or a figure in a textbook and more often than not was able to get the answer from that image in my head. Sometimes I almost felt like I was cheating! But as soon as I realized this, I capitalized on it. Color-coding with highlighters was no longer a thing I was doing to make my notes look pretty. I made concept maps, charts, and color-coded things in ways that I could easily conjure up when I closed my eyes.
My advice for anyone out there who is about to start medical school or is pre-med –> Figure out how best you learn. One of my friends makes and uses so many convoluted mnemonics that they sound like foreign languages to me sometimes, but it works for him! Another friend had to, HAD TO, recite anatomy out loud for it to stick and it got her straight As. Find your learning style, exploit it, and don’t be surprised if a mix of different study methods works for you. Here might be a good place to start.
Figuring all this out really gave me more ownership of my learning. It helped me on one of my to-dos from last year, assume responsibility for what I learned. Its easy to blame a teacher, but what would I gain from that? Not much at all.
5. Not being judgmental is hard
I spent the last year with a cohort of students who nearly all had very strong personalities. So, inevitably, some personalities will clash and people will start talking behind others backs. It was an easy pastime to gossip, almost a stress reliever when school began to get rough. Despite being guilty of this, I honestly tried to put myself in people’s shoes and give them the benefit of the doubt when they were maybe acting strange, crazy, weird, bitchy, etc. I think I let a lot just roll off my back instead of getting involved in drama that would have wasted my time. I had a bit of roommate drama of my own, but I’m glad I didn’t get involoved in the other drama because I wasn’t there to find a boyfriend, make enemies, have the nastiest attitude, compete, etc. I was there to keep my spot in medical school, and I did 😀 Its still a work in progress, and I hope that how I sympathize with other who may annoy me in my mind can get translated to the words I speak out loud.