With each stage in medical school, new and exciting (and nerve-racking) challenges arise for one to explore. Thankfully, we have an incredible community of medical students in the Max Rady College of Medicine that we can turn to for support and advice. But let’s face it; we are in uncharted territory now during these unprecedented times. With that, I had the pleasure of sitting with a few of our current fourth year medical students: Kristen Braun, Wendy Wang, and Lochlan Wilson. We talked about their experiences in medical school and discussed what advice they have for those currently in training.
What was your life like before starting medical school and what motivated you to apply to medicine?
Lochlan realized his ambitions early on in high school. However that doesn’t mean he was 100% set on medicine from the beginning. “…In high school the things I [liked] the most were science and graphic design… My high school had an aviation program and my dad actually has a private pilot’s license with a small plane, and so one of the other things I was considering would have been [becoming] a pilot… but I just figured I would rather do medicine as a career and aviation as a hobby rather than being a ‘hobby doctor’ which is definitely illegal!” stated Lochlan.
For Kristen, the decision to pursue medicine came a little later during her undergraduate degree when she found that lab medicine wasn’t quite her cup of tea. One of the aspects of medicine she said she was interested in, which she did not have as much exposure to doing lab work, was the experience of working as a team in order to help a patient. “It’s been a good decision, but also yeah, it’s not what I initially had planned,” Kristen stated.
Wendy decided pretty early on that medicine was the right fit for her, and participated in a wide range of activities prior to and during her undergraduate studies at McGill University which piqued her interest. Wendy stated, “I wanted to do med pretty much off the bat like in grade nine… I did Take Your Kids to Work Day with a public health nurse… and I was like, ‘Wow this is so cool’. You get to talk to patients about their health, you get to learn about the human body, and I [thought] ‘This is so interesting.’” Additionally, Wendy volunteered at a crisis response line throughout her undergraduate years. “[I was] dealing with a lot of people that were having panic attacks [or] having thoughts of harming themselves. Being able to learn how to de-escalate those situations, I found that to be really mind opening,” stated Wendy.
What did you expect when you first started medical school?
“I didn’t really know anything about medicine before starting med school. I didn’t have any family friends who were doctors or even nurses or anyone involved in healthcare, so I came in with relatively few expectations,” stated Kristen. “I actually was expecting it to be a lot more difficult than it was. I was like… this is going to be the most difficult four years of my life… and I don’t think any of that ended up being true. Honestly everyone is very smart but also very nice and willing to help you out. So I guess that was a little bit surprising.”
Wendy and Lochlan were in similar positions as neither of them had any immediate family members who were involved in healthcare. However, they both found that medical school, while difficult, was not as daunting as they thought it would be. “There was more content, more material, and more exams. However I think because it’s pass-fail I have put way less pressure on myself to get 100% or to get 95%. I aim to pass and do well, but I didn’t feel like people were my competition… group cohesiveness was what I found to be really helpful,” stated Wendy. Lochlan echoed this sentiment stating, “I found I had way more free time outside of studying than in undergrad… You’re not gunning for that 95-100%. Now you can think, ‘Okay, I studied a good amount tonight, I can take the rest of the night off because I think I know this well enough’, compared to undergrad where you’re like, ‘I’ve got to get into med school, I’ve got to keep studying’.”
What have you learned so far throughout medical school?
When asked this question, the one unifying theme that arose from my fellow classmates was the importance of self-care. “I found myself putting way more priority on spending time with family and friends and making sure I get to spend quality time with them, just because I felt like I didn’t have the pressure to get 95%, and it actually did help me stay motivated in med school and make sure my mental health was okay. If you wake up in the morning and you don’t feel good about yourself, it’s going to make the day so hard…” said Wendy. Lochlan agreed, adding, “You just need to take time [for yourself]. In my head I refer to it as ‘human time’, which means time that I need to become human again. So sometimes that means not talking to anybody and just doing my own thing, or sometimes it means hanging out with friends outside of medicine. I think just learning to respect when I need a little bit of that time, whether in a social way or an antisocial way, has been a really big thing that has come up for me. And then I also learned Murphy’s sign.”
Kristen concurred while adding in a lesson she has learned so far. “…One of the top things I’ve learned in med school is the classmates you’re with now are going to be your colleagues for life. Try your best to get along with them and always be kind and as polite as you can be. You’re going to be stuck with them for the next 50 years of your employment.”
How has your time in medical school changed or pushed you?
While clerkship presents many new challenges, one thing that these three have noticed is that they have grown a lot through their experiences. “…I’ve definitely learned a lot about what I’m actually capable of. I started on Emergency and Internal Medicine and I felt like for those rotations… I would study all night and come to work the next day and there would be a patient that had a billion things that I had never even heard of and I felt like I was always on the back pedal then… After the pandemic break, I kind of came back to it thinking, ‘You know what, I actually do have some experience in this’ and I felt like I could jump into it, and even if I didn’t know exactly what I was doing I could be more capable. So I think medicine has pushed me to be like that.” stated Lochlan. Kristen agreed stating, “I think Med 3 specifically has pushed all of us to see what [we’re] actually capable of and not what [we] maybe think [our] limits are… Obviously we’re all far from perfect or knowing even what’s going on most of the time, but it’s still nice to see that improvement.”
Wendy also found that her time so far during clerkship has taught her how to handle the extremely difficult or stressful times. “…It also made me kind of realize it’s really important to compartmentalize personal versus professional life… [If] a patient coded and died in the ER, it’s really important to be able to process that properly and debrief it with someone… because that will really eat [away at] you in the long term and really wear on your mental health.”
What do you wish you had known before starting medical school? What advice do you have for others either in the year below or for those applying to medicine?
Kristen provided some words of wisdom for those considering a career in medicine stating, “…Make sure you actually really want to do it. It’s just not worth it otherwise. Like if you’re just looking to do it because you want a stable decent paying job or you want the clout of being a doctor, I would not evaluate it as worth it.” Wendy was quick to echo Kristen’s advice saying, “Do it, not necessarily for the ‘right’ reason, but do it because you actually enjoy it, because if you don’t enjoy it and you’re just there for the pay you’re going to be so miserable every day.” Lochlan chimed in to agree while also providing another perspective saying, “If you’re really passionate about it I think it’s totally feasible to succeed and do well in medicine… It’s not an insurmountable task by any means.”
What is one thing you really enjoy about medical school that has surprised you?
Almost instantly Wendy spoke about the connections she has made during medical school stating, “Honestly, I’ve made my closest friends in med school. They are the best!” Lochlan agreed joking, “I think part of it is the shared suffering…” He also explained how the Class of 2021 has become such a collegial group mentioning, “…I feel like there’s a lot of people that you just click with… But I feel like there’s even people that, you know, I didn’t talk to much in pre-clerkship, but if we have some shared time off, like say I’m doing a consult in emerg and somebody happens to be working there, even if it’s somebody I didn’t talk to that much in pre-clerkship, I can… connect with them pretty easily. So I think that’s pretty spectacular.” “Yeah, I would agree,” supplied Kristen. “The friendships in med school, I would agree, come hard and fast because there’s the component of the shared suffering and the selection.”
Lochlan also mentioned that being able to connect with patients and hear their stories has been a privilege saying, “…you feel medicine is a very special ‘in group’ but there’s times where you realize… ‘I’m privy to some really unique or really touching or privileged information.’”
Kristen also brought up the fact that in clerkship, and I would have to agree, you dive into the work right from the get go. “To quote my favourite childhood show, The Magic School Bus, ‘take chances, make mistakes, and get messy’ ‘cause literally that’s all I’ve done in clerkship… That is clerkship in a nutshell. You’ll always have backup, but like they will throw you in the deep end,” stated Kristen.
A huge thanks to our Med 4s for taking the time to share their experiences and advice. Keep an eye out for the next article highlighting more of the experiences of our Med 4s. Want to see more content like this? Do you have any ideas on what you would like the Rady Register to cover? Feel free to send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.