Basic Science Curriculum in Retrospect
18 months. Hundreds of lectures on everything from embryological development to geriatrics. Countless hours spent learning structures in anatomy and memorizing lists for histology. Now that I’m finally finished with the eighteen month basic science portion of the Baylor Med’s curriculum, it’s time for some reflection. And some sleep. 🙂
I learned how to learn.
The astronomical rate at which we’re advancing our knowledge of human biology forces physicians to be life long learners.
Over the last 18 months, I’ve tried a wide variety of studying techniques hoping that at least one would “stick.” Flashcards for pharmacology. Reading the textbook for immunology. Reading the syllabi for other courses. Studying strictly the PowerPoints during block 1. Rewriting PowerPoints onto as few sheets of paper as possible for courses like endocrinology and neurology. I’ve studied at school, at coffee shops, at my desk at home, at the gym, while playing Counter-Strike Source, on my bed, in the lecture hall all night before an exam, in the bathroom (…like I’m the only one who does that 😉 ) and realized one truth – for me, nothing beats just sitting down and reading the PowerPoint lectures. Rewriting notes and making flashcards take up time I could use for simply reading the material. Being away from home makes me want to talk to friends. My productivity and retention quickly approach 0.
You have no idea how efficient you are until it’s the weekend before a pair of exams, you’re streaming lectures and reading PowerPoints for the first time, and it seems relatively easy. This happened to me during the very last block of basic sciences. All my studying got pushed way back because of BCM’s 12 Days event, but I still did really well on the exams. At this point, it was more about understanding what was “high yield” material rather than trying to memorize all of it. Hmmm… I won’t be pressing my luck in the future. 😉 Nevertheless, it’s self-evident that I “learned how to learn” effectively by focusing on the primary material and accurately assessing what topics are important.
I learned that high school drama never dies.
Having come from a small undergrad, I grew accustomed to an environment with minimal drama compared to the gossip-ridden halls of high school. “Did you hear so-and-so is going out with the new guy?!” “Oh – my – gosh, what is she wearing?!” People talking behind each other’s backs. People being too dependent on others. One would think that at this point in our lives, we would begin to represent the professionalism and maturity associated with being young physicians. It’s time to put the well-being of our patients at the forefront and drop the irrelevant sentimentality in our lives.
I learned about humanity.
To this day, I cannot watch a dissection without considering the life and circumstances of the patient on the table, be it a living human or frozen cadaver. This sense of respect was instilled early in my training by a certain histology professor and continues to serve me as a measure of humanity amidst the hardcore science and technology of medicine. My basic science education has empowered me to explore the true wonder that is the human body, but learning about diabetes, seizures, and infections from a PowerPoint is very different from what I’ll be doing for the rest of my life – actually treating people. This implies not only treating each person symptomatically, but addressing their concerns from the past, predispositions about the future, and everything in between. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, is credited with saying: “Wherever the art of medicine is loved, there also is a love of humanity.” And indeed it is. 🙂
I learned about balance.
Though exams, preceptorships, and other medical-school-related-activities frame the majority of my life, my time spent outside of BCM has kept me sane. It’s amazing what kind of friendships you can establish in medical school in spite of the aforementioned drama. People who take the initiative to be there for you, to bail you out of a tough situation, to check up on you from time to time… and the list goes on and on. *Sighs* I can only hope that I’ve provided at least something in return for the privilege of their friendships.
Balance is something which always came easy to me. Whenever I tried to venture into the realm of the closet gunner studying eight hours a day, I quickly reverted back to my recreational activities. I have to constantly alternate from one activity to the next in order to keep myself from falling into boredom. I really admire those who can stay at school all day and productively study, but I’m just not one of them. Could I have studied more over the last eighteen months? Of course. Did I experience long bouts of boredom or burnout at any point during the school year? Not that I can remember. It’s all about balance. 🙂
I learned about myself… again.
Aside from learning that I’m lazy and have warm hands, I learned that I’m not liked by everyone, but more importantly, that I don’t care anymore. Spending most of my life as a people-pleaser has done no good, and now my obligations are to the patients I’ll see on the wards as well as my clinical team. This is easily the single greatest change I’ve gone through in med school… for better or worse. The unwavering notion that I am in medical school on behalf of my patients, not myself has been the cornerstone of my mentality in approaching medical school since the very beginning, and readjusting my scope on life has only solidified this feeling.
The basic sciences taught me how to learn – academically, socially, and from my mistakes. These valuable lessons will undoubtedly carry over to my clinical rotations and hopefully serve as a reminder of how far I’ve come and what a privilege I have to be training in the Texas Medical Center. It’s one I take seriously and with great humility.
I am ready.