This blog post is a continuation of part one, a reflection on my first year as a pre-medical student where I discuss my highs, lows, and lessons learned that I hope others will find helpful. If you haven’t read it, please check it out!
Winter Break By the time winter break arrived, I was relieved. Sure, like any other student I was relieved that finals were over and I could relax and enjoy the holidays. But, that first semester was challenging for me, in a way that I could only appreciate after the fact. I spent so long in the Army that I almost forgot how to be a student. Learning tough material, efficiently, is an art. It didn’t come to me overnight, but after my first semester I felt confident that my internal operating switch was fully turned from Soldier mode to student mode. It was a tough knob to turn, but I learned to embrace and enjoy this new lifestyle. For many years, going back to school was this vague and distant aspiration; a dream. It seemed surreal that I had just completed my first semester.
During my month off, I spent time shadowing a general surgeon and an emergency medicine doctor. There were some eye-opening and life changing experiences as I witnessed these medical professionals interacting with and helping navigate patients through some of their worst and best moments in life. These were my very first experiences with shadowing and I saw first-hand it’s importance in a pre-medical student’s experience. I’ve heard of students realizing medicine wasn’t for them after seeing what a doctor does personally. Shadowing only solidified my desire to enter the medical field and boosted my drive to one day become like these wonderfully intelligent and driven doctors. Throughout that first semester, I worked hard and spent many nights and weekends with my nose in books. Seeing those physicians at work rejuvenated and reoriented me while renewing an even greater passion for medicine than I believed was possible. Not only were these experiences educational in the traditional sense; they were inspiring. As the New Year approached, I made a personal resolution that if I was able to find any doctor willing to allow me to shadow them, I would dedicate every break to this.
During the remainder of my time off, my husband Ryan and I travelled to see his family and celebrated an unseasonably warm but wonderful Christmas with everyone. It was nice to have this time to smile, relax and recharge. I love everything about Christmas and fully embraced every cheesy song and tradition with pride. Once I was back home, winter finally decided to pop in for a friendly visit. I spent the remainder of my last week before spring semester activated through the National Guard and helping Alabama residents through an ice storm. I didn’t see that one coming but it was still a good experience!
Ryan and I with his nephew, Tripp
Spring Semester By this time, I felt a lot more confident in my transition. I had a semester to learn some hard lessons as well as find out what worked for me when learning. Studying effectively is a skill that can be lost and must be re-learned once you’ve been out of school for a few years. Due to my newfound confidence, I decided to enroll in 18 credit hours in the spring. I didn’t realize then just how much extra work two more credits can mean! It was a lot. My favorite during this semester was a health professions course worth one credit hour and taught by my pre-health advisor. Each week the students would meet and listen to a presentation from a different health professional. This included doctors, nurses, physician assistants, etc. It forced all types of pre-health students (pre-vet, pre-dental, pre-med, etc.) to learn about the many health care professions that work together to take care of patients. I even heard some of the students saying they realized they were more interested in one profession over their original choice. During the course, a pediatrician made a presentation and afterwards, I contacted him and set up some shadowing for this summer. Needless to say, I appreciated the deeper understanding of each field and looked forward to the weekly class. Over the course of the semester, we conducted research and wrote a paper on the path to becoming whichever profession we chose. This class was invaluable to me and should be a foundation course for pre-medical students at other universities. I would suggest any pre-med student sign up for it immediately if its offered by their school.
During this semester, I also went from volunteering in the outpatient surgery department to the endoscopy department in the local hospital. The volunteer coordinator recommended this as a place that I would love to work and could gain valuable experience from. I’m glad that I was able to experience a different side of the hospital and be given more responsibility at the same time.
While this semester was great and actually flew by faster than my fall semester, it wasn’t without its own hiccups. I wound up getting sick, eventually started coughing up blood, felt exhausted and struggled to function for about a month. During this time, studying was difficult. I even had to take a few sick days because I was contagious. While not a great month, I learned something from it. I planned for 18 credit hours in a perfect world where I was able to stay up late studying and dedicate the time to it. Being sick wasn’t part of the plan and sometimes I was even too exhausted to study. Ultimately, I learned that it’s important to give myself a little wiggle room when possible in case things like that happen. Life is about choices and attitude. Nevertheless, I ended the semester strong and was happy with how I finished it. Plus, I had my Ireland study abroad to look forward to! Nothing could dull my spirits.
Spring Break In keeping with my New Year’s resolution, spring break basically revolved around shadowing a gastroenterologist. This was the third physician I shadowed and I was quickly seeing differences. Obviously there were differences due to their different specialties, but I began to develop a respectable baseline for how doctor’s interact with patients. And just like that, I began to appreciate how doctors themselves affect doctor-patient relationships. Each one I had shadowed up until this point was extremely professional, but all of their personalities were different. It was a great experience and a perfect way to spend my first spring break.