Welcome to Medical School: A Beginner’s Manual

uvmmedicine blogger Maxwell Knapp '21
uvmmedicine blogger Maxwell Knapp ’21

Arrive in Vermont. Marvel at the beautiful rural landscape, with cows and what-not all over the place.  Travel about ten feet to the left, and find yourself on the comfortably busy Church Street in Burlington, which your mother repeatedly compares to Paris. Reconsider everything you thought you knew about Paris.

Smell the beignets from the Leunig’s stand, hear the chattering anime coming from Gaku Ramen. Do not resist the temptation to poke your head into Church Street Comics.

Lake Champlain will take your breath away when you see it, dotted with sailboats. This is normal. If you frequent the downtown area, it may cease to do so once you’re used to seeing it every day. This is also common, but should be avoided.

Look at Outdoor Gear Exchange, see the several creamee stands in view of the lake. Notice the dancing class happening above a restaurant called Splash, with people dancing salsa and bachata while looking over the water. Hear the unabashed giggling coming out of the comedy club. Then realize that Citizen Cider is just down the street, along with several craft breweries including Zero Gravity and Queen City.

Recall for a moment that at some point, you should find some time for medical school. Your mental Google calendar will be abruptly blocked off, in red, for every night of the next few months. Grumble.

Ask your deity of choice to send some sort of sign in case medical school was a terrible idea. Plan a contingency in case aforementioned deity sends aforementioned sign. Example: use medical school loan to purchase a private island and hops. Use leftovers to buy chickens, pigs, and cattle. Open brewery/petting zoo. Profit.

Look around with amplified interest in divine intervention.

Once classes actually begin, emphasize the importance of putting your best foot forward while meeting new classmates and professors. Dress well, arrive early. Find one of the seemingly few familiar faces in the horde of students in lecture. Such friendly faces emanate a four-foot radius of social safety. Start moving towards the nearest safe zone. While in transit to the safe zone, you may be interrupted by a human asking you a question about your weekend or personal life. Do not slip past quickly, or hide. This is how the safe zone grows. Make conversation. Bonus points if you manage to remember the name of the aforementioned human.

Begin a lecture on transcriptional regulation. Ride out the panic attack when the professor changes a slide last-minute and disrupts your meticulous ten-minute pre-learning session. If you doze off for a few slides, you will convince yourself that the entirety of your next exam will consist of the information on those slides. To remedy this situation, ask your new friend if they want to do some concept mapping over the weekend.

Ask a question about something you think you understand, but want to clarify. After getting your answer, decide that this question has made the entire class think of you as the gunner. Ignore how many people made notes of the point which you helped clarify.

Remind yourself that a solar eclipse is a natural, well-studied phenomenon and in no way constitutes a sign from divinity.

Reach into the mental calendar, find a Friday night blocked off in red for Step 1 studying. Delete the red block and plug in something unrelated to medicine – because you came to med school to do what you love, not to stop doing it.

The work to be done is immense, but not immeasurable nor insurmountable. It isn’t feasible to block off every night for work, nor is it feasible to continue fitting work in whenever you have time. There is a comfortable middle ground, colloquially known as ‘sanity’.

Remind yourself that everyone else is going through the same thing, that everyone else is just as insecure and giddy and terrified as you are. Quit comparing everyone else’s highlight tapes to your blooper reel.

Sit down and buckle in for the ride of your life.

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