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Journey through AUA Part 2 – Basic Sciences First Semester

For many students, going to a Caribbean medical school can be filled with so many firsts – away from home/parents, experiencing a new culture, and, of course, first time really learning to study. The first two can easily be overcome with time, but the latter can be quite elusive.  I thought I already knew how to study, but my toughest semester was my first. Undergrad has more memorization without overlap; medical school is more about cumulative understanding.  So the first step to success is to understand what is being studied. Basic Sciences is a journey that can be smooth if one is prepared beforehand; so here are some tips, starting with the first semester.

DPS: This class is usually ignored by first semester students (myself included), but looking back, I understand the importance of a thorough history and physical exam. Although they seem unnecessary (especially when there is Anatomy and Histology to study), observe and pay attention to the DPS instructors. Most were taught medicine by relying only on history and physical exam, when radiologic tests and labs were unavailable.  Asking the right questions leads to the correct physical exam, which will help you to interpret any tests performed in context. Try to understand why a particular disease gives a specific physical exam finding, and you’ll find it easier to remember how to do the physical exam.


The recommended text “Roadmap to USMLE: Histology” was an invaluable resource – read it thoroughly. Histology is a course that lends itself to visual learning. Try drawing the cell and its structures. It is much easier to understand gap junctions if you can see two cells adjacent to each other that need to communicate as quickly as possible. If you understand the purpose of the cell and its structures, the physiology will be easier in 2nd semester (and we all know that stethoscopes don’t make us doctors if we don’t know the cell).


The bane of my existence. This was my toughest class and the real turning point in my understanding that I had to find an individual study plan that worked for me. I attended lectures, took notes, read the text, but made no progress.  I wondered if this would be the first time I would fail a class. Then I met Gritz, who was an anatomy whiz in Premed 4. He walked me through anatomy, demonstrating on cadavers. I learned more from touching cadavers than I did in the classroom. I eventually stopped attending lectures and spent my time learning in the lab, and I got a B. The moral: sometimes the classroom isn’t for everyone, and if you find that you learn better outside the classroom, do what works for you. Next week: 2nd semester!

by Jasmine Riviere Marcelin, Class of 2011