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Journey through AUA: Part 3 – Basic Sciences Second Semester

by Jasmine Riviere Marcelin, Class of 2011

The second semester is consistently deemed the hardest semester – largely due to biochemistry, which was arguably the mortal enemy of the majority of students. When I was in Basic Sciences, I opted to take Neurosciences in that block. For me, it was an excellent decision and I cautiously recommend it. It is not for the faint at heart – two weeks of intense 8-10 hour days of lectures. You must be able to retain information because you still have to take the shelf exam.  Regardless of when one takes the course, Dr. Glasser’s lectures are key, and Nolte’s “The Human Brain: An Introduction to its functional Anatomy 5th Ed.” is a must, if only for the pictures.

Genetics should be easy enough, but many students fall into the trap of neglecting it while focusing on the harder classes, only to fail the course. Medical genetics is less about numbers than it is about the actual diseases.  Know that hemophilia is seen more in males than females, or that Huntington’s disease gets worse in subsequent generations. Knowing a disease inside out will get you the right answer on USMLE no matter what the question is.

I’ve come to realize that for most people, you’ll either get biochemistry or you won’t. I was one of those who just got it – all of the pathways made sense in my head.  If you just don’t get it – no fear. Take it one test at a time. Lippincotts is a great asset. If you don’t understand pathways, simply memorize them – redraw them on paper or make a large chart. You won’t be in the minority if you memorize for a test then forget; but remember that this method means that you have to work even harder for the shelf and USMLE. Don’t underestimate the importance of faculty guidance.  Whenever something is not clear, address your specific concern with the professors. They are paid to be available when we need help – so use them!

Physiology is the first time we start to learn things that sound like medicine. It’s another tough course, but well taught.  The Guyton text is invaluable and will be useful when studying for Step 1 (so keep it). Try to integrate topics, e.g. if last semester you learned about the brush border and microvilli on intestinal epithelium, remember these when learning GI physiology and how important they are for large scale absorption due to the increased surface area. Even at this stage, practice questions are helpful because they help you understand how one concept can be tested in several ways. By the end of second semester, this will be helpful as the second year of medical school introduces more clinical pathology. Stay tuned for next week’s post about 3rd semester!