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If I knew then what I know now…

Now that I am at the end of my medical school career, I have had the opportunity to reflect on the last four years. I am proud and happy that I have made it through successfully, but, looking back, there are some things I might have done differently. In Basic Sciences, I remember that most of us approached studying with a “one test at a time” attitude, where we crammed very hard prior to each exam, and then stopped studying once the test was over. While that method was successful in terms of passing individual classes, I realize that it was somewhat counterproductive when it comes to the big picture – i.e. 5th semester, Step 1, and clinical rotations. These “study binges” focus more on memorization than understanding, making it more difficult to integrate subjects as one advances in studies.  This may translate to more time needed to study for Step 1, and possibly decreased confidence in oneself in the crucial preparation period.

Something else I would have done differently would have been taking the shelf exams more seriously.  Studying for Step 1, I realized the importance of practice questions, and each shelf exam (especially ICM and Comp) represents a “free” opportunity to do practice exams.  These exams are composed of retired USMLE Step 1 questions and represent an insight into how the USMLE is structured. The ICM and Comp shelf exams can give you an accurate idea of your preparedness for Step 1, so take it seriously.

Finally, the last thing I would change is my attitude towards studying after starting clinical rotations.  Instead of putting off studying until “I begin preparing for Step 2,” I would have continued daily reading. My preparation for Step 2 would actually be a review of material previously learned rather than tackling new material at this late stage.  I learned a lot from my clinical rotations, but I can only imagine how much more productive I could have been with daily reading.  Alas, after working so hard in Basic Sciences and studying for Step 1, “senioritis” is a common diagnosis among 3rd and 4th year medical students.  Despite mental fatigue, physicians are life-long learners; in fact, part of our Hippocratic Oath pledges dedication to continued medical education.  So to prepare for a lifetime of studying, it’s best to develop a habit of daily reading early in our careers.  I started doing that and surprisingly, it’s not as bad as it sounds – reading for pleasure is sure better than reading under pressure!

Despite mental fatigue, physicians are life-long learners. In fact, part of our Hippocratic Oath pledges dedication to continued medical education. To prepare for a lifetime of studying, it’s best to develop a habit of daily reading early in our careers. I started doing that and surprisingly, it’s not as bad as it sounds – reading for pleasure is sure better than reading under pressure!

by Alberto Marcelin, Class of 2011