Four months ago, 12.5% was an arbitrary percentage to me.  Now it represents the hard work and personal growth required to successfully complete my first semester of medical school.  I am 12.5% closer to earning my medical degree. During Med 1, I not only learned how to adjust to life in another country, I developed study habits and self-discipline that I will continue to practice throughout my career.

Medical school on its own requires a significant adjustment to your habits, behavior, and schedule, but American University of Antigua (AUA) College of Medicine presents another challenge – growing accustomed to life in another country. I encourage you to fully immerse yourself in Antiguan culture, participate in local holidays and festivals, explore the island, enjoy the cuisine, and meet the people. Soon you’ll come to appreciate the continuously warm weather, and in time, create a home away from home. Coming from New York, I was used to a fast-paced life, but moving to Antigua has forced me slow down and appreciate my surroundings. I’ve learned to quickly adapt to my environment and community, which I know will make me a more compassionate, successful physician.

After the first week of classes, school work already started to pile up. As a first semester student, my classes were in session from the early afternoon to about 5:00PM. For many, 5:00PM marks the end of the day but for medical students, it’s just the beginning. After a quick dinner, my night was spent reviewing the day’s notes and preparing for tomorrow’s lectures. I knew that I couldn’t allow myself to fall behind, so I dedicated myself to working as efficiently and diligently as possible. These past four months involved a lot of experimentation with study habits, note-taking, and daily routines. My practices from previous studies no longer fit the rigors and pace of medical school, but by exercising flexibility and perseverance, I was able to figure out what worked best for me.

In-house examinations were administered every four weeks.  No matter how much I studied, I’d often worry that I wasn’t prepared and didn’t feel a sense of relief until the exam was over and I knew I had done well.  I soon learned to have more confidence in myself.  I studied hard, prepared daily without cramming and successfully completed my first exams.  I had found a system that worked for me and I needed to trust it without getting so anxious before every exam.

Every day is a learning experience. Whether it’s getting familiar with a structure in the human body, memorizing the steps of a pathway in biochemistry, or simply figuring out how to get a good deal at the local market in St. Johns, learning is inevitable. In the medical world, no outcome is guaranteed and medical students must always prepare for the unexpected. A week before finals, my laptop crashed but an AUA graduate and friend offered some advice that really put things into perspective. He told me that in the face of struggle, I’d have to work harder because the people who overcome struggles are the ones that will always be strong and successful.

During my first semester, I learned how to create a home in a new country, to work hard and stay focused, and to start all over again when the unexpected occurs. Now that I’ve successfully completed 12.5% of my medical degree, I am confident that I’ll be able to conquer Med 2 and the challenges it brings.

by Heela Azizi, Class of 2017