Notes from a Medical Student:

Hibernating in Summer

Welcome back, summer! The sun-filled days, the endless nights, the warmth, the fun, the outdoor sports and, most important, the reappearance of the human race that seemed to be hiding for all of those cold winter months. Suddenly, the streets are full of people again: families on bikes, runners getting back into shape. Yet, for me and the rest of my class, reverse hibernation is about to take place.

For students in their first two years of medical school, the thought of one day causes even the coolest character to break out in a sweat. For most, that day will come in early June, and for a very brave few, at the end of May. Regardless of the date, each one of us has a clock in our heads that counts down the days, hours, minutes, seconds… until we take the test that will dictate the rest of our lives: the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 1.

This is the time of year when it becomes very easy to spot a medical student. We are the ones making the mad dash to the bookstore to buy the latest BRS (Board Review Series) book, the ones muttering under our breath like crazy people, fervently trying to remember the configuration of the brachial plexis that we learned centuries ago (in real time, about a year and a half). The most obvious sign, however, is our new life companion, the well-worn yellow-and-blue FIRST AID for the USMLE book, which we now must keep within a five-foot radius at all times, lest we go into a full-blown panic attack.

Most of our professors try very hard to do damage control. They work to keep us focused on the courses we still have to complete, to calm us down by telling us how well Wright State students have fared in the past. But medical students are hard to fool, and every last one of us knows that the score we get on this test will determine whether or not we actually get to graduate and be what we have been working to become for about 20 years. No wonder we look a bit unkempt and unhinged!

For two years now, we have crammed more information into our brains than should be scientifically possible. Now that test-prep mode is in full swing, I basically walk around all day mentally quizzing myself and trying to go through the knowledge I have amassed to organize it in some meaningful way. Unfortunately, that means I have also lost the ability to remember where I parked my car, where I left my keys or glasses, whether or not I turned off the stove and just about anything else that requires the slightest bit of awareness. I will admit to being a bit of a liability these days.

<p "=""> Yet, with the pressure of the big day looming, there is also a sense of the light at the end of the tunnel. If we do manage to get through it all without too many scrapes and scars, we will emerge on the other side and finally get to see real patients! That's right, in the midst of all the Step 1 chaos, there is also the knowledge that we are getting ready for the next step in our career: medical clerkships. Set to begin on August 3rd, clerkships represent a whole new way of life. No longer will medical school consist of me, alone, in the library with a whole bunch of books. What awaits is new, exciting and downright terrifying.

The next time I write this column, Step 1 will be over, and, if the fates allow, I will be preparing to start my clinical training and to see if I can put all this acquired knowledge to good use. I will also be facing a whole new set of challenges. How do I give a patient bad news? Will my clumsiness translate to poor surgical skills? So many questions left to be answered. It's almost distracting enough to make me forget about June 13th… Almost.