The Beginning of Something Beautiful

“No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.” 
― Atwood H. Townsend

Twenty days have transpired since I have written the last examination of my eighth  semester of my pre-clinical years of medical school. Since then I haven't had the foggiest idea of how to spend my time. Habitually, I've found myself in the earlier days reviewing course material of the semesters that have elapsed, until I was introduced to a site which allowed me to catch up on "my" show-Revenge. Now that I'm all caught up and still in shock of how it ended (seriously, why did they let Victoria live on?!?!), I've been spending my time biting my nails as I await the release of my semester's grades, planning meals and my study days.

It is interesting to observe how swiftly these two years have flown by. I can vividly recall my first day as a first year, unaware of what to expect, sitting in the amphitheater as just another face in a class of 200+. Since that first day, I have grown tremendously, firstly as an individual and secondly as a medical student. I have made valuable friendships and have had the privilege of being in Problem Based Learning (PBL) groups with some of the brightest minds in the Caribbean (despite their premature nature); and so this post is bittersweet for me. As I prepare to leave the pre-clinical arena  behind and embark on the paraclinical years that lie ahead. I'll admit, there is a part of me that would love to enjoy the three months of summer vacation laid up on a beach somewhere with a mountain of books to leisurely read, however, that would be very unwise and particularly counterproductive. Therefore, I've constructed a few points by which I plan on utilizing to make the most of this extended vacation to ensure I am prepared for this transition and the courses in the fall.

Preparing For The Transition From Pre-Clinical to Paraclinical

1. Identify Your Weak Areas

Lists have always worked for me and in medical school it's been my go to whenever I really wanted to create a focused study schedule or calendar. I recently tried something new. It entailed me creating a list of the organ systems I found most challenging over the last two years and then subcategorizing concepts or topics specific to that organ system that I did not fully understand. This allowed me to visually identify areas that I am weak in and could spend a little time brushing up on. 

Once I had a nicely organized list, I was ready to construct a timetable that would allow me to spend adequate time on each concept. 

2. Construct a Timetable or Study Schedule

I know I'm not the only one who walks around with a to-do list in my phone or on pieces of paper tucked away in my bag or planner (well I hope I'm not the only one doing this). Lists are life-savers and time managers, and as a medical student those two things are definitely a necessity. 

Thanks to Pinterest, I didn't have to construct a timetable from scratch. I found a study template that I will be using for the purpose of organizing my study time and review of coursework material as a means of preparing for my first semester of my third year of medical school. At the end of the summer I'll decide whether or not I will adopt this template and use it throughout the academic year. I believe this template will work well, as it lays out the month which will assist by helping me stay abreast of upcoming deadlines and focused on my daily and weekly tasks. 

3. Manage and Organize Your Resources

As a medical student, you will soon come to the realization that you have accumulated or will accumulate a vast amount of e-books, medical licensing examination study material, an impressive library of Dr. Najeeb videos and tons of other resources that you won't have time to sift through during the course of the academic year. 

Summer vacations allow you the freedom, and flexibility to make the most of your time. Take the time time preferably at the beginning of your vacation before the lazy mode is activated, to organize all of the material you have gathered during the inception of medical school. Go through the items and either organize them into folders which would reduce the time you spend searching for a particular book or document. 

I used the list I created in #2 to go through my external hard drive and to create a folder with various subfolders that were specific to my weak areas. 

4. Set Realistic Deadline 

Setting deadlines allow you to follow through on what you have set out to accomplish. By getting accustomed to doing this, it will be easier to keeping deadlines throughout the academic year and in all aspects of life. 

I have decided to set my deadlines by months. This should allow me ample time to complete my task as well as allow me to evaluate how this system is working for me. 

5. Apply the Material You Learnt

By now you should know that I am an advocate of shadowing physicians and gaining as much exposure to the clinical side of medicine as possible before the clinical years. I strongly believe it is vital to shadow a physician during this transition phase especially as you're reviewing material you would have learnt during the pre-clinical years. What better way to gain an understanding of what you are reviewing than by application of skills under the supervision of a practicing physician. Take advantage of such an opportunity to have concepts clarified and to pick their brains for ways of making differential diagnosis 'easy'. 

6.  Study Hard! Play Hard

It goes without saying that this is the stamped mantra of medical students EVERYWHERE! Becoming a doctor requires long hours of studying, practicing and doing your best to understand as much as possible and to know everything! It also requires BALANCE. Yes, I said it, balance. it's something we need in order to function optimally. 

Do your best to maintain a proper balance between the hours spent studying as well as those spent nurturing yourself. I had to shake that guilty feeling that hovered over me whenever I couldn't keep my eyes open any longer and wanted to sleep. Yes! I felt extremely guilty for going to bed early and closing the books. 

As much as you study, isolate a few hours during the week for a breather. Time to reconnect with an old hobby, watch a movie, spend time with your significant other and friends that may still be around. AP and I have decided to visit a restaurant once or twice a month which would allow us to dress up and enjoy the city. I've also gotten quite good at finding "free" things to do in Trinidad that are fun and relaxing. 

Playing Hard: Pre-birthday celebrations post exams at a local restaurant. 

As this is the last summer break, make the most of it. The months to come are just the beginning of something beautiful, as daunting as ward rounds may seem, these paraclinical years are what EVERY medical student counts down to. It is in fact the only time you truly feel as if you are well on your way to becoming a doctor and earning the privilege of wearing that stethoscope with pride. 

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