How to Become a Doctor: Part 2

This post will take you through my medical school journey.

The last post led you on my journey through my initial interest in becoming a doctor up to being accepted into medical school. If you have not read it yet, you can click here to catch up. This post will take you through my medical school journey. Again, it tells my story, but can also be used as a quick roadmap for anyone considering becoming a doctor and what it entails.  You should know what you’re getting into before committing to such a great profession.

Medical School is a completely different beast than high school or college. Through high school and college I felt that I skated through and still got good grades. This was not the case in medical school. Through the first few weeks, medical school is described like trying to drink water from a fire hose. This analogy is spot on because you are being fed so much information it is impossible to remember it all. You open your mind wide and try to “drink” any and all information your brain can handle. Needless to say, I could no longer cram for tests. I studied every day.

In the beginning of medical school I was dating my future wife and would take the weekends off. I would drive to San Diego (about 2 hours from Loma Linda) on most Fridays and return on Sundays. Other than that I studied. Here was my life: I’d wake up and go to class which was typically 8 AM to noon. I would have lunch. Then I would either have a lab (such as anatomy cadaver dissection) in the afternoon or study until dinner time. I would have dinner then return to studying for another few hours before turning in for the night. This was going to be my profession and I dove in headfirst.

When I was going through medical school at Loma Linda, we still had a very traditional curriculum. The first two years were didactic with learning in the classroom. The 3rd and 4th years were hospital rotations where you get exposure to all the major specialties. Throughout the first two years you go through multiple tests to make sure you are learning appropriately. At the end of the second year there is a big test called “Step 1.” This is the culmination of all you have learned in these first 2 years and is almost as intense as the MCAT. I remember that I did fairly well on this test (ie. a little above average).

At one point during the 1st and 2nd years, we had to shadow an internal medicine doctor for a few days to get acquainted with a typical day in a doctor’s office. I remember waking up in the morning and knowing I was going to be on my feet the whole day. Up to this point I had been in the classroom and studying just about all of the time which was spent on my duff. I had only one pair of dress shoes and did not wear them much so they weren’t broken in. I decided to wear my comfortable New Balance running shoes. I showed up with slacks, a button down collared shirt with a tie and… running shoes. I was ridiculed the whole day, but I was comfortable!

The third and fourth years are where it starts to get fun. You get to essentially learn through “on the job” training. The major rotations include Internal medicine, Surgery, Obstetrics-Gynecology, Neurology, Psychiatry, Pediatrics and Family Medicine. Each of these has it’s own test that you must pass to complete the rotation. I found that as I rotated through each of these specialties, there were elements that I enjoyed in each one. This eventually led to my decision to choose a family medicine residency which in my opinion has characteristics of each of these specialties in one.

I don’t have room to jot down all of the great experiences and stories from my clinical years here and will need to have a blog post dedicated to that in the future. I had a bunch of great experiences outside of school as well and was privileged to have my wife supporting me through these last two years. We became very involved in a local church and helped with the youth group. A part of our heart was left in that church when we moved away.

During these clinical years, medical students essentially shadow the residents and are considered part of the team. A common practice during rounding (when visiting patients in the hospital) is “pimping.” This is when the attending doctor will “pimp” the medical students and residents by asking them questions about the patient, illness or pretty much anything else related to medicine. Some attendings do this just to humiliate the medical student or resident, but others were truly interested in education and teaching.

My evenings during these clinicals were spent studying about the particular patients I was following and the the medical problems they had. This would make me more prepared for rounds and the “pimping.” It was a great feeling when I was able to answer these questions. At the end of each rotation there would be a big test on the specialty. Grades would be based on this test and reviews from your attendings.

We also have the “fun” experience of taking inhouse call during our clinical years. I had the fortunate experience of being a “white cloud.” This means that I typically had easy calls and got to sleep on most nights I was on. My friends who were “black clouds” and doomed to be up all night every time they were on call were very jealous. One night, the resident I was working with was being nice and actually sent me home in the middle of the night! This was great until I got home and was met with my wife wielding an aluminum baseball bat thinking I was an intruder. Fortunately, a subdural hematoma was averted when she realized it was me.

In the 4th year of medical school you take another big test called Step 2. This has 2 components: A clinical knowledge portion which is a paper test and a clinical skills portion where you see test “patients” and are graded on your interaction with them. These test patients judge how well you ask appropriate questions, do an appropriate exam and document your findings. I again did well on these tests and passed all of my rotations with flying colors. I was set up to graduate!

Prior to graduating, in the 4th year of medical school, every medical student needs to make a decision about what specialty they want to pursue and start sending out applications to residency programs. I will save my story of this process and some residency stories for my next post, part 3 of this series. For now I will leave this post with one of the greatest days of my life, my medical school graduation.

Medical school graduation was an awesome experience. My family was present as was my inspiration for this whole process, my uncle (pictured at the top of this post). The culmination of all my efforts over the past 4 years was finally realized in the form of a 15 3/4″ x 22″ piece of paper with the words “Doctor of Medicine” written under my name. I had done it! I would thenceforth be known as a doctor. This was a great bookend to my educational experience but was actually just the beginning of my medical career.


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