Finding a Balance: Reflections on the First Year of Medical School

uvmmedicine blogger Maggie Graham '18
uvmmedicine blogger Maggie Graham ’18

It’s hard to believe that a year has passed since starting medical school. Seeing all of the new faces of the first year students on campus takes me back to what it felt like to start this journey, and how that has changed in one year.

Only a few weeks before beginning medical school, I had moved with my family (wife and three kids) from Iowa to Vermont. We were in the midst of adjusting to a new city, new house, new elementary school, and new daily life. We were also adapting to living among new people we didn’t know very well yet, and relying on only each other for support and socialization.

Coming to campus the first day of school, I had much on my mind beyond just what medical school would be like: How was Kindergarten for my daughter? How was my older son managing being the “new kid” in second grade? Was my wife feeling totally isolated and alone with our two year-old? Would I be able to make it home for dinner this week? Academic stresses also began to accumulate, and there were times I wondered what I had gotten myself into.

However, I was also able to build friendships at the beginning of the year, and those relationships proved to be crucial to my survival. Studying together, having fun together, and even getting childcare offers from medical school friends so that my wife and I could get a night out together—those were the aspects of my first year that kept me going.

My family and I were also able to build community here in Burlington. The elementary school, our neighborhood, and public spaces like parks and libraries provided avenues to help us feel “at home” in Vermont. Through the first year, all five of us fell more and more in love with Vermont and Burlington. Today, when we come back to Burlington from visiting elsewhere, we truly feel like we are coming home.

As a new second year, I have a totally different feeling and outlook on medical school than I had as a new student. First year, for me, was about identifying strategies that work for me. Strategies for studying, for managing household responsibilities and money, for spending time with my family. Much of first year felt like trial and error—constantly learning from things that didn’t work, and trying new things. I often felt frustrated, sometimes defeated. However, by the spring of last year, I realized that I was in a sort of groove. I had figured out several techniques that worked well for me (for instance: taking hand-written notes, doing practices tests with groups, and occasional podcasting), and developed a balance with my family. Learning how to make medical school work for me during first year has made the first weeks of second year far more relaxed and enjoyable than I could have predicted. I have confidence that I was previously lacking, and I have the experience of being up to the task.

I still have many extra concerns on my mind—how the kids’ first days back to school have been, how burdened my wife may feel compared to how we felt when I was home all summer—but everything feels easier knowing that the hurdle of first year is behind me and the clinical years are just around the corner.

What are your thoughts about this topic?