“Am I Cut Out for Medicine?” (The Answer is ‘Yes’). And Other Fourth –Year Wisdom

uvmmedicine bloggers Julia Shatten '18 and Vic Hudziak '18
uvmmedicine bloggers Julia Shatten ’18 and Vic Hudziak ’18

In the first and second years of medical school, the end goal – an M.D. – seems far away. But Vic Hudziak ’18 now knows that despite that first-year slow-mo feeling, four years actually flies by. She and classmate Julia Shatten ’18 have some great tips for current students and those getting ready for medical school.

As a fourth-year, what are the most valuable pieces of advice you can offer to a first-year medical student?

  1. Have fun while studying with friends. Injecting fun – and company – into the studying experience improves learning and builds memories. “Some of my best memories of medical school are laughing in MedEd with friends while trying to figure out how to memorize the nerves of the brachial plexus,” says Shatten.
  2. Learn how you learn. “Try studying in groups, by yourself, podcasting, note-taking, videos, flashcards, practice questions,” Hudziak says. “Be honest with yourself and let go of a method if it’s not working, even if it’s how you got through [your undergraduate degree] college. I had been out of school for a few years when I started first year [medical school] and it was a challenging transition. Figuring this out now will equip you with the tools to become a #lifelonglarner!”
  3. Free time? Drive straight to the mountain – just go! “If you ever get out early from anything, just drive straight to the mountain,” Shatten advises. “Don’t waste all that time debating whether or not you should go, or figuring out who else can come. Just go!”
  4. Develop a routine that keeps you happy. “Podcasting on the way to school, looking at the mountains, taking a study break in the greenhouse, reading a few pages of a book at night, standing coffee date with a non-med school friend every week” are some examples Hudziak suggests. “Practice doing these things and keep doing them, even when the going gets tough.”
  5. If it’s free and good for you – take advantage. “Always chase the food,” jokes Shatten. “Take advantage of being a student at UVM! The gym is free, speakers come to campus, you can rent gear from the Outing Club.”
  6. Write! Hudziak recommends creating “a time capsule for your future self. A sentence or even just a few buzz words now and then can help you remind yourself of meaningful moments.”

Knowing what you know now, what do you wish you had known, but didn’t know back then?

  1. Line up subletters now. “You will sign a three-year lease and feel really good about it,” says Shatten, “but then [you] end up spending half of third year, and most of fourth year away from Vermont. You may as well start lining up subletters now.”
  2. Start shadowing attendings now. “Clerkship is an incredible year full of growth and discovery, but it provides only a glimpse of each specialty, and you will need to make decisions about fourth year before you feel like you’ve figured out what kind of doctor you want to be! I wish someone had told me this!” admits Hudziak. “Starting now, seek out a handful of attendings in specialties you are remotely considering and ask to shadow them for a day or half a day. Get an idea of who ‘your people’ are and the patients you want to take care of. Your future self will thank you!”

What was one of your biggest fears as a first year and how did you overcome it?

  1. Will I be able to succeed in a career in medicine? Shatten notes that many of her fears about pursuing a career in medicine were generated by the challenges she grappled with during her previous career. Would she encounter the same factors that led her to burnout as teacher – working within a complicated system in which individuals rely heavily on those within their care to comply with advice and instructions in order to improve; the burden of being, in some way, responsible for the trajectory of another person’s life? Shatten says that, looking back, she would tell her younger self to “continue staying integrated and not compartmentalizing the different roles of a doctor” and who you are as an individual. In fact, she says that the best thing first- and second-year students can do is to remember that there are innumerable paths you can follow with a career in medicine. “If you continue to stay in touch with who you are and what gives you joy, you will stumble upon the right path.” For Shatten, that was ophthalmology.
  2. Will I Pass Step 1? Hudziak’s biggest concern four years ago was about passing Step 1. “I did my best to make a study plan according to what I knew about my learning style,” Hudziak says. But, she admits, “I still hadn’t quite figured it out!” Still, Hudziak notes that the experience helped her figure out what study strategies work for her. She says she would tell her first-year self to “relax, smile, and trust that everything you are doing is enough.”

If you could go back and redo first year all over again, what would you do differently, if anything?

  1. Have your family visit more often. Although Shatten says she doesn’t have many regrets from first year, she notes that because she spent her first and second year in Vermont, it would have been easier to have her family visit during that time than trying to connect with them during third and fourth year when she’s been pulled away to different locations.
  2. Don’t allow studying to prevent you from getting involved in extracurriculars. Looking back, Hudziak realizes that she allowed herself to be consumed by studying during her first year rather than maintain a healthy school/life balance. She says that if she could go back in time, she’d join another SIG or two, participate in more volunteer events, attend more faculty dinners, and take advantage of the lunchtime lectures that are offered every week.

What are your thoughts about this topic?