By Rachel Brickman
In the midst of my final week of the preclinical portion of medical school, I have found myself reflecting on days past, speculating on those to come, and eating—an activity not unique to this week, but always notable for me. These contemplations and consumptions have led me to the verdict that the standard American medical school experience can be compared to a typical three-course dinner.
First and second year: Salad
Whiny Kid: “Mom, do I have to eat the salad first? It’s just so…green.”
Loving Mother: “Yes, dear. Even though it may not be the tastiest thing on the table, it is very good for you and helps you digest the rest of the meal.”
Medical school professors of the basic sciences must be sick of hearing the same questions year after year: Will knowing this biochemical pathway help me heal patients? Is the life cycle of an immune cell appropriate bedside conversation? WHY DO WE NEED TO KNOW ALL OF THIS?
As I’ve come to realize throughout second year, although we may not apply much of this information explicitly in clinical work, I would be totally lost without the basics. I imagine that many of the scientific details we learn in the second year may be less applicable to my work one day, depending on the specialty I choose. Nevertheless, I will be grateful that someone had the insight to make me learn the details of many diseases from the molecular level all the way to what it looks like in the clinic. The salad is the least fun and takes the most effort to finish, but we all know it’s necessary.
Third year: Filet mignon, garlic mashed potatoes, and roasted asparagus
HELLO, GORGEOUS! I’ve paid my dues in the classroom and am at last being rewarded with hands-on clinical experiences. Instead of looking at PowerPoints, I’ll be looking at patients, attendings, operating rooms, and everything else that is the essence of health care. Just as you have to carefully sear the steak and whip the potatoes, here at Geisel we had the rather involved process of a clerkship lottery. Every day for a week and a half this April, second year students ranked their preferred locations for each rotation block (surgery, pediatrics, OB/GYN, etc.). For some, this process generated a bit of anxiety due to the lack of control—we are Type-A med students after all. However, it is completely worth it in the end because the luxury of learning clinical medicine at sites all over the country is unique to Geisel and one that prepares us well for residency and our careers beyond that.
Fourth year: Chocolate cake and a glass of wine
As far as I’ve heard from upperclassmen, the fourth year of medical school is pretty wonderful. You’ve figured out which specialty you enjoy most, you do advanced sub-internships in that field, and you see all corners of the country during residency interviews. The residency match happens in March and then you start the next chapter of your life! It’s the perfect ending to this whirlwind of education and digestion.
NOTE: I just realized that I failed to mention the very important USMLE Step I, also known as boards, which we take at the end of the second year. I suppose the boards are the irritating bout of indigestion that interrupts your feeding frenzy just before the main course. All you can do is chew some Tums and wait for the misery to pass.
Rachel Brickman is a second-year student at Geisel and a member of the Admissions Committee. She is originally from Atlanta, Georgia, and graduated from Amherst College in 2012, where she majored in Classics.