The 5 Things I learned in Medical School

June 13, 2018

¡Hola! Its been a while, I know. I have a good excuse though! I was getting ready for and going through my medical school graduation events! These past weeks have been a whirlwind. I was definitely more overwhelmed with emotion than I thought I would be. The path to where I am now, a doctor of medicine about to begin residency, has been riddled with obstacles and even failures. But, each time I fell down, I got back up ready to keep fighting. One day I hope to feel comfortable enough to dive into the details of those obstacles, but for now I'm going to stick to a more generalized approach. 

I am by no means someone who went through medical school with a flawless record. Because of this I learned about more than just medicine; I learned about myself and my own strengths. I thought I'd dedicate this post to those lessons. Maybe some of you are in medical school and need someone to tell you, "Its ok, you're going to make it anyway," but I think some of these lessons come in handy no matter what you're studying. 

Let's just say that some schools tend to teach students a little bit of this here, a little bit of that other stuff there, and a dash of something in the middle. Its easy to get lost in all that crucial information, struggling to memorize details, and not put it all together. Sometimes the system is just made up that way. Its up to you to piece it together and form the "big picture". The "big picture" is when you put together what you learned in biochemistry (yes, biochem IS actually very important!) with what you learned in physiology. Its when you understand how the mechanism of that drug actually helps the diseases it is indicated for. Once you can understand something as a "big picture" concept, all the details will come easy to you. You won't need to memorize anymore! (Obviously there are just some things there's no way around memorizing. Microbiology, I'm taking about you!) 

You may think that everyone around you in medical school has the highest scores, that they never fail, that everyone does research, etc. That is simply not true. There were classes that I barely passed but celebrated as if I had gotten honors in because of the struggle it was to even pass it! Not everyone does research in prestigious institutions. Some do clinical rotations with mentors or physicians that can provide good letters of recommendations later on, some help out at one of their school's summer programs for undergraduates, some even take their first summer off because the year was too grueling for them or family issues meant they needed to lend a helping hand. Guess what? They can match into a residency. 

Not everyone passes each Step (board exams) the first try. Does this mean they have less knowledge? Not necessarily. Maybe they were lacking test-taking skills, maybe they suffer from anxiety, maybe they have an undiagnosed learning disability, maybe personal issues affected their performance. Can they come back stronger, pass and match into a residency? Absolutely. I know of so many people who failed a Step and went on to enter amazing residencies and become outstanding physicians in their fields. Would life be easier if that never happened or we weren't judged by those very scores? Heck yeah, but that's not reality. In reality it can happen to anybody and that is when one of my favorite quotes comes in handy:

"I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become"

Everyone's path is different and no one's is perfect. What is best for your best friend/partner in medical school may not be what is best for you. Never judge others for their paths. You never know if you'll find yourself facing the same obstacle. Whatever obstacle comes your way you have to believe that it is there for a reason. Maybe it just wasn't your time yet and you needed to take a step back. Trust me, in the end you will end up where you are meant to be if you keep giving your best.

I love my father's analogy for this lesson: In life you get a herd of sheep. One sheep is your studies, the other is your love life, the other is your family, and so on. You have to learn to keep all your sheep together because once you look the other way and let one of those sheep slip from your grasp, there's sure to be a wolf nearby. 

Life isn't going to be waiting for you on the other side of medical school. Just because you're in medical school doesn't mean you can't be in a relationship, you can't be or get married, or you can't have children. Does it make it harder? Sometimes. 

I personally got married during my third year of medical school while my husband was finishing his fourth year and about to enter residency. Honestly, it was the best decision I ever made. There was always someone there who understood what I was going through. No matter what would happen, I knew I was never alone and he was always on my team. There was always someone to hold me while I cried. I'm truly lucky to have married my best friend. 

So, why do I say "sometimes"? Well, there is the added pressure of financial responsibilities, of being a good wife (as society can make you feel you need to be, by which standards you don't have to hold yourself up to by the way!) while being a full-time medical student, etc. In my experience these factors don't outweigh the happiness of my marriage and what it brings to my life both personally and professionally. I even know of people who have children before and/or during medical school and also make it through. My husband is an excellent example. These are the most driven people you will meet in medical school because they are fully aware of their responsibilities and priorities. They have my upmost respect.

Is it only about relationships? No! You're friends and family are going to have parties, weddings, and babies. You are going to miss some of it (probably a lot) but if you can organize yourself properly and prioritize, you can make it to others! I think the important thing is to make time for it and understand that although medical school is a huge part of your life, it isn't all of it.

This is as important as knowing your pharmacology and physiology. If you don't know your limits, you will burnout. Whenever you feel like you need a break, take it. Go for a walk, workout, take a shower, read a book for pleasure, watch your favorite TV show, anything that will let you recharge. Going along with lesson #3, take advantage of weekends you don't have to study as much and go on a trip with friends/family/loved one. Get back in touch with others or get back in touch with yourself. Pushing yourself is good, but pushing yourself past your limits is not. 

Balance yourself with knowing your strengths. For example, I know I'm a strong competitor during clinical rotations and I learn more when I'm out in the hospital or in clinics putting to use what I've read. I also know that the best time for me to study is in the morning and early afternoon. Once the night hits, its hard for me to grasp concepts and you'll never find me studying past 10pm (during clinical years) or 12am (during basic sciences years where you spent days in the classroom). You could be the complete opposite as me and that is OK! Do whatever works for you!

If you ever feel too overwhelmed with your workload or are experiencing symptoms of depression (depressed mood, changes in sleep habits, decreased appetite, lost of interest, feelings of guilt, decreased energy, difficulty concentrating), look for help. Talk to you school counselor or look for a psychologist/physicshiatrist. There is no shame in mental illness. 

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “help” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to

This last one is kind of cheating. My father has been teaching me this ever since I can remember but I never put it to so much use as I did in medical school. I promise you that no matter what happens, if you keep fighting towards accomplishing your dream and you don't give up, you will get there. Even though at times it may seem impossible or you may feel like giving up, take a step back and analyze your options and strategies. If you fall down, you get up with a plan. You tackle that obstacle head on. You talk to your mentors, you find other's who have been through the same thing, you look for advice. You are not alone and whatever you are going through be sure that you're not the first nor the last. Keep repeating to yourself:

"Never give up."

I hope to one day have the courage to share my entire journey through medical school with you guys. I hope this reached someone. I'm always available for help or advice. If you wish to contact me privately, use the contact form. If you are in medicine and have learned any special life lesson I haven't mentioned here, let me know below! I'm always up for learning!

Con amor,
María Eugenia

P.S. Want to see some of my favorite personal photos from my graduation events? Like the blog's Facebook page and you'll find them there!
P.S.S. Thinking about doing an Instagram live talking about this and more. Follow the blog's Instagram for updates!

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