The Secret to Medical School is Practice

The first official event for new students at Baylor College of Medicine is Convocation.  One of the highlights of the ceremony is when a rising fourth year medical student is named as the DeBakey Scholar. The DeBakey Scholar Award was conceived by the Baylor College of Medicine faculty in 1973, as a tribute to Dr. Michael E. DeBakey, one of the founders of the Texas Medical Center and a medical icon, who was revered throughout the world as the most famous surgeon of the 20th century.  It is awarded by a select committee of faculty at the college’s Convocation Ceremony to a currently enrolled medical student, who has completed all but their last year of medical education. The recipient is considered to be “living model of excellence” in residence for the incoming freshman class and the other underclass students and is chosen because of demonstrated excellence in scholarship, integrity, academic leadership and service.

This year’s award winner, Nader Zamani, delivered an inspiring talk to the entering class which he called “ The Secret to Medical School is Practice”. I asked his permission to share the text of his speech with you here.


I’ve been asked to speak with you briefly this morning to tell you what I wish I had been told during my own orientation. Though I am hardly in a position to impart any advice, I can definitely tell you about my experiences over the last 3 years and what has been beneficial for me. And let me be among the first to acknowledge that the emotions of excitement, anxiety, intimidation, and even fear that you may be experiencing right now are normal.

They are normal because you know that medical school will not be easy. Yes, you will be pushed. You will experience physical and emotional challenges. And at times, your patience, and even your compassion may be tested.

However, through it all, you will thrive. And when you succeed, not only will you appreciate the journey that much more, but you will also realize how much you have accomplished.

Given the challenges of medical school, you are here because you deserve this opportunity. Though I completely understand that this in itself may be intimidating to know that you are now among a class of incredibly bright and driven students, this is actually one of the best parts of medical school. And to help calm some of your anxiety, please recognize that doing your best does not mean that you have to be the best in any one subject. Doing your best is simply an obligation to yourself to set realistic goals, to ignore the external concept of ranking, and to realize that it is acceptable to say “I don’t know.” In fact, this is only in this way that you will continue to learn and to adapt to the challenges that you may encounter.

Over the next few weeks, you will receive great advice from upperclassman and our wonderful faculty about how to do well. And over the next few months, you will develop study habits that allow you to digest and process the material that you are being taught. You’ll learn how to seek out opportunities that supplement your interests, and to collaborate with faculty mentors to develop a balance in your lives that not only fulfills the demanding aspects of medical school, but also caters to your own health. As I quickly realized, taking care of yourself is one of the most important aspects of medical school, and as you will see, we are lucky to be in an environment that not only realizes that, but makes it a priority.

I have heard many times throughout the course of medical school that to be successful as an academic physician, one needs to devote 1/3 of their day to reading, 1/3 to writing, and 1/3 to thinking. And most recently at the Department of Surgery’s Inaugural Research Day, Dr. Malcolm Brock of Johns Hopkins University told us that it is the thinking part of this formula that ultimately results in the quality research and discovery that has the potential to impact our practice of medicine.

The formula for medical school, however, has to be a little bit different. From my experiences, the 3 factors that would have to be in the formula are:

1) Studying – which includes actively keeping up with the material, asking questions, reviewing, really thinking about what you are learning, and trying to apply these concepts to a clinical setting.

2) Taking care of yourself – which includes eating well, exercising, trying to get enough sleep, and maintaining your social support systems.

3) And one of the most important factors — Service.

Similar to the thinking part of the equation of a physician’s day, the service part of the student’s formula can easily be deferred, especially considering our academic priorities. But I want to use this opportunity to urge you that this is the part of the formula that ultimately makes the difference. Taking time to reach out to others has provided me with the motivation to continue through this journey when it is easy to get bogged down by the stress associated with being in medical school. Whether service to you means working at a clinic, spending time at a shelter, tutoring, or helping your classmates, each one of us can serve our school and community by volunteering our time.

But as with anything else in medical school, you don’t have to do it yourself. By learning to work together with the amazingly talented people around you, you will grow as not only individuals, but also as a class. You will become a community with a sense of obligation toward each other, which is essentially a responsibility to help one another manage the trials that lie ahead. Ultimately, our life experiences may shape our practices, but it is our interaction with others and our service for our community that molds our profession.

I’m lucky to have attended DeBakey High School, because it was while I was there that I first became impressed by Baylor’s community outreach initiatives. Whether Baylor is working to eradicate disease on an international stage, supporting its relationships with undergraduate institutions throughout the state, or enhancing education throughout our local community, it is clear that many of our paths have led us here because of Baylor’s very own outreach programs.

It is in this very sense of community that I urge you to give back as well. You’ll be surprised at not only the inspiration, but also the perspective that you will receive as a result of your efforts. You will realize why you are spending so many hours studying, and you will begin to reevaluate what is truly important to you. In fact, your defining moments in medical school may very well be those in which you actually take a break from studying to reconnect with others.

It’s that very kindness and compassion required in medicine that truly makes our profession an art, one that requires a lifetime of practice. And it is this PRACTICE of medicine that demands so much of us. If there is a secret to doing well in medical school, it is to always keep practicing – practice your studying; practice asking thought-provoking questions; practice your self-care; practice your kindness; practice your service.

The Irish poet John O’Donohue wrote that with inspiration, we are able “To enter each day with a generous heart. To serve the call of courage and love.” We are all truly lucky and fortunate that we are here. We have been given an opportunity to learn not only how to help, but also how to heal. Despite the challenges that lie ahead for all of us, please remember that the road we are on is a privilege…so take advantage of it!

Congratulations, good luck, and we are all excited for you and for what is to come on your journeys here!

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