I had the honor of speaking at the American College of Surgeons this week on a panel about stressors clinicians have control over i.e. can modify. I was assigned a topic I had not really thought about before – which meant I learned a lot! After the talk, there were many people who came up to me and asked if they could have my slides… so here they are!
This is a really important concept… worry is an intrusive thought, which means it just pops in your head. And it’s unpleasant, so you worry about worrying!
Another important point here – worrying is always about something in the future (as opposed to rumination, which is always about the past)
These are the two main ways worrying helps us – motivation and emotional buffering. The motivation part is pretty obvious. Emotional buffering is also obvious, but I didn’t have a name for it before. Take for example worrying that you will fail a test. If you end up getting a good grade on the test it is somehow even more exciting… but, if you do poorly your disappointment is somehow buffered.
And then I tackled the next question… what to do when worry begins to spiral.
I introduced this validated tool to see if your worrying has crossed the line to problematic or pathologic.
And pointed out that if worry is causing you to suffer, it’s a problem.
The way to deal with problematic worry is to try to return it to the kind of worrying that helps us, which we can do with any action to control what we are worried about. Worried about a test? Make a plan for how and when to study. Worried about a relationship? Plan to meet or pick up the phone to talk. Again – no matter what your are worried about – do something to create a plan to address the worry.
But despite our best efforts, the spiral of worry can land us in a bad place. If you find you have anything on this list (or if you are really suffering), it’s pathologic worry.
It’s super important that you act – quickly. This is your amygdala trying to hijack your brain! (Remember flight-flight-freeze?) If you don’t derail it quickly, it will continue to spiral and land you in a world of anxiety. In other words, follow all the steps for problematic worry – but if it doesn’t work, don’t wait. Get help.
It’s the beginning of the academic year in medical schools around the world, and that means there are thousands of students who feel they are suddenly being asked to drink from a fire hydrant. The information you are asked to learn in medical school is different in two really big ways – It’s voluminous and (unlike in undergraduate education) all of it is relevant (albeit to different degrees) to what you will be doing the rest of your life. Learning how to make the transition to this new kind of studying is one of the biggest tasks a new medical student has to accomplish.
The following is a guest post from Preston Tsang, a medical student at Tulane University School of Medicine. The main take home message?
You have to study how to study if you are going to succeed in medical school!
All of us arrive to medical school with a successful strategy for studying… which we then have to seriously revise. The incredible volume of material means you either rethink how to study, learn, and recall info from the beginning… or you are forced to do so when you stumble – after realizing the way you studied in college won’t cut it in medical school.
Every medical student quickly learns that standardized exams are a necessary objective measurement of how “well” you do in school … especially the mammoth exam called STEP 1. This exam (as you might guess) is the first of three “steps” to getting a license to practice medicine. But Step 1 in particular (and now Step 2) are also an important way residency programs assess the academic standing of students applying to their programs. #Pressure
Just like college, you need to study to pass the exams in each of your courses, but unlike college you need to prepare for Step 1 (which means everything you learn in basic sciences!). And BTW you also need to remember that you are not just studying to pass an exam or ace the Step exams. Learning (not just memorizing) this information is essential to being a good physician.
So how best approach this overwhelming task? Only one way – You need to study how to study if you want to succeed in medical school. Make some notes as you study how to study, create your own way… but to get you started, here are the key points I learned as I’ve gone through this process.
It’s all about active learning. Gone are the days of cramming, or just reading something three times to learn it. It’s all about active learning, and – fortunately – there are a lot of people who study this and have come up with methods to promote active learning. All of them involve taking notes to synthesize (not just list) the material and interacting with the material.1,2
Studying in groups helps! Asking each other questions and having to “teach” each other is a great example of active learning.1 Studies have shown being quizzed about material is superior to traditional learning and basically halves the time it takes to learn the material.5
Take notes, but not too many. Notes are key, but should reflect your synthesis of the information, not every detail. There are lots of studies (and stories) about people who spend hours and hours creating spectacular notes and then don’t have time to review them. Guess what… they don’t do that well.1 There’s lots of literature on note taking, with many different strategies. Add this to your “studying how to study” list!
Review, review, review. It seems obvious, but you don’t learn something on the first pass. There is science here, too! It’s takes 5-7 repetitions, spaced further and further apart, to really learn something. It doesn’t work as well if you review something 5 days in a row… it should be almost a logarithmic spacing to get best results.3,4,6
Flash cards (e.g. Anki) work great for details. Once you have the big picture summarized, go back and look for details that you need to know. Anki (and other similar apps) build in spaced repetition – they have you repeat things you don’t know well until you know them. Using this technique (i.e. using Anki) to learn a subject versus reviewing the material multiple times (i.e. re-reading notes) has been shown to improve learning.4
To enhance Anki flashcard learning even further, I discovered that there are certain structures to flashcards that make them more effective. In one study 80 students were randomized into two groups. One group used flash cards designed as a test (testcard) while the other half was randomized into flash cards using the more typical “studycard” format (see below). The group using the testcard format retained more of the information when tested. 7
UWorld has its place, but it’s not what you think. Despite what every upperclassman will tell you, your professors are right – you can’t learn medicine from multiple choice questions alone. But… once you have the concepts down, testing yourself and learning why you were right or wrong is a great form of active learning. More importantly, study questions are a great way to review (once you think you’ve learned the information) to find where you have gaps.
Don’t underestimate the power of mnemonics 2. Make them up and make them something you can’t repeat in public (a known strategy for successful mnemonics). Ask older students, residents, and even attendings for theirs.
So here is how to succeed at Step 1, based on what I’ve learned. When tackling a standardized exam with a vast amount of material, studies have proved the effectiveness of retesting, spaced repetition, and active learning. Start off with a solid base by learning initially from the notes you make in class and from class readings. Then, instead of just rereading the information, distill it down into summaries, draw diagrams, and create your own questions. On top of this find ways to promote active learning and retesting as you study like using practice questions or reviewing your Anki cards. This system of learning may not be best for every learner, but is a good place to start. Add to it with your own research into study techniques.
p.s. Don’t forget to build in (and schedule) time for self-care and sleep.1
1. Dattathreya P, Shillingford S. Identifying the Ineffective Study Strategies of First Year Medical School Students. MedSciEduc. 2017;27(2):295-307. doi:10.1007/s40670-017-0396-2
2. Roffler M, Sheehy R. Self-reported Learning and Study Strategies in First and Second Year Medical Students. MedSciEduc. 2022;32(2):329-335. doi:10.1007/s40670-022-01533-w
3. Ericsson KA, Chase WG, Faloon S. Acquisition of a Memory Skill. Science. 1980;208(4448):1181-1182. doi:10.1126/science.7375930
4. Larsen DP, Butler AC, Roediger HL. Repeated testing improves long-term retention relative to repeated study: a randomised controlled trial. Med Educ. 2009;43(12):1174-1181. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2923.2009.03518.x
5. Morris PE, Fritz CO, Jackson L, Nichol E, Roberts E. Strategies for learning proper names: expanding retrieval practice, meaning and imagery. Applied Cognitive Psychology. 2005;19(6):779-798. doi:10.1002/acp.1115
7. Schmidmaier R, Ebersbach R, Schiller M, Hege I, Holzer M, Fischer MR. Using electronic flashcards to promote learning in medical students: retesting versus restudying. Medical Education. 2011;45(11):1101-1110. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2923.2011.04043.x
And a few more things to help you on this journey!
What if I told you there’s a system that makes it easy to remember the things that you need to remember for exams, but also creates links that make it easy to study and understand the network of knowledge that you really need to learn to heal?
And what if you could start using this system beginning on the first day of medical school…or at the beginning of your PGY2 year… or wherever you are on this journey now?
Step 3. Put the notes in your digital folder, filed by date and time, identified by hashtags and keywords.
Step 4. Synthesize, summarize, and link.
Step 1: Create a folder in Google Drive*
Don’t panic. Yes… just one folder.
Mine is labeled “card file”. You can always rename it. Maybe start with “My digital brain”?
If you just can’t stand it, you can create sub folders based on an anatomic filing system (e.g. Appendix, Colon, Heart, etc) but trust me – no sub-sub folders!
*I like Google Drive because it’s very flexible and you can access it from any computer and your phone. There are other ways to store digital data that can work as well, like Evernote, OneNote, etc.
Step 2: Take notes. About everything.
Keep a notebook in your pocket, use paper out of the printer, use a white board, or dictate directly into Google drive… but just take notes!
This practice is a leap for most of us, but it not only leads to phenomenal learning, it fundamentally transforms how you interact with your day. There is power in a practice that makes you more present in your day. Every encounter, every lecture, every article you read becomes a potential adventure, a source for new insight and growth.
There are only two rules
Rule 1: One concept per note.
Rule 2: Write the note only one time – don’t rewrite or retype notes. (If its’ a paper note, take a photo, or create a pdf to file in your google drive.)
What kind of notes will go into this system?
Lectures. You know how to do this from other classes! Just because we call it “Grand Rounds” or “Path-Rad conference” doesn’t mean it’s not a class. Take notes!
SOP (Standard Operating Procedure). This one is key if you are in a procedural specialty. Keep a single “note” for each procedure and update it with new information as you scrub with new attendings. Put in links to good videos, photos from textbooks and anatomy books. Anything that will help you review what you know and have learned before you do the procedure again.
Milestones. The first time you….listened to a murmur, talked to a patient about their prognosis, did a Whipple.
Questions, thoughts… “Why isn’t there a way to diagnose malrotation that needs surgery (vs.nonrotation) with diagnostic imaging?”
What you learned from patients. Make it your goal to learn something from every patient you take care of. Write it down. Make sure it’s HIPAA compliant – no patient identifiers that someone else could decipher.
Sounds. Yes, you can digitally store recordings!
Summary Notes. One page summaries of complex ideas
Unanswered questions. Ideas for possible publications, future investigations, etc.
Step 3. Put the notes in your digital folder, filed by date and time, identified by hashtags and keywords.
File the notes by date and time + description e.g. 2022-07-18 1645 Creating a filing system for studying medicine.
Imagine… It’s the last year of your residency, it’s 2am, and you are admitting a patient with Hemophilia A who needs emergency surgery.
You open your phone, go to your folder and search for #Hemophilia… and you find these notes:
First year lecture on coagulation
Second year lecture on disorders of coagulation
Second year lecture on the pharmacology of factors given for the different types of hemophilia
Your summary notes on coagulation, coagulation disorders, and the meds used to treat them
Notes from a review article on caring for patients with hemophilia
Notes about that really cute 6 year old on your pediatric rotation who had hemarthrosis
Notes from Grand Rounds on your medicine rotation about disorders of coagulation
A lecture during your surgery rotation on pre-op preparation of patients with clotting disorders.
Notes from Sabiston’s Textbook of surgery on patients with Hemophilia
What you learned taking care of the diabetic hemophiliac who needed an amputation when you were an intern
Last years’ conference with the visiting professor who was an expert on Hemophilia B
Step 4. Synthesize, summarize, and link.
There are so many details in medicine that we often lose track of the big picture. That takes thinking, creating one page summaries of complex topics, and noticing connections.
Maybe it would be easier to show you rather than tell you. Let’s say you are in a lecture about how to read a chest x-ray. In your notebook (or on your computer) you are taking notes… lots of notes… how to tell what’s a pneumonia vs atelectasis, what different lung tumors look like, how to tell if the mediastinum is too wide. As a result, 2 years from now when you see a patient with a lung mass, you will be able to search your drive for “lung cancer” and these specific notes will come up.
But as you sit and think about this lecture, you’ll realize that in addition to the details, there were more general concepts that were important, too. For example, how important it is to systematically review every diagnostic image so you don’t miss the lytic lesion in the bone that was behind the big mass in the chest. (Link to my favorite study describing how this happens)
So you create a digital note that describes, in your words, how important it is to have a system to look at images. Which makes you remember that this is very similar to how we always follow a system to do a history and physical. So you search in your drive for the card you made about how to do an H&P and you link them, using the “insert link” command. And, as you look at your H&P card, you notice that you had already linked it to cards you made about Basic Life Support (BLS) and ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support), two certificates you were required to obtain, both based on a system to not miss important steps in resuscitating patients. And suddenly you are interested in why systems like this make it so much easier, so you do a quick search and find a fascinating article on memory and learning (as opposed to memorizing).
Every year about this time, I try to put together a list for people trying to find the right gift for someone they know who is graduating from medical school.
If you haven’t heard of @medgradwishlist on Twitter, it’s an amazing grassroots effort to create Amazon wish lists for URM medical students with financial needs to help them get ready for their internship. This is a brilliant “pay it forward” initiative. I’ve been a Program Director and a Dean of Student Affairs and I know how many new grads finish medical school with enormous debt and empty bank accounts. The ~17,000 students graduating from medical school this year are about to start on the exciting – but stressful – path of becoming a physician. Not being able to afford the things that make that journey possible just isn’t acceptable. You can buy things on their list anonymously (or not). When you find the right thing for the right person, don’t forget to include some memories of your internship, advice, and words of encouragement!
If you are a student (or even a struggling resident) in need, please join this effort to get what you need. We are sure you will pay it forward to extend this support future classes! If you are a student who can afford to support others, please do. And regardless of whether you participate in #medgradwishlist or not, the following ideas will help with graduation presents.
I spent quite a bit of time looking at all the #medgradwishlists on Amazon, and I’m happy to share what I learned. In addition to their great ideas, I have some suggestions to add…
Instant Pot. This was on a lot of the Amazon lists, and I agree!!! II had to suggest one item to make life as a resident easier, it would be this. Several people asked for air fryers on their Amazon lists. I love my air fryer and use it all the time so please put it on your list if you think it will help. Just as an FYI, you already (sort of) own an air fryer since your oven set on convection does close to the same thing!
Someone to help clean and do laundry. I know you can’t put this on an Amazon wish list, but if you have a family member who either can do this for you, or pay someone to do this for you, it’s one of the best gifts you will ever receive.
Digital gifts to make communicating and studying easier. The single most important tool for an intern is their phone. If they don’t have a new phone that can reliably work with WIFi and cellular, this should be at the top of the list. A computer that works, has the ability to do streaming well, and is reliable is also key since it’s how they will study, write, and watch educational videos. They’ll want the flexibility of studying in a coffee shop (once we get COVID19 under control) or on their couch so make sure it’s a laptop and not a desktop computer.
There were some great ideas on the Amazon lists for items that aren’t quite as expensive as computers that you might consider as well: ring light for Zoom meetings, LED study light, lap top desk for your lap, iPad Pro, Apple pencil.I should add that buying a large quantity of pens to be “borrowed” by attendings would be a big win, too.
The kitchen (other than the Instant Pot). It’s so important to eat well when you work as hard as interns work (and to stay well caffeinated). There were some great ideas from my new colleagues on their Amazon lists including single serve coffee makers, pot and pan sets, nonstick bakeware set (if they are a baker!), wine opener :-), food storage bags and containers. A box or two of Kind Bars (my favorite) or other meal replacement bars is a great gift, too. And for the times cooking is just one task too many – Door Dash, Uber Eats, and/or Grub Hub gift cards are a great gift. One other must have… a Yeti mug to keep coffee hot during rounds!
Clocks and watches. We all have phones that can serve as alarm clocks, but an alarm clock that gently lights up the room is a much better way to wake up than sudden noise. I wouldn’t say an Apple watch is essential (and if you do a lot of procedures it might be easy to lose) but it is worn by a good percentage of docs.
USMLE3 study book. If you are a family member who is thinking about getting this as a present, you might also want to include a check for $895 as a “bookmark” to cover the cost of registering for this exam.
Make your home a stress-free zone. If you are setting up a new home, this list can be really extensive. You’ll need to go home to a clean, happy space, so whatever you can do to make that happen is important. There were a lot of good ideas in the Amazon wish lists including self-cleaning cat boxes, pet hair removal brushes, furniture, shower curtains, towels, and a video doorbell. I’d add a Roomba vacuum cleaner to this list, too! BTW, a good TV is important, too. We all need to binge watch the Great British Baking Show as therapy sometimes.
Sleep. In this category I would include good quality pillows, a new mattress, light blocking curtains, white noise machines, and electric or weighted blankets.
Music. Most people fill their space at home with sound as well as light, so think about good WiFi speakers like Sonos and/or gift certificates for ad-free music services like Apple Music, Spotify, Pandora.
Health. Last but not least! The most important thing on this list in my opinion is a great water bottle since, particularly with masks on all day, none of us drink enough water. A new Sonicare toothbrush or WaterPik for dental health will be appreciated. Foot care is another important part of being a healthy resident, so consider gifting compression socks, new shoes for the hospital, work insoles and/or a foot massager. Anything that promotes or makes fitness easier is also a good gift – a new bicycle for commuting, workout gloves, free weights, resistance bands. You might also consider a meditation app like Headspace, or subscription to yoga classes on line.
p.s. What NOT to buy or ask for…
Scrubs. I noticed a lot of folx asking for scrubs. Nope – don’t do it! You will be required to wear the scrubs from the hospital since there are rules about them being washed in the hospital laundry. Ditto for things to wear under scrubs. You’ll get too hot, they get dirty, and they are against the rules in all operating rooms (and many hospitals)
Textbooks. You are pretty much guaranteed to have access to a library where these books will be in digital format and free. These books are heavy! You aren’t going to take them to work and when you get home, you may have other things to read that take priority.
Printers. Printers (and printer ink) are expensive and you just won’t use them. You are going to have to stay digital to really learn what you need to learn as a resident. Besides, if you do need to print out the return slip for Amazon, there will always be a printer at the hospital you can use!
Black bag. If you are a family member thinking of getting one of these… don’t.
May your journey through this liminal time be as stress free and as joyful as possible. May every day as an intern bring you hearts to heal and hands to hold, new learning, and a sense of wonder and awe.
We are so happy you are joining us in this noble and sacred work!
Like most of
you, my New Years resolutions in past years have been something like “Exercise
every day” or “Eat fruits and vegetables with every meal.” And, I bet that you
had the same experience I did… a few weeks of “success” and then they seemed to
fade away. The problem with these kinds of goals are how they are structured.
They end up being “either-or” goals … you are either able to do them or, more
often, you miss a day (or two… or three) and feel like a failure.
It’s a simple, but very powerful concept. Set your goal as a destination… as a “lighthouse” in the distance, and then head in that direction every day. As Ryder Carroll explains, “When goals are lighthouses, success is defined by simply showing up, by daily progress no matter how big or small…”
So instead of the usual New Year’s Resolutions, pick a few “lighthouse goals”. Write them down and keep track of how you are doing (every journey needs a map). This can be as simple as one piece of paper for each goal, but I am such a fan of the Bullet Journal, I hope you consider using it.
When you get up every morning think about how to move towards your goal(s). If you veer off course, that’s part of the journey…. look up, find your lighthouse, and correct your course. Every once in a while (maybe monthly?), look at the progress you’ve made and celebrate it! If, on the other hand, the goals you originally chose don’t make sense for you any more, pick some new goals, draw a new map and start over.
Potential New Year “Lighthouse” goals
more about compassion and practice it
a better friend
genuine thank you notes to people who have helped me
real food for as many meals a week as I can
out more about who I really am through meditation
a “stop doing” list
better at my work through deliberate practice (practicing and learning the
things I don’t like and aren’t good at until I’m better)
organized so I don’t waste time (and end up focusing on trivial things instead
of what’s really important)
things that bring me joy
about and use a Bullet Journal
a community to support me
the names of as many people at work as I can
the stairs as often as I can
my living spaces enjoyable spaces
a journal to remember milestones and work out struggles
Yesterday was my first embryology lecture of the year to the new MS1s at Baylor College of Medicine, as well as the PA, DNP and Genetic Counseling students. For years, I’ve been including a few slides at the end of each lecture to help with the transition to medical school. Yesterday’s lecture ended with tips on how to study. I promised the students I’d share these slides in a written formate. I realized sharing them here might be the most appropriate way to do that!
The biggest change for many students is it really isn’t about the grades anymore. It’s about studying for the patients you will be caring for in the future. That means really learning the material, not just knowing it for a test.
Even though there is still a lot unknown about how the brain works to learn material, what is certain is that it is a physical process. You create new synapses when you experience or learn new things. As they are repeated, these synapses get stronger and stronger.
So, to organize the advice, I’ll share some basics, some specifics and then a little refinement.
Learning this volume of material at this level of complexity is about consistency. You can’t run a marathon by running 20 miles every weekend. This is no different. You need to study every day (except one). One of our great teachers at Baylor, Dr. Clay Goodman, tells our students that they have signed on for a 60 hour a week job. (which roughly means 1-2 hours of studying for every hour in the classroom). If you map out your week as a 60 hour job, it will work a lot better than ever trying to “catch up.”
The SQ3R system is the best system I know to learn what you need to know during the basic sciences. So, how do you translate the SQ3R system into practice?
The night before lectures, spend 30-40 minutes skimming the lectures. No “studying”. Be curious. What questions are going to be answered during the lecture? How is it organized? (BTW “Mike” is a fictitious patient with muscular dystrophy that Dr. Goodman uses in an introductory lecture to show how everything you learn in medical school matters – from the DNA to the psychosocial context of the family)
This 30-40 minutes is basically the “S” and “Q” of the SQR3 system.
SURVEY to get the big picture
QUESTION = what questions are going to be answered during the lecture? What else do you want to know to really understand this? (write them down!). Do not try to look up anything now.
During the lecture stay ACTIVE. Don’t sit in the back row and look at FaceBook – even if the professor is reading the slides.* You’ll need to take notes for this to be really active. Put the questions you want answered on an outline you prepare the night before lecture and fill it in during the lecture. Use mind maps or other powerful visual aids to learn. Click here to get to my post on taking notes during basic sciences.
*(If you are a lecturer who does this, stop it! – otherwise you are guilty of “death by PowerPoint.” Find someone who is a good lecturer and ask them to coach you.)
After the lecture, you move on to the 3Rs. Now you get down to the real studying. Read through the printed notes (or slides). Did everything get answered? MAKE NOTES that synthesize what you learned.
Review. Review. Review. Here’s the deal. Medical school is a lot like learning a new language. The first part of basic sciences (anatomy, physiology, embryology, etc) is learning the vocabulary. The second part of basic sciences (diseases, pharmacology, etc) is learning the grammar. When you get to the clinics, you are practicing the language until you are fluent. “Flash cards” such as Anki are great at learning “vocabulary”. They are terrible at synthesizing and learning connections and concepts. That’s why you need a single page summary of every lecture. The summary is the “forest”, your notes (plus or minus flash cards) are the “trees”. If you really want to succeed, you need both. BTW, I made the class repeat (out loud) after me (twice) – “You cannot learn medicine from Anki alone.” (It’s on tape. I really did this.)
Here’s an example of a single page summary of the embryology lecture I gave the class yesterday. I spent time to make this really look nice – more time than you will want to spend. It doesn’t need to be typed, it doesn’t need to be particularly legible to anyone but you, but take the time to do these summaries!
Here’s how to do it. The first three repetitions should be same day, next day and 2-3 days later. The more times you review it, the better, but it should at least be 1 week later and 3 weeks later. More is better. Plan another review a month later and three months later, too. For the Type A folks in medical school (i.e. all of you), make a spread sheet!
Another thing about our brains and learning. Pushing through for hours without rest is as stupid as thinking you can build up your biceps by doing an hour of uninterrupted reps. Speaking of reps… use “study reps”. Get an app if you think it will help. 50 minutes of studying.
Stop studying for 10 minutes (no matter how engrossed you are) when the alarm goes. Repeat.
People sitting next to you in your study areas are going to look like they have it more together than you do. It might be true… but it probably isn’t. If someone has a study technique that looks like it will work for you, by all means try it! Just don’t change too often. I was a liberal arts major in college. If you come from a non-science background, the first 6 months are going to be a little tougher on you because you have more “vocabulary” to learn but don’t worry, after that you’ll be caught up,
Read this slide. Believe this slide. The most important point on this slide is the last line. You cannot make those physical synapses you need to really learn without 8 hours of sleep.
Keep notes about what works for you and what doesn’t. Everyone is a little different, but you will find a system that works best for you through conscious effort.
It’s like running. Some of this is just “time on feet”. Remember the 60 hours a week job concept and you’ll do fine.
I end with this slide to remind my students that there has to be balance for this to work. Most of what I tell my students about finding and keeping that balance is in this blog, so feel free to use the word cloud to the right or search for what you might need. Please contact me if you have a specific question I can answer or if you have an idea for a new blog post.
Welcome to the best career in the world! We are all happy you are here!
Today I have the incredible joy of talking to the medical students on our rotation. No agenda, just a conversation that they requested for some “advice”. They just started their surgery rotation last week and it’s their first rotation. First rotation, beginner’s mind, unbridled enthusiasm… it is so wonderful!. I decided I would come up with what I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my rotations…
Be mindful, deliberate and excited about learning.
This is probably the most important piece of advice I can give. Clinical rotations are often a whirlwind of work and you can be swept away without realizing it. Residents can ignore you, people can be cranky, patients can be difficult… and in the midst of all this, you are expected to learn to be a doctor. You have to stay in charge of that mission, no matter what is happening around you.
Take a little time to reflect on why you are doing this and what kind of person/doctor you want to become. When times get tough (and they will) hold on to it. If it helps you, come up with a slogan to repeat, keep on a piece of paper in your wallet or on your wrist
Learn to keep a “beginner’s mind”. When I was a student on core medicine I had a senior resident that showed me what beginner’s mind looks like. It was 2am and I was tired. We were seeing a gentleman at the VA hospital for his diabetes, hypertension and some electrolyte abnormalities. I presented the patient to the resident and then we went to see him together. He had a rash, which I thought was so insignificant that I didn’t even include it in my presentation. But, instead of scolding me, this resident got excited. Yes, you read that correctly, 2am and excited about a rash – because he didn’t know what it was. (This next part will date me, but it’s a great example to make us grateful for the access we have to information now). He called security and had them open the library. We spent a wonderful hour looking through books – like a treasure hunt when we were little kids – until we found the rash in one of the books. We were laughing, excited and couldn’t wait to get back to start the appropriate therapy.
Understand what you are going to learn (the big picture)
On every rotation, you will be given a list of learning objectives. By all means, know them, study the things listed and make sure you know them (they will be on the test). BUT… please realize that diseases don’t stay conveniently siloed in a single specialty so this is not learning “surgery”, it’s learning about how surgeons approach a specific disease you will see elsewhere, too. You also need to know that what is listed as learning objectives today may well be obsolete tomorrow (if they aren’t already).
You have chosen a career that ethically demands life-long learning. That means that one of the most important skills to learn is how to develop a system of learning that you can use in medical school, residency and later in practice.
Learning is iterative. You will learn broad concepts on each rotation along with a “fly over” of the entire terrain of the specialty You will need the information you learn on your surgery rotation on your medicine rotation when you are consulted on a patient with an ischemic leg who needs surgical treatment, or on your pediatrics rotation when your patient with a pneumonia develops an empyema. If you choose surgery at your career, you will read and learn the same topics throughout your residency (and after) but with increasing depth.
Pay attention to ergonomics, diet, exercise and sleep. Most importantly, take care of yourself emotionally and spiritually. You can’t learn or serve others if your tank is empty. Come up with what is important for you and make a list. Seriously. Make a list of what you find helps you stay on track and then check it off every day. Look at it before you go to bed. Celebrate the things you did and don’t be hard on yourself for the ones you didn’t get to.
We have the most amazing job on earth. When the administrative issues or political conflicts get to you (and they will), just remember – you get to take care of another human life with the goal of relieving their suffering. What could be more important than that?
Starting medical school is one of the most exciting moments in a physicians career… but it can be a little daunting! This talk is one I gave recently to the college students in the Baylor College of Medicine Summer Surgery Program. In addition to talking about how medical school is different from college, I also included my top 10 tips for successfully making this important transition.
Being “board certified” means that one of the 24 specialty boards in the United States attests that you have met all the requirements and have passed rigorous exams to show that you are qualified to practice in that specialty.
Does the board certification last forever?
Short answer, no. Family Medicine was the first specialty (in 1970) to realize that initial certification was not enough. As the public continued to ask for evidence that physicians remained up to date, Surgery (1976), Emergency Medicine (1980) and Ob/Gyn (1986) added a recertification examination. As of 1990, the remaining boards became “time-limited” which means board certification expires after 6-10 years, unless physicians take and pass the recertification examination. So, many internists who are now in their 60s and 70s didn’t have to do anything other than pass the initial examinations. (This is referred to as being “grandfathered”).
Who makes up “the board” for the specialties?
The members of most boards are volunteer physicians in the specialty. In surgery, which I know the best, the board members are called “directors”. There are 41 directors of the American Board of Surgery who represent a variety of organizations and specialties in surgery. These volunteer surgeons spend 20+ days a year away from their practices with no pay (although their expenses are paid) to give the oral examinations in surgery, and to design and validate the written examinations. They also have a variety of committees and projects which focused on one critical question: “What do we need to do to make sure we maintain the public trust in surgeons?”
How do the specialty boards decide if specialists are up to date?
Since 1990, boards have to be “maintained”. If you don’t maintain your board, you lose it. Hence the term, Maintenance of Certification (MOC). So what do you have to do for “MOC”? In addition to having a license, most boards have requirements to document hospital privileges and provide letters of reference. Here’s a summary of the other requirements for four of the largest boards:
90 hrs in 3 yrs. (30 hrs/yr) of CME (lectures or online)
60 hrs (20/yr) have to be Level 1(test questions involved)
Recertification examination every 10 years (counts as 60 hrs of CME)
Participation in an outcome or quality improvement program
What happens if doctors decide to not do MOC?
Being board certified is voluntary and so is maintaining a board. But, if doctors choose not to do MOC, they will lose their board certification.
Here’s some of the possible implications if a doctor loses board certification:
Hospital bylaws almost universally require staff members to be board certified. These bylaws will have to be rewritten for doctors who have lost their boards in order for them to work in these institutions.
Since the new MOC requirements went into place I have increased both the quantity and quality of the materials I use to stay up to date, which I strongly feel has made me a better surgeon. I still don’t like taking exams, but every time I do (I have three boards, so I take a lot of them!) I learn so much that I find the experience invaluable. (Yes, that’s after the exam, not before or during… that hasn’t changed since medical school.)
MOC isn’t perfect, but it’s evolving, and the reason it exists is a good one. Passing laws state by state to make MOC “optional” has the risk of hurting the public’s trust in physicians – and the risk of creating quite a bit of chaos for hospitals, training programs, and others. For what? Saving $200 a year? Not having to take the test every 10 years? Not having to log the CME that is required by almost all state medical boards?
“Here’s what’s at stake: we physicians are granted an extraordinary amount of autonomy by the public and the government. We ask people to disrobe in our presence; we prescribe medications that can kill; we perform procedures that would be labeled as assault if done by the non-credentialed. If we prove ourselves incapable of self-governance, we are violating this trust, and society will – and should – step into the breach with standards and regulations that will be more onerous, more politically driven, and less informed by science. That is the road we may be headed down. It is why this fight matters.” Robert Wachter, MD