Dustin Nowotny, in-Training team member and student at Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine, recently matched into general surgery at the University of North Dakota. Today he shares his tips and tricks for surviving medical school, The Match, and more.
Tell us about yourself.
Dustin Nowotny: I am a South Dakota native and now married with a one-year old daughter. I have always been into sports and played football in college. I was a math and physics major in college. I truly enjoyed my education in medical school and cannot wait to start residency.
Looking back on your medical school experience, what would you say to the young and naïve “first-year you”?
DN: Make sure you take advantage of the clinical experience you get. This is your time to become comfortable with examinations and practice your clinical judgment. Try to make plans for your patients before talking with residents so you can compare where you stand. Enjoy your time in medical school. It is the last time you have breaks during the year and basically little responsibility. Any of your free time, do something you’ve always wanted to; don’t push it off.
What tips do you have for USMLE?
DN: Start early and make a plan that you can stick to. Also, select two to three main resources that you will focus your attention on. Do not pick too many resources, or you will get bogged down and feel like you are not making progress. Do as many questions as you can and regularly schedule practice exams into your plan. The main content resources I used were DIT and First Aid and supplemented second year and boards with Picmonic. For questions, I used UWorld and UsmleRX. I did URX first and thought UWorld was substantially harder.
What advice do you have for the students going through clinical rotations?
DN: Like most people say, be active and participate. If you want to be able to do something, ask the resident to show you if you haven’t done it yet. But understand what things you can be doing as a med student. Try to take ownership of the patient you have, just like if you were the resident, and that includes following up on orders and trying to make plans.
What recommendations do you have for medical students to maintain their sanity?
DN: You have to make time for yourself. That extra 30 minutes of studying after 12 hours straight is not going to benefit you much. But a 30-minute workout or 30 extra minutes of sleep could do wonders. I know throughout my first two years, I had to make time to spend with my wife. I tried to make sure I had everything done in time to make dinner on my less busy days.
How did medical school differ from your expectations?
DN: To be honest it aligned pretty well with what I was anticipating. I guess I would say it was substantially more difficult to try and set up away rotations if the program is outside of VSAS. There is a lot of paperwork that has to be completed and you need to remain on top of it; otherwise, you may lose your chance to rotate. Also, there can be time to maintain your health and develop relationships. Going into medical school, all everyone hears is how much time it takes and how hard it is. Both are true. but if you prioritize properly you will have plenty of time for other things as well.
What things did you do during your four years of medical school that you believe particularly impressed your residency program?
DN: I really enjoy teaching, so I took on being an anatomy TA and physiology TA. I also tutored for anatomy during medical school. I think this was helpful because in residency you have to teach the younger residents and having that experience will be beneficial for me. In general, I think it is more important to pick one or two activities that you put most of your effort in that you really enjoy. It will come across when you talk about your experience and it will show your passion for something that is not directly medical.
What attracted you to your chosen specialty?
DN: I entered medical school with the thought of general surgery. My approach was to see if any rotations lived up to my thought of general surgery, and none ever did. I really enjoy working with my hands, so performing surgery is the best way for me to heal with my hands. I also really enjoy the thought of having quick results. Many patients come in with a problem and one surgery can completely resolve their issue.
What is your biggest fear about beginning residency?
DN: I am worried about not living up to my own standards. I have always pushed myself and been able to set and meet high goals. But this is a whole new experience, I will be responsible to patients and if I do not meet my standards, a patient could be harmed because of it.
What advice would you give third year students about to start the Match process?
DN: I think first is to try and research the process and how the Match works. I know I did some extensive researching and for me the knowledge allowed me to relax during the whole process. Then, make sure you submit your application within the first couple days of the start date and confirm that you have assigned documents. For applying, I would recommend trying to pick your top 20 to 30 programs and for sure apply to them. Then, you have to evaluate if you are a competitive applicant. If you are a little on the lower side, consider to applying to a few more programs. In the end, make sure you are realistic and apply early.
And a fun bonus question! Please share an easy and quick recipe that got you through tough weeks in medical school:
DN: I oven bake everything I can. I tend to do some chicken breast, sweet potatoes, and veggies. I marinate the chicken, then use olive oil and Mrs. Dash seasoning for potatoes and veggies. It is very easy to make and only takes around thirty minutes to cook. Usually, we have leftovers for lunch the next day.