Editor’s note: A letter of advice from recent fourth-year matcher (and in-Training writer) Kerri Vincenti of the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences on surviving, succeeding and maintaining sanity in medical school.
I’ve been attending the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences for the past four years. I was born and raised on Long Island and attended undergrad at the University of Delaware, co-majoring in marketing and management. I graduated college in 2006 and immediately began a career in Manhattan at an advertising agency. Although I enjoyed my life, I knew there was something missing and ultimately decided to return to school to train for a medical degree. Because I had not taken many science courses during undergrad, I enrolled full-time as a post-baccalaureate student at the City College of New York in order to complete my prerequisites; after two years out in the “real world” and a year and a half of non-stop science courses, I was accepted into GW’s incoming medical school class beginning in 2010.
With all of my clinical and personal experiences, I ultimately decided to specialize in radiology. Starting in June, I will be training at Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia both for my preliminary medicine intern year and radiology residency. I’m not sure what area of radiology I will specialize in yet, but I am definitely interested in having a fair amount of patient interaction. I’m also interested in pursuing academic medicine as part of my career and will likely always be a part of a teaching hospital if not also a medical school dean’s office.
While in medical school, I tried to take advantage of all of the diverse groups and opportunities available to me and held various positions in the school’s pediatrics interest group, the GW student chapter of the AMA, and a research society. I was involved with the student-run health clinic in a variety of roles and participated in an extramural elective focusing on leadership in medical education that spanned all four years. I got married just prior to entering medical school and was lucky enough to have a beautiful baby girl at the end of my third year. Although her entrance into my life brought its own set of challenges, I know that she helped me re-prioritize my focus and future goals.
If I could go back in time to talk to myself as a first year, I would probably give the following advice:
1. It may seem important now to get honors on all of your grades, but in the end, it’s not what you know but who you know. Get to know your classmates both in and out of the classroom. Enjoy this short time you have with them because after four years, you probably won’t see many of them ever again. And they’re all great people.
2. Life is about experiences and the memories you make in the process, so live every day with the notion that there’s a memory worth making from it. Find something memorable (wonderful or terrible) that you can learn from and makes you better — every day.
3. Don’t ignore the people you knew before you got here. A good part of the reason you’ve made it where you are is because of their support and inspiration. Call your mom. Eat dinner with your husband. Insist that your friends come visit you. Make time to visit (or at least call) your friends. In that order.
4. Even the ones who may have doubted you have been pivotal to the drive that you felt to prove them wrong. This isn’t a time to gloat or brag about what you’ve accomplished. You still have a long road ahead of you, but now you can take any anger or self doubt about negative influences and leave them in the past where they belong.
5. You will never stop learning. This choice you have made comes with a commitment to your own learning. Read a medical journal for 10 minutes every night. Have a thirst for knowledge. Don’t just try to know the answer for the sake of being right. Understand. You will probably have to go over the material you’re learning more times and figure out new ways to learn effectively and efficiently, but it will make you a better doctor in the long run.
6. Be true to yourself. Be proud but not boastful. Be confident but not cocky. Be humble, and accept criticism with a grain of salt, understanding that in the grand scheme of things, even the meanest attendings really just want the best from you in the end.
7. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know.” No matter how much you learn, you will never have all the answers. In becoming a great physician, it’s just as important to know how to solve a problem when you can as it is to know who to turn to when you can’t.
Good luck to all of you reading this as you strive towards your degree. You will make it to your MD moment soon, and when you do, I hope you will look back on your experiences like I do now and be proud of all that you’ve become and all that you have the potential to be.