A Day in the Life, Columns
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On My Signal, Unleash Hell; And Other Things Professors Say on Test Day

A Day in the Life
How Med Students Experience Test Day:

Module Director In Secret Control Room: “On my signal, unleash hell.”
Students Inside the Computer Lab: “We who are about to die, salute you!”

How Professors Experience Test Day:

Alarm Clock: *beep beep beep beep beep*
Professor: *hits snooze* *rolls over*


And Now for the Column:

If you think about it, for all our busyness we med students actually have some semblance of a life on non-test weeks. Four hours of studying per day!? That’s practically a cakewalk. So much free time we don’t know what to do with it. But come test week, those glorious four-hour study days are replaced by twelve-hour studying binges and less-than-restful nights full of pharmacology dreams. These are the weeks when we tend to make the big mistakes: acting out of the desperate need to regain a tiny bit of control over our lives we get another a tattoo … or buy a cat (you know who you are).

We get this way because tests in med school are like a Hydra. Every time you cut off one head and foolishly think “there is no way I will ever have to take a harder test than that,” the next test comes back twice as hard and toothy. What’s worse, every time you actually conquer a Hydra (finish a module) another one comes by and takes its place. That is, until one day at the end of second year when the Kraken comes by and eats you all. We call that the USMLE Step 1.

Now, admittedly, I’m not an expert here. I’m still wrestling with Hydra number one (up to about eight heads now) and the Kraken is only a scary myth. But no matter what the MSII’s say, that doesn’t mean I can’t gripe about it. So gripe I will; or in the (slightly altered) words of Lesley Gore: “It’s my medical education and I’ll cry if I want to.” Chances are, given the time of year, the crossroads between tears and insanity may not be far off for many of us. In my neck of the woods, we’re three days status post a marginally successful Histology/Anatomy practical and four days removed (status pre?) from a final exam. In other words, we’ve officially reached the point where surviving the next week becomes as much about prayer as determination.

But therein lies one of the necessary evils of medical education: it has to be equal parts psychological and intellectual preparation (okay, we’ll call it 60/40 … or 80/20). Some of us are training for careers in the OR where things sometimes just go wrong; others for months worth of differential diagnoses and dead ends; and the fact of the matter is that nobody wants to see their surgeon or internist have a nervous breakdown. That’s what your office is for. Cry on your own time.

So the best we can do from this side of matriculation is accept that test week (and test day and post-test sugar induced couch-comas) are part and parcel of med school. Chug another venti [fill in the blank] from Starbucks, and get back to work. Because that Principles of Toxicology lecture won’t absorb via osmosis … at least not according to the Physiology lecture I still have to look over at some point this week.

Dragos Rezeanu Dragos Rezeanu (10 Posts)

Columnist, in-Training Staff Member, and Editor Emeritus: Former Medical Student Editor (2012-2013)

University of Alabama School of Medicine

Writer, editor, motorcycle enthusiast and medical student, Dragos almost achieved the impossible early in life by nearly failing fifth grade. Born in Romania, raised in Colorado and somehow now in Alabama, Dragos graduated magna cum laude from Auburn University in 2011 with a degree in biomedical sciences, making his way shortly thereafter to Birmingham and the UAB School of Medicine. Over the next several years he hopes to make a few friends, learn a few things, write a few articles, and just maybe find himself as a physician-journalist in a fulfilling surgical career somewhere down the line.

  • Patrick McCabe

    We need to continue the correlations with mythology. Residency could qualify as the 12 Labors of Hercules. All of medical training falls under The Odyssey. Research could be The Aeneid to mark the equivalent of founding Rome. I am not sure how to describe 3rd and 4th year. Wrath of the Titans might fit. Plenty of Titans, and lots of things don’t make sense.