Whenever I consider my time in medical school, I am surprised by how quickly I have been able to cultivate a sense of belonging at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, far from home and in a very unfamiliar setting. After all, I grew up in a single-parent household with my dad in a small, weary mill town in central Massachusetts called Ware. He was a carpenter who always carried at least two jobs to make ends meet. I did not really thrive in medical school until my first rotation on the wards, where I was reintroduced to “my kind of people” — patients.
For most first-and second-year medical students, residency is only in their imagination, and it is not truly until the third and fourth years that it becomes something they can imagine very well. It is the mystical land of having ‘made it’: getting through medical school, having the title MD or DO finally applied to you, and being thrown head first into the clinical world.
My foray into the wilds of Alaska was part a journey that my classmates and I call “the Safari.” While no African wildlife are spotted on the trip, bears and moose are plentiful, and the journey traverses over a quarter of the United States landmass, from four-room clinics serving towns of a few hundred people to the massive edifices of a level one trauma center and tertiary care university hospital serving five states. For those unfamiliar with the program, the University of Washington is the only allopathic medical school in the “WWAMI” region, comprising of Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho; the school has clinical sites and regional teaching campuses in each of these states. Come third year, students can request rotations in the multiple hospitals in Seattle, or rotate at the regional sites.
The considerations in choosing a specialty are multiple. There are matters of lifestyle and compensation, of competitiveness and rigor. There is the push-and-pull of breadth versus depth, of procedure versus prose.
You’re almost through with med school—the exams, the lectures, the rotations—but here’s where things get really real. Now it’s time to apply for residency. Don’t take your foot off the gas pedal yet, though. Residency applications are just as nuanced as medical school applications. They require plenty of preparation and attention to detail to ensure you have a successful match. A key difference, however, is that applicants and residencies are both trying to find an appropriate fit with each other.
Pixie Sanders, a recent fourth-year medical student who matched to Banner University Medical Center South for family medicine, gives us her expert advice on succeeding in medical school and beyond.
After four tough years of medical school and student loans, facing down seven more grueling years of training, aspiring neurosurgeons enter a residency interview process that is as bizarre as it is effective.
Farrah Fong, a recent fourth-year medical student who matched to Rutgers-Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital for family medicine, gives us her expert advice on succeeding in medical school and beyond.
Diane Brackett, a recent fourth-year medical student who matched to Massachusetts General Hospital for pathology, gives us her expert advice on succeeding in medical school and beyond.
Samantha Margulies, a recent fourth-year medical student who matched to Yale-New Haven Hospital for obstetrics and gynecology, gives us her expert advice on succeeding in medical school and beyond.
I went through medical school without experiencing the death of a patient I had personally cared for. In contrast to what may be seen on the trauma service, my surgery clerkship was full of routine procedures: appendectomies and cholecystectomies, port placements, excisions of pilonidal cysts, and miscellaneous “ditzels,” as pathologists may refer to them as. Sure, I have had patients who were quite sick and did not have much time left to live. For example, I once performed a neurologic exam on a comatose teenager in the ICU, whose arteriovenous malformation had bled wildly out of control despite prior neurosurgery. But with the constant shuffling of rotations that medical students must endure, I was always in and out of patients’ lives before they had a chance to leave mine.
I recently had the opportunity to shadow a local occupational medicine physician over spring break. I arrived at his office Monday morning expecting a brief day of clinic, maybe some conversation over lunch; maybe I get lucky and he pays for my sandwich. Within minutes of meeting him, though, the physician offered to host me for the entire week on a “mini-rotation.”