Sam Heathcote, a recent fourth-year matcher out of UNC Chapel Hill School of Medicine, graciously gives us his expert advice on succeeding in medical school and beyond.
1. Tell us about yourself: Where are you from? What is your undergraduate degree and where did you receive it? Did you do anything between undergraduate and medical school?
Sam Heathcote: I am from Raleigh, North Carolina and went to UNC for undergraduate school where I obtained a degree in psychology. I did three years of cancer research at the Lineberger Center, then got a Master of Science in Biomedical Science at Eastern Virginia Medical School. I am married with two boys.
2. What residency program will you be joining and where?
SH: I matched into the general surgery program at New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, N.C.
3. Looking back on your medical school experience, what would you say to the young and naïve “first-year you”?
SH: You have more time than you think you do — take more weekend trips on those off weekends.
4. What things did you do that you believe were valuable to succeed the first two years in the classroom?
SH: First, figure out what works for you. I went to class and then re-watched lecture captures on 1.5 speed. I rarely read textbooks, except for the orange EKG book. I am also a huge fan of electronic flashcards (I use StudyBlue); if I had not retained something by the second time I studied it, I made a flashcard out of it.
Second, if you are a person who knows their stuff, but are indecisive when you are taking tests, I highly recommend taking a test-taking skills course. I didn’t do as well as I wanted on Step 1, but took a course and went up dramatically on Step 2.
And third, do as many practice questions as possible.
5. What things did you do that you believe were valuable to succeed the second two years through clinical rotations?
SH: There are many things that will help you succeed in clinical rotations. Don’t be cocky. Work your tail off. Go the extra mile. All these cliches are true. When it comes to taking your shelf exams, the best study tools are your patients. Read their charts to see how they presented, what was their work-up, what tipped off their diagnosis, how were they treated. Do as many practice questions as possible. Pick your fourth-year away electives based on where you think you want to go. Some people say they are a month-long chance for you to screw up, but I am confident that I matched where I did because of my away experiences.
6. What things did you do during your four years of medical school that stuck out or particularly impressed your residency program?
SH: I did research building cardiothoracic surgery simulators between first and second year; I talked about that on every single interview.
7. What was your level of involvement in research and other extracurricular activities, and your opinion on how important that involvement is?
SH: First, I had three years of research before med school and then did a summer long research project between first and second year. Hugely important. A common interview question is, “Tell me about your research,” or, “What sort of research interests do you have?” I did not do that many extracurriculars; but I have two kids, so they were my extracurriculars. I also volunteered at our student-run clinic a couple times.
8. What attracted you to your chosen specialty?
SH: I love the OR. Almost every MD sees patients in clinic and has patients in the hospital, but only surgeons get to operate.
9. What attracted you to your residency program?
SH: Close to family. I “clicked” with the residents and attendings when I did an away there. The surgery residents seemed a lot happier than a lot of other places where I interviewed. They operate a lot and operate early, including intern year. The residents that come out of NHRMC are capable of going straight into practice as a general surgeon, but also can match into the fellowships I am interested in (at this point, I want to be a trauma surgeon). NHRMC gets a good amount of penetrating trauma patients.
10. What things did you do to maintain your sanity in medical school?
SH: First and foremost, spending time with my family kept me sane. I had some very close med school buddies; we got more than a few beers over the years. I enjoy to cook and I do it often — this is therapy for me. I also grow a veggie and herb garden in the summer that helps relieve stress. And, of course, I enjoyed going to UNC sporting events. Go Heels!
11. The floor is yours — what do you wish to share with current medical students?
SH: Pick your specialty based on your passion. Residency is going to be tough and your career is going to be long, so pick something you love.