Alexandra Baluna, a recent fourth-year matcher out of Louisiana State University School of Medicine in Shreveport, Louisiana, gives us her 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?
Alexandra Baluna: I got my BS at Indiana University, with a major in biology and minors in chemistry and psychology. I came to medical school knowing I wanted to do psychiatry; it’s personally one of the best career choices I could have made. I would say the best time to do research is the summer of your first year. It’s a great resume builder and will very much be appreciated during your interviews as a fourth year.
2. What residency program will you be joining and where?
AB: Albert Einstein-Montefiore in Bronx, New York
3. Looking back on your medical school experience, what would you say to the young and naïve “first-year you”?
AB: Stop stressing so much about the little things. Always remember that what you’re doing is a privilege. There are so many other people who would love to be where you are. Yes, there are many things that seem so unnecessary but as you go through medical school and begin to see patients you will find everything slowly comes together. Be patient in this process and take it one day at a time. That’s all you can do.
4. What things did you do that you believe were valuable to succeed the first two years in the classroom?
AB: Have lots of dinners with friends and enjoy you’re life. This may seem difficult, but the happier you are, the more you enjoy studying and will be successful. It’s a necessity for your mental health.
5. What things did you do that you believe were valuable to succeed the second two years through clinical rotations?
AB: Learn the nurses’ names and be kind to them as they are very knowledgeable and can help you tremendously. Overall: be helpful, don’t complain, show up on time, be kind to everyone, even if you don’t particularly like a rotation find the value in learning that specific field (remember the people you treat are a whole human being rather than an isolated body system).
6. What things did you do during your four years of medical school that stuck out or particularly impressed your residency program?
AB: Research and publications. I also demonstrated a clear interest of my specific field throughout medical school by being involved in various extracurricular activities, like interest groups, volunteering, professional committees, and attending national conferences in the field.
8. What was your level of involvement in research and other extracurricular activities, and your opinion on how important that involvement is?
AB: I did one research project summer of freshman year. The importance of that research was program dependent. Most programs didn’t mention it, or if they did, they just said that it was great that I did research. I really think this is also specialty dependent. In the case of psychiatry, they really put a lot of emphasis on who you are as a person and the reason you chose the field. That being said, the personal statement seemed important. If you’re interested in surgical specialties I highly doubt the personal statement matters as much, however research is most likely much more important.
9. What attracted you to your chosen specialty?
AB: People in my life affected with mental illness and a desire to contribute to the destigmatization of people who suffer from mental illness. Likewise, it just fits my personality. I was just very happy on my psychiatry rotation and wouldn’t mind staying later or talking to patients for a longer period of time.
10. What attracted you to your residency program?
AB: I wanted a more psychotherapy-oriented program and I wanted to live in New York. At the end of the day I picked the program based on how much I felt I belonged; it just so happened that the program also fulfilled what I was originally looking for. Moral of the story, the term “Match” holds true to it’s name: you like a place, they like you, it’s meant to be.
11. What things did you do to maintain your sanity in medical school?
AB: All of the above. I cannot stress enjoying your free time enough in whatever way that may be. Also, it’s very very important to surround yourself with people that bring you up rather than tear you down. Sometimes it’s difficult in medical school because everyone is stressed, but it’s good to have positive energy around.
12. The floor is yours — what do you wish to share with current medical students?
AB: I always describe my medical school experience as, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” No matter the equilibrium you feel you’ve attained in your life, at some point medical school will disturb that equilibrium. You may have moments where you feel like, “Wow I really don’t belong here, everyone seems so much more knowledgeable, everyone else seems like they know what they’re doing.” Then you will have other moments where you find confidence in yourself and your ability to communicate with and treat patients. In the end, as a fourth-year, I can tell you there is nothing else I would rather have done. I really enjoy seeing patients and having that privilege to be a part of their lives. To me, it was very much worth it and I will continue to learn in order to improve the quality of my patient’s life.