Melanie Watt, curator of the Match Day Spotlight series for 2017 and 2018, recently matched into internal medicine-pediatrics at the University of Tennessee in Memphis. Read on as she shares advice for clerkships, the interview trail and more.
Tell us about yourself:
My name is Melanie, and I’m a fourth-year med student at LSU Health in Shreveport. I attended LSU for undergrad where I studied biology and Spanish. I’ve been part of the in-Training team since my first year when I joined as a social media manager. I spent two years running the Twitter account and transitioned to a student editor position a year ago. When not studying or tweeting, I’m either working out, reading, sewing, hiking or kayaking.
Looking back on your medical school experience, what would you say to the young and naïve “first-year you”?
Don’t wait until the third anatomy exam to celebrate with post-test milkshakes!
What tips do you have for USMLE?
Treat it like a job! I had the most structured weeks of my life while studying for Step 1, because I could have the same schedule every day. I started with a workout, then went to my designated study spot. I took about an hour to check email, schedule Twitter posts, and make coffee. Then I did whatever was on my schedule for the day! Some days were longer than others, but I was generally back home about 6 p.m. My best advice would be to take actual breaks instead of eating while studying or listening to pathology podcasts while driving. I studied with three other friends in an office space, and we often took lunch breaks together. At the end of the day, do the work, take the test and move on.
What advice do you have for the students going through clinical rotations?
Always have a snack and a pen. Maybe two pens. When answering questions, my motto is to be often incorrect, but never unsure! Be a willing and active participant, because no matter what specialty you end up in, you’ll need bits and pieces from every rotation.
What recommendations do you have for medical students to maintain their sanity?
Four things were vital to my sanity during medical school: living with my parents, exercise (I ran my fastest half-marathon ever during second year), my med school and non-med school friends and my church. Find something away from school that you enjoy, be it spending time with a pet, exercise, cooking or anything else.
How did medical school differ from your expectations?
I didn’t expect the depth of interaction that I would have with patients. I was given more autonomy with patient care than I ever expected and loved every minute of clerkships. That autonomy really allowed me to fall in love with medicine because I had time to laugh and cry and learn with patients.
What things did you do during your four years of medical school that you believe particularly impressed your residency program?
My projects here on in-Training came up quite often! Interviewers wanted to know about the curriculum book and what was involved in being a social media manager and student editor. My range of hobbies was also a frequent topic of conversation. I would get paired with a runner, or someone with whom I would spend the whole interview exchanging book suggestions. The fact that I had many interests outside medicine seemed to be an attractive quality.
What attracted you to your chosen specialty?
I went into medical school interested in pediatrics and loved my pediatrics clerkship. What I wasn’t expecting, however, was to get to my internal medicine clerkship and realize how much I enjoyed the complexity of disease and caring for adult patients. Ultimately, the broad spectrum and depth of training received in a Med-Peds residency is what sold me.
What is your biggest fear about beginning residency?
I think my biggest fear is the steep learning curve that will hit the first few months in each specialty! I feel like I’ve forgotten so much throughout this year and will have to revisit all the basics. I’m also nervous about the newness of everything — new state, new hospitals, new church, new gym, new everything. Thankfully, four other students from my class have matched to programs in the same city, so there will be a few familiar faces as we start intern year.
What advice would you give third year students about to start the Match process?
Enjoy it! The interview trail can be fun. You’ll get to see cities you haven’t visited before, so try to get at least a few hours to sightsee in each of them. As for the interview itself, be yourself. As clichéd as it sounds, if programs invite you to interview that means they already think you’ll be a good fit. Interviews really affirmed my specialty choice, because I realized I wanted to be friends with everyone I met on the trail!
I would also take some time to consider what will work best for you as far as traveling. I know some people who drove everywhere, no matter how far. For me, eight hours of driving was my limit. Anything further than that, I flew. It was also important for my routine and budget that I came home between every interview or two. Even if it was just one night in my bed, it really made a difference in keeping me sane in all the crazy.
My best advice for travel necessities are to have two phone chargers and to develop something of a “travel uniform.” With two phone chargers, I left one plugged in at my house and the second one was always in my backpack. As for my travel uniform, I wore full-length leggings with either tennis shoes or riding boots, an oversized long-sleeve sweater and a blanket scarf. The scarf made for a great pillow or blanket and I was grateful to have it even if my destination was to a warmer location. I wore the same clothes going and coming to keep my packing to a minimum.
And a fun bonus question! Please share an easy and quick recipe that got you through tough weeks in medical school:
I lived with my mother, an excellent cook, so I really only baked for fun. Here’s one of my favorites:
Cake Mix Cookies:
1 box of your favorite cake mix (Funfetti and red velvet are excellent here!)
1/3 cup oil
Mix ingredients and bake for 7 minutes at 350ºF. Enjoy!