Recent fourth-year matcher (and in-Training editor) C. Emily Lu of the Pritzker School of Medicine in Chicago, IL 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?
C. Emily Lu: I grew up in Wisconsin, but have spent most of my adolescent andadult life between New Jersey and Chicago. I went to the University of Chicago and double-majored in biology and philosophy. Between undergraduate and medical school, I worked for the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation doing fundraising. My goal in residency was to find a place that would put me front and center in the primary care transformation movement, give me a chance to work with underserved populations and of course, be a great place to live, work, and learn!
2. What residency program will you be joining and where?
EL: I’m headed to UCSF’s Family and Community Program.
3. Looking back on your medical school experience, what would you say to the young and naïve “first-year you”?
EL: Because medical school is so small and full of Type A personalities, it is easy to fall into the comparison trap, worrying about whether or not you measure up to your peers — don’t do it. It won’t matter for your residency placement or your career.
Continue to seek opportunities to spend time with people outside of medicine. It may seem like extra effort because you have to study, you’re feeling de-socialized by being overloaded with medical terminology, but it’s ultimately extremely worth it.
4. What things did you do that you believe were valuable to succeed the first two years in the classroom?
EL: Find the way of studying that works for you and stick with it. If that means going to class and paying attention, by all means go to class. If that means never going to class and reading or listening to lectures on your own, do that instead. Chances are, whatever method you used to get through the most rigorous classes in your undergraduate curriculum will still work for medical school. Don’t get distracted by what everyone else is doing.
In terms of extracurriculars, don’t be afraid to go off the beaten path and try new opportunities. If you don’t get the scholarship or don’t get the position to lead that free clinic that you wanted, don’t worry — there are always other opportunities that are just as good, if not better, and definitely more unique.
5. What things did you do that you believe were valuable to succeed the second two years through clinical rotations?
EL: Try to be helpful, but inconspicuous. Residents and attendings value when you are able to reduce their workload, not when you add to it. It’s also helpful to try and maintain a positive attitude at all times. Everyone is tired, including you, so there is no need to take out your stress on anyone else.
6. What things did you do during your four years of medical school that stuck out or particularly impressed your residency program?
EL: Research experience — I mostly worked on one or two research projects, but was able to use the same abstract from the one research project to present at multiple conferences, so that was seen as being “extensively published” even though I had not yet successfully submitted the paper from that project! Programs were also impressed by my work with my startup and with mobile technology.
In general though, being able to articulate well why I thought I was a good fit for their program and what I wanted from my career were probably the best points for my residency interviews.
7. What things were unhelpful or you wish you hadn’t done in medical school?
EL: Excessive worrying — it’s a medical student epidemic, and it doesn’t help anyone.
8. What was your level of involvement in research and other extracurricular activities, and your opinion on how important that involvement is?
EL: I was very involved in research and other extracurricular activities. I think these kept me going when I got tired of classes or felt unsure about why I was in medical school. They also proved important to help me get into residency.
9. What attracted you to your chosen specialty?
EL: I love being able to develop rich relationships with my patients and be in charge of taking care of the whole patient, not just my chosen organ or physiological system. I was also really excited about the many ways in which primary care is evolving and changing over the past few years, and really wanted to be in a field that was taking the charge on that effort.
10. What attracted you to your residency program?
EL: I was attracted to my residency program for many reasons; the leadership it shows in primary care innovation and the care of underserved communities were a given for all residency programs that made it to the top of my list. However, UCSF was my favorite by far because of the close relationship that it has with the city public health system (at the General and through the public health clinic system).
11. What things did you do to maintain your sanity in medical school?
EL: Take time to do things outside of medicine and spend time with friends or with personal interests outside of medicine. For me, that meant occasional board game nights, home cooking and blogging.
12. The floor is yours — what do you wish to share with current medical students?
EL: Your interests and access to opportunities will change throughout your medical education. Just stay open minded and follow your passions wherever they lead you, and you’ll be surprised but fulfilled by wherever you end up!