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The Art of Learning in Medical School

We are not just students. We are medical students.

I never thought there was a distinction between these two terms. To be a student, one is actively learning the material presented to them. They are engaging their minds to pick up the knowledge and store it away for later. I believed being a medical student involved the same process.We are presented a plethora of information for us to meticulously store away in our internal hard drives for later use.

As I progressed through my first year of medical school, I came to realize that I was obliterating the full meaning of “medical” from my title. To be a student is to learn from the environment around you. However, to be a medical student is to take every situation in your environment and use it to carve out your inner physician. We are not only presented with material of what can go wrong with the human body, but also we are presented with a multitude of patient cases in which we must ask ourselves, “How would I approach this situation?”

I was sitting in class, listening to my histology professor explain the science behind proximal femoral focal deficiency. As always, he had slides of the patient’s X-rays, pictures of the patient’s leg, and he was expanding on the clinical features of this malformation. I was processing this information by tabulating each piece of information under specific features: signs, symptoms, causes, hardship of life treatment.

All of a sudden, our professor became quiet. He took a long pause, stared out into the audience of absorbing students, and started talking about the decisions he had to make as a parent. It took me a minute to override my mind and realize that this was not just another patient case, but rather was part of his family. This was his daughter.

The images, X-rays and clinical features were not randomly taken out of a medical journal. This whole time we were not just talking about a patient, we were talking about a person. When we learn about all of the things that can metabolically, genetically or physiologically be abnormal, we are not just learning the tell-tale signs. Rather, we are also tuning our personal qualities to match our diagnostic powers. In the clinics, we are not only dealing with ailments, we are dealing with individuals: a mother’s child, a husband’s wife, a son’s father.

In medical school, we are not just learning cases. We are also learning how to expand upon our compassion and social ingenuity to become well-rounded individuals. As I sit in lectures, looking up at slides of the miniscule glitches our bodies can make, I flip my method of “education” from being a passive learner to an active one, for we are not merely students. We are medical students.

Madhavi Bhavsar (3 Posts)

Contributing Writer

University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine

Madhavi is a Class of 2017 medical student at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford. Before medical school, she studied sociology and biology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and spent a year abroad volunteering and traveling in India. Her interests include social justice and public health, along with health journalism. When she's not studying, you can find her in the kitchen experimenting with recipes to make them healthier or out in the community meeting new people.