I have a lot to learn. By Friday, anyway. I have a Pharmacology exam followed by a Pathophysiology exam this coming Monday. Once again, I find myself behind. It’s the funny kind of behind where you look at the stack of notes on your desk (2″ of one, 3″ of the other) and sort of chuckle. “Ha. This is going to be funny.” Cue despair.
Looking at it now, I’m tempted to start the passive bragging of impossible odds. “You have no idea how hard it is,” I’d say. “Medical school is like trying to take a drink from a fire hose,” I’d brag.
And that’s total bullshit.
At the beginning of each course, we’re given a syllabus telling us how we’re going to be graded, the question break-down for each test, and the schedule of lectures each day for the next 4-5 months. Nothing is going to sneak up on you unless you can’t read the print on the page (in which case you’re blind and things sneak up on you all the time).
But it’s sunny outside or snowing outside or Tuesday. Whatever. You’re in medical school to become a doctor, not to be in a classroom (scheduling conflicts here) and you find yourself out on the weekends, maybe catching a movie on the weekday, and so on. You blow off the first week of any course because the material is supposed to be introductory and you certainly blow off the first week after any exam to recuperate. Maybe you take off two weeks if it was especially difficult and draining.
Eventually though, the next exam is closer than the last exam and you have to return to the desk and pretend to be a serious student. The first week back studying, you won’t be as efficient and as familiar with the material as you were leading up to the last test, so there’s some built-in catching up to do. You can’t understand the material taught TODAY because you blew off the introduction, so until you catch up, you keep falling behind. By the time you’re back in your stride the exam is so close you can feel it’s breath on your neck and you still have material to cover on a first pass. Let’s not forget: you haven’t reviewed or committed anything to memory at this point. It’s now that you understand the truth:
Medical school is like trying to eat five pancakes every morning for breakfast.
You know you can do it. A Premed advisory committee endorsed you saying, “He has the stomach for it. He’s committed.” And you prove them all right. Every day you show up with your first-year optimism and your annoying hunger for learning and you clean that plate (just kidding, it’s adorable). But you begin to notice that those pancakes are slowing you down a little each day and the sugar highs and lows are screwing with your sleep. Smart person that you are, you decide to pass on the flapjacks one day. You think to yourself, “Self, I’m going to eat ten pancakes tomorrow so that I don’t have to eat any today.”
But it never stops. Turns out that “self” isn’t the most responsible lender, and before you know it there are 40 pancakes in front of you and your plate needs to be clean by tomorrow. So yeah, at this point it looks impossible. But really, it’s your fault.
In the future, as I like to imagine it, I’ll be in charge of all medical school admissions. The process will be six weeks long and will consist of nothing more than showing up each morning to eat five pancakes, at which point you can then go about whatever you were going to do that day. At the end of the five weeks a few jaded, newly diabetic hopefuls will come to my office and, mixed with both pride and resignation say, “I did it. I finished those goddamn pancakes.”
“Wow,” I’ll say. “That’s very impressive. You must be very proud, and your parents must be very proud. Just one more thing.” They’ll reflexively clutch their stomachs, shifting their girth from one hip onto the next and groan, “What’s that?”