Arnie Shah, MS1

UC Irvine School of Medicine
From Cerritos, CA
UCLA, B.S. Neuroscience and Marine Biology
Age 24

What experiences throughout your life contributed the most to you wanting to go to medical school and pursue a career in medicine?

I think my love for science began early. I especially loved physics in high school and entered UCLA as a biophysics major. I eventually switched majors, and neuroscience courses continued to drive me towards medicine. I think neuroscience helped in developing my fascination with medicine and physiology. There is an impossibility to how the brain works that continually warrants questions. I think thats the crux of medicine: asking questions and the answers. My coursework also led me to begin working in a spinal cord research laboratory. I worked with paraplegic patients, learning their stories, and meeting their families. It sounds cliche, but seeing them participate in research for the sake of future spinal cord injury patients was inspiring. I came to love my time in the lab and wanted more and more patient experience. That really solidified my hopes of a career in medicine.

What does your typical day of medical school look like?

When I wake up, I decide if there is class I want to go to (sometimes it’s mandatory.) If there isn’t, I choose a library or coffee shop to go to and I study. Studying for me means going through lectures, reading notes, looking things up…becoming comfortable with the material that would have been presented in lecture. First year, since I have anatomy, I have to go into the lab to identify structures and review material from dissection. Most days, even with the studying I have to do and some mandatory class, I end the day hanging with friends or doing non-school related stuff….reading, watching TV, or going to the driving range.

How do your classes and lectures compare to those at your undergraduate institution?

I think its very similar in the sense that there are certain classes for which attending lecture is extremely helpful and using the class content is the most useful way to study. But its just a reality that there are certain classes or lectures for which I can study more efficiently by using the internet or out-of-class resources to learn the material of the class. Class structure at UCI is very similar to my classes at UCLA except that there are far fewer ‘homework’ assignments. In fact, nearly none.

How has your approach to learning and/or studying changed since you were an undergrad?

The one thing that has changed is the volume of content. I have become a lot more comfortable going into tests knowing that there is certain material I just haven’t covered. I think learning to prioritize certain material over other material is is absolutely necessary. This idea of ‘high-yield’ information is still new to me but I am constantly trying to decide what will give me the biggest bang-for-my-buck since my classes right now are Pass/No-Pass. One thing that I have noticed is that, with this volume of information to memorize, I have to look up journal articles or case studies to help things stick. There are just too many random facts for all of it to stick after just reading the lecture material or notes. Reading cases and clinical presentations helps contextualize information and commit it to long term memory. Its interesting…I’m no longer just learning stuff for the sake of a grade. I need to learn it in a way that will help make me a good physician.

In retrospect, which classes in undergrad do you think were the most useful coming into medical school?

I was also a marine biology major at UCLA and I had to take an ichthyology class in which I literally just memorized a bunch of facts about fish. As mindless as it was at times, I think it really helped me deal with the volume of my anatomy course. I think some would argue that its bad to approach anatomy through just rote memorization, but thats how I’m doing it. And my ichthyology class helps. On the flip side of this question, I’m not sure why I took O-Chem.

What organizations or activities are you involved in outside of your regular classwork?

I am a part of PLEXUS, which is a medical-humanities journal here at UC Irvine that allows medical faculty, students, and patients to share their stories. I think its important to communicate medicine in a non-scientific way.

How would you describe the sense of community within your medical school class?

Its really good. We have activities for the entire class and often with the second-years. I also have a smaller group of friends that I might spend more time with but I never feel like there are people in my class that I would be uncomfortable talking to or spending time with. I think UC Irvine has done a really good job creating a very collaborative class with a wide variety of skills and interest. Knowing everyone at your school is really different coming from a big university. But I like it because it feels a lot more like family.

How much does your unique background (meaning your major, or your work experience prior to medical school, or unique individual circumstances) play into you being successful as a medical student?

I wish I could say marine biology played more into my success as a medical student but, besides the practice I got memorizing random genera and species of plankton, I can’t say that much has stuck with me. Neuroscience on the other hand has obviously been huge for me. Right now we are actually in a neuroscience block and it is always easier to learn material the second time you look at it. That being said, I don’t think its enough of an advantage to choose a major just based on what might be useful in medical school down the road. I’m really happy that I chose my majors based only on what interested me at the time.

What have you been most surprised to find out or realize about medical school life since you started?

I think my expectations of medical school were pretty accurate up to this point. I think one thing people think is that your social life just disappears once you start medical school. But once you adjust and get used to the time-management, you can keep up with hobbies, families, and other non-academic things. Medical school is easily the hardest thing I have ever done, but I think you would be hard-pressed to find someone in my class that wasn’t enjoying themselves overall. Irvine is a beautiful place to be for medical school.

I was also really impressed with how welcoming medical school administration was. At every step of the way, administrators want our feedback. They act on this feedback promptly and you feel like your opinion matters…which is important when it comes to your education.

If a young undergraduate interested in applying to medical school came to you seeking advice about ‘which major is best,’ what would you tell them? 

This is strictly opinion, but I would tell them to choose something outside of the hard sciences as a major. Taking the pre-medical requirements will be enough exposure to the hard sciences, so take a major in the humanities maybe so that you can diversify your academic experiences. Not only may this help you stand out, but I also say this because I miss being able to take random courses and being able to learn about some random topic for a few months. Once you’re in medical school, you’re learning medicine. Undergrad is the last opportunity you have to dive deep into random topics.

What do you wish you had known as an undergraduate and/or as a student in the medical application process?

Applying is such a long process and everyone goes through it at a different pace. This sounds ridiculous now, but Student Doctor Network was a major contributor to my stress in my gap-year. When people start posting about where they are getting interviews or where they have gotten in, you immediately feel like you’ve lost your chance. It made me really negative. As hard as it is to do, you have to keep your focus on what you have direct control over, which is your essays, your activity descriptions, your grades, and your extracurriculars. Keep yourself busy with those and focus on yourself!

What is one thing you would do differently if you could go back to your undergraduate years or the time between undergrad and medical school?

I loved my time at UCLA. I wouldn’t change anything about that. Perhaps I would see my family more.

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