Eric Nguyen, MS2

Creighton University School of Medicine
From Cerritos, CA
UCSB, B.S. Cell and Developmental Biology
Age 24

What does your typical day of medical school look like?

As an MS1, I would wake up at 7 AM, get a quick workout in and get ready to stream lectures at 9 AM (lectures that start at 8 AM). I would do this until around 1 or 2PM and then get lunch. Obviously there are variations in my schedule due to small group discussions or meetings with my extra-curricular activities. I would be typically done with the “first half” of my day at around 4 PM. I would then take a break until about 5 or 6 PM and then eat dinner. If I slept in a little that day and skipped the morning workout, I would workout at this time before dinner. After dinner I would review the lectures of that day, which last until about 10 or 11 PM. Following this, I would relax by either reading a book, going on social media, or watching a TV show like the Fresh Prince of Bel Air or The Office.

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

Finishing MS1 showed me that there is a decent amount of similarity with my undergraduate classes, especially with Biochemistry, Cell/Developmental Bio, Genetics, and Immunology (take those classes in undergraduate if you can). Obviously in medical school there is more of an emphasis on how these sciences are clinically applied. I went to a research based institution that was centered on more of a molecular approach. For example, in undergrad we learned about the way the Sonic hedgehog protein leads to proper formation of the Neural tube. In medical school, we focused more on how mutations in this protein leads to conditions such as holoprosencephaly.

Instructors are definitely more “there for you”. They care more about your learning and I can appreciate how much more devoted to their students they are. It is never a problem to schedule office hours and email questions are answered within hours, sometimes even minutes. The medical environment is tailored for student success. At my school at least, the faculty truly want you to be successful and they will go out of their ways to help make that happen. In my opinion this is one of the greatest things about medical school.

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

In medical school, the concepts of “active learning” and “spatial repetition” are emphasized. Active learning means that you don’t simply read through lecture slides and take notes. It means that you are constantly quizzing yourself. Sometimes I would study a lecture slide, and look away trying to write/draw everything I remember about that slide onto a blank sheet of paper.

Other times I would make my own flashcards or mooch off of friends’/other websites’ flashcards. (You’ll find that there are a ton of resources online for medical students) Studying like this really pushes you to think, regurgitate, and learn the information rather than passively stare at the material.

Spatial repetition means that you will revisit a topic multiple times with space in between. For example, I won’t spend 2 hours learning every detail about a lecture in one sitting. I will spend 40 minutes going through that lecture to get more of an outline of the material. After a few hours, I will spend another 40 minutes to revisit the lecture to fill in the details. Maybe a day or two later, I’ll spend another 40 minutes to fill even more details. With 4-6 lectures per day, spending hours on hours in one sitting doesn’t lead to your brain consolidating information. Now, when its time to study for the test, you’ve already seen the material 2-3 times and now you can truly make the material stick for the test.

I’ve also learn to take breaks more frequently. 50 minutes on 10 minutes off and repeat. Gotta let your brain rest. For 10 minutes I would walk around, socialize, blast some good music, or eat some snacks. This allows me to come back to the material ready to focus.

Looking back on when you were applying to medical schools and deciding which school was the best fit, what do you think are the most important things to learn about a medical school when you are deciding which school is right for you?

1. What kind of culture is it? These will be the people you will be spending LOTS of time with. If you’re a chiller like me and you end up in a cut-throat gunner school, you might not make many friends and you might not be that happy. Well-being is the priority. If you can’t enjoy the process, what’s the point?

2. Location. If you like the action of a metro city but you end up in a rural medical school, you won’t be able to maximize your study breaks. If you love hiking and the outdoors, then maybe choose a medical school that has lots of national parks around! If you need to be around family, then stay near home!

3. If you really want to think ahead about what kind of medical setting you want to be involved in, make sure your school is aligned with that. If you want to be a physician involved in medical technologies or you want to be highly involved with community service, then I hope you pick a medical school that represents that. Remember that medical school is where you cultivate yourself as a physician.

Can you give us a brief description of the area surrounding your school? What are some things you like and dislike about the city/town you are located in as a student?

I am in Omaha, Nebraska. I love how welcoming the people of the city is. You can strike up a conversation with absolutely anyone in Omaha and you don’t have to worry about prejudice or discrimination of any sort. To my surprise, there was a lot of diversity and therefore there is a lot of variety of food! Omaha has a ton of good food, but I confess the best food in Omaha are American.
Something that I didn’t like about Omaha is its lack of access to good hiking spots. The area is pretty flat and unless it is summer and spring, all of the trees aren’t the greenest. The trees lose all leaves in the winter and all grass/bushes turn green. I guess I’ve been spoiled with California weather.

Also, it isn’t as feasible to travel to other major cities. Denver and Chicago are both 7+ hour drives away so trips to other cities usually must land on 3+ day breaks. However, there are closer cities like Lincoln, NE, Kansas City, and Iowa City which are 1-3 hours away, and I hear they are decently worth exploring.

What organizations or activities are you involved in outside of your regular classwork? Additionally, are there any organizations (even if you aren’t a part of them) that you think are unique to your school?

I am involved in the American Medical Association at my school and I am a co-founder of the MICE Club (Medical Innovation Collaboration and Entrepreneurship Club). I also participate in various community service activities such as volunteering at free clinics, mentoring schoolchildren at their schools, and serving the homeless populations of Omaha.

I once participated in Creighton’s “Wisdom Groups”, which I believe to be relatively unique to Creighton only. With our school being a Jesuit one, we have the opportunity to group up with other students along with a church father, who studied extensively to be a member of the Society of Jesus. In these programs, we can discuss the meaning we find in everyday life, from what we fear to what makes us happy, what it means to be a medical student, and how we reflect on everything we do. It was a very fulfilling program.

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

After the prerequisites, in order of importance with 1 being the most: 1. Biochemistry 2. Cell Biology 3. Immunology 4. Developmental Biology 5. Genetics

What is a unique aspect of education at your medical school that has been valuable to you thus far as a medical student?

For our recent Neuroscience course, our school was able to partner with Firecracker, a board exam (NBME + USMLE) preparation course. We were able to supplement our lectures with Firecracker content, flashcards, and practice questions. It provided another means of tackling the material.

What is one way your outlook on medicine or understanding of medicine has changed in your time at medical school?

We always knew we wanted to help people, but I was able to bolster my understanding of the humanistic side of medicine. Like many schools, Creighton taught us to truly empathize with the patient as a person. We were taught to not only understand how a patient’s ailment affected one’s bodily function, but also how it affected one’s daily life. We learned to ask “How does this affect your ability to do your favorite hobbies? How does it affect your ability to spend time with your family? Your ailment must make it even harder for you to pay your bills and send your children to college. It must be incredibly difficult for you.” etc etc

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?

I would invite them to pick something they are highly interested in, but sure take the pre-reqs, and maybe a few additional other classes that I mentioned above. Aside from doing something interesting, you never know how you can integrate medicine with your field of interest in the future.

I believe the future of medicine will be full of collaboration, so if you are interested in biomedical engineering, business/economics, computer science, or even music, there will be awesome ways to integrate it with medicine. I believe much innovation can come from collaboration so you never know what kind of cool things you will come up with if you become a little more well-rounded.

Given the number of obstacles we face en route to a career in medicine, everyone at some point feels doubtful of themselves. How has this affected you and what has helped you persevere through these sorts of feelings? 

It isn’t always easy to maintain consistent confidence in your abilities, but I always have an inner optimism knowing that things will always work out in the end. Having this faith makes me start each difficult day with confidence.

Furthermore, exercise, meditation, and staying social keeps me on top of my adversities. Also, I don’t usually complain. I try to remember the blessings that I have in life, that I have an opportunity of a lifetime to become a physician. I remember that being healthy, alive, and with everything I need to live already puts me in the top 5-10% of the world. I have no reason to complain and this mindset makes life so much more fulfilling.

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

Don’t live for anybody else. Don’t do something because someone or something told you to do it. Live for yourself, be patient, and enjoy the process. Your time in undergrad will absolutely fly by. Seriously!

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? (This is open ended…can be related to academics or anything non-academic)

I would have traveled more/studied abroad! Absolutely everyone should do it. Traveling is an amazing opportunity to broaden your perspectives and learn about other cultures/traditions. And when you have summer break, and you’re not studying for the MCAT, go travel and/or do some mission trip in a different country so you can appreciate how good you have it. Also try to do it without parents so you can better personally develop.