Neela, MS1

UC San Diego School of Medicine
From Los Gatos, CA
UCLA, B.S. Psychology
Age 23

What does your typical day of medical school look like?

We have lecture at 8 AM every day, but because it’s never mandatory, I usually wake up at 8 AM, chug a disturbing amount of coffee, and videocast the lectures from home at 1.5x speed. This allows me to pause when a concept is more difficult and warrants a few repetitions or to skip ahead when I can quickly read the slides to get the information I need. It also allows me to spend some quality time with my cat, Fitz! On the days we do have mandatory class, it’s usually PBL (Problem Based Learning) or POM (Practice of Medicine). Both of these classes are with small groups of 8-10 students and very interactive, so I don’t mind walking to class and being present. On those days, I’ll often hang around on campus after class and study in MET, the shiny new building that UCSD med students call their second home. At night, there’s almost always time to hang out with friends, even if the time spent is in between studying lectures in someone’s apartment. Lastly, I will brag that there have been a few glorious days when I drove to Windansea Beach, set up a blanket, and studied next to the ocean.

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

The lectures are actually very similar–typically, a clinician from that particular field will present the lecture for an hour, and I write notes directly on the slides using my iPad. So far, I have only had to buy one textbook throughout the entire year because usually all the information you need to know is on the slides. Sometimes, the presentations aren’t always organized to my liking, so after lecture I’ll have to consolidate the information into tables or a flowchart. One incredible thing about most medical schools is that they are now Pass/Fail. This means I can focus on what seems most high-yield or most relevant from each lecture and spend far less time learning minutiae. This also means that I am significantly less stressed out than I was in undergrad. I have also become a much more efficient studier–now, when I listen to a lecture, I am actively picking out what seems most relevant in real-time and even scribbling mnemonics or memory hooks in the margins of the slides.

What have you liked about the teaching practices at your institution? Alternatively, how satisfied are you with the class structure at your institution? Are there aspects that you would like changed?

My professors are extremely approachable and actually enjoy it when you talk to them about their research or their jobs. Because many of them are currently practicing physicians, they provide us with fascinating clinical vignettes that are highly relevant to our future careers and that get us excited to start practicing medicine! Sometimes, I have felt that the lectures weren’t my best studying resources, and I have instead chosen to use resources like Pathoma or SketchyMed to learn the material. This isn’t necessarily a reflection on our lecturers, however, but instead speaks to how awesome those resources are. If you haven’t checked them out yet, I highly recommend looking them up! We also have a lot of small group classes, including PBL, POM, and discussion groups to go over clinical cases relevant to the current block. The small group classes are great opportunities to get to know both the instructing physician and your classmates very well. The clinical case and PBL small groups are especially helpful because they get you thinking more like a doctor and less like an undergraduate.

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?

For me, the number one most important factor was happiness. When I went to Second Look for the schools I was accepted to, I was paying close attention to the current first years and asking them questions about their lives outside of medical school, their social lives, their mental health, etc. What really struck me at UCSD was that the first years seemed really, really happy–WAY happier than I thought possible at a medical school. They all did cool things outside of school: they surfed, they went to breweries, they had game nights with their friends, they went to Padres games, and the end result was that they were ecstatic that they had chosen UCSD. I think it’s important to remember that medical schools in the US offer pretty much the same things–PBL, POM, Pass/Fail, and small group case-based learning are all facets of pretty much every curriculum. It’s important to ask about these things, but in my opinion, they are not the most important things to consider. Find out how happy the students are, because it’s a definite indicator of how you’ll be feeling for the next four years of your life. And if you are content and feeling fulfilled, I promise you that things like rankings and prestige will not matter one bit. Likewise, think about it–if you’re miserable, will being able to say “at least I go to the #1 school” make you happier?”

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?

San Diego is the BEST. At UCSD, you’re in close proximity to some of the best beaches in the world (at least in my humble opinion). When you’re feeling stressed, nothing makes you feel better than going to Dog Beach with your best friends, setting up a blanket, and playing with 30 different dogs. As annoying as this may be, there is seriously nothing I dislike about San Diego!

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?

At UCSD, we have a Free Clinic so awesome that almost every single student is able to participate in it. I manage the neurology and psychiatry free clinics with some of my fellow students, and it is by far the most fulfilling thing I have done in medical school. The patients are incredible teachers, and it is a genuine honor to be able to learn from them. If you come to UCSD’s Second Look, I really recommend touring the Free Clinic and learning more about it.

How well have you been able to develop clinical skills alongside your classroom work first and second year? What does your institution do to help you develop clinical skills before the clinical years?

UCSD does a lot to help us become more clinically competent as first year. We have POM (Practice of Medicine) every other week, in which a physician facilitator teaches us physical exam skills and gives us plenty of opportunities to practice. We also have GOSCEs, which are opportunities to practice skills like interviewing and physical examination on standardized patients (paid actors, basically), who are so convincing that I sometimes forget the experience is simulated! We also have ACA–basically, we’re paired with a physician that practices somewhere in the San Diego area, and each week or so, we shadow them. Our ACA preceptors will usually give us opportunities to practice interviewing and examining their patients as well. Finally, I mentioned Free Clinic above, but it bears mentioning again. At Free Clinic, we usually see 1-2 patients per visit, conduct the entire interview and physical exam, and then present to the attending. Then, we see the patient again with the attending and see how the real thing is done. So overall, we get lots of opportunities to develop clinical skills!

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

This is a really hard question! I think that before, I saw medicine as memorizing a bunch of facts about diseases and then applying those facts with patients. To be fair, you do need to be able to memorize and apply facts to be a successful doctor. But I think I underestimated how much of medicine is an art. Patient interviewing and physical examination are really, really hard and require so much practice. The experience so far has given me even more appreciation for what doctors do every day and for the sheer amount of training and practice that go into one short fifteen minute patient visit.

Are there any resources that stand out to you as most useful to you in self-learning medical school material or for expanding on material taught in class?

Pathoma and SketchyMed hands down!

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 tell them to choose a major based on what they’re actually interested in, not based on what they think looks good. Some of my classmates were English majors, history majors, and physics majors. No matter what, you have to take the same pre-med prerequisites as everyone else, anyway! I chose to major in psychobiology because I love psychology and have always found it to be so fascinating. I used to be insecure about the fact that a lot of my friends had way harder majors, but today, I’m glad I took classes that I loved and that have stuck with me to this day.

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

 I wish that I had realized that getting into medical school is hard, but it’s doable! Lots of people led me to believe that I could never get in or that I’d be setting myself up for failure by applying. As a result, I became deeply insecure about my abilities. I’m grateful that my friends and parents always stood behind me and encouraged me every single step of the way, until I believed that I could do it. Sure enough, I did it, and you can do it too!

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