Chris, MS2

Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine
Undergraduate at University of Colorado
Age 26
From Denver, CO

What does your typical day of medical school look like?

7AM wake up. 8-12 I’ll watch the days lectures and make my study guide. 1PM-4PM  there are required classes usually twice per week. Evenings are usually for free time. Sometimes I spend a couple hours reviewing difficult concepts from previous days. I sleep by midnight.

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

I enjoy being taught mostly by clinicians in medical school. It helps keep things in clinical perspective. Class structure is more team focused and there are small group/mock patient cases + work ups. This helps break up the monotony of lecture. Other than that, lectures are pretty standard. 4-6 hours of lecture per day. Maybe 1/3 of the class shows up on a regular basis. Most of the differences compared to undergraduate for me and many of my classmates are in regards to study techniques rather than actual class structure.

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

Undergrad was all about memorizing and regurgitating facts on the exam, then promptly forgetting. There is a lot of memorizing in medical school too (drug names, mechanism of action, terminology etc), but my main focus was keeping things as big picture as possible and learning it REALLY well the first time through. Our exams are composed of mostly 2-step questions that require more than simple fact recall. So, I would memorize all the important facts, then develop tons of flow charts for each class of diseases and understand how to differentiate between each differential diagnosis based on symptoms, lab results, imaging etc. It made things more fun to learn and also stuck with me rather than being forgotten right after the test. Also, having just completed Step 1, I can say that developing a working knowledge of key concepts during M1/M2 was invaluable for me during Step 1 review. It is amazing how fast things came back during review.

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?

First, you need to have a good understanding of what is important to YOU. Then, research those things…but heres my personal view: 1.) Class size/Culture…cutthroat or cooperative? It would suck to be the only cooperative person in a cutthroat class and vice versa. 2.) Hospital size and quality of facilities…make sure the hospital sees a broad spectrum of patient populations and gives you access to all the major (and minor) specialties. 3.) Location…this includes rent prices, things to do, city versus rural. All important things! Believe it or not, there is a lot more to life than just medical school and you want to be in a city that you can thrive in.

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?

VCU is in the heart of Richmond VA. It is a city rich in culture but also known for its striking poverty and racial challenges. These unique circumstances challenge students and clinicians to work with people from all walks of life. Likes: I’m a huge history buff, and Richmond is the place for it. Also, tons of bars and food. Lastly, I like that it’s a small city rather than somewhere like Manhattan. Dislikes: really not a whole lot that I dislike. Like any city, there are some dangerous areas surrounding the school, but I’ve never seen or had any problems. Oh…and humidity. How I hate the humidity.

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 Did some summer research with the department of toxicology. Other than that, I am married and spend most of my free time with my wife.

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

ANATOMY. Why it’s not a requirement for admission baffles me. Also, having a good base in physiology would be very beneficial.

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

I mentioned above that Richmond has a lot of residents that live below the poverty line. Starting in early MS2, we have the opportunity to join clinicians on house calls around the city and see patients that cannot make it to the hospital or doctor. Being inside the homes and neighborhoods of our patients gives a unique perspective and helped me develop a greater appreciation for the challenges many people face when it comes to balancing life challenges and their health.

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

The house calls have helped me see that as doctors, we are responsible for providing medical care but more importantly, we need to adjust it based on the capabilities/limitations that our patients face. Many cannot afford medications, some people are illiterate, others don’t have any means of transportation 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?

Probably biology or something similar…but it really doesn’t matter as long as you complete the pre-med courses and really excel in them. That being said, I’m not sure it would be wise to pick something completely unrelated to science.

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

Once you get into medical school, nothing on your resume matters. You get a clean slate (whether that’s a good or bad thing depends on the applicant). Also, I wish I spent less time being neurotic and asking anyone I could for med school advice. Just enjoy time off before you start, and regardless of what anyone says is the “best way” to do things, find your own way and run with it and work as hard as you can.

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 was actually very happy with my path to school. I took a gap year in which I worked as an EMT, got married, and just enjoyed life as a normal 24 year old. I’m a huge proponent for gap years!

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