Will Tobolowsky, MS3

Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
UC Santa Barbara, B.S. Microbiology
Age 24
From Los Angeles, CA

What does your typical day of medical school look like?

Pre-clinical years: Begins with lecture at 8AM, usually there are 3-6 lectures a day with small group sessions and virtual microscopy (pathology) sessions mixed in. Mondays and Wednesdays usually end around 3PM. Tuesdays and Thursday end around 12PM. On either Tuesday or Thursday, I would drive to an outpatient clinic to work with patients or have a clinical skills session until 5PM. Friday usually ended around 1-2PM. All of the lectures/small groups were for one course only (unlike undergraduate where you take many classes at once).

Clinical years: Start time is variable and based off of what you are working in (surgery, psychiatry, internal medicine, etc.) Usually the morning begins with rounding and checking on all of the patients and creating a plan for the day. Then the rest of the day is spent taking care of patients/working in the OR/documenting important changes in the medical chart.

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

They are very similar. The biggest difference is that class is focused on the same field vs. in undergraduate where you might go from math to philosophy to a biology class. So, you have at least 4-8 hours of dedicated learning time per day in say cardiology, or renal, anatomy, or biochemistry. Basically, this means if you fall behind you will seriously struggle. Most classes run 2-4 weeks and have a total of about 40-60 lectures (about 15 per week roughly but varies). In college one class usually meets 3 times a week for 10 weeks = 30 sessions (UCSB is on a quarter system). So basically, just imagine condensing an entire quarter class or a little more than half a semester into a few weeks. Of course, you aren’t taking 5 classes, so it is absolutely manageable, especially since all of the information is fresh. But like I said, beware of falling behind. All or most of the lectures are usually taught by different people, so there is a lot of variety in terms of teachers, which I personally liked.

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

Not much, I took written notes in undergrad and continued to do so in medical school, as an example. Most of my classmates type their notes as they did in college. Basically, stick with whatever works for you as long as it isn’t an unsustainable or unhealthy method. Every day when I got home, I found it helpful to go over as many lectures from the day as possible by going through the slides or lecture notes (which are sometimes provided by the person who gave a particular lecture). Anything I did not finish I reviewed over the weekend. Also, it is a good idea to spend some time each weekend going over study materials for USMLE Step 1 (which is kind of the MCAT equivalent required to get your license and consists of 3 parts taken throughout your graduate education). Your score plays a big role in what specialty you go into. Therefore, studying for it early on will help you get a higher score, AND may help you do better in your classes if you choose to review things that you’re also learning in your classes.  

How would you describe the unique culture at your school? Are there special events or activities that you consider very representative of the culture at your institution? What influence has this culture had on your experience in medical school thus far?

My school has a ton of unique culture and exciting special events (Olympics, networking events, Drinks and food on Fridays, etc.) There is way more opportunities than time you have to spend being involved. In fact, it is a little overwhelming how many opportunities there are. My suggestion is to find specific events or groups that you like and stick with them. I’d say it is also okay to focus on your studies, your rotations, and maintaining important hobbies (like running or playing the piano for me personally).

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

East Baltimore.

Bad things: Lots of crime, a dangerous area especially at night, not a lot of nearby food options if you do not have a car.

Good things: Tons of really great dining options and nightlife options if you have a car or are willing to pay for a ride.

Important note: I wouldn’t let an area influence your choice of medical school too much. Remember, you’re going to medical school to hopefully 1) help people, 2) learn. “Bad” areas often have hospitals that have very well-trained doctors, nurses, and staff who are ready to deal with some pretty serious situations, and it is in these populations that help is often needed. As a side note I am not suggesting that the staff are better if the area is dangerous, but I do think that certain hospitals see more of specific types medical emergencies and problems. If you go to school in a super fancy and nice area, you may end up limiting the types of things you end up seeing and learning. Again this isn’t a universal truth or anything, but just something to think about.

What resources have been most useful to you in self-learning medical school material or in expanding on material taught in class?

Sketchy Medical: Microbiology and Pharmacology. Give this resource a full and fair chance. It is amazing for microbio and pharm and will make learning some very memorize-detail heavy subjects fun and easy!

Pathoma: My go to resource for learning pathology. By the time you take USMLE Step 1 you should have watched it at least twice in my opinion. Once with your classes, and once during your dedicated study period (usually 8 weeks) for Step 1.

First-Aid for the USMLE Step 1: Get this book early. Annotate as you go along in your classes and familiarize yourself. This book is basically a list of all the things you need to know. However, it is pretty horrible for learning things for the first time, after all it is a review book, and therefore you should use it as a checklist to make sure you understand all of the topics mentioned. Your classes will cover most of the material, but they make skip over some picky details that aren’t really clinically relevant, but nonetheless get tested frequently. Once USMLE Step 1 comes around you can consider getting a new more updated version of the book. By then you should be pretty familiar with the book and should not seeing many concepts or subjects for the first-time.

USMLE Rx: A question bank of 2400 or so questions that test high-yield concepts and topics in First-Aid. I recommend doing this question bank during your courses as a way to familiarize yourself with board-style questions. It will also help you in your classes. For example, during Neurology, you can do the 300 neurology questions. Not only will you score yourself some points on your school’s exams, but you will also prep for the future!

U-World: The best question bank in my opinion. I highly recommend saving this until your second year when you get closer to taking Step 1. This is the question bank that most people do during their dedicated study period. It is very well done, super detailed, and an amazing learning tool.

What seemed to be important topics or points of interest during your interviews? Were there particular aspects of your application that your interviewers focused or recurring themes between interviews?

I don’t really remember too much; my advice is just to be yourself (unless you’re not a very good person). Jokes aside, try to let your personality and passion for whatever may interest you come through.

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)

Not much. My experience was what it was (good and bad), and I am grateful for that.

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?

Usually I try to re-direct my doubt as motivation to push myself to learn more and help my patients more compassionately.

How do you maintain your mental health while balancing school, work, family, and other social obligations?

I make sure to set aside time to spend talking with my family, and time spent with my friends. If you ever feel doubtful or that you may be depressed etc., just reach out! medical school is challenging, and no one is going to judge you for talking to a therapist (also no one will know to begin with unless you want them to as medical records for students are often separate and private from other students/staff).

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