Alex, MS2

Duke University School of Medicine
University of Colorado, Boulder, B.A. English Literature
Age 27
From Fort Collins, Colorado

What does your typical day of medical school look like?

Throughout the first year, my schedule has varied depending on what class we are currently enrolled in. During the first semester, classes are more lecture-heavy. In the second semester, classes are more of the ‘flipped classroom’ model, in which we watch lectures at home and then do small-group activities in person.

Lectures are rarely mandatory, and most everything is recorded. I am one of those people who doesn’t go to class unless it’s mandatory, as I prefer to learn on my own time/schedule.

As a general rule, I would say that there are lectures/small lab groups/team based exercises (TBEs) starting at 9-10AM, 3-4 days a week. Lunch is always from 12-1PM. Depending on the class/week, we might have a lecture/small group for another couple of hours, from 1PM-3PM or so. Other than that, there aren’t really any other mandatory classes, and we get a lot of independent study time.

I do most of my studying in the afternoon/evening, as that’s when I’m most productive. I set aside an hour or so each day to work out, and feel like I have a really great work-life balance.

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

I should elaborate here that I have a different background than many who are applying to medical school. I was an English major in undergrad, worked a full-time job for a couple of years, and then went back to do a post-baccalaureate program. During my ‘traditional’ undergrad years, I felt lost and isolated, and was intimidated to go to office hours, but I tried to approach my post-bacc classes very differently, and made as much of an effort as I could to get to know my professors. However, I still found this difficult, as I was at a large state school, and my professors were teaching hundreds of students a semester. I felt that the ‘weeder’ class phenomenon was definitely a thing, and I never really connected with any of my professors.

However, at Duke, I feel like the environment here is that everyone wants you to succeed. Part of this is because you’re a cohort of ~115 people who are together each and every day, and so you get to know the professors very well. Anyone at the medical center (even people who don’t teach you) is just an email away, and is typically very happy to meet..

The pace of the classes here is something that I had to adjust to – everything moves pretty quickly, but you adapt and learn how to focus upon what you really need to know.

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?

I really like that Duke keeps our mandatory class time to a minimum and tries to maximize our independent study time. We’re all adults who have successfully navigated our way to medical school, and we’re able to make choices about which modalities we would like to use to learn.

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?

As my interview season progressed, I saw a lot of advantages to a condensed pre-clinical curriculum. I wanted to get out of the classroom as soon as possible. More and more schools are beginning to adjust the length of their curriculum, so I think this is something to consider. However, for me, the most important thing was ultimately the happiness of the student body. Medical school is absolutely a stressful experience, but I wanted to be surrounded by a student body that was as happy as possible. I truly felt like the Duke students were some of the happiest students I met on the interview trail.

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?

Durham is a city of about 250,000 people. It’s located ~15 minutes from Chapel Hill (home of UNC), and ~25 minutes from Raleigh (state capital and a bigger city).

For me, one of the biggest draws about Durham was the close proximity to the outdoors. From my house, I can run to multiple miles of wooded trails, which I love. I’ve gone berry picking (strawberries and blueberries, if you’re interested) multiple times this year. The Duke Forest is huge, and there are so many sections to explore. Basically, if you drive 10 minutes away, you’re surrounded by green rolling hills and lush forests. The medical school is connected directly to the undergrad campus. I liked this because you have access to the all the amenities that are provided to undergrads (gym, good study places + places to eat on campus) and the undergraduate campus is beautiful.

Everything in Durham is really close by. You can live close enough to campus to walk, and downtown is only 3ish miles from campus. The cost of living is also insanely cheap compared to major cities along the east coast. I’ve been able to take out less loans than I was offered because the COL is so cheap!

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’m really into education, so I’ve taken an active role in participating in various curriculum standards/reform groups. I also participate in a program called Duke Med Elementary, in where, once a week, local Durham third graders take a field trip to the medical school, and we teach them about an organ system.

This year, some of my classmates saw the need for increased activism given the changing political climate, and started a group called ‘Duke Med for Social Justice.’ This is a student-led group that has focused upon addressing the inequities that exist within the healthcare system. Essentially, my classmates saw the need for this group, and had the support from Duke to be able to create it. Basically, if you’re passionate about something, and want to create a student group, go for it.

How much/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?

Once a week throughout the first year, we have a class called ‘Clinical Skills Foundation,’ which is a 3 hour class that allows us to learn clinical skills. In these sessions, we do anything from practicing physical exam skills, learning a differential, and interviewing patients on the wards, amongst other topics. It’s been a very valuable class, and I have felt myself grow a lot as a result.

Since we’re on the wards in our second year, second year begins with a 3 week ‘Clinical Skills Intensive’ that is meant to serve as a crash course for the wards. Then, once weekly throughout the second year, in a similar 3 hour block, we have ongoing clinical skills sessions.

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

One thing that I’ve reflected on a lot this year is the amount of knowledge that you’re expected to know, both as a medical student (for boards, etc.), as well as when you’re an attending physician. You have to accept that it’s impossible to know everything, and that medicine is a career that requires you to be a lifelong learner!

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 + SketchyMedical have been really helpful to consolidate information that I’ve learned. I’m a huge believer in Anki and pre-made Anki decks, so I use Anki as a large part of my studying.

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?

Dude. I was an English Literature major. You can major in whatever you’re interested in, as long as you get the necessary pre-reqs (or do a post-bacc)!

What is your favorite event of the year put on by your medical school? Tell us a little bit about it.

I think a lot of my favorite events are the impromptu gatherings that are just organized last-minute via our class GroupMe. As an example, about a month ago, a classmate posted about going to a swimming quarry on the outskirts of town, and about 20 of us ended up going.

In terms of official/Duke-sanctioned events, in the Fall, Duke sponsors a dance for the entire medical school with an open bar. Everyone who is on the wards/might be on call is guaranteed the night off. It’s a lot of fun.

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

I didn’t have any doctors in my family, and thought that the only way to get to medical school was via a very ‘traditional’ route (i.e. pre-med major, etc.). That being said, gap years are okay! Though I didn’t have to, reapplying and working on fine-tuning your application is also okay! Be unique and pursue what interests you.

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