Hadrian Mendoza, MS2

Yale School of Medicine
Georgia State University, B.S. Psychology
Age 27
From Atlanta, GA

What does your typical day of medical school look like?

I wake up around 10 AM and start studying at 11. I don’t go to lecture, so I tend to study on my own until about 8-10 PM, usually rotating between libraries and coffee shops on campus every few hours so I don’t get restless. Sometimes I’ll sit with a few classmates so we can ask each other questions as we work. On some afternoons we have mandatory classes like workshops, clinical skills training, or clinic time that I’ll attend in between study sessions. At the end of the day I’ll hang out with friends for a little while before going up to my room to play Overwatch or watch TV. I go to bed around 2 AM and then rinse and repeat.

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

Lectures are very different in medical school than in undergrad for several reasons. Lectures for a given unit tend to be presented by multiple professors rather than just one, so there is wide variability in teaching style, quality, and content focus. On one end of the spectrum you may have the stereotypical PhD lectures that focus on esoteric research or basic science minutiae that you struggle to find clinically relevant, and on the opposite end you may have lectures from a practicing physician that are heavy on treatment guidelines but too light on the basic principles behind them. Most professors strive for a balance, but in the deluge of information you have to learn in medical school, sometimes the constant shift between instructors can leave you wondering what is truly high yield to know for the boards and clinical practice. Additionally, some lectures require background knowledge that you may or may not have yet, so courses in med school tend to require more outside work than just following along with slides like you can do in college. You will often find yourself consulting UpToDate, Wikipedia, an anatomy atlas, textbooks, or whatever.

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

I certainly study more often than I did in college, and I maintain a more disciplined schedule. Cramming doesn’t work in medical school. It’s also hard to accept that you have to learn a ton of new material and then you forget so much of it even after studying all the time. You have to get used to not being able to totally master all of the information like you could in college courses, and you will be looking many, many things up once you’re on the wards and in residency. And that’s okay. What you do in medical school is develop fluency in a new language and build a broad knowledge base so that in the future when you encounter a hole in your knowledge, you know exactly where to look, or which of your specialized colleagues to ask, to fill it up.

As such, my studying has changed in the sense that I spend the most time studying principles and high yield content compared to trying to develop an encyclopedic knowledge of trivia. In college it’s fairly easy to really memorize every fact that could come up on a given exam, but that simply is not the case in medicine. Principles come first, and you can always Anki the minutiae later, or just look stuff up when you need it.

How would you describe the student culture at your school?

Yale is known for attracting strongly independent students, so oddly enough, what unifies us is how we’re all out doing our own thing. With Pass/Fail grading and no ranking system or AOA, we are able to collaborate with each other and stay engaged in our lives outside of medicine. For example, there is someone in my class who is a competition pilot, a student who directs a primary care clinic in another country, and someone who created a rideshare business. I direct my own jazz band that rehearses every week. The culture at Yale has made for a chill and motivating environment for me. I think of it as a gunner-free zone.

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?

Yale is located in the city of New Haven on the southern coast of Connecticut, and it is very much a college town. There is not much to do here beyond Yale, but there is a substantial array of restaurants, and we do have concerts and festivals throughout the year. Quite a few students travel to New York or Boston on weekends to get their fix of city life, and fortunately both of those cities are easy to access by car or train. Something I really like about New Haven is its walkability – you can live here without a car and still be able to walk to restaurants, grocery stores, movies, or whatever. Yale also attracts people from all over the world, so there are interesting characters walking around downtown New Haven every day.

What would you consider strengths of your medical school?

I think I’ve discussed this in several of the other questions here, but to summarize, the strengths that stand out to me about Yale are the freedom allowed within the curriculum, the collaborative culture, and the availability of world class research opportunities for all of the medical students here. If I had to do it all over again, I would still choose Yale without question.

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

I think the most essential resource for me has been Boards & Beyond by Dr. Jason Ryan. I watch all of Dr. Ryan’s lectures and find them to be concise, informative, and comprehensive at the preclinical level. There is also of course Pathoma by Dr. Sattar to review pathology. You just can’t beat how efficient these guys’ materials are. I am old school and like to read through a lot of textbook chapters for each unit, but after I finish reading, watching Boards & Beyond and Pathoma really seals in my memory what is truly high yield. I should also recognize that Sketchy is irreplaceable for learning micro, and lastly, pounding through Anki cards with premade decks like Zanki or Brosencephalon is key for retaining some of the trivia necessary for exams and Step 1.

How much/well have you been able to develop clinical skills alongside your classroom work first and second year?

I think I have fairly good clinical skills for having completed only one year of school at this point. Yale has two clinical courses that span the entire first year, a clinical skills (CS) course and the “interprofessional longitudinal clinical experience” (ILCE). In CS we are taught patient-centered interviewing and the complete physical exam including specific topics such as the neuro exam, MSK exam, breast/urogenital/rectal exams, auscultation, fundoscopy, POC ultrasound, and so on. We utilize standardized patients and have to pass a comprehensive OSCE at the end of the course. All of the instructors are attendings and residents.

To reinforce the skills we learn in CS, every student participates in ILCE and is assigned to a small interprofessional team (i.e., with PA and nursing students) that spends one half day in clinic each week for the first year. The benefits of ILCE are twofold: we have the opportunity to individually interview and examine real patients and learn to give oral presentations as first years, and we are exposed to students and professionals from other domains in healthcare such as nursing and pharmacy. There is a lot to learn from other professionals in order to understand how all of the cogs in the hospital machine come together to facilitate patient care. ILCE allows us to do this while developing our clinical skills early on so that we well prepared for clerkships.

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 wish I had taken an anatomy class in college because getting hit by that material for the first time in medical school can be stressful. A cell bio class might have also made things easier, but you learn it all in the end anyway.

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?

Like most medical students, I experience self-doubt from time to time. Medical school is humbling, as you realize every day that even after you put in hours of work, there is more and more that you don’t know. You want to maintain a balance of doubt and confidence to stay effective and constantly improving. If you don’t doubt yourself enough, you will fall to hubris, and in this field that means your patients will get hurt. If you doubt yourself too much, you will be paralyzed by indecision, and nothing will ever get done. I get through self-doubt by remembering that just about every medical student and doctor has these thoughts and that they are a normal part of any career that involves such profound responsibility. A healthy degree of self-doubt keeps me honest and motivated to learn.

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

I have a sort of mental dashboard that I monitor for my own wellbeing while I’m in school, kind of like I’m driving a car. When the RPMs get too high I know it’s time to shift gears or apply the brakes. I try to do enjoyable things almost every day like playing video games, practicing my trumpet, calling a friend from home, or going out to eat or to the movies with classmates. I prioritize getting enough sleep, and I try to keep moving so I don’t feel too stagnant from studying all the time. Sometimes I simply take a day off if I’ve been grinding for too long. I also go home to see my family whenever we have a long break from school. By maintaining a strong baseline, my body and mind can handle the times of greater stress like exams or big deadlines. Some people don’t take good enough care of themselves at baseline, and then when the stress hits, they crack.

 

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