Rossen Kirkov

Eastern Virginia Medical School
UC Santa Barbara, B.S. Biological Sciences
Age 25
From Pleasant Hill, CA

What does your typical day of medical school look like?

It really depends. First semester of first, year it consisted of lecture every morning until about noon and then reviewing what was covered. We also had Anatomy, for which we had dissections once per week which could last 4 to 5 hours. But pretty straight forward. Second semester we started going into systems. At this pointl I stopped going to lecture and basically studied on my own using Pathoma, First Aid, and BRS books (you’ll become familiar with these). Second year was about the same, except this is when we got UWorld question bank (2400 questions which you need to get through to prep for step 1). On top of learning what was being covered in lecture, I would do UWorld questions related to what we are currently learning, as well as related to material from first year.  At the end of second year you have dedicated step 1 study time. 3rd year you are on rotations in the hospital and things vary per rotation.

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

A LOT. I had to toss every study method I used in undergrad after the first week. There are basically 3 methods of studying, and everyone figures out what works best for them. 1) Concept maps: great, but take a lot of time 2) First Aid + Pathoma +UWorld + maybe an extra question bank. This is what I did. First Aid has about 80% of what you need to know, and you can fill in the blanks with Pathoma. 3) Only Uworld. This is what I’m doing now as a third year, some people did this during 1st and 2nd year. Only do questions, and know every one by heart. Each question has a description of the disease process, and lets you know why each answer was wrong, and why the correct one was right. If you memorize all of this you should be good. 4) Anki: It is a software for flashcards you can use on your computer, phone, tablet. It really reinforces repetitive learning, some people love it, some don’t.

Really up to student preference. In the first three weeks you have to try different study methods and see what works best for you. If you like going to lecture thats fine, but really I wouldn’t recommend it, mainly because lectures give you extra things you don’t actually need to know for STEP 1.

How would you describe the student 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 is very community service oriented. Also, everyone is very social, outgoing, friendly, and helpful. There are the odd ones out, but for the most part, everyone wants everyone else to succeed, which is the biggest thing I liked about EVMS. We have HOPES clinic which is a student run clinic for the underserved, as well as countless other projects to help out the community. Its very easy to get involved. We are all very close to each other and help each other. There is no sense of competitiveness between classmates, we all help each other out.

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?

The one positive is that the beach is 30 minutes away. It’s not a bad area, there is a downtown area with bars and restaurants. Plenty of places to go out. The weather takes getting used to with the humidity. The way I look at it, it could be worse, but its not a place I would settle down.

What would you consider strengths of your medical school?

In your first two years this seems unimportant, but Sentara Norfolk General, the main affiliated hospital with EVMS, is the best hospital in the state. You are going to get great training while seeing patients during clinical rotations, as we have some of the top programs in the country. It is also a Level 1 trauma center, for those interested in EM/surgery. We also have a strong ultrasound program, so you will come out being much more proficient with ultrasound than many other students. Ultrasound is becoming much more prevalent in the medical field, so its definitely something you will need to be able to use.

What resources have been most useful to you in self-learning medical school material or in expanding on material taught in class? Can you briefly describe how you have incorporated them into your learning routine?

As stated before, First Aid, Pathoma, and UWorld are the so called “holy trinity”. Those should be all the tools you need to succeed on Step 1. Another important thing to note, unless you are aiming for a very competitive specialty, your class grades don’t really matter (and some schools might just be Pass/No Pass). Gear your studying towards what you need to know for STEP 1 from the start. I used all 3 without going to lecture and got the step score I was going for.

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?

We do clinical skills training throughout the first two years. It is helpful, but you tend to forget a lot of the things you learn by the time 3rd year comes. During 3rd year, you get those skills reinforced. Overall we do a decent job with preparing students for seeing patients. HOPES clinic is very helpful and gives good exposure.

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?

Your GPA and MCAT are the most important (MCAT is actually #1) in getting you an interview. So, I’d probably have tried to get a better GPA and MCAT score. Extracurriculars help, I didn’t do research because I tried it and hated it, but maybe I would have bit the bullet and done it anyways because it is something to talk about in the interview, especially for big research schools.

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?

I’ve doubted myself many times while in med school, especially now during third year when I’m actually playing a role in patients’ care. So far what I’ve learned is that usually there is at least one other person who feels the same. Use your classmates for support. Use your advisors, your professors, the doctors you work with. Personally, I was always afraid of asking questions because I thought it would make me seem stupid. I’ve learned that everyone is always accepting of questions and is willing to help/teach you (again, just speaking about my institution). So basically, just utilizing my classmates, teachers, etc. to help me get through things I am unsure of.

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

EVMS is very big on student mental health. We have wellness meetings every month during our first year, and a bit less frequently during our second year. Personally, I try to get all my studying/work done as early as possible, then I go to the gym, play video games, do things I enjoy to relax. DO NOT pull all nighters. I know in undergrad that was a thing, but in medical school its not. You are destined for failure if that is how you study. Do not cram. Study a little bit each day so that when exam week comes by you don’t have to have late night study sessions.

Medical school is hard. There is no getting around that. It is a lot of work. But if you are able to organize your study schedule well, you shouldn’t feel burned out too often.

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