Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine
Carthage College, B.S. Neuroscience
From Des Plaines, Illinois
What does your typical day of medical school look like?
I snooze 3 alarms from 6:15 to 7AM. I’ll Read something non-school related while making breakfast, get ready. I don’t touch school material before 8AM. Head to campus and make my notes from that day’s lectures. Depending on the amount of lectures that day, I might be done making notes in 4-6 hours. After these I’ll review the previous day’s material, and then either review older material unrelated to the current block, or from earlier in the block, depending on how close to test day I am.
Since we do 4 weeks of material between tests, my early-block schedule varies a little from my late-block schedule. Early on in the first 1-2 weeks I’ll try and go get a workout in in the morning, and play catch-up with errands around 7-8PM, then wind down with some Netflix or video games for an hour or so. During Block Week though, I tend to focus 110% on preparing for the exam, going from 8AM to 10PM, with breaks just for meals, walking the dog, and naps.
How do your classes and lectures compare to those at your undergraduate institution?
Medical school lectures are definitely a lot faster paced and the level of detail is both more and less at the same time. Using biochem as an example, during undergrad we focused on molecular structures and the mechanisms, energy changes, and the details of reactions. In medical school you emphasize the overall purpose of each process, and the pathology arising from different parts. This is the overall theme and can be extrapolated to all our classes; Material is taught to the depth required to be clinically relevant, while undergad was more molecular/research focused.
As for class structure, with the exception of our Osteopathic Principles and Practices course, all of our classes are held in a single classroom and are back to back throughout the day, with lectures going as long as 8am-5pm on a bad day. My class size is ~140 people, which was a little different for me at first because my classes in undergrad never had more than 30 people in a lecture. We’re taught by a mix of MDs, DOs, and PhDs, depending on the course.
I would say that the biggest difference between medical school and undergrad is the amount of self-learning that is expected of you. During undergrad I never would have ever considered skipping class, both because the class sizes were so small, so the professors knew everyone, and because the professors didn’t use Powerpoint or record them. But in medical school all of our lectures are available on our student portal and we can go back and listen to them on our own schedule. In addition, it’s physically impossible to teach every single disease to the depth we might need for boards and rotations. So there is a certain amount of responsibility on each student to have the discipline to fill in the blanks on their own, even if it isn’t immediately “High-Yield”.
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 would say that the class environment and structure at my school is pretty much how I would have guessed, if you had asked me the same question during undergrad, but maybe a bit more fast paced.
One of my favorite things about the curriculum at my school is unfortunately something I wasn’t able to actually appreciate at the time; Dedicated internal medicine, pediatrics, OB/GYN, and surgery courses, all taught by practicing physicians in the community and covering all of the systems. With the exception of pediatrics, all of the other courses were taught during the second semester of OMS-II. Everybody was in board-prep mode, while these classes were geared more towards preparing us for the basics of our core rotations so they took a back seat. Fortunately the administration at my school is modifying the curriculum based on student feedback.I believe that one consistent recommendation our students have had is to have the clinical material integrate with pathology and pharm, which would help solidify and bridge the material between the two classes.
The only real change I would like to see with our curriculum structure is to have the material more dispersed and possibly even end earlier. We learn new material up until mid-May with our students taking boards late-June through July, so a little more board prep time than I’d prefer was spent going over the newer material than I would’ve liked. It would be a huge benefit to future classes if May were a dedicated review period with classes that cover the major material for subjects like biochem, cell biology, embryology, ethics/ behavioral science, etc. We aren’t systems-based so those core subjects tend to get neglected until board time.
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?
Personally I got accepted to KYCOM the week after my interview, and it was my first. There wasn’t anything specific about it that got me to accept the offer, but rather just a feeling of “You belong here, this is where you’re going to medical school” while I was there. I ended up turning down 2 other interviews and never looked back. However, there are a couple things I learned about how others have made their decisions.
The first thing I would recommend is to assess your goals. Do you want to go into academic medicine and run research projects, barely interacting with patients? Do you want to go into a very specific residency in a very specific specialty/ subspecialty and know that absolutely nothing can change your mind? This is your mission. Find a school that has the same one. If you don’t you’ll be miserable. A popular saying from one of my professors at KYCOM is “Don’t come here if your goal is to become the world’s most famous fetal cardiothoracic-neuro-dermatologic surgeon”. And it makes sense, because my schools mission is to train doctors who will embrace primary care specialties in underserved areas.
The next most important factor is the class environment and student relationships. While you can’t evaluate this yourself until you’re in school, there is plenty of student feedback out there about most schools who can tell you what theirs is like. Do you thrive on competition where everyone is only out for themselves, or do you want your class to feel like family?
Finally, location. I knew from the start I didn’t want to go to school in a big city. I’d get major FOMO knowing my friends were 15 minutes away, and either be depressed knowing I couldn’t join them, or blow off my classwork so I could go out more often. Fortunately, KYCOM is in a small town in the mountains.
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?
My school is in a small town of ~6,000 in Eastern Kentucky, about a 2 hour drive from Lexington. It’s a quiet area, and great if you like the outdoors. There is a ton of hiking, camping, fishing, golfing, etc. in the immediate vicinity. Perfect for medical students, since there aren’t a ton of distractions. It’s also smack-dab in the middle of Coal Country, with all of the good and bad that comes with that; High unemployment, the opioid crisis, healthcare access, and environmental issues immediately come to mind. But at the same time the people are friendlier and more welcoming than anywhere else I’ve lived, and there are ample opportunities for the medical students to fulfill the mission of our school and give back to the community before we even graduate.
What organizations or activities are you involved in outside of your regular classwork? Additionally, are there any organizations that you think are unique to your school?
Emergency Medicine Club, Wilderness Medicine Club, Humanity First Student Organization (HFSO) are clubs that I was relatively active in during my first 2 years. But on top of these there are the expected specialty clubs/ interest groups, as well as clubs that focus on specific activities, such as tutoring local students.
As for unique organizations, I would say that two that are relatively unique to my school are the annual Mission Trip and the Mental Health Awareness committee. The Mission Trip is a collaboration between first year students, one of our professors, and the college chaplain to deliver healthcare to areas in the Dominican Republic, lasting 2 weeks in collaboration with local healthcare providers every summer. The Mental Health Awareness committee was established this past year as a group of students who meet with the administrators to work out how to address mental health in our school, and organizes events to help students de-stress.
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?
While the first 2 years are more focused on preparing us for our first set of boards, we do get a number of opportunities to get out and work in the community. We have an OMT clinic on campus where students get to practice our physical exams and OMT skills with members of the community who come in for treatment. During second year we also have to do 4 separate clinic days per semester, 2 in a primary care specialty, and 2 in any specialty of our choosing. We spend these days seeing patients with our assigned doctor shadowing, interviewing patients, and performing exams. It was during one of these experiences that I got to put in my first scalp staples in the ER.
We also have mandatory clinic days that are a part of our clinical courses that I discussed earlier. During these days we learn procedures such as gowning/ gloving for surgery, suturing, intubation, joint injections, and putting in chest tubes.
What is one way your outlook on medicine or understanding of medicine has changed in your time at medical school?
Overall I would say that medicine is less cut and dry than I had interpreted it to be during undergrad. Standards of care are always evolving, our understanding of diseases changes every year, and managing illness is much more complicated than I had thought coming in.
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?
My indispensable resources would have to be Anki, Boards and Beyond, Pathoma, and Sketchy Microbiology. Anki is my way of note taking, and I exclusively use it to study the raw facts after I’ve made the lecture notes into cards. Pathoma is essential as a review source for pathology, and Sketchy is a great tool not only during a dedicated microbiology course, but you can always fit in 3-4 videos a day, and keep all those bugs memorized with minimal effort. Boards and Beyond has to be my all time favorite lecture series. I discovered it with 2 weeks to go before Step 1, but I felt that it covered both breadth and depth of information for every subject that you don’t really get from any other single board review resource. If I could go back to 1st year, I would pay for a subscription to it from the start. In addition while I don’t use it much, I have to mention First Aid as an essential part of the preclinical years. While I don’t recommend it as a primary learning tool, it’s a good framework for the absolute minimum knowledge base for boards; If it’s in there, it’s been tested on before and can show up on a board exam.
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?
I would tell them to study something that they could see themselves doing as a career if they never got into medical school. You can always incorporate the required sciences into your regular classwork if you study something that isn’t the classic biology/ chemistry/ neuroscience premed. If you don’t get into medical school, you have to do something with that $20,000+ degree you earned, ideally without needing more schooling as an alternative. If that degree also happens to be in something you love, which is the most common advice I’ve seen about choosing a major, then that’s even better. If I could do it all over again I would have studied marine biology, because I had a dream of opening my own aquatic pet store if I hadn’t gotten into medical school.
What is your favorite event of the year put on by your medical school? Tell us a little bit about it.
It isn’t put on by my school, but the best local event would have to be Hillbilly Days. It’s a 4 day festival in April where food vendors, musicians, local businesses, etc. all come from around the Appalachian region and have a giant festival in the middle of Pikeville. It takes up the entire town, so we get the whole time off of classes and get to enjoy the spring weather. It gives opportunities for clubs to fundraise and volunteer, and everyone else to have some bourbon and relax for a few days.
What do you wish you had known as an undergraduate and/or as a student in the medical application process?
I wish I’d known about the advice I gave above about picking schools whose missions align with your goals. While KYCOM aligned with mine perfectly and that’s why I ended up here, I basically wasted a ton of money shotgunning my applications to 25+ schools around the country. It’s pretty tough to individually tailor applications to fit the mission of that many different schools, and they can tell just from your writing whether or not you’re BS-ing them. These are the ones that won’t even bother to send you a rejection letter.