Michele Cabeza, MS1

Baylor College of Medicine
University of Florida, B.S. Biology, Certificate Music in Medicine
From Davie, Florida
Age 22

What does your typical day of medical school look like?

Warning in advance: this answer is super detailed! I’ll give the basic version first.

In general, I attend lectures on campus from 8am or 9am (depending on which day of the week it is, or if I want to get more sleep) until noon. Some days, there are classes I’ll have to stay later for, but on other days there won’t be anything else. If I stay later for class, I’ll grab lunch with friends from 12-1, and maybe do some preparatory work for my afternoon class. On days where I finish at noon, it is variable whether I will stay on campus to study or whether I’ll go home. I find that I’m more productive on campus, so I’m trying to stay there more often. Once I go home, I’ll take a little break to eat a snack and then study for a little while, making sure to stream any lecture I may not have attended that morning. If it’s my night to cook, I’ll make dinner, but otherwise I’ll just study. After that, I’ll eat dinner, then get back to studying until about an hour before bedtime. I use that time to decompress, spend time with my boyfriend, play video games or piano, take a shower, and generally relax before bed. I try to get 7-8 hours of sleep per night.

Alright, that’s the short version. Coming up is the long version that describes the logistics of our schedule here at Baylor.

Our lectures are all recorded and posted online, so the choice to go to campus for lecture is all up to us. I generally like to attend lectures in person. On Monday and Tuesday, lectures are from 9:10am-12pm, and Wednesday through Friday they are from 8am-12pm. For the first 2 terms, these lectures are for our Foundational Basic Sciences of Medicine (FBSM) course.

As an MS1, there are 2-3 days per week when we will have classes after our lecture. The class is split into groups A and B, and on Monday, group A will attend Anatomy Lab while group B attends our Critical Thinking and Problem Solving course (CTAPS). On Tuesday, the groups switch off. In anatomy lab, which runs from 1pm-3pm, we dissect our cadavers according to an online dissection guide. Each anatomy tank has 4 students assigned to it. We aren’t graded at all on the quality of our dissections; it is purely a learning experience to be able to identify the structures and appreciate them in the human body. Anatomy lab will finish after our third term, which ends in late February.

In CTAPS, which runs from 1pm-3:30pm, we work in groups of 6 to solve a simulated clinical case step-by-step. At the beginning of our third term, this class will be over, and will be replaced by a course called Translational Research and Population Health.

On Wednesdays , we have a class called Patient, Physician, and Society (PPS). This is where we learn how to take patient medical histories and perform the components of a physical examination. Sometimes there will be a lecture followed by a small group session led by a physician, but occasionally the lecture is instead replaced with a small-group wellness meeting led by your small group’s faculty advisor. This class is also where we are assigned a Preceptor, a physician in the community under whom you will practice these skills. On some weeks, in lieu of a typical PPS session, we spend time at our Preceptor’s clinic and practice history taking and physical exams. Students are enrolled in PPS until halfway through their MS2 year, when they transition to their clinical rotations.

Thursdays generally will only have lectures from 8am-12pm, after which you have no other school commitments for the day. (Generally, people will just study for that time.)

On Fridays, there are still 4 hours of class time from 8am-12pm, but the latter two hours are replaced with an interactive Histology session, in place of a traditional Histology Lab. It’s basically a lecture where the Histology TAs will call on random lab groups to see if they can answer the questions (which they give out ahead of time.)

In addition to these classes, you can also take elective classes for credit. Most of these electives take place during our lunch hours, so it’s basically just a more active way to spend your lunch. While some of them have tests and assignments, others are simply attendance and participation-based.

How do your classes and lectures compare to those at your undergraduate institution? (Any insight you can give about class structure, instructors, content and how they are similar/different from undergrad)

There’s a much quicker pace in medical school compared to undergrad. We have 3-4 lectures every day, and the material is a bit more challenging. You’re expected to learn a high volume of information in a short amount of time. Here at Baylor, our preclinical curriculum is only 1.5 years, compared to most other schools where it’s 2 years. This means you have an *even* shorter amount of time to learn the same volume of material before you start clinics. In terms of the professors, we have a few professors who will lecture on a specific subject (Metabolism by one professor, Pharmacology by another), and then every now and then we will have professors come in for a lecture or two related to their specialty. Some lectures will be reviews from undergraduate classes like Biochemistry and Physiology, but those are more introductions to the in-depth material that you’re about to cover.

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

I’ve had to become a way more diligent student. Admittedly, I coasted through undergraduate pretty easily. If I expended a modicum of effort, I would end up with a good grade in the class. Only a few classes, like Organic Chem and Biochem, really gave me a run for my money. In medical school, I’ve had to learn how to keep myself from procrastinating and motivate myself to study every day, not just the week before an exam. There’s just too much difficult material for me to be able to cram it all. It’s been a transition period, and I’m not perfect about it all the time, but it’s a change that I’ve needed to make for some time now. On that front, I would say don’t be discouraged if everybody around you seems to “get it” before you do. Everybody adjusts at their own pace, and even if someone seems like they are coasting, I guarantee you that they are still struggling.

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?

Baylor has a very collaborative, fun culture. Before classes begin, everyone is sorted into a small group which becomes your Peer Resource Network (PRN). Your PRN consists of mostly MS1s, and then two MS2s serve as your PRN leaders, along with some MS3s and MS4s. You keep in closest contact with your MS2s, and they are there to answer any questions you have, to give advice, and *most* importantly to give you free breakfast once a week after classes have started! In general, the older classes are very involved in our student lives, and they always try to guide us in the right direction.

The week before classes begin, our MS1 orientation kicks off with an overnight retreat in an outdoor kind of place. There is a mixture of structured activities (usually team-building games that you play with your PRN) and unstructured free time. They have a really nice pool, canoeing, equestrian activities, sand volleyball, and a pamper pole. On the night we stayed, we had a poolside karaoke party with games and smores. It was so much fun, and a great way to make friends and start meeting people, so you already have friends on your first day of lecture. It helps you lay the foundation to grow those friendships, which will be absolutely critical to your ability to stay sane while in medical school. I’ve remained good friends with a lot of the people who I met at retreat, one of whom has become one of my best friends. After the retreat, you are in all the same classes every day with the same people, so you’re able to build upon those bonds and spend time together really easily.

As a class and as a school, we often will have social events or get together on our own time. Most recently, we held our annual “Coffeehouse” event, which is basically a talent show where they serve coffee and snacks. Other than that, we had an MS1 Halloween Party, a mixer with another local medical school (UT McGovern), and we throw parties after our term exams end. Even when we aren’t doing something outright fun, I still have a great time getting together to study with friends.Our class is comprised of people who are intelligent, kind, and overall just great people. Baylor did an awesome job of picking great individuals to fill their class, and I can honestly say that I haven’t met a single classmate that I don’t like.

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?

Baylor is located in Houston, Texas, just south of Downtown. For a major metropolitan area, apartments are very reasonably-priced, and there’s a lot to do in the surrounding area. One of my favorite things to do is go to the Houston Zoo to get a Dole Whip and look at the elephants and the otters. The zoo is situated inside of Hermann Park, a large and beautiful park with lots of green space, beautiful fountains and statues, and a serene Japanese garden.  Very close to my place is Rice Village, which is filled with shops, bars, and restaurants. I’ve gone there plenty of times with friends to get brunch, drinks, or dessert. There are tons of bars and fun places to go in the city, and a lot of the students are locals or went to undergrad here in Houston, so they give great advice on which places to go to. Also, Houston is such a diverse city that you have ample access to all different kinds of *delicious* food!

What would you consider strengths of your medical school?

Firstly, it is a huge plus that our preclinical curriculum is true Pass/Fail. This helps to make the environment way less competitive than schools that rank their students. Because of this, we all work with each other very collaboratively, and share resources that we make or find. We also receive lots of support from older students, particularly our MS2s. Furthermore, the faculty is all incredibly kind and supportive. If your exam grades are significantly lower than average, faculty members will reach out to you to make sure you are okay, and work with you to develop strategies to improve. Even outside of the realm of grades, the faculty make it clear that they care about you as people and as students.

Another strength that Baylor in particular highlights is the fact that it is situated in the Texas Medical Center, the world’s largest medical center. Patients come from all over the world to receive their care, and since Houston itself is such a diverse city, you get to interact with patients from all walks of life.

There is also a huge emphasis on service and community involvement here at Baylor. Lots of students volunteer their time at organizations in the community. In particular, we have an event every year where the first year class volunteers their time at a local volunteer site, and it often opens the door to a more long-term volunteering commitment.

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?

The older class pass down a lot of their resources to us, which we modify as the curriculum changes. Many of us use the flashcard program Anki, and older students pass down their decks to the younger students. Sometimes, members of our class will make their own decks and share them with the rest of the class. Moreover, a former student from years ago has passed on his notes to future generations of students. His notes are incredibly well-organized, easy to read, and focused. As the curriculum changed, students modified the notes as they were passed down to each new class of students. Those notes are helpful to me when the lecturer is difficult for me to follow. (I can’t learn simply by reading, so I’ll rewrite the notes in my own words and try to find examples and analogies to help everything make sense to me.)

I’ve also heard of a YouTube channel called “Ninja Nerd Science,” who explains a lot of the same subjects we learn. I only just recently started watching his videos, and I find them super helpful and easy to understand. I’ll tend to watch them if the lesson was unclear to me or if my flashcards aren’t clicking very well.

How 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 begin to develop our clinical skills in our Patient, Physician, and Society (PPS) class. In PPS so far, the first year students have learned how to take a medical history and perform some aspects of a physical exam (specifically Vitals, Cardiovascular, Pulmonary, and Abdominal exams). We practice these skills first on our classmates, then on patients at our preceptor’s office. When matched with a preceptor, Baylor attempts to keep personal preferences in mind. I am interested in Pediatrics, and my preceptor is a Pediatric Neurologist. Preceptors supervise the medical students as they take patient histories and perform the physical examination, at first. Afterwards, you are given more independence, and you actually learn how to present these patients to your preceptor. The amount of patient interaction you get in first year is good to develop your “doctor skills”: effective communication, good listening, intuitive thinking, and empathy. You get even more experience in the latter stages of PPS, which I am excited to see in the coming months.

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?

For one thing, I would have taken a class in Anatomy. That has been one of the most difficult things for me in medical school, especially at the beginning. Lots of my classmates took anatomy while in undergrad, and it made things a bit easier for them.

I also would have told myself to do things that challenged me more. Medical school is the first time I’ve really had to put in substantial amounts of effort and study regularly, so I wish that I had started to build up good habits earlier on in school. In a weird way, while I’m stressed out of my mind, I feel so fulfilled with my brain just being so active all the time.

One thing I absolutely would not have done differently is spend as much time with my friends as I did. My friends served as a great support system for me, and taught me that there’s no shame in reaching out to others for help, advice, or just because you want someone to spend time with. That has helped me tremendously in my adjustment to medical school.

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?

When I was accepted to Baylor, after my immediate reaction of pure joy and excitement, I began to worry that the admissions committee had made a mistake, and that within a week I would receive an email apologizing for the error. Even though that email never came, and I was in fact meant to be accepted here, I still wondered what they were thinking when they accepted me. It was a classic case of Imposter Syndrome.

The good news? I was far from the only one who felt this way. Imposter Syndrome is so much more common than one would think, and pretty much everyone around you is going through it as well. Knowing that has helped me realize that these feelings are normal.

That said, it’s important not to let these feelings consume you. Instead of wallowing in the anxiety of not feeling adequate, remember that you earned your place there, and if you don’t feel worthy, prove to yourself that you are. Baylor saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. I’m still waiting to find what that something is, but I’m sure that I will. You need to believe that you will too.

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

I entered medical school resolving to put my mental health before all else. While admittedly I don’t succeed at this 100% of the time, it serves as a good point to keep myself grounded.

For me, maintaining my mental health largely depends on spending time with the people I care about. I’ve been in a relationship for almost four years, and I am incredibly lucky that he was accepted into a PhD program at University of Houston, so we live together. He has been instrumental in keeping me from spiraling due to stress or isolation. On top of that, I always make time to spend with friends. Often when I am feeling down or stressed, spending time with friends will help reset me.

I also make it a point to get a good amount of sleep every night. There’s this stereotype of medical students depriving themselves of sleep all the time (and it definitely holds true in a lot of cases), but to me, it isn’t worth it to go without sleep when I know that any studying I do on a sleep-deprived brain won’t be as productive.

At the end of the day, if you don’t take care of yourself, how can you be expected to take care of other people? You won’t be able to study at your best ability if you are too stressed or sleep-deprived, so ultimately, working yourself to exhaustion is just self-destructive. Other word of advice: if your stress has gotten to an unmanageable point, there is no shame in seeking outside help. You need to put yourself first and reach out to others if you are anxious or depressed to a point where it interferes with your ability to live and learn.

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