Tim Ellis-Caleo, MS4

UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine
Washington University in St. Louis
From Oakland, CA
Age 25

What does your typical day of medical school look like?

During the preclinical years, the schedule is similar to college with a mix of lecture time, small groups and independent study. All schools do it differently and are often changing their curriculum. At UCLA, our preclinical curriculum was organized into organ system blocks. We had 2 hours of lecture daily and then an afternoon session three days a week that would alternate between anatomy, clinical skills, histopathology and other items. We also had four hours of problem based learning each week which was a small group session with a faculty leader who would assist the group in going through a clinical case. We also have a longitudinal preceptorship course that pairs you with a mentor in primary care or a specialty and allows one on one time to practice seeing patients and performing physical exams. Weekends were free during the preclinical curriculum and exams occurred at the end of each four to eight week block. We are graded on a pass/fail system for the preclinical curriculum.

During our third year, we have a traditional core clerkship curriculum which includes internal medicine, family medicine, pediatrics, psychiatry, neurology, Ob/Gyn and surgery. You rotate through these fields by being placed onto patient care teams with residents and attendings. The schedule varies based on rotation but involves significantly more time than the first two years. Often you will be in the hospital 6 days a week for inpatient specialties and will also be studying for shelf exams at night. While much more time consuming, this is by far the most rewarding part of medical school. Our fourth year is mostly elective and includes sub-internships which allow you to try out fields prior to applying for residency. We have a significant amount of time for vacation and research in the fourth year to assist in applying for residency.

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

Courses in the first two years are similar to undergrad in scope and pace. I found very little difference other than their focus on organ systems.

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

It has become more focused as I am only responsible for learning in a much more narrow spectrum of knowledge. Otherwise, I studied in a very similar way to undergrad during the first two years.

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?

UCLA has a large class with diverse interests. The culture is supportive and friendly but allows you to have some distance from the day to day life of the school if that is what you prefer. You see your classmates much more during the first two years when everyone is on campus. During the last two years, you see people occasionally in the hospital.

What would you consider strengths of your medical school?

UCLA is currently reevaluating its preclinical curriculum at this time. However, I really don’t feel that the specifics of a preclinical curriculum are all that relevant even though they are often focused on during the medical school search process. Everyone needs to amass the same fund of knowledge for both Step I and to become an effective MS3 and later resident. The vast majority of this learning will occur independently.

The real strength of UCLA lies in the excellent clinical training across a variety of sites. Being exposed to strong residents and faculty who will delegate significant responsibility to you as a medical student is the best way to maximize your learning during third year. If I was applying to medical school again, I would focus intensely on the amount of responsibility given to medical students as MS3s.

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?

I have used Anki almost exclusively during medical school. Anki is a spaced repetition flashcard software program that is free to use and download. Medical school is challenging not from difficult concepts but from just the volume of information you need to amass. Spaced repetition allows you to be more efficient with your studying and also makes active studying the norm instead of just passively reading course material. I cannot recommend Anki enough to students starting medical school.

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 have a clinical skills class and preceptorship program that helps you learn the mechanics of history taking and physical exam. These are excellent for learning the basics. The major clinical year is really when these skills become polished simply from the extensive repetition these years require. I wouldn’t worry too much about the specifics of the early clinical contact/clinical skills preparation in the first two years of schools you are considering as this all comes out in the was somewhat after such a rigorous third year.

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 would take the time to pursue any non-medical interests one might have whether by taking classes as an undergraduate or by seeking out experiences prior to applying to medical school. While there are always times for other things, medical school can be all-consuming at points and does not lend itself to extended explorations of other things as well as college does.

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?

Having some level of self-doubt is natural and often helpful as it provides motivation to continue to excel so that you can provide the best care for patients.

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

I just try and spend time on the things outside of school that I really value given that time is short. This is different for everyone but for me include time with my family, playing sports and being outside.

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