Zach Donato, MS2

From Denver, CO
University of Miami Miller School of Medicine
Emory University Major, B.S. Neuroscience

What does your typical day of medical school look like?

The NextGen Curriculum for Miami has changed so that we are on clerkships during our second year. I wake up around 6AM on average to go into the hospital. Depending on my rotation, I will be done anywhere from 2-6pm. We have integrated didactic days that vary based on rotation and we have cut-out time in our schedule for that day to attend lectures.

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

Miami now operates on a case based learning curriculum or “flipped classroom”. During our preclinical year, we had it structured to first learn the normal physiology of systems. We would then progress block-by-block in a symptoms-based fashion through each organ system. We had pre-learning each day that we would complete before attending a series of lectures the next morning. We would then have a UMCL case that was facilitated by a faculty member where we would be given a case to go through in small groups. For example, on our cardiology unit, we would learn about “chest pain” and then have a case focused on coronary artery disease and various presentations of stable vs unstable angina, NSTEMI, and STEMI. This method of learning was completely new to me. Instead of what was standard in our undergraduate classes, where we were simply lectured at, there was much more responsibility on us to learn material on our own, often through scholar RX Bricks, B&B, or Pathoma.

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

There was an emphasis on personal responsibility to learn on our own in medical school. Given this, my studying has become much more structured. I have to allot time during the day for each item on my to-do list in order to stay on track. Instead of my previous way of studying in undergrad, which heavily involved making my own study guides, with so much material to cover I need to attack studying from various angles. Now I use Anki flashcards for longitudinal learning, videos to enforce information, and UWorld to test my knowledge through questions.

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?

Miami is a very service-oriented school. The DOCS clinic is a popular activity at our school, with over 70% of students participating. It is a student-run clinic that hosts health-fairs every month in various underserved areas within the community. It’s run by students of across all years, and you can sign up for a station based on your area of interest. For example, I am interested in Orthopedics, so I often did the bone scan station. Many students go on to be station leaders and it’s a great way to be involved and develop leadership skills. This has made UM very involved with community health and Jackson is home to a very diverse patient population which reflects the culture of this school.

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?

Most students live in Brickell or Downtown, which itself feels like a mini-New York City. There is a lot of fun night life and students adopt a very work-hard-play-hard mentality. It is very expensive to live here, but students ultimately enjoy their experiences and there are many social events held by the school to facilitate social interaction among the students. I love the environment of Brickell and Miami; there is always something happening. There aren’t too many things I’d say I dislike…but Brickell traffic can be quite annoying.

What would you consider strengths of your medical school?

Our strengths include a diverse patient and student population, very early clinical experience integrated into the curriculum, ample time for electives and specialization in your field of interest. Additionally, everyone here is very nice and we have a very non-cutthroat culture from my experience. We also have access to Jackson and UMH and abundant research opportunities early on.

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?

Pathoma was the bible for my first year. The associated videos made tough topics like Heme/Onc very simple because they break it down so well. Anki is something people either love or hate. I have not found a better way to retain information long-term. If Pathoma was lacking some information, Boards and Beyond is a little bit more of a deep dive with really in-depth explanation. I loved Amboss for Clerkships. It’s legit an encyclopedia and question bank that prepared me well for shelf exams. UWorld is the gold standard for clerkship and shelf studying. It’s important to not just do the questions, but to go over them to makes concepts stick. Osmosis, in my opinion, is useless compared to these other amazing resources.

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?

Having early clerkships has made the integration between the book knoweldge and real-life knowledge much easier for me. Seeing things that we learn in real patients is what makes you remember it. Many things in the real-world are not like UWorld. Seeing these concepts in practice also makes you understand the goal of what they wanted you to learn in preclinical years.

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?

Organization, organization and…I’ll say it again…organization. I honestly don’t know how I made it through college without a daily plan or to-do list. Whether it’s studying or anything else, life is much more manageable when you stick to a schedule.

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?

“White coat syndrome”, as they call it, is real. When I first started in the hospital I was overwhelmed and everything I learned in the books went right out the window. It takes time and patience to develop skills, and you have to understand that as a medical student it is the proper time and place to mess up. Learn from your mistakes while you are not the one responsible for the patient. It is ok to not know everything, but study your patients! I have constant doubts, but after each rotation or each block during pre-clinicals, I can always look back and see how far I have come. I used to compare myself to other people…do not do this! This is a journey for yourself and this is something I reflect on a lot. Coming to this realization is when I really gained confidence…when I saw my own personal growth in taking histories, physical exam maneuvers, and clinical knowledge.

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

Do not make medical school your work and hobby. It is a big part of your life and it is inevitable that at some point you will feel like it is your identity, but it isn’t. Take the time to do one thing for yourself each day. I like to go on runs and read at the end of a long day. Also, Netflix. I am an avid scuba diver and find time to still do this. Adapt to a new normal. Do not let medical school overtake your life. When I feel that it is, I take a day off from studying (yes, I actually do). If you don’t have your mental health you will not learn anything well. I can guarantee this!

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