A reflection from Student Doctor Roshana on the first week of medical school.
Here are some of my reflections on my first week in medical school. Hopefully, some of you can use this to prepare for your own journeys or at least find comfort in the fact that you are not alone.
A week before the first week of classes is orientation week, during which you learn about the school, what they expect from you, and what resources you have at your disposal. It is also a time to meet the people you will spend the next four years with and to make connections and allies. During this week, emotions are also high, whether it is excitement from finally achieving what you have been working so hard for in the last 4+ years or nervousness from meeting new people and starting all the classes you will be taking. For me, orientation week was a mixture of anxiety from being at a new level in my career, excitement from making it to medical school, and relief from not having to chase it anymore.
To give you a little background, I'm a non-traditional medical student. Prior to going to medical school, I worked for 3 years in the health field doing clinical research and then completing a special masters program that guaranteed my admission to med school upon completing the benchmark requirements. In most ways, the curriculum for my masters program will be similar to that of my first year of medical school, with the exception of 3 classes. As part of our first semester, we will take Anatomy, Biochemistry, Physiology, Histology, Professionalism and Medical Ethics, Physical Diagnosis, and Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine (OMM) (This may vary depending on the school you attend). As a result of participating in some of these classes in my master's program, I've gotten a better understanding of what I need to study and been able to spend more time reviewing material rather than learning it. Your transition to medical school will probably be different if you did not do a masters program like I did. It is probably similar to my experience starting my master's program for the first time.
Medical school will feel like an overload of information during the first week. With so much to learn, it seems as though there is not enough time. This is normal and you can probably relate to all medical students in this way. I found it hard to jump into class content this week because I spent the entire summer or last three years not studying in a classroom. Putting things off (aka procrastination) is at an all-time high and I can't seem to get through content quickly enough to receive my next break.
Towards the end of the week, I realized that I was not giving myself enough grace. The transition from undergraduate to medical school (or in my case summer break to medical school) is challenging . There will be a transition period for everyone, and then you will find your groove. Allow yourself time to transition, however long it takes. There's a reason it's called transitioning.
Guilt was another emotion I felt this week. With all the demands on me in each class, I felt like I wouldn't have any time to enjoy myself. My conscience kept trickling in and out of my mind whilst out on the town with some classmates, reminding me that I need to be studying. In my master's program, this was something I struggled with throughout the semester. As a result of not having a work-life balance, my mental health suffered. As a way to avoid the guilt, I would dive deep into the books for hours on end, but by the end, I was quite burned out. This year, I decided to go the opposite route. To escape the stress of the week, I went out with some new friends and stayed out late (within reason). The books will always be there, but the connections and experiences may not. When the content is light in your first week, I suggest going out with your classmates. You may meet the people you go through the semester with during the first week, and it would be harder to make those connections during the semester when everyone has already found their clique.
Last but not least, I realized that the first week of medical school is what you make of it.
You won't be able to avoid everyone's opinions about certain aspects of the classes.
Don't let their emotions dictate yours. In fact, this was something I actively had to remind
myself the entire week. Just because someone else dislikes a class or professor, doesn't mean you will too.
First-day anxiety is real, but if you are like me and feed off the emotions in the room, your anxiety is even greater. Since I was familiar with the process and had already seen the content, I could not understand why I was so anxious. I realized I was feeling everyone's energy. This is my way of saying be aware of how you are feeling and ask yourself why you feel that way. There is a good chance you have adapted some of the feelings of people around you if your feelings cannot be correlated with your rationalization.
If you're in medical school or working towards being in medical school, your first week will come and go before you know it. Take a moment to celebrate getting there, take a breath and checking in with yourself and eventually get back to what needs to be done.