Welcome Aboard

What to Expect Now that You’re Accepted

One of the greatest days of my life was when I was accepted to medical school. It ranks up there with my marriage to my lovely wife, the birth of our children, the day I graduated Marine Corps boot camp and the day I was honorably discharged.

I’m not ashamed to say it. It was one of those days where the future opens up. When I was discharged from the Marines, for example, it was a beautiful April day in North Carolina. I had money in my pocket, an absolutely beautiful girlfriend who I would marry a year later, and nothing much to do until classes started in June. You feel like you can do anything at a moment like that.

Same with getting into medical school. So it is my fondest hope that those of you who have gained acceptance relish this time because the road ahead is long and you will probably have some dark moments. I also hope that those of you who will not get in this year continue to persevere, especially if you are young. Maybe I wouldn’t advise an older applicant to keep beating his head against the admission process but if you are in your mid-twenties, why on earth would you even contemplate giving up so easily after only one or two tries?

So good luck. Stand by. And here is some more unsolicited advice from your Uncle Panda.

First of all, you really don’t need to do anything to prepare. As I have said earlier, there are really no pre-requisites for medical school. I suppose it’s good that we take all of that organic chemistry and biology but I can’t really identify any area in my undergraduate education that was of any use. If you’re the kind of person that remembers everything from your sophmore biochemistry course then you probably will remember everything from your medical school biochemistry course. If you don’t even remember taking biochemistry as an undergrad then why worry about it? You will be exposed to it soon enough, you will remember it long enough, and by the end of fourth year you won’t remember enough of it to matter.

The point is you need to relax and take it easy between now and the middle of August when most of you will start. You cannot possibly cram everything you need to know between now and then. You can try, of course, but it is equally likely that absent any structured guidance you are going beat your head against subjects which will be breezed over in one lecture and never seen again. There’s just no point to cramming. Better to finish your coursework without totally dropping the ball and then take a well-deserved vacation, maybe the last time in your life that you are completely free of responsibility.

Those of you who are non-traditional or have families, would it kill you to quit your job a little early to take it easy for a while? Four years from now when you are a quarter million dollars in debt the couple of thousand bucks you wrested from your crappy job by sticking with it to the bitter end will not seem like that much money.

I was fortunate that I worked for myself and could wrap up my affairs well before my start date.

Second, and I know I am repeating myself here, do not buy anything on your school’s list of required books and equipment unless you don’t care about money. If you show up on the first day of orientation with a pen and a little piece of scrap paper to take notes you will be all right. Heck, eschew the scrap paper as you wil get reams of handouts. Besides most of what you will learn at orientation is pleasant to listen to but of no value at all once the proverbial excrement hits the fan. No need to take notes.

You see, at orientation they will fill your heads with visions of sugerplums which will dance in your head until the first day of actual class when you find that all of the happy talk and kumbayah won’t help you one bit as first year is just a grind, a pathetic slog through trivia.

Ah, orientation. It was a week of emotional masturbation during which we were told six hundred times that we were special, we were going to be empathetic, and gosh darn it, people liked us! Then classes started and people went from feeling warm and fuzzy to stressed, tired, and wound to the breaking point. Oh the bullshit they fed us, everything from “if you don’t study in a group you’re going to fail” to “get the textbooks because there will be required reading.” Har har.

So don’t believe the hype. Smile, enjoy the week (or however long your school allots for orientation) but prepare to get on it once real classes start. If you study, you will pass. If you study all the time, you may get good grades but then again you may only do a few points better than your slacker friend who studies one fifth as much as you. (Sometimes there seems to be no correlations between the amount of time you put in studying and your grade.) Study hard, keep up with the material, listen to good advice from your upper-classmen and try not to get to caught up in the touchy-feely stuff. You’ve got a long road ahead. No sooner will you start feeling like you’re in command of medical school when you will start third year and feel like the biggest superfluous, ignorant, non-essential piece of baggage to ever break the plane of the pelvic outlet.

Let me repeat one piece of good advice that one of the fourth years gave us during orientation. Be macho. No matter what happens just shrug it off as just another day. Big test coming up? No big deal. First day of General Surgery? Just another day. Step 1? Nothing to it.

Good luck.