First week of school reflections: I guess they were wrong, medicine really IS fun

keep calmWe’ve survived our first week of school at McMaster and now we’re halfway through our second. How do I feel? Great actually. Surprisingly, medical school has been an awesome, educational and eye-opening experience. At McMaster, the curriculum is fairly self-directed, we have two 3-hour tutorials a week led by a physician tutor, one 3-hour clinical skills session in which we practice communicating and interacting with patients, one 3-hour professional competency class in which we learn about ethics, professionalism, social media, cultural competency, and develop other skills needed to be an effective and compassionate physician. Finally, we have 1.5 hours of anatomy and anatomy lab each week, and 3-5 hours of large group lectures in the main hall. Overall, that’s only about 15 hours of “in-class” learning a week.

After this past week, I’ve really grown to appreciate problem based learning. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I love preparing materials and studying by yourself at home, then discussing the 2-3 cases we’re assigned each week. Having set objectives for the case each previous week, the learning process is dynamic and interactive. We discuss concepts related the cases; for example, the past two weeks have been cases on respiratory diseases and concepts. I’ve learned about the anatomy of the lung in anatomy, the physiology of normal and abnormal respiration (elevation, exercise, respiratory disease), diseases of respiration, the physiology of normal and abnormal cardiovascular systems, exercise measurements, standard fitness parameters etc. etc. etc. Needless to say, in the last week and a half I’ve really learned a lot, and unlike in college, I’m retaining all the information.

Problem based learning is like having really focused study groups – if you miss a fact or a concept, there will always be someone there to help you understand. If you need something explained in a different way, the 6 or 7 other people in your group are more than willing to assist you. This is how I’ve always enjoyed learning, and I would really encourage people who are independent self-directed learners, love study groups, who enjoy discussing concepts and ideas, and enjoy working with others to consider a school that teaches using problem based learning.

What’s interesting about Mac is that our exams “don’t really count.” What I mean is if you perform on an average level, you are “good.” At Mac, we don’t have grades or rankings, we only have evaluations from our tutors and preceptors. This means that if you’re looking for a letter of rec, it’s not how you do on your exams that influence this, but rather how you interact with your groups and your group leaders. We do have a few “exams” or rather, measures of personal progress. We have a PPI coming up, which stands for Personal Progress Index in October. Not too sure what this description means: it’s an “evaluation device that provides feedback to you, the student, and your advisor, that can be used to assist you in judging your progress in the acquisition of a fund of knowledge.” It’s 180 M/C questions drawn from the “entire domain of medical knowledge.” It sounds pretty daunting, but since you can’t fail on your first one, I’m hoping it will be a good stepping stone and learning lesson in my overall medical education.

We also have CAEs, which are Concept Application Exercises. These evaluate how well you know certain concepts and how well you can apply them to real life situations. We have our first CAEs at the end of September, so I expect I’ll be studying way more starting in the next couple of weeks.

On another note, we just had our McMaster Medical Student Council (MMSC) elections! I ran. No matter what happens tomorrow, it was a great experience and I’m positive everyone who ran would do a great job in their respective positions. This is also the week that a lot of interest groups (student council sponsored and funded groups at McMaster Medical School) are meeting, so I expect my schedule will be a little hectic as I try and figure out which interest groups I’m actually interested in joining. Combine that with trying to find research and volunteer positions, I can already see that this will be a busy but exciting year.

I think I’ve decided that I really am interested in reconstructive plastic surgery. Because we have a 3 year program, I do feel some pressure to decide my specialty already. We start our horizontal electives pretty soon, and I would love to hit the ground running. It would be great to get some experience in primary care first, and maybe do some more horizontal electives as we get closer to our block elective time. But ANYWAYS I still have some time to think about all this.

Right now, I’m really enjoying school, making so many new friends and meeting incredible people. I love the familial feel of Mac, and how the administration goes out of their way to make you feel supported. I’m looking forward to this week of school, and also this weekend! Sounds like there are a lot of events happening around Hamilton. I guess the longer I’m here, the more I realize I really was supposed to end up here, and I’m sure that no matter what medical school you choose, you’ll find that it was the right one for you.

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