graduate school to medical school transition
Someone had asked in one of the recent comments about the painful graduate school to medical school transition that all mudphudders go through upon finishing the PhD, so I thought I’d write about that.
First of all, I actually felt like the first two years of medical school had sapped intelligence from me so graduate school was a welcomed change. The problem with medical school is that the “thinking” is mostly memorization and pattern recognition, not really any synthesis of ideas or problem solving per se. In contrast, you could memorize like 5 equations in physics and in theory derive everything else from that. No joke. Remember F=ma? Good stuff. That’s what I used to do in college and before: memorize a few fundamentals and derive everything I needed from those. Not so in medical school. The only way to know the side effects of amiodarone (an anti-arrhythmic drug) is to memorize them. But that’s the nature of practicing medicine. It really does consist of a lot of pattern recognition so it’s all good. And during the first two years of medical school, boy do you memorize a lot of patterns! Especially during the second year. I always felt that anyone who left second year of medical school, which for us was clinical in nature (e.g. pathophysiology and pharmacology), with everything memorized would make a really good intern. When we started second year, we were told that our vocabulary would expand by 10,000 words during that year. I believe it. But I was a monster after those courses were over. I even had the chance to do a couple of rotations, including my medicine clerkship, before I left for my PhD. I’ll be honest with you, I was a stud on medicine because I easily memorized maybe 90% of our second year course work. But then, medicine was over and I started graduate school.
Graduate school let me get back to that problem-solving mentality–”real thinking” I like to call it–which was refreshing. The insides of my brain felt like the rusty gears of a pocket watch that had just been wound after two years of sitting on the dresser. It felt good, at least after the initial shock. And so I went for 4 years–problem solving and learning about immunology. Without knowing it, slowly replacing most of the neuronal connections I had formed during the first two years of medical school. Yup. You can guess where this story is headed.
I was always told by older mudphudders that my memory of all things clinical would come back to me after a few weeks back on the wards after finishing graduate school. I don’t know, I guess that’s true. I also think a lot of it came back because I read A LOT. I think it was helpful that I restarted medical school with a pretty easy rotation–a family practice rotation where I was exposed to a lot of bread and butter medicine. I also had a lot of time to read. I think it hurt me in one way that I had taken my medicine clerkship before starting the PhD because I think the medicine clerkship is a great period of learning in a medical student’s training. Although on the flipside, I think it gave me a good appreciation and understanding of medicine going into graduate school, which helped in other ways. I think to this day I still feel a little self-conscious on the wards but performance-wise I think I have done well. So maybe a lot of it tends to be in the mind of the mudphudder and we gotta just get over it.
I knew a few mudphudders who would do clinical “activities” during graduate school. Going to clinic once a week or month, etc. I don’t think it really helped that much in terms of retaining knowledge. I mean, you see 5 patients every week and that’s supposed to retain your 10,000 word vocabulary? I don’t think so. Moreover, think about the variety of clinical medicine we are exposed to in medical school. Is one clinic going to cover all of that? Most of that? Half of that? 10% of that? Probably not. But at the same time, it keeps you in the loop somewhat. My philosophy was always give 100% to graduate school when in graduate school and give 100% to medical school when in medical school. But, I have friends who would argue against that as well so find what works for you or makes you happy.
All in all, I think going from graduate school to medical school is not a bad transition. I recall being ecstatic that I was done with graduate school. But obviously when you’re away from something for that long, it takes some time and effort to regain the familiarity and knowledge. Be smart and strategize about how you come back and to what rotation (which also means scheduling as far ahead of time as possible).
In the end, it’s all a part of the process. Medical school to graduate school to medical school to residency. There’s pain associated with every transition but many have gone through it before you and many will after as well. I think the key is in knowing yourself and therefore having the ability to identify what you need to keep you going in the context of whatever challenge (e.g. going back to medical school–> schedule an easy rotation so you have time to read) you are about to face.
Anyway, I think that sounded pretty smart so I’ll end on that.