Hello, boys and girls. A few months ago, I set the ‘realistic’ goal of posting one entry a month, which, obviously, was as realistic as Aaron Carter hoping to win a post-divorce Hillary Duff back. On the other hand, I’ve been meeting personal heroes, and pursuing psychiatric residency, and planning my first ever international trip alone in between exams. Life is happening, and even if there are days when it feels like I traded in my little bit of paradise for something that couldn’t be further from it, I know that there is growth where I am.

More than a month ago, I received an e-mail from a medical student, in which she asked three questions, the answers to which I feel (hope) would be useful to those who drop by this blog.

#1: I understand that people really have to discover the best way they learn themselves, but if you don’t mind, can you tell me a little bit about how you studied during med school?

People do have to discover the way they learn best on an individual basis. Sometimes, however, it helps to learn from other people, especially if these paths have been taken before. This is why we have an entire industry on self-help, which is probably not strictly self-help, as it involves distilling the knowledge of experts in particular fields — but I digress. That being said, I wasn’t the best student in medical school, as I had other issues going on at the time. What I’ll attempt here is to share what I think were the best practices of the best students I knew (aka my friends).

The ideal method is also probably the least realistic. At the beginning of each school year, each course has a syllabus containing an outline of the material we’re supposed to learn for the school year. The ideal is to:

Study the textbook prior to the lecture. 

  • If you have transcriptions from the previous year available, make side notes on them.
  • It’s better if you can obtain soft copies of the transcriptions, because it allows for updating the information or changing the lay-out of your notes.

Go to class.

  • The purpose of the lecture isn’t simply to summarize the textbook chapter for you. It’s actually to emphasize what is important, particularly in clinical practice.

Revise, reorganize and distill your notes. 

  • Learn to categorise information into must know, need to know, and nice to know.
  • Most medical schools have transcription programs that do this for the class, but the quality of these transcriptions tend to vary.

Read your distilled notes at least thrice – once for comprehension, twice for memorization, and thrice for recall.

But honestly, I wasn’t able to do all of that. I tried, but I wasn’t always able to. I often skipped step 1 (and sometimes 2!), and managed by putting a lot of effort into 3 and 4. I also learned, a bit late, to be wary of the OC trap. While it isn’t always a bad thing, don’t spend too much time making your notes neat and organised, that you don’t get enough time to read them. There was this person who wrote like a kindergartener and yet he got the best grades, because he organised it in a way he understood. One of my friends didn’t use a highlighter. She only wrote important terms in outline form. (I compromised by only highlighting the important terms, and using only one color). Another made up the most stupid and/or vulgar acronyms, but there was no denying that it worked. He also taught me that simplifying things made it easier to memorise, and thus understand them (especially for the biochemical pathways). One friend was an even worse procrastinator than I am, but she had lightning speed memorisation skills and could study for hours straight (usually the night before) without interruption. The point is, different styles work for different people — you have to find what works for you and modify it as needed. Decide what works for you and what does not.

#2: I know that by thinking all about the USMLE, I might seem to be taking the PPLE for granted, as if it is not such an important exam. Can you tell me a little something about the boards?

Passing the PPLE is a prerequisite to practising in the Philippines. If you intend to practice in other countries, licensure requirements may vary. The exam itself occurs over two weekends, but due to the academic changes initiated by DepEd for the K-12 program, I believe there may also be a change in the date of the exams. For more updated and official information, best to check out the PRC website. I actually wrote a blog post about preparing for the boards, which you may want to read as well.

#3 How is residency going? Any advice?

How much time do you have? Haha.

When I was still deciding on what to pursue for residency, I came across this book, The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Medical Specialty, by Brian Freeman, MD. It gives a very helpful overview on various specialties, including salary information, employment data, lifestyle issues and practice considerations. Even though most of it is US data, I found it helpful in narrowing down my choices.

Residency has been more exhausting than I expected it to be. At first, I struggled because the number of people questioning my decision to pursue Psychiatry made me question my decision. If we’re to be frank, there are still those who doubt the legitimacy or the need for psychiatric specialisation. To be taken seriously, you have to know your general medicine and your psychiatry, and, well, I’m still learning. But most days thus far have been validations. I’m convinced that the work that I do is valuable to my patients and their families, and for now, I’m at peace with that. I guess that’s my advice. Find the specialisation, or the career (research, teaching, art, writing, stand-up comedy), that falls in line with your definition of purpose. The perfect program doesn’t exist. You won’t always be happy, and you might always be tired, but if you are doing work that is meaningful to you, then that ought to still be a good thing. 🙂



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