Review or Reveille: My Secret to Staying Awake

Don’t laugh. I have a habit of getting really sleepy during review.

I’m not sure what that’s about, but I’ve been that way since undergrad.

Give me information that I previously tested on and ask me to review it, and for some reason my brain goes into twilight mode and I can hardly keep my eyes open.

In undergrad, it was manageable. After all, most of undergrad courses are fairly stand-alone. Even the bits of, for instance, General Chemistry that you need to retain and build on are manageable.

In med school that’s all turned catywonkus and it just doesn’t apply. EVERYTHING you learn has to be retained long-term. Well, at least through that all-important Step 1 exam – my be-all, end-all goal at this point.

Until recently, I’ve been stumped by how the heck to efficiently and effectively keep up with reviewing, regularly, without literally falling asleep. I was beginning to get frustrated. Then that frustration began turning into a fatalistic “ugh maybe I can’t do this” mentality (oh how fast I go there!) and I knew I had to come up with a solution.

Even though I’m in my 50s, my mother is one of my biggest fans and heads up my cheering section through this process. I never mentioned to her how I was struggling to stay awake during review sessions. But she messaged me the other day saying she had found me a gift.

A treadmill.

But not just any treadmill. This one has a handy-dandy shelf on it just perfect for my laptop.

Now, I walk while I review. Every day. Talk about the ideal “killing two birds with one stone” solution!

I’m no longer playing reveille during review sessions. I’m staying healthy. And coincidentally I’m retaining review information way better for going through it while I’m moving!

Challenge solved. Whew! I’ve even begun ‘attending’ live lectures while walking, going through flashcards and lecture notes – its amazing how much better this is!

Now back to the books – its time to review heart sounds. While walking.

49% Wouldn’t Do It Again

I was shocked quite frankly.

I suppose I shouldn’t be – after all, in every profession there are dissatisfied folks, those who discover that its not everything they imagined it might be. And I’ve certainly heard from docs who were indeed very unhappy.

According to a recent study in 2015, only 51% of physicians surveyed would still choose medicine as a career, down from 62% just four years earlier. Granted, this study was looking at one sub-set of medicine. But still…


Some would say its the fault of the current government. Or ever-declining reimbursements. Some would point at the ‘big business’ of medicine and decry how it has eclipsed any attempt at real service as the soul-destroying grind becomes overwhelming.

I remember about a decade ago when I hesitantly mentioned to a few doctor-friends that I was thinking of pursuing medicine, they all took great pains to tell me all the downsides. “Go into nursing, or become a PA”, they said. “Be a therapist if you want to heal people; become a scientist if you love studying Biology or the human body. Medicine is nothing like it used to be and I’d never do it again if I had the choice.”

I was curious, so I did a little snooping around.

A recent survey of over 95,000 nurses concluded that there was an alarming degree of job dissatisfaction and burnout in the profession.

MetLife’s annual teacher survey shows an “alarming” trend downward with only 39% of teachers satisfied with their jobs.

In fact, according to a job satisfaction survey that has been conducted annually for the last 30+ years, only 48% of Americans are satisfied with their jobs.

I suppose there are many different takeaways possible from this. Having lived as many decades as I have, I say, Bah Humbug to all the grousing about how unhappy any particular profession is – including medicine. The grass is no greener in any other job. The grind, unending documentation, onerous government regulations, stressful working conditions and limited autonomy – its everywhere!

And for all those who say they’d never go into medicine (or whatever profession) again… guess what? Its not the job! Its not the profession.

Teachers want to be doctors. Doctors want to be pilots. Cashiers wish they’d gone into Psychology and salespeople dream of finishing their MBA so they can have the corner office and make higher salaries. Those who never had the chance to get a higher education are certain they’d be happy if only they had, and those with multiple letters after their names fantasize about giving it all up and living on an island.

Just stop. We are more than our titles, bigger than the parts of us defined by who signs our paychecks. I’ve decided to completely ignore those who try to discourage someone’s dream based on their own “job dissatisfaction”.

Repeat after me:

I am strong. I am talented in these ways. I enjoy these parts of what I do, don’t enjoy these other parts, and can make peace with that. If I can’t make peace, I will make a change.

All that to say this: Yes, I’m aware that many of my colleagues had (or are having) highly stressful and even profoundly negative experiences during their medical education. I hear stories nearly every day from physicians who are deeply unhappy. Yet I remain convinced that its not the profession. PEOPLE are unhappy. In every profession.

I just happen to be overwhelmingly thrilled with every tiny speck of this journey I’ve embarked on. Every sleep-deprived study marathon. Each boring or hard to understand lecturer. Even meeting fellow professionals who seem rude or condescending or who don’t practice medicine the way I would. And including the not-at-all glamorous parts like ‘having to’ learn mounds of minutia that will be mostly obsolete by the time I’m in residency.

As long as we’re human, we get to take ourselves along into any profession.

Who I am is so much more.


Its NOT Hard

From being quite sure that my age would be a negative determinant of medical school success, to being willing to take any acceptance I could get, then moving to an intentional choice of which school is right for me – this has been an amazing journey. Through all the ups and downs I’d say the most powerful realization has been this: ITS NOT HARD!

As I write those three words, I’m well aware that there are students right now in classrooms, study cubicles, huddled in apartments and bleary-eyed in libraries – who are feeling the overwhelm of what’s been aptly called “drinking from a fire hose”. With the sheer volume of information presented during medical school, how the heck do I keep stating ITS NOT HARD?

Here’s the thing.

You have to completely  change the way you study. If you use the same study strategies you used to be very successful as an undergrad, you will fail in medical school.

That’s a pretty hefty statement to make, but I believe it with every brain cell I’ve used to “decode” medical school study strategies that actually work. With the sheer volume of information presented in medical school, its easy to get stuck in thinking that your primary ‘job’ is to memorize all those facts. To become a walking, talking encyclopedia of information.

Bottom line is that if you do that, you’ll absolutely fail to synthesize information in a way you can use to pass the med school exams and boards. The tests you’ll see in medical school are different than anything you’ve seen before, and that long list of facts you spend hours storing in your tired brain is just the beginning. In med school, its all about the story, the experience, using those facts as the foundation but going so much beyond facts to what they call “secondary and tertiary questions”.

If you spend your time simply memorizing facts, you’ll be shocked when you get to exams and realize you have no idea how to answer the questions – even though you’ve spent every waking moment studying.

Here’s what works.

  • Listen to the lectures – that’s just a recitation of facts. You do need those facts as a foundation.
  • Immediately begin composing “stories” – how might these facts come together with an actual clinical scenario.
  • Spend the bulk of your time studying clinical vignettes – ‘stories’ that present a case, then ask you to pull together those disparate facts into a cohesive whole. Use q-banks as your bible, read the questions aloud, and talk your way to a solution before you ever glance at solutions.
  • Judiciously make use of study aids such as flashcards and flowcharts.
  • Another absolutely priceless way to use the q-banks is to review why other answer choices are incorrect. Regardless of which software you’re using for review, they all provide an explanation of why a particular answer choice is correct or incorrect. Don’t simply scroll on by if you chose correctly – review why the other choices were not the best answer.

I’m daily blown away by how simple this really is, so long as I first get the factual foundation then spend time practicing incorporating all those facts into clinical scenarios. By faithfully putting in the time to study this way, you’ll find that medical school is not hard  – it simply requires you to learn a completely new way of studying!

Feeling overwhelmed? Feel like you’re drowning in a sea of information overload and can’t find a way to pull it all together? SecondChanceMentor offers a super cool service and we’d be glad to help you get back on track so you can actually enjoy this amazing learning experience!  Send us a message today and let us help you revise your learning style so you’re successful!