Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Medical School is Weird

Medical school is strange.

I’m in the process of being initiated into one of the most bizarre clubs in the world. Actually, now that I think about it, it’s not that different from Skull and Bones. I mean, we go down into a basement 3 days per week and dig around in a human body. (Some people go down there every day—by choice. But those people already know they want to go into highly competitive specialties and therefore need a 100 in Gross Anatomy.) But I guess there are some other key features of Skull and Bones that we don’t engage in… Thankfully.

I am certainly not in the group of students I just mentioned. I’m part of the crowd that is going to get matching tattoos at the end of first year that say: P = MD.

Meaning, you only have to pass to get your MD (for those who need a little algebra refresher). That’s it. Just pass. After years as pre-meds, this concept is taking a while to sink in. I only need a 70. I will become a doctor if I get a 70 on everything for the next 2 years.  (Except Step 1…)

That’s sort of scary, when you think about it, right? Your doctor only had to learn 65 – 70% of the material assigned to him/her to pass medical school. Sometimes the other 30% might be important –but that’s probably why quality improvement is getting so popular these days.

So, anyway: after spending years as a perfectionist premed with a GPA above 3.9, getting excited about barely passing feels strange. Seeing my Block II Biochemistry grade was a particularly surreal experience.

I was on my way home from Houston to Dallas on Friday afternoon, after a week of 4 written exams and 2 practical exams. Then I got the dreaded email announcing that our Biochem grades had been posted.

In said email, our course director explained that the mean was around a 74. That didn’t bode well for me. I had walked out of the Biochem exam that week bewildered and drained. (A classmate of mine summed up my feelings pretty well. About an hour after the test, he posted on our class Facebook page, “At least buy me dinner first…”) My fatigue was soon replaced by all-consuming fear and dread, which increased exponentially throughout the evening, finally culminating in about 45 minutes of crying (or lacrimal gland secretion, for all the nerds out there). All of this to say: I did not feel that I had performed very well on the Biochem exam.

When I saw the email from Dr. Cowabunga (all identities are being protected in this blog), I promptly gave in to my rubbernecker instinct and logged in to our grading system to stare at the train wreck.

(As an aside: our grading system is great because they make sure to bold not only your grade, but also the mean for your class and the standard deviation, thereby always providing a 5 millisecond interval where you think the standard deviation—usually around 10—is your actual grade on the exam.)

So, I looked. I identified the mean, the standard deviation, and then—my grade! A 78.

Now, I believe I got roughly a 78 on a Physics test during undergrad, and I’m pretty sure I cried that night. Probably as hard as I cried after the Biochem exam.

But this time I broke into a huge smile, banged on the steering wheel with glee and turned on Lady Gaga to celebrate. (Cause I was born this great?) The point being: I was genuinely thrilled to make a 78.

(Any premeds reading this are thinking, Yeah, but I’ll never be that way. I’m highly motivated. All I have to say is: mm hmm.)

Why was I so happy with a 78? Because I was 4 points above the class mean! And I was within the standard deviation! And also because I was a Literary Studied major, therefore Biochem isn’t my forte. So it was nice to feel smart for a few hours.

Now I’m debating whether to post this because revealing your grades is a big no-no. You either make the person you tell feel smart or dumb (you almost never get the same grade).  But the blog won’t make as much sense if I put in a vague range, so c’est la vie.

I will say that this was not the highest or lowest grade that I’ve earned in medical school, but it’s the grade I worked the hardest for and am the most proud of.

Like I said, med school is weird.

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