On Thoughts and Plans for 4th Year Medical School

March 11, 2014
Sharon Li

Photo Credit: By MC2 Daniel Barker [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo Credit: By MC2 Daniel Barker [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Back in 2011, I trained for my first half marathon. It was my first practice in schedule discipline, where keeping a schedule was essential to ensuring I could progress, and  in this case, progress by increasing my mileage week by week. Though it took several months, by sticking to the schedule, I was able to slowly build from running 1 mile up to 13.1 miles. The journey made me realize that when there is a will, there IS a way. That way just means a PLAN, and what one needs to remember is that you NEED to have a plan, not just a will.

That first practice in schedule discipline paid dividends when it came time to study for Step 1 the next year. Sticking to a schedule then was also essential, except this time, instead of increasing mileage, I had to maintain a schedule to ensure I could keep increasing in QBank questions and First Aid pages week by week. After USMLE® Step 1, 3rd year brought fluctuating hours, constant change, and shelf exams. Again, though it was much harder to keep a schedule this year, forcing myself to study a tiny bit each night – sticking to somewhat of a regular ‘study schedule’ – consistently paid off at the end of each rotation.

It doesn’t need to be said that as a medical professional, schedule discipline is extremely important. However, schedule discipline is also something extremely hard to maintain…especially when schedules can be unpredictable. Now, as I am preparing to enter my last year of medical school, I can confidently thank my medical school education for forcing me to practice schedule discipline: the practice of keeping up with small things, habits, if you will. Things like meeting up with friends at least once a month, or exercising at least 3 times a week—these things can be easily forgotten if you don’t ‘schedule’ them, but they are essential to ensure balance is maintained. Whereas before medical school, I sort of managed things as they came, I quickly realized that the amount of time medicine demands of you makes it very easy to lose out on sleep, friend or family functions, health, or all of the above, without having somewhat of a schedule discipline. Though everyone’s needs for balance are different, my upper year friends who have since gone to residency also stress the importance of learning to maintain balance before leaving medical school. In their experience, the familiarity of a habit will certainly pay dividends when you return exhausted from the workday (which happens more often than not), and maintenance of balance pays dividends for maintaining sanity. Good to know!

2014 so far has been off to a good start—I am finalizing a paper to submit for publication and presenting a poster at the American Association for Cancer Research Conference in San Diego, a conference I’ve had my eyes on for a while and am extremely stoked to attend. I’m slowly gathering paperwork and organizing logistics to return to finish my 4th year of medical school, where I will first have a series of time-intensive rotations, then (hopefully) a series of residency interviews, followed by a series of waiting for match day while finishing up any remaining graduation requirements. Adding a year to my medical school education has allowed me to follow my classmates through the process before going through it personally, and as in 3rdyear, the schedule looks tumultuous. However, my goals for this upcoming school year are to continue being schedule disciplined and balance both work and life. I plan to continue habits I’ve established so far that have proven essential for maintaining energy and alertness (like exercise, eating clean, and prioritizing sleep), so I can be maximally effective on the floors of the hospital, but am flexible to welcome the changes I know this next year will bring. What better way to enter this new period of transition than celebrate Match Day in a couple weeks with my classmates!? :)

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Sharon Li

Sharon Li I am currently a resident in Internal Medicine at Jefferson University Hospitals in Philadelphia. I received my BS from Penn State University and graduated from the Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University in 2015. I took a year between third and fourth year of medical school to pursue a research fellowship at the NIH as part of their Medical Research Scholars Program. A combination of previous experience in medical research along with involvement in many community medical outreaches at Jefferson has shaped my interests in public health—particularly cancer prevention and education. I hope to become an academic oncologist someday. In my free time, you can find me taking photos, playing tennis, hiking, cooking, or trying to learn guitar :)

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