Being a new medical student in 2020

June 14, 2020

Being a student in medical school in 2020 is definitely a different experience. So far, 2020 has been a memorable year to say the least. Australia was engulfed in flames from October 2019 until the end of January 2020. Koby Bryant and several others died in a California plane crash on January 26th. Way too many lives have been lost to murder: Waldis “Jay” Johnson, Ahmaud Arbery, Breann Leath, Breonna Taylor, David Kellywood, George Floyd, Tiffany-Victoria Bilon Enriquez. I mention these names, not because the other roughly 1300 people that are murdered every month in the United States don’t matter, but because these names are of people that have been murdered just recently in the war on cultural differences that is plaguing the country I live in. Covid-19 has shut the world down, still to the present date, and has changed not only our daily lives, how we move through each day working, playing, exercising, obtaining education, interacting with businesses and other people but most importantly for us, how medicine is administered. W e are a part of what I believe to be a new revolution in medicine.

I have been in the medical field for fourteen years. I started as a CNA on a busy Med-Surg unit and moved to the emergency department until I finished my Associates degree and became a Paramedic, where I have been working on an ambulance for the last eleven years. I went back a few years ago to obtain my Bachelors degree and apply to medical school, which brings me to our present situation: medical students in the year 2020 amidst the global pandemic of COVID-19. What is it like being a medical student right now? I can only speak about my own experience, and even that is small in comparison to how long I have left.

I started this journey just 7 weeks ago with the May 2020 class. Honestly, I barely remember the first week or two. We started off with a two-day orientation that had so much information in it, I still haven’t processed all of it. I am still learning something new every day about Canvas, Osmosis, Kaplan, Complete Anatomy, and so many other applications I don’t even know what they are. There are more devices, tutors, help lines, application notices, check ins, Zoom meetings and processes than one person can utilize or accomplish in a week, let alone a day. Honestly, I need my own secretary. My calendar has more different colored notices written in one day than the rainbow has colors. I haven’t even begun to tell you about classes yet.

My first semester mostly consists of Microbiology, Histology, Embryology, Anatomy, Physiology, Genetics, Chemistry, Biology, Microbiology, Sociology, and Psychology all condensed into four classes of MCB-1, EMB/HIST, ICM and Anatomy. I listen to a one hour or one-and-a-half-hour lecture per class for three of the four classes every evening. Then I attend an hour and twenty minutes review class for three of the four classes, which are live, every morning. The internet is spotty, the professors sound like robots sometimes, or words are cut out in the middle of what seems like a very important topic, but I won’t find that out until exams. Now, when I say the lecture runs anywhere from an hour to two hours depending on the topic, for me, someone with ADHD and some other learning oddities, those classes take twice as long to get through. Labs are a whole other kettle of fish to tackle. There is no hands-on when learning about the boney structure of the body, just books and online apps with 3d pictures that I haven’t even begun to learn how to move around, let alone study. Lab projects for Histology are challenging because only one person in a group of ten can speak at a time or everyone sounds like the aliens from Guardians of the Galaxy, not to mention trying to figure out more technology to copy, edit and share on some Google Doc for the rest of the team to assess and edit your handy work.

I will say I have worked out my time better since buying a printer and printing my slides out before class so I can take notes on those. These lectures I am telling you about are only for three of the four classes, ICM is another matter. Mostly, I am required to read chapters from the assigned book and watch a few videos that, thank the Lord above, are short. We have also met twice in ICM to do virtual patient care, which I believe is most of the class’ favorite part so far, including my own, because we get to interact with others, something that is sadly lacking with this virtual world we are living in. With what seemed like an impossible task, and not without a bucket of tears and a few meltdowns on camera for the test proctors to witness while taking my first block exams, I luckily passed them.

Now that I have gotten all the technical and scary parts out of the way let’s talk about all the amazing, enriching and heartwarming experiences I have had in my short seven weeks. I have grown as not only a person, but as a future physician. I have experienced and watched all the professors, all so far, really reach out to make sure every student has access to them and answer questions about material by several different means. I have never once felt like I couldn’t ask a question about a subject, even when it seemed everyone else understood the material just fine, my question was not a nuisance. The upperclassmen are top notch, and I am not even sure I can find the words to adequately describe the importance of their time that they so graciously give to the rest of us. They hold tutoring sessions and volunteer their precious time to work in the labs just so we, the underclassmen, can make it through our classes. They continue to blow me away every day with their generosity. If I have heard it once, I have heard it a million times; “You belong here,” from every upperclassman, every professor and every dean. At first, I thought it was just a cheesy line, but when the old self-doubts and fears got louder than the belief of achieving my dream, it became a lifeline. I joined the student government with so many worries of not having anything of import to contribute, or not really fitting in. However, with each government meeting I attend, we have weekly ones, and with the beautiful souls of my two fellow reps, I feel like I can make a difference for our class, and just maybe I do belong. I have joined two of the many clubs that AUC has to offer, The Global Health group and the Emergency Medicine group, and have met some wonderfully passionate, likeminded fellow students. As I get to know these people I am enriched and blessed by their own stories, thoughts and ideas. Although we can’t do most of the normal club activities, I believe that we are being stretched mentally to come up with new and inventive ways of reaching out, making a difference in others’ lives and really communicating with each other. I have met new friends that I know will be in my life for years to come, if not for the rest of my life. With everything going on in the world, the pandemic, the riots and the uncertainty of it all, I feel a strong bond forming not only with my own classmates but with the faculty of AUC and the upperclassmen. I feel like I belong. I feel like I am safe. I feel that AUC truly supports their students and does everything in their power to make this journey not only fruitful, but memorable and meaningful as well. I feel there is an air of inclusion for all. Right now, it isn’t easy going to medical school online, but I know that whatever it takes, not only myself, but my fellow classmates, will make it through together, with the help of our new AUC family.

Melissa Belanger AKA DocMelB May 2020

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