Pharma: Check!

December 15, 2015 § 2 Comments

After some heavy weeks, I’m finally done with pharma. At least for this semester. And even then, I’m not really done. It will come back during my dermatology, pulmonology and cardiology exams. It will always come back – this is medicine!

Now that it’s over, I’m really, really happy with my decision to push my exam to this week. I feel like I have a better handle on the material, a much better general overview and feel much more confident for the final exam (which we will have at the end of next semester). I would still like to add to my knowledge, but I can work on that once exams are done.

Here’s a glimpse at what my study process has been like. I feel I was more prepared for this exam than any exam so far and yet I still don’t feel completely confident in my knowledge.

I starting studying from the topic lists from the beginning of the semester and used them to prepare for each of the midterms. There are some students from previous years that have prepared notes for the topics, but I always find other people’s notes a little hard to stick to as a main source. I like to use them when I am having a hard time honing in on what needs to be covered for a certain topic, but other than that I like to make my own.

Our first midterm covered the topics in the “A” column and the second the topics in the “B” column. I decided to use the lectures as my main source for the topics in the “C” column and completed my notes about a week before I was supposed to have my exam.

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This is what the topic list I used while studying for the semi-final looks like now, after several rounds of going through the material.

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For List A, my notes were mainly charts and “quick note” pages with drug names and main points. I love taking notes on my iPad but I’ve noticed that when I’m cramming I prefer to have a hardcopy.

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For List B, my notes were almost completely based on the lecture slides. It was good in that I got a good grasp of the theory and felt like I was getting the main points.

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To add to the lecture notes, I made some mnemonic sheets for quick reference.
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I was inspired by my friend Jules to make sheets with the drug names in large font that I could pin on the wall. It was really good trick for getting some of the names in passively. Every little glance made a difference.

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For List C, my notes got a little crazy. I’d taken my first round of notes from the lectures and then brought them with me to my practical lessons. There, I would add in any details that my teacher mentioned. I got a bit frustrated with these because I felt like some of the lectures included way more information than what we needed to know (or could memorize). IMG_1779IMG_1778

During this last week, I prepared a set of mini-notes for each of the topics. I know that I struggle with whittling down a topic to “just what’s important”, so I felt that limiting myself to 1 little piece of paper would be a good exercise for me. Plus, something about holding a thin pile of mini-notes made me feel more in control ;).IMG_1770IMG_1771

Here is an example of my lecture notes + my teacher’s comments on the left, the mini-note version in the middle, and the topic I prepared for my exam on the right.

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Lastly, here are the notes from today’s exam. They were topics that I really didn’t feel very strong about – especially the epilepsy topic – but I’m happy I was able to recall what I did. My exam was supposed to start at 10:30, but I didn’t go in until around 12:30. I even went to school early because I was too nervous to review at home. That meant 4 hours of stress-ridden review time before.

The exam took place in my teacher’s office. It was a small room with a desk along the window and a couch and two large sofa chairs surrounding a low coffee table. There was enough room for 3 students at a time, one being examined and the other two busy writing their notes. It’s a bit of an awkward situation to sit there in such a social setting while being examined, but there’s a comfort knowing that we all go through it.

During the exam, I blanked on some really simple things (like indications of beta blockers, other than arrhythmias and hypertension). That’s one of those things that you hop over while you’re studying because it’s just “so easy” and then you can’t find it in your head when you need to. Luckily, I was able to recall it with some help, but it was still pretty embarrassing. My teacher is a really friendly guy who loves teaching, but he also wants us to know the material – and know it well! He asks a lot of questions and is quite demanding. IMG_1785At the end, he motioned to the other girl in the room (she had finished her exam already, but stayed as a “witness of fairness” as is done in most exams) and said, “If she was heading up from a 3 to a 4, then you were heading down to a 4 from a 5. Oh, Bianca, Bianca.” He sat in thought for a few moments and finally said, “Ok, I’m going to give you a 5, but with a little side note: needs improvement.” I joked that I was on probation and would make sure to be better next semester. We are examined by our own teachers for the semi-final, but at the final exam, we are examined by one of the other professors.

I got home around 13:30, ate and then crashed for a couple of hours. Now I’m off to bed, with sweet dreams of my weak, probationary 5, so that I can wake up fresh and ready to cram for Saturday’s surgery exam. Will be easier knowing that I have this monster one behind me!

P.S. I have a FitBit (an activity monitor) that measures my heart rate throughout the day. When I looked at it this afternoon, I burst out laughing. Check out my heart rate this morning! Me? Nervous? 😀

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The back of the medal

December 8, 2015 § 9 Comments

Yesterday, I received an email from a new doctor in England whose brother is a 2nd year student here at Semmelweis. She was curious about exams here, about the demand placed on us, and said that it seemed more difficult than her studies in England. 

I received it at a funny moment. I was in the middle of crying over my notes and being so thankful that they were in plastic sheet covers. What a coincidence that I should come across this photo this morning:

I don’t consider myself to be a very emotional person (generally). The only time you’ll see me cry is while listening to certain songs or watching movies; usually ones that touch on mortality (like About Time). I AM a perfectionist. Though I’d like to think I’m a recovering perfectionist, if there is such a thing. I’m also, as my mom once wrote in one of my birthday cards, “intolerant of inadequacy and incompetency”. She wrote that after a story about how I freaked out on a plane one time because my younger brother Christian was coloring outside of the lines in his coloring book. On top of this, I demand a lot from myself. I set impossible goals and when I don’t make them, I get really upset with myself. Studying medicine seems like the perfect fit, right? The perfectionist and the infinite subject.

I know it seems that I’ve gone off on a bit of a tangent (or five), ones detailing quite personal things about me, but I promise they all feed into a point. 

Exam period is hard. That’s nothing new. I’ve written about it many times before. However, I usually write when I feel a spurt of inspiration, sort of as a means to motivate myself through the hell of the moment. I may convey that I’m stressed, that I’m nervous, that I don’t know if I can do it. 

When I read that email, I felt so connected to her brother. It’s so easy to isolate yourself in moments of weakeness, to feel like you are the only one feeling what you are feeling. I usually add on to it by thinking that everyone else is doing fine and that is just me that can’t handle my emotions.

I started to wonder if that comes across in the posts that I write during exam periods; these specific chunks of the year where I am a full-blown emotional wrek. It’s not that I want to portray weakness or that anyone really needs to witness this wholly irrational version of myself, but more that connection; that moment where suddenly you feel normal and truly believe, even if only for a second, that everything is going to be ok. Sometimes Skjalg will joke around with me and say, “Buda-B doesn’t get scared” or “Buda-B doesn’t back down”. If I’m seen as super strong or if people are under the impression that I always have control, I’m flattered, but that’s just not the truth. 

Let’s take a look at the ugly truth. This morning I was supposed to have my semi-final in pharmacology. I’ve been studying well (or so I thought) through the semester. I finished my notes for the topics last week. I started reviewing the topics we’d covered at the beginning of the semester. I started building my wall of insanity:  

   
But pharmacology is memorization. And for some reason, I hit a total block. I started obsessing over some topics, not trusting my notes, searching through 20 different sources saying slightly different versions of the same thing. As time passed, I started to panic. I was spending 3 hours memorizing 1 topic. I calculated that if I somehow brought that down to 20 minutes per topic, that would still mean 16 straight hours of memorization. 

Yesterday, I got 2 topics done in 9 hours. I felt hot and cold, exhausted and overstimulated, motivated and depressed, and I could feel my entire circulatory system throbbing in my body. Tears left me dead by 22:00, so I decided to call it a night and wake-up at 3:00 to continue; to salvage what little chance I had left. What happened? I started studying, but got only half a topic down in the first hour and a half. I felt nauseous but decided to force down some food. Then I distracted myself with some YouTube videos while I ate. Then I started thinking about all the topics I couldn’t answer. All of them. At the same time. Into the shower I went, hoping that the steam would someone distract me from my hyperventilation. It didn’t help. I can’t do this, I thought to myself, I really, really can’t do this. 

There were still 40 minutes before Skjalg’s alarm was supposed to go off. No way I was waking him up before then. So I got into bed and stared at the dark ceiling while observing the stress race through my body. 

When his alarm went off at 7:00, I leaned in and said, “Hey, I don’t think I’m going to go today.” He responded with a simple “ok” and lay with his eyes closed for a few more moments. “Why not?” he asked. I began to explain that I really, truly wasn’t ready, that I didn’t want to go and get lucky on my topics, that I wanted to learn it properly so that I know it long term and not just for now. “I think that sounds like a good idea,” he said, eyes still closed. With that, I started sobbing. I felt such a sense of relief that he supported my decision. I was so scared that it was a hasty decision being made out of fear, that it wasn’t rational in any sense, that I was just succumbing to weakness. 

That’s just it: we are complete messes in exam period. Some of us lay on the floor and stare at the ceiling for hours without almost so much as blinking. Some of us sneak out to the corner store and literally jump at the site of another human being. Some of us cry about anything and everything. Some of us are complete roller coasters. And some of us are like a storm, calm in the beginning, but with a dark strength that grows larger and larger until the storm hits. That’s me. 

I hope you’re still following me at this point. It’s been a long, long day. I made a really tough decision that feels like a really strong decision made in a really weak moment…one that my brain is still trying to define as weak. My thoughts are scattered, my eyes are throbbing and I should be sleeping so I can get up early to review for tomorrow’s surgery exam. 

So why did I write this? Because I wanted to show that there is a side that doesn’t get published. That no one likes to talk about. That many would say shouldn’t be talked about. That the weak moments are there and sometimes they are the only thing we know. And yet, we keep pushing forward. Exam after exam. Semester after semester. And we can feel so alone while we do it. We can be so quick to think that everyone else has it so easy while we have it so hard. I don’t want people who read my blog to think that I always have everything figured out. That I don’t go through tough moments. I do and I know them very, very well. But there is such a beauty in that weakness. Not during, of course, but after. Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors. 

As I lay in bed this morning, in a pool of my tears on Skjalg’s chest, I gave him one of the most heartfelt “thank yous” I’ve ever given. “It’s ok baby, it’s the back of the medal”. I’ve never heard that expression before and hearing it then in that moment that fit is so perfectly, I couldn’t help but smile. It’s so easy to feel isolated, especially with social media being what it is today. You compare yourself and your life to everyone’s highlight reels. You only see what others want you to see. So, I wanted to share with you a glimpse of the “back of the medal”. A side Skjalg knows all too well. A side that we are probably all too familiar with in some way or another. 

  

This is fine

December 7, 2015 § Leave a comment

This is my 300th post and while I had been hoping to write something profound and reflective, I am as far from that mindset as possible. Instead, I will leave you with two photos. A picture is worth a thousand words, right?

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