Hi! Bye!

December 3, 2012 § 2 Comments

Sparing a few minutes of the chaos of the day to do a quick check-in – and I mean quick!

We are 4 midterms down and I have two more this week. We’ve been joking around about how midterm doesn’t actually mean “mid-term” here, since we’ve had at least one exam every week since the 5th week of school.

Anatomy and physics last week went surprisingly well – way better than I ever could have expected. In the anatomy exam, I was asked several things that I knew quite well and for physics I was able to pull out some last-minute knowledge to answer the 25-point question. The hard-work has paid off, as I am now exempt from the practical/dissection portion of the anatomy exam as well as the written portion of the physics exam. I don’t feel any less stressed about finals though…which is a bummer.

I’m waiting on the results from the biostatistics and Hungarian midterms. I’m pretty sure biostatistics went well. As for Hungarian, I will be lucky if I pass. The exam was much harder than I expected and I didn’t give it enough study time – not at all! (Update [Dec. 10] – ended up getting a 4 shockingly enough. How I managed that, I have no clue! She didn’t take off a ton of points for accent mistakes, which saved me.)

I have medical Latin terminology on Wednesday but am hoping to take it tomorrow morning instead (along with Skjalg’s group). This will give me a little bit more time to prepare for our medical chemistry midterm on Friday.

Ok! Off to bed with a stack of Latin flashcards. Goodnight, blog world!

An update from the study cave…

November 25, 2012 § Leave a comment

Anatomy midterm in 24 hours and I having been staving off a panic attack for the past week or so. There is so much to learn and so little time to learn it. I can only hope that it goes smoothly tomorrow, whether a failure or success. I only need to pass in order to be exempt from the practical part of the final exam, but that fact has yet to comfort me.

There is no structure to the days now. There is only studying and hopefully remembering to make food and do house chores. I can’t wait until tomorrow is over! I need this knot in my chest to go away. Once the anatomy test is done, it will be a quick turn around. On Friday we have our statistics and biophysics midterms and next week we have Hungarian, Latin and chemistry. Time is flying by!

Thanksgiving was a day spent studying and then out for a quick dinner with my fellow Americans, Rina and Charlotte. I can feel the homesickness increasing as we go deeper into the holiday season. Perils of being a medical student I guess..


Strained Eyes and Fear of Failure

November 18, 2012 § 2 Comments

Closing in on what might be 12, if not 13, hours of studying for today and I can feel it in every bone in my body (I can say this because I actually know every bone in my body). There are 4 weeks left of classes. This next week will be the last “normal” week, as we have no midterms. The week after that we have our anatomy, statistics and biophysics midterms and the week after that one, our Hungarian, Latin and medical chemistry midterms. Then it is one last week of classes, chemistry lab final, and embryology midterm. So many hurdles to survive just to make it to finals!

I’m definitely feeling the pressure now. I’m going to try to focus a little bit of my time this week on subjects other than anatomy (just to keep my head above water in them) but it is hard to do when I’m not even on top of anatomy. While on the phone with my mom today, I expressed my worries about the midterms and upcoming finals season. My mom juggled law school AND raising two kids, so she is the perfect person to seek out for advice. She told me that fear will only help me fail. She illustrated with the analogy of walking across a narrow board: when placed on the ground, you can walk across it without any problems, but the higher and higher it is raised from the ground, the more the fear builds up inside you and the more likely you are to fall. Instead of letting the fear of failure get the best of me, I should use it as fuel on the path to success.

It’s a beautiful day for a histology midterm

November 16, 2012 § 4 Comments

I’ve just completed my histology exam and my body is buzzing with adrenaline. It went by so quickly that I have almost no recollection of the last hour. I know it will come back in pieces, but I think the adrenaline level will need to subside before that happens.

This morning began like all other Friday mornings: with the groups waiting for their histology labs crowding the histology corridor in the anatomy building. People were chattering nervously and flying through their notes, trying to cram in as much last minute information as possible. Skjalg and I woke at 5 and spent an hour or so reviewing our weak points before heading out. We both brought our histology atlases (with pictures of the slides) with us on the tram in hopes of reinforcing our knowledge. After a few minutes we realized that nothing was going in and that the time would be better spent taking some deep breaths and talking about something unrelated to anatomy – at both macroscopic and microscopic levels.

Our professor appeared on the steps leading in to the lab area and called the members of our group forward. The room was set up with two long tables of ten microscopes each, five on each side. With nothing but a pen in hand, we spread out around the room, placing ourselves at different microscopes. I became momentarily superstitious and hopped over microscope #13, deciding that I needed all the luck I could get. I took a spot at #18 and awaited further instructions.

The exam was set up as follows:

– 5 tissue identifications

– 5 tissue identifications with staining identification

– 10 specific identifications (structure, organelle, etc)

– 5 cell biology questions (identifying structures of the cell from electron microscope images)

Example of tissue identification question (transitional epithelium)

Example of specific feature identification (neutrophil)

We were given 40 seconds per slide. This time included moving to the next microscope and writing down your answer, so the total time given to identify each slide was most likely around 20-25 seconds. The first twenty slides were set up on the light microscopes and the cell biology slides were projected onto the screen after we completed the first portion.

They definitely made things more difficult than I expected. Some of the slides that we’d seen in lab were presented at a much lower resolution than what we had previously studied and some where with a different stain. The cell biology slides were easier, but only because they were the same slides that the head of the anatomy department had sent out earlier this week.

After the exam we were told to gather our things and wait in the back corner of the room while the next group filed in. We were ordered by the associate histology professor to not mutter a single word, not in any language.  Once they’d settled in, we were allowed to leave – in silence of course. There was still an hour left before I had to be at my statistics lab, so I decided that I would wait outside of the lab area for them to release the results. The expected post-exam chatter ensued and I felt my heart sink a little each time someone mentioned a different answer than what I had put down.

They ran long with the results, so I had to head to statistics and asked another member in my group to check it for me. Half-way through my next lab, I looked down at my phone and saw two texts – one from Skjalg and one from the girl in my group – wishing me congratulations on my 5. I couldn’t hold in my shock and was lucky that my professor didn’t notice my reaction. Afterwards I found out that when they were grading the exam, they accepted several different answers for the same slide. So long as you had an answer that made sense, you got full credit.

Getting a 5 on this exam puts me in a good position for getting an exemption from the practical portion of the final in anatomy. In order to get an exemption, you need to have a total of 12 points from the three midterms. If I get a 2 on the next anatomy exam, then I will only have to do the theory portion of my final. I would still have to study the same amount, but it would be a load off to not have to worry about that part of the exam.

Tonight we will be joining some friends for dinner at Arriba! Taqueria near Oktagon. It’s our friend Rina’s 23rd birthday today and she wanted to celebrate with a casual dinner. It will be a really nice way to close out an otherwise stressful week.

A quick check-in

November 12, 2012 § 2 Comments

It’s early in the morning after a short and less than satisfying one-day weekend. Skjalg and I were miserably tired last night so we settled on watching a movie and heading to bed early with plans on waking up early to be at the library by 7:00. Things are getting pretty hectic here, especially as we head into another round of midterms. This round will be quite brutal as it lasts all the way up to finals and requires that we have 1-3 midterms a week until then. I really don’t know why it is called a midterm when it doesn’t actually take place mid term. I think I would rather it be called something like examination, though I would probably dislike it to the same degree.

Saturday was a full day of class to make up for the long weekend the week before. Afterwards it was home to recuperate and prepare the house for Skjalg’s poker night with the guys from his group. I myself headed out to a dinner with my group. I would detail more of the experience myself, but my friend Charlotte shares a perfect account of the evening in her own blog post.

This week’s midterm is histology – which I am nowhere near prepared for. In fact, I don’t feel prepared for any of my classes, something which seems quite unfair considering that I do nothing but study. I’m sure I will start feeling better once I am partially into this little midterm exam period. For now I will just have to accept the anxiety and lack of sleep.

Study, study, study, study!

Shot from inside Instant – a ruin pub here in Budapest

At the end of the tunnel

November 1, 2012 § 1 Comment

The first round of midterms is complete and we are gifted with a four day weekend. This is our second long weekend this month and we learned the first time around that it comes with a price. In order to make up some of the classes missed during the four day weekend, we are expected to attend classes the following Saturday. This means a four day weekend, followed by a one day weekend, followed by a four day weekend, and finally a one day weekend. While it’s nice to have the long weekends, there is nothing at all pleasant about the short ones. The worst part is that on Saturday the 11th, we are to have our friday schedule. For those of you who have been following my blog, you know that this means that we get, not one, but two days of hell that week. Two full days with 8-9 hours of labs and only one day off to recover before the second midterm season begins is going to prove quite challenging.

Last Friday we had our biostatistics and medical biophysics exams. I find it really difficult to figure out a good study plan because you never really know how much of the subject they want you to know. It is common that they tell you to “follow the lectures” but then there are things that you aren’t sure about. For example, this portion of one of the statistics lectures: are we simply supposed to understand what a continuous random variable is or do we need to be able to reproduce the drawing and explain it in depth?

Biostatistics lecture clip

Or take for example this slide, from one of our medical chemistry lectures:

Medical chemistry slide

Its obvious by the dwindling amount of students that still attend the lectures that I am not the only one feeling a little lost. It’s a hard choice to make, whether to attend or not. We have a full course load – about 30 hours a week – and we are still expected to cover the majority of the material on our own time. It’s a bit painful to sit through a lecture that you are getting nothing out of knowing that you could be utilizing that hour or two more effectively at the library. I’ve never been the kind of student to skip classes or lectures, in fact, I can’t remember ever having done so before coming here. In all fairness, the only times I have skipped these past few weeks have been when I was too sick or had a midterm the following day. It’s not a habit that I want to keep and I would rather adjust my study tactics so as to get the most of the lecture as possible.

The statistics exam proved to be difficult to study for. We have no textbook, only a short manual written in technical yet grammatically challenged English. As our classes are to pertain to the medical field, we are approaching these subjects in different ways than I have before. When I took statistics at Santa Monica College, we never used a computer and instead spent the majority of the semester calculating probabilities, standard deviations, and making the graphs by hand. Here we are doing everything in excel and our goal is to be able to make a medical diagnosis based on statistical data. To study, I reviewed the lecture slides expecting that the information contained there would cover the theory portion of the exam. For the data portion, I went through the labs we had done and repeated the calculations. Finally, I attended the statistics consultation the night before the exam – along with 35 other students. The competency level in statistics varies quite a bit and I think one of the greatest difficulties for people is actually knowing how to use excel. I used excel a lot when I was working in Norway as a booking manager. I love organizing data and presenting it in charts and diagrams and would often use these in my weekly meetings. Being there for almost 3 years provided me with a lot of time to play around with excel – something I didn’t expect would help me so much now. It really is interesting to witness just how much of an affect previously unimportant things play out in the present. One thing I’ve learned since starting school is that nothing I’ve done these past few years was a waste of time.

The exam was a bit more difficult than I expected, but I finished it rather quickly. Sometimes I feel like I have taken so many exams that I know almost immediately whether I know something, don’t know it, or should come back to it. I do a lot of jumping around, knowing that it is useless to simply stare at the problem. There was a lot of arguing between some of the students and our professor. There were many claims that we had never learned this and never even seen that. It made for an extremely uncomfortable environment, especially when I knew that they were topics we had covered, even if only for a second or two. One of the calculations was mentioned in a small box in the margin of the statistics booklet provided by the school and the only reason I remembered it was because I thought it was cool (dork that I am). I once had a professor who based the majority of his exam questions on the small boxes in the margins. It was his way of testing how thoroughly you covered the material.

Medical biophysics was a whole different ball game. I had no idea how to prepare. I only knew that our professor was going to focus mainly on what we had done in our labs and that we should know how to do six of the homework problems. I reviewed the themes of the labs, practiced drawing diagrams that explained the topics covered, and did each of the homework problems so many times that I no longer needed to look up the equations or constants (which are given on the exam) to complete them. How did this work out? Brilliantly. The first thing I saw when I opened up my exam was that the calculations were almost exactly the same as the homework problems. There was one calculation that dealt with the eye and how the image projected on the retina depends on the distance of the object from the lens. For this calculation, we were also asked to draw the formation of the image – and this was one I knew very well. I had my pens handy, so I even drew it like this on the exam (maybe a little overboard…but at least it looked nice).

Image formation of a convex lens

Skjalg’s Dad and stepmom arrived on Saturday night and we met them after classes for dinner. It was a rainy, but relatively warm night – especially when compared to Norway – so we sat outside. Skjalg and I rarely go out to eat and getting to do so with family allowed for a much needed release. The chance to get our minds off of school didn’t stop us from overwhelming them with school talk – when you are in medical school it is like there is nothing else to talk about! On Monday we went to Pata Negra, a tapas bar located near Kalvin tér. Good company and good food 🙂

I spent all day Tuesday cramming for Latin, taking a break only to attend Hungarian and the medical chemistry lecture. For our exam we had to memorize 250 medical terms, 50 of which would show up on the exam. By the time night arrived, I realized that there were still 70 or so words I didn’t know. I then had to make the decision to stay home and study instead of joining Skjalg and his dad and stepmom for dinner on their last night. It’s times like this that I wish that there were more hours in the day.

Instead, my lonely night looked like this:


The Latin exam went much better than I expected. The most helpful study aid was actually making “sample exams” in excel. I made one column with all the terms in English, a second with the terms in Latin, and finally a third where I inserted the “random number” function. This function assigns a random value between 0 and 1 to the cell and it changes every time you make a change in the document. I was then able to sort the data in the first two columns in order of increasing or decreasing number (of the third column) to generate a randomly ordered list of terms. I changed the text of the Latin column to gray and then set it as far right as possible, so that it could be easily covered during my self-test. I ended up with about 5 pages of terms and after completing each page, I would go through and correct my answers.

Step 1: set-up in excel

Step 2: print only first two columns

It was very apparent how much this technique helped when I took the exam. Recreating the exam experience beforehand, and at a greater magnitude, made the exam itself so much easier to complete. I finished my exam in about 10 minutes and then forced myself to check my answers (something that is so difficult to do when you are done and want to leave). The professor looked over my paper and pointed out three small mistakes I had made – marking the gender as male instead of neutral and reverse. I’m sure many students took the opportunity to correct these small mistakes, but I told him that I wanted to stick with the answer I had put down – even with the knowledge that it was wrong. It was a tough situation to be in, but I reassured myself that I wouldn’t be satisfied with anything other than the grade I deserved – whether it be a 3, 4 or 5. In the end I was told that with a total of only 4 mistakes, all within genders, my grade was a 5. Yippee!

To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan and not quite enough time

October 17, 2012 § 1 Comment

It’s unbelievable how much there is to do and how little time there is to do it. I still have not figured out the best way to maximize the few hours that there are in a single day. There’s some secret…I just need to find out what it is.

This morning I asked one of our anatomy TAs how long it took her to feel like she had the hang of things. Her response: “I still don’t”. If I’m not mistaken, she is in her 3rd or 4th year – which means there is no hope! Our professor is still out of town so the head of anatomy visited us a second time. She pulled out the arm we had begun dissecting on Monday, looked at it and said, “what have you done here? Who told you to do this?” Without our teacher there to guide us through our first dissection, we didn’t really know what to do – and it showed. We had cut back the skin and cut away the fat and fascia, exposing the muscle. What we didn’t know was that there was a series of superficial nerves and veins that should have been preserved during the dissection. She was able to find two of the main veins still in the skin and exposed them so that we could see more clearly. Afterwards, we split into different groups: 4 or 5 working on the arm, 5 working on the leg, and then Jannie, Avneesh and I worked on a shoulder covered in muscle. Our task was to identify the muscles and then remove them to expose the joint underneath. One interesting thing we found out today is that our semi-final exam will utilize the very same specimens we are dissecting during our anatomy labs. The bags are labeled with our group number to ensure that it is the same specimen that we are examined on. With this knowledge I now know that all the theory and memorizing should be covered outside of lab and that the time I use in lab should simply be practice for the exam and familiarizing myself with the parts I have already memorized.

While dissecting, there is a lot of eye-watering and sniffling resulting from the formaldehyde. Sometimes it’s easier to tolerate than others. As the head of anatomy was helping at the other dissecting table, we who were standing at the other voiced our thoughts on the formaldehyde. There are times when I can get as close to the specimen as possible without any problems and others where I get a whiff that makes my eyes water so much that it is hard to see and that makes my throat tingle. So, my comment was, “Sometimes I feel like I’ve gotten used to it, but then I get a strong reaction and realize that I’m not”. Without looking up from the leg she was dissecting, the head of anatomy overheard this and took the opportunity to correct me. She said that I was incorrect because the body cannot “get used to” a chemical and then continued to explain the types of things that the body can “get used to”. It wasn’t the best feeling to be corrected in such a way, but at least I know not to say it again 🙂

My chemistry midterm was much easier to handle than I expected. There was one page of open questions (Le Chatelier’s principle, different acid base definitions, hydrogen bonding, ionic bonds, etc), one page with 13 multiple choice questions, and then four calculations. The calculations were much more difficult than I anticipated. I was able to answer two of them with confidence, but the other two (which were coincidentally worth the most points) were a struggle. I filled in as much as I could, wrote down formulas and set up the problems, but nothing past that. At one point I calculated that if I were to miss only two points on the parts I had answered and receive no partial credit on the two difficult calculations, then I would be looking at a 3. I’m not happy with that, but it’s an improvement from me initially thinking that I was going to fail.

The hardest part about this whole process is having no idea what is expected of you. The teachers vary greatly from group to group and there is no clear connection between the lectures and the labs. There is a great deal of information that is on the exams that we are expected to know from before. There is no one book that we are following, but rather a long list of topics that are presented to us and that we are expected to learn about in depth on our own time. I study all. the. time. and yet I still feel like I am way behind. All that says to me is that I am not studying in the most efficient way and that I need to set stricter time limits on specific tasks.

I was happy to find out that I got a 4.5 on my Hungarian midterm, though I would have gotten a 5 if I had remembered some accent marks and switched around two answers. Since the majority of my studying was done in the hour before the exam, I’ll just have to accept it with gratitude. Otherwise we have our Latin midterm next Wednesday and biophysics and biostatistics on Friday. Our homework in anatomy is a light load: learn all the joints and movements of the upper and lower limb, the muscles involved in these movements, their origin and insertion and any limiting structures, and the ligaments, nerves and vessels. This weekend is a long one, due to a Hungarian holiday, which means study, study, study. Even four full days off doesn’t feel like enough time!



Blog post title is a quote by Leonard Bernstein.

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