Feb 8, 2012

Advice From a Third-Year Medical Student, Part II

Editor’s note: Two weeks ago, Lakshman Swamy, an MD/MBA candidate at Boonshoft School of Medicine at Wright State University, shared some advice for other students that he picked up after his third year of medical school. Not just for medical students, the advice touched on humility and the urge to complain. More than 1,000 readers have viewed the post, which you can see here.

Now Lakshman presents Part II of his advice and, again, wants it to be clear that he has made ALL of these mistakes. No one is perfect, he says, but being conscious of these mistakes – and this advice – helped him grow throughout the year. Take it away, Lakshman:
Here are four more great pieces of advice I picked up during my third year in medical school:
1. Don’t Slander. Don't talk badly about other students or, well, anyone. There will be plenty of opportunities to do so because you will see people violating all sorts of rules and you will be infuriated by it. You’ll see other students slinking away and getting days off to study on flimsy excuses – or coincidentally getting all the best cases and the least of the scut work. Ignore it all. Focus on doing the right thing and creating the best image of you. Be an upstanding citizen, ignore what others do, and have a clear idea of your own expectations and stick to them. In doing so, you will stick out and look fantastic – and deservedly so!
2. Put Yourself Together. Don't look like you slept in the hospital even if you actually did. Take care of yourself because you WILL look unprofessional when you don't – and it is very obvious. You will forget things, drop things, make mistakes that affect your team and your patients, and it all ultimately reflects on you.

3. Be a Great Learner. As difficult as it is, don’t be solely focused on tests and grades. You will have a much better time if you try to learn what you need to know because you see it as your own responsibility, rather than trying to pick out the test questions. If you allow yourself to be geared toward that objective goal (the next test, the boards, etc.), you will cement that way of thinking for your entire career. There are two problems I see with this:
  1. You miss out on the depth of the information, and when atypical problems arise, you will be less equipped to deal with them.
  2. You’ll be miserable.
You’ll always be looking for some future challenge that needs to be surpassed, and you won’t be able to relax and experience what is happening right now, and to excel in the moment. I’ve personally missed out on things that I would have been so excited to be a part of because I was more concerned about the upcoming quiz or test.

4. Be an Asset. Be dependable to your team. Run to get data for them and really try to know everything about your patients – just trying will pay off. As Eric Greitens said in his keynote address at the IHI National Forum last December, your strength can come from knowing others rely on you. You'll be amazed at your energy and capacity when you feel like you are an important part of the team. Relish the basic chores you have to do – don't consider them beneath you.

As a student, you’re often the first one to meet a patient and gather their story. Long after you present it, knowing those details can really come in handy and make you look fantastically on top of things. One example: Recently on call, the residents were handed a new patient with a surgery. We were walking to the patient and the residents blanked on some of the details of the case. I had done the H&P, knew everything about that patient, and saved them the hassle of logging into the EMR to get the details. Little things go a long way.

- Lakshman Swamy, MD/MBA Candidate, 2013, Boonshoft School of Medicine at Wright State University