At the cusp

Before I was actually a medical student, I was asked a very pointed series of questions in an interview for medical school. I like to think of myself as a good interviewee, and rarely do I get a question that leaves me at a loss. Since I am nearing the end of my basic science curriculum portion of my medical education, I thought it might be relevant to share my thoughts.

The questions were in this line of thought, about two-thirds of the way through the interview:

Interviewer: You are starting medical school, and after the first quarter, you find yourself in the bottom 10% of your class. How would you proceed?

Me: I would look at my study strategies and try to find a method better suited to my strengths.

Interviewer: Good. So let’s continue this scenario. You change your study habits for the next quarter. Time passes and at the end of the quarter you again find yourself at the bottom 10%. What would you do?

Me: Again, I’d look at my performance and assess what I did this quarter and compare it to the first quarter. After that I’d try and find a study method outside of these first two approaches I took and apply it to hopefully better my scores.

Interviewer: Ok, so you try that. Again, the quarter passes and you’re in the lower 10%. How would you approach the next quarter?

Me: (at this point I’m stuck. I can’t say the same thing for a third time. I’m sitting there and I know he’s looking for something, but I just don’t know what. I can’t leave too big of a pause, though, because that’s just awkward.) Well, again, I’d reassess and figure ou-

Interviewer: You tried that. Is there anything else you’d do or think in our scenario?

Me: (I know I missed it, but I have to say something) I think it’s important to learn from the mistakes I made and try new things until I figure something out.

Interviewer: Yes, very true. (moves to another topic)

It’s not something I think about every day, but from time to time I remember that scenario. Now that I’m at the end of my basic sciences and have mulled it over enough, I think I understand what he was getting at.

I think he was trying to make a broader point about having the wisdom to tell the difference between things you can and cannot change. The ideal third response in that interview, I’m pretty sure, would have been something like: “Well, if I’m trying my hardest and am still in the bottom 10%, maybe I should continue working hard and be happy that I’m passing.”

The point being made by the interviewer was that it’s important to be happy that you’ve passed rather than to be happy that you’re in a certain standard deviation of performance on a test. In other words, be happy about getting through medical school rather that beating other people at a numerical game. The metric you choose to measure yourself against should be internal, not external. External metrics can be references to what is possible; internal metrics are those you are aiming to beat.

I think my time in the basic science curriculum at SUSOM certainly made me realize that, and I am better for it. As my time on the island is swiftly coming to an end, I have been focusing my hardest on overcoming my personal limitations when it comes to test taking. Specifically, I’ve been building my stamina of focus so I can be as sharp as I can throughout a 5-6 hour testing period. I definitely notice improvements. Anyway, as far as preparation for the USMLE1 and NBME Basic Science SHELF ago, I’ll have a separate post after outlining what I did and what I learned.


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