Some closing thoughts

Both my heart and my head are heavy with a mixture of emotions: joy for both myself and my classmates for our completion of basic sciences, sadness for the diaspora of Saba that we are soon to become, fear of the unknown trials and tribulations of clerkships, and excitement for what the future holds for us all.

Today was our graduation ceremony from basic sciences at SUSOM, and it was a symbolic halfway point in my – in our – pursuit of a medical degree. Initially, I really thought the exit was the halfway point, but, pomp and circumstance aside, the ceremony was a fitting embodiment of the culmination of 19 months of dedicated, directed education. It was sweet, short, and to the point. It served as a reminder that, despite our work and our success on the exit examination, we still have the USMLE and the daunting two years of clinical rotations ahead of us. 

Those daunting two years of clinical rotations are really what I’m looking forward to. At this point, I know it sounds silly, but if someone were dying, and the only way to save them were to take a multiple choice test, I would be the best able to save them with full confidence. However, that is not reality. These next two years will lay the foundation for my real clinical skills. The next two years, in essence, are the reason I chose to go into medicine: to make a real, direct difference in people’s lives.

In less than 48 hours,  I’ll board a plane and never see this island again; if I do see it again, it will be years from now. Although I have said this many times before on this blog, I would like to reiterate it one more time. In the last two years, I have seen myself change and grow and learn in ways that I had not thought possible. I have strengthened myself mentally and prepared myself for the challenges of medical practice. It has been a pleasure undertaking this process alongside those who share similar aspirations and goals. For those of you in my semester reading this, I thank you for the company and support provided during our journey on the island together.

In a post I made during my first semester, I said that when I looked out onto the horizon, the clarity between the sky and the sea showed me how focused I was; some days it was hazy, and the sky and the sea seem to blend into an homogeneous blur. Some days the sky and the sea were distinct entities entirely, vividly demarcated by the horizon. Now that my time on Saba has drawn to a close, I definitely see that distinct separation. The sky is cloudless, pristine, and clear. The sea is brilliant, with rolling waves of ultramarine. The future is bright and bold.

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The conclusion of my time on-isle

On Wednesday, December 3, 2014, I took the exit examination at Saba University School of Medicine, also known as the NBME Comprehensive Basic Science Shelf.

The last 4 months were spent preparing for both the exit and the USMLE Step 1. Now that the exit exam is done and I’ve successfully passed, I can take the Step. I was pleased with the mark I received on the exit, and I know if I put in another month and a half of work I can really sharpen my knowledge base.

In completing the exit exam, I finished my 5th and final academic semester in the basic science portion of my medical education. My next week will be spent packing up the last 19 months of my life and flying back home to Louisiana.

There are many places and sources of advice on how to prepare for such a colossal exam, so I’ll keep mine brief. Firstly, you need to know yourself. Only on an existential level do you know what you know and what you don’t. After that, it’s simple: systematically address your weaknesses until you have as few as possible.

Personally, I knew I was a variable test taker. I knocked the socks off the SAT but did average on the MCAT. This was my personal weakness. So, every day, I tried to simulate testing conditions and pressures so that I could increase my capacity for focus. This was rough, but I am very proud of myself for the improvements I made. Every morning, at the same time, was the same ritual, the same breakfast, the same pre-question formula sheet, the same number of questions.

Every Saturday (except for when we had exams), I would do 4 blocks of questions. The first time I did this, I was mentally fried after the questions. I couldn’t do anything else that day. By the time around, I was able to review some of the questions the same day of the test. Eventually, I was able to focus for the whole exam, do well, and review all the questions in a single day, albeit from 8AM to 5PM.

The sources I used varied, but I liked:

  • First Aid 2014
  • Kaplan CV Physiology
  • BRS Path, Physio, Pharm
  • DIT
  • Sketchy Micro
  • Slides from courses (best if profound review needed)

Without a doubt, the bulk of my studying came from questions; thus far I’ve finished both the Kaplan question bank and the USMLE-Rx bank. I’m saving UWorld for when I get back home.

So that’s that. Now for a long awaited break.