Osmosis Contributor Spotlight: Benjamin Longwell, 3rd Year Medical Student at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine

Thasin Jaigirdar
Apr 15, 2015

Benjamin Longwell is a Third Year student at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. He received his Bachelor of Sciences in Biology with minors in both Chemistry and Philosophy from Washington College. As part of our Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Open Education Resource Initiative, he serves as a contributor in many of the Osmosis question packs.

How did you discover Osmosis, and why did you want to get involved with it?

I discovered Osmosis as I entered into my third year of medical school. Several of my friends had mentioned that they were using it to great success, and after checking it out I really liked the learning interface and had wished I had discovered it sooner.  At this time I also discovered the opportunity to write questions for Osmosis which was an immensely attractive because I learn best by applying knowledge, and it's an opportunity to really increase my knowledge base.

How did you get interested in medicine?

I was always good at science, but where I really excelled was the application of it (physics is boring but building a catapult is not; true story). I never had one specific moment when I realized I wanted to be a doctor, rather after a while I realized that I was alway most comfortable dealing with medically related topics or looking at the medical application of something I was learning.

I officially decided that medicine was right for me about halfway through college. I started shadowing a radiologist and orthopedic surgeon and loved every minute of it. After that I took the plunge and applied to medical school. I got accepted on January 13th (a Friday oddly enough) and haven’t looked back.

What has been your favorite block so far in medical school and why?

Medical school clinical rotations are in my opinion far superior than the preclinical years. My worse days on rotations were still better than being confined to a classroom or trying to understand a concept that is far too complicated to be ever conveyed via bullet points. As for what rotations I have enjoyed, so far there have been several. OB-GYN and emergency medicine were awesome rotations because there was a lot of acuity and the specialties were procedurally oriented. Anesthesia is fantastic because it is combination of physiology, pharmacology, and procedures. Furthermore I love the challenge of talking to someone in their most stressful/scared moments and earning their complete trust all in a time span of 5 minutes.

What are your goals going forward after medical school?

My goals have shifted numerous times over the course of medical school. I flipped-flopped between trauma surgery, emergency medicine, gastroenterology, and pretty much every other specialty there is. But after quite a few rotations and one or two existential crises, I decided on Anesthesia for the following reasons:

-I need to see the immediate effect of my treatment; the concept of “take two of these and call me in the morning” is my idea of hell. Anesthesia is pretty much as immediate as you can get (i.e. succinylcholine and desflurane).

-The short but very intense physician-patient relationship. After all, it is the surgeon’s job is to fix the problem. It is the anesthesiologist job to keep the patient alive. They are literally trusting you with their life for a few hours, and I find the weight of that responsibility immensely satisfying.

-Procedures (i.e. lines, blocks, and airway management)

-It’s basically applied physiology and pharmacology. So while there is a lot of quiet thinking and tinkering throughout the case, you also need to be able to act very quickly in a crisis.

What tips do you have for undergraduate students currently applying to medical school?

Medicine is not just a science, it is an art that needs to be learned by experiencing it first-hand and being able to weigh in and think critically about medical issues. The practical application of this advice for a pre-medical student is READ!!! Anything and everything regarding medicine. There are several very good physician writers out there (I personally like Atul Gawande and Siddhartha Mukherjee) who do a great job of weighing in on thought-provoking topics in medicine. Secondly, get out and shadow physicians. Any and all clinical experience you can gain is invaluable to your application.

You don’t have to be a complete social butterfly to enter into medicine, but you do need to be able to talk and relate to people who are vastly different from you. Being personable and empathetic are not simply personality traits, they are definite skills that matter just as much to being good physician as being able to diagnose and treat disease. The only difference is that a guide to learning the former cannot be found in a book. So the practical point of all of this for undergraduate students is to go out and talk to people who you may not normally talk to. It doesn’t matter if it is at a bar over a beer or two or at a volunteer event. Being able to instantly establish that human connection with someone is a skill that will serve as a huge asset to you when you are applying. An admissions committee already knows that you are smart, what they are looking for is to see if you are generally good-hearted person who can effectively communicate with people and convey compassion and empathy as well as medical knowledge.

What advice do you have for incoming first-year medical students?

Four key points:

  1. Pathoma, First-Aid, and a question bank from Day 1.

  2. Realize that medical school is good for teaching you the clinical application of basic science, not necessarily the basic science itself. In my experience and from talking to other medical students, the material taught is either extraneous minutiae that is really not relevant to a medical student, taught in a confusing and disjointed manner, or more often than not a combination of both. In that vein you should have a very low threshold for abandoning the in-house lectures and studying for understanding on your own. I can honestly that if I could do it all over again my last day in anatomy lab would have been my last day in class. I focused far too much on studying what was covered in the lectures and doing well on the in-house exams then I did on actually understanding the material in a broad sense. Ultimately you need to study in a way that works for you, totally independent of what your school or your peers tell you. Because you have to live with your board scores and carry them into a residency interview, they do not.

  3. Medical school is hard. Never forget that. But never forget that you were accepted for a reason. I failed by first medical school exam and was freaking out more about the fact that I failed than anything else. You have to develop a form of cognitive dissonance that allows you to abandon your fear and focus on/enjoy the process and transformation that is taking place. Once you can do that it gets a whole lot better.

  4. Learn to love it.

What would you personally like to see changed with how medical education is currently run today?

Some medical schools pride themselves on “teaching you how to be a doctor, not teaching you how to pass a board exam.” This a great idea in theory, but somewhat flawed in practice. A subtle point that some medical education administrators seem to be oblivious to is that in this day and age without an substantial board score, the chances of you getting a residency in a moderate to highly competitive field are close to naught. But at the same time I would not want to go to a school that only taught to the boards, after all I did come to medical school to learn how to be an excellent doctor, not just an excellent test taker. So what is a possible middle ground? I would like to see a medical education spend 75% of the lecture time teaching exclusively to the boards or even taking a hands off approach and simply giving students access to commercial board preparation material . This is what would be tested in the traditional multiple choice format. With the other 25% of time bring in speakers who can talk about the clinical application of the basic science, and/or have monthly interactive sessions where groups of students can work up clinical cases under the direction of clinical faculty.

I think there is a culture of fear among 3rd and 4th year medical students. The fear I speak of is the dreaded “fear of being wrong” because “it will make me look stupid.” This needs to change. Being wrong has taught me far more about medicine than being right. The purpose of the clinical years of medical school is to serve as a buffer period wherein you can see how the first two years of medical school applies to actually taking care of patients without the risk of hurting anyone. Embrace this opportunity wholeheartedly.  Keep in mind that every wrong thing you vocalize and are corrected on is a subtle reminder to your future intern-self on how not to accidentally hurt or kill a patient.

What is your best study-tip for Medical School?

Study for understanding not for the grade. The fact that you got a 97% on an exam is of little comfort to the patient who is actively crashing. As important as it is that you know board related material well, you need to leave time to be  intellectually curious; when you are studying allow your mind to wander to some extent and read up on the things that you either don’t understand or find really cool.