Reflecting on Medical School
Published on Oct 23, 2020. Updated on Oct 13, 2020.
Osmosis Medical Education Fellow, Alex Hurtado, reflects on his start to medical school hoping to provide support for incoming and current medical students.
Can you share your path to medical school?
My mom always says, “Don’t forget to enjoy the journey. It’s not all about the destination.”
This is especially true for medical school. My path to med school has been a wild journey filled with many moments I never would’ve imagined possible just a few short years ago.
I’m extremely grateful to be where I am today. As a first generation Latino medical student, I truly had to pave my own path into med school. I never knew the recipe for becoming a physician, and throughout my journey, I constantly felt lost and overwhelmed. However, my resilience, eagerness to learn, and strong support system kept me going.
What was your view of medical school before starting and how did it change after a year?
I knew med school was going to be tough, but I am still amazed by the volume of material we’re expected to handle/master on a daily basis. I’ve been through so many weeks that I thought were never going to end. These times required me to be disciplined and motivated. I’ve learned to just take it day by day, and enjoy the process. Becoming a doctor is a grueling process that requires you to stay positive amidst all the ups and downs.
Did you have a “Welcome to Medical School” moment?
I’ll always remember the first cut I made in the anatomy lab. We were dissecting the superficial back. It was all so surreal. I knew that I was about to embark on a journey that would change me forever. It was invigorating to say the least.
What are some things you really enjoy about medical school?
I love med school. I thrive in an environment where I’m constantly pushed to be the best that I can be. Everyone is so driven and wants to have a positive impact on others. My class is super collaborative, and we all want to see each other succeed. The College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific (COMP) at Western University has a great sense of community that is down to Earth, motivating, welcoming, and supportive.
We go through so much together, and it really does feel like one big family. With regards to the classes, I genuinely enjoy what I’m learning. The human body is crazy, and it’s truly mind-blowing to know how much it took for me to even be alive and able to share my experiences with you.
What were some things you struggled with during your 1st semester?
Time management was definitely a struggle at first. During the intensive summer anatomy course, I had daily lectures from 8-12, dissected in the anatomy lab from 1-5, spent an hour sitting in traffic on the way home, then had to find time to eat, workout, study, and prepare for the next day. It was a recipe for burnout if you didn’t figure out a way to stay healthy, both physically and mentally. Eventually, I became more efficient with my time, and I developed healthy lifestyle habits too.
Describe how you balance your academics between your family, social, and personal lives.
One of the hardest parts about med school is having to say, “I can’t, I have to study,” more than you’d like to. Sometimes it can feel like med school keeps you from enjoying life outside of school. I’ve had to miss plenty of fun trips and nights out to study. Nevertheless, I’ve also had some amazing times that I’m so glad I said yes to; they may have cost me a few test points here and there (worth it), but the memories were far more valuable than a weekend spent indoors staring at a computer screen. For me, it’s important to not let school completely take over my life.
I’m juggling so many things all at once, but I’d like to think that I have a healthy balance. I live at home, so I get to see my parents on a daily basis. They are understanding of my schedule and have always been incredibly supportive. Socially, I make an effort to maintain my old friendships, while embracing new ones.
Personally, I pay close attention to my mental health and know when I’m burnt out and need a break. I think it’s very important to take time off when you need it. For example, I take Friday nights off, and I make time to take my dog on a hike every weekend. Also, I never study while I eat because I love food and try to enjoy each meal to the fullest. These breaks allow me to recharge and regain mental clarity. I stay balanced by just doing what I love and being present in the world around me.
If you had to describe medical school so far in three words, what would they be and why?
Humbling: You’ll never know everything. The body is intricate and the medical field is perpetually evolving. You’re just a med student, and you’ll constantly be reminded of how much you still have to learn. I remember one of our clinical professors saying something along the lines of, “In medicine, excellence isn’t celebrated- it’s expected.” In this profession, it’s all about the patient. You must be selfless and humble in your endeavors.
Marathon: You’re relentlessly pushing yourself to exceed your potential. You need to take breaks when you need them, and it’s important to reward yourself when you succeed. In a field that is characterized by delayed gratification, you have to be proud of your accomplishments along the way. Whether you’re learning how to do a full history and physical, or mastering the autonomic nervous system, you’re learning how to practice medicine and that alone is awesome.
Invigorating: You get to do some awesome things that only a small percentage of people have the privilege of doing. Med school is full of first experiences and adrenaline rushes. You will connect with people on a different level, and you will have the chance to positively impact the lives of others.
What is something you learned about yourself during this semester?
I’ve learned to really trust my gut and be confident in my abilities and knowledge. Nevertheless, I’ve had plenty of moments where things didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. I’m often hard on myself at times like these, but I’ve learned to recognize that this is a lifelong journey where progress is a daily theme. I celebrate the small victories and see every failure as an opportunity to learn and grow.
What advice do you have for those applying this cycle and waiting for interviews/acceptances?
This is a humbling process. Set your ego aside. There will always be people with a more “impressive” application than you. That being said, don’t let your metrics define you. Focus on what makes you unique. What do you have to offer and what will your future patients admire about you? You’re selling a product, and that product is YOU. Work on your writing because it is a very powerful tool that will allow you to market yourself and charm your readers.
Do everything you can to confirm your desire to go into medicine. It’s a long road. You don’t want to waste your time and money pursuing something you’re not completely passionate about. There are easier ways to make money, jobs that require less schooling, professions that allow more independence and time for family— just make sure you’re in it for the right reasons.
With regards to building connections, there’s a saying that goes, “Your network is your net worth.” You should embrace any opportunity to learn from someone who has done it before. Stay in contact, maintain your relationships, be thankful, and don’t burn your bridges. You’ll be surprised by how small the world gets once you start forming your professional network. Find mentors and form life-long relationships with them.
I’m very grateful for my mentors and professional network because they’ve helped me get where I am today, and I know they will continue to facilitate my growth as a physician. Lastly, I believe that everything happens for a reason. Stay positive, be confident, and trust that you will end up exactly where you’re supposed to be in life.
Alex Hurtado is a third year medical student at WesternU COMP. He is most interested in specializing in Neurology. In his free time, Alex enjoys taking his dog for hikes, traveling, going to concerts, and considers himself a foodie._________________
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