Lessons I learned from my first year of medical school as a mom

“Good luck on that” with a sarcastic tone was one of the comments I got after saying I had enrolled in medical school when my babies were less than a year old. We don’t need anymore negativity than what our heads are already throwing at us.

That’s part of the reason why I started this blog, to show any woman out there who needs to hear this that you are not the only one, it isn’t impossible, many women have succeeded in their careers and families at the same time.

It won’t be easy, but it is possible!

Here’s what I learned in my first year of medical school full-time mom and student.

I have a little disclaimer to make, because I live in Argentina and medical school here is a little bit different than in the United States.

We don’t have to go through pre-med courses (getting a bachelor degree) in order to get into medical school. Instead it will take you 6 years to complete medical school. The first three years are biomedical subjects, biology, histology, physiology, biochemistry, pharmacology, pathology, etc.
Then 2 more years of clinical subjects, as internal medicine, surgery, gynecology, etc.
And a last year of in hospital medical rotations as an intern, going through all the branches of medicine.

So as I understand it, according to the classes I took in my first year which were Biology, Anatomy Histology… these are the equivalent of a pre-med course in the US.

1. Being a mom at school is more common than I thought

There are many more student moms than I thought. In my introductory course pre-pandemic february 2020, I got to meet a couple of fellow student moms.

I felt a little relieved to know that I was not the only one doing this, because so far the only way I had to know that there are more women out there on the same path as me was through internet.

2. I can’t do it all and it’s perfectly fine

At the beginning of the year I was working part-time as a waitress, studying and taking care of my babies. I was doing okay for the first couple months, got one month of lockdown where I was fully taking care of my online classes and babies, there where some months where I was working and studying, I added a little spice to my dish in August, when I started this blog. A lot going on in my life and I could only keep it up for a little longer.

Things got crazy somewhere around October I was forced to quit my job because I refused to work 11 hours a day, every other day. I had babies waiting for me at home, I got to see them awake only for 2 hours, it wasn’t fair for any of us.

A part of me was relieved because I wasn’t feeling comfortable anymore at my workplace, but after the first week of unemployment my head was all over the place, my grades were already dropping, I was feeling like a failure, I felt demotivated, a part of me wanted to go get another job, but deep down I knew that it would be just too hard to find something that would adapt to my partner’s and I schedules.

Classes were already very demanding and I had failed a couple of exams, getting a new job would be a stressful situation that I wasn’t ready to go through.

I really wanted to be this superwoman that could manage it all family, job, studies and having toddlers all day long at home. But I couldn’t and that’s fine.

Now I understand I had too much on my plate, I didn’t look for another job, we made some budget adjustments and my partner’s income was able to cover all our expenses, I took a break from blogging, and focused on saving my year at school.

I almost didn’t make it, but I passed all my courses. I don’t have to prove anything to anyone, I just have to keep my babies happy and pass my classes, after that I’ll do some writing as a part of my creative relief. I do want to monetize this blog but that’s not haunting me, I’ll just take it one step at a time.

3. I am not the same student as 5 years ago

I have already been in medical school, back in Venezuela where I was born I pursued my career until my family was no longer able to sustain me. I decided to leave my country because I didn’t want my parents to choose between eating or sending me money for school. Yes, it was that heavy.

I used to study very early in the morning, I’d wake up at 4 a.m. a little before my roommate was going to bed. She was the best, made me coffee when I got up, to make me a human again, and I did the same for her at noon.

Now I can’t wake up at that time, I have tried it, my eyes just close after 10 minutes in front of the computer. So, I have to study throughout the day when my kids are playing safely, clean, fed, and where I can hear them. Sometimes during naptime, and at night after they’re asleep.

I stay up late and wake up when I’m fully rested or babies wake me up, which is around 9.

Also I used to make these beautiful notes with drawings and details, I have no time to do that, I did try to do it again because it was the only way I had ever studied, until now that I started using Anki.

I am currently taking a leap of faith, I have a huge exam in 20 days and it will be the first time I’ll rely solely on digital flashcards (Anki) I trust their spaced repetition system, I feel more engaged in my study sessions because I’m talking, explaining the subjects to myself, like the real oral test will be.

4. There are no right or wrong ways to study.
Learning isn’t a straight path

Last year I got into this studygram world, so motivational, encouraging, beautiful notes, perfect schedules, very long study sessions, I related to my previous student self, only devoted to study. And got caught in it for a while.

The thing is that not every student is the same, not everyone learns by writing, or reading and highlighting and re-reading notes, not every student has the time to keep a notebook for every subject and that’s fine.

I understand that learning is what I make of it, if I’m approaching a textbook with the idea that if I don’t highlight, or take notes from it I won’t learn anything I won’t be fully focused on it, I won’t be engaged with the material; instead if I read textbook actively, thinking how can it help me better understand a coming lecture, there’s less pressure on me. I will be more open to the words, I’m not looking to get all the information from a single source at a single study session. I’ll learn from reading, hearing, participating in class, making my flashcards, taking some crucial notes and explaining in my own words complex concepts.

On a side note, I wrote a post about getting the most of your textbooks and how to read them more effectively, you can check it out here.

Learning can be a combination of many study methods or a single one, whatever works for me in that moment if can successfully explain it to someone in my own words I know I am learning, whatever path led me to that knowledge.

I am experimenting with study techniques, and that variety is keeping the spark alive between medicine and me after almost 10 years of marriage, with our ups and downs.

5. Done is better than perfect

If I just get 1 hour of study on a particular day I consider it a success, even though a perfect study day for me would be studying 6 hours, there are days that I pass on the opportunity to do a quick review when I get the chance maybe 15 minutes to study, those first 15 minutes build the momentum, there are rare times when I only get to study 15 minutes in a day, I either do more than an hour in several sessions through the day or nothing at alI.

I’m currently reading a book ‘The Compound Effect’ that talks about how these little actions we choose to do on a daily basis eventually change our lives even when we can’t see the change in short-term vision.

It’s okay if you don’t get through all your study goals, if you just get to sit once a day to focus on studying no matter how long or short the time you’re already succeeding by building the habit to study every single day.

6. Feeling like quitting somedays doesn’t mean you don’t have what it takes

I’ve struggled a lot, I’ve cried, got frustrated and even looked up other careers, something easier, shorter, more flexible, I always come back to where I belong.

Because when you love something so much, when your reasons are authentic, there’s a greater value that you won’t get anywhere else but by doing what you chose to do as a career, nothing will fulfill you like pursuing that dream.

Even if it gets painful hard, you’ll know you made the right choice when after the storm of uncertainty and doubt on yourself has passed you’re still in love with that future you draw for yourself. Feeling like quitting doesn’t mean you don’t have what it takes, it means that you’re so deeply involved in your passion that you want to get it right no matter what, and even consider change instead of failure on that path you chose.

Because, let’s be real, we don’t feel like quitting when things are going smoothly (unless you aren’t truly passionate about your career and feel like quitting because you’re bored) when you’re passionate about it you’ll get so overwhelmed at the sight of imminent failure that you’d rather steer the wheels than failing at achieving your goals.

Take a deep breath, remember why you started and that old saying ‘This too shall pass‘ you’ll be back on track again.

This ended up looking more like a motivational speech than I thought, I hope you find it useful or at least entertaining. And keep up the good work!

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