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!

How to revise more effectively + FREE Spaced Repetition Study Schedule









This is it, you decided to study ahead of time for that big exam, no more cramming in the last 3 days to get an average or below average grade. Besides, a week later it’s like you did a wipe on your disc and all the information is gone.

Not this time, you will knock it out of the park, you’ll remember everything because you’ll study with enough time to revise and polish your weak points. So, how do you start? How much is enough time to study for a test? How often do you have to revise your notes? How can you be able to memorize everything?

Around 140 years ago Hermann Ebbinghaus, a German psychologist was dealing with these same issues, well, maybe not the same, but he was wondering, how much we forget in a lapse of time; he experimented on himself, and the results opened a door to many more investigations around memory and human learning.

What is the forgetting curve

He attempted to discover the rate of forgetting meaningless material and also significant (meaningful) material during the first thirty days after it had been learned.  Determining the amount of information that had been forgotten during the following intervals: 19 minutes, 65 minutes, 8 hours, 1 day, 2 days, 6 days, 30 days.

This can be graphically represented in a curve as the percentage of information lost over time when there’s no reviewing process involved.

Have you ever wondered how long does it take to forget something we just learned? Ebbinghaus had the same question and answered it.

 

What describes the typical forgetting curve

We start forgetting newly learned information around 20 minutes after reading it, and more than half of the material is forgotten during the first hour. After that, the curve tends to lower at a slower rate.

What?! There´s no way! How can I stop this?

It is pretty doable, by getting ahead and revising the materials before we completely forget them.

So, if you are the kind of student that stocks on huge piles of information and goes class after class, taking the first one for granted, let me show you a more effective way to study without having to spend much more time.

 

Why is the forgetting curve important

If we take advantage of how our brains work, we can use this forgetting curve in our favor.

Turns out, that forgetting is part of learning, if we don’t forget, and feel the need to get that piece of information back, our brains don’t take it as relevant.

If we get our efforts back on the subject we learned yesterday, the path to get it in front of our heads will easier.

Think of it as a path that hasn’t been transited enough and it’s on the other edge of the grass, the more often you go through it, the easier it will be to get there. That’s kind of how our memory works.

 

How to overcome forgetting

It is not about forgetting, it is about remembering before we forget the whole thing, and by doing so build stronger learning.

There is a method called spaced repetition, taking as a base the forgetting curve to work for us. Keeping in mind the amount of time in which the data in our brains gets lost, we can actively revise our knowledge, if we need to use it, we will remember it.

The spacing means that on crescent time intervals we will have to study again, 1 day after, 3 days after, 6 days after, and then 25 days after the first time we studied the material.

 

How to remember newly learned information

Make sure you understand the piece of info laying in front of you, a mechanical memorizing of terms won’t do the work. Try and recognize where it comes from and how do the parts of it stick together.

Take concise notes of your material, and make questions to work with in future revision sessions. This is a habit that some students don’t have, prepare for the exam since the first study session.

Make possible exam questions, this gets your brain to work by reconstructing the information into questions.

 

When to review and how to do it

The day after your first study session on that subject, before you jump to the next one, do a quick review of what you’ve learned yesterday, take a quick read to your notes.

After reading your notes, answer the questions made by yourself on that first study session and get a couple more questions to work with, this is active learning.

Think about a problem you could solve with this knowledge you have, recite step by step how would you solve the problem with what you’ve learned.

For example, while learning about the knee ligaments, our professor mentioned the clinical application to it and how the soccer players were prone to have lesions in this specific area.

So, in my head, I would have to examine a patient and with the anatomy knowledge I have, decide whether a certain movement on the knee is natural (based on the disposition of the ligaments) or if it’s a sign of lesion.

This is how spaced repetition works, you should practice this active review 1 day, 3 days, 6 days, and 25 days after your initial study session.

 

How to study with flashcards and implement spaced repetition

The first time I ever heard of the Ebbinghaus curve and spaced repetition was on a Youtube video by my favorite study guru Thomas Frank, he explains in a very simple way how to get the best out of flashcards with a system that works.

Putting on different boxes the cards you have successfully remembered, and the ones you failed to remember. Therefore focusing your efforts on the cards you didn’t get right. You’ll need around 5 boxes to have different intervals of time to revise each group of flashcards.

Best apps for spaced repetition system

If you like to study with flashcards, there are plenty of apps really helpful to create your flashcards and have them with you to review anywhere and anytime.

– Anki: the best feature of this app, is that it comes integrated with your forgetting curve system, it shows you the material you need to review based on the last time you revised each flashcard successfully, you just have to create your flashcards, review them and let the app do its magic.

– Memrise: it has a more attractive design than Anki and you can customize better your flashcards, plus there is a wide variety of Memrise cards that other users have created and are available for you to use.

– Quizlet: the process of creating flashcards with this app is the easiest, you got definitions included for a wide variety of subjects, and by simply typing a term you can choose content that is already on the app for the back of the card.

 

How to apply spaced repetition in college

It all comes down to time management, make a list of all the topics you need to study, then calculate how much time will it take you to study each one, if you have 20 topics to cover for an exam and it will take you 3 hours each one you’ll need 60 hours to study everything for the first time.

If you add 2 hours of revision (half an hour for every day you need to review) that sums up to 100 hours of total study for this exam,

3 hours of a first study session  

 

 

X 20 topics = 100 hours

30 minutes the day after
30 minutes 3 days after
30 minutes 6 days after
30 minutes 25 days after
Total study time per topic = 5 hours

 

You can use your study time however works best for you, take notes of the date you studied each topic the first time, and from there calculate when will you have to review it next time.

I’ll make it easier for you, you can download my free study schedule based on spaced repetition, this is by far the most effective way to remember everything to study.


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Just set the date you should study each topic counting the days from the first lecture, and write it down on the grid, check off when you’ve successfully reviewed on time and keep track of your study sessions.

If you like this kind of resources let me know and I’ll come up with more ideas. Enjoy your learning!

8 Tips to Successfully Study with your Kids Around









 

As challenging as getting a degree can be, nothing is more demanding than a baby, when these 2 come together it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and think about leaving your career to focus on raising your kids.

But if you organize your time wisely and train your kids so they understand your study sessions your academic goals are reachable. It is possible to study and raise your kids, many women have done it, you wouldn’t be the first nor the last to do it.

Here I’ll show you simple tips you can implement in your daily routine to be able to study with your kids at home.

This post contains affiliate links, which means I’ll earn a small commission if you buy an item from one of my links, at no cost to you.

 

1. Have your kids’ needs fulfilled first.

Let’s face it, if your toddler is bored he’ll come right away to your legs when you grab the books and pens, those boring stuff can’t get all of mommy’s attention!

So, make sure your babies are fed, clean, not tired, and have their favorite toys around to keep them entertained while you are up to your study sessions.

Also, you’ll have to study in small bricks of time, and give attention to your kids in the breaks. Talk to them and let them know that you’ll have to go back to study and will play with them again in a little while.

This could be a really good thing for both of you, they’ll later understand that you were studying, and it’s a beautiful example to give them.

 

2. Take advantage of Naptime

Ah, the sweet sound of toddlers’ dreams. You’ll have to use these moments of calm to get your best study performance, don’t dwell on planning what to study at this moment, don’t procrastinate “I’ll just check Instagram for 5 minutes” you know they won’t be 5 minutes.

Naptime is your moment to study without interruptions, if you can skip breaks or make them super short it’ll be better, maximize your productive time.

I used to take naptime to clean and thought I’d be able to study after cleaning, but guess what… You’ll always find something else to do!

And when you finally get to sit on the desk naptime is over, and they have energy for hours on!

 

3. Set a schedule and stick to it

As a student and as a mom having a steady routine is essential to achieve your academic goals and have your home in balance.

If you have a big test coming next month don’t wait until the last week to cram up on information! Study a little bit every day, get little study goals to come along the way, as a mom you can’t afford those cramming sessions of 12 hours straight of study!

Plan ahead all the topics you’ll need to cover and tackle each one at small study sessions through the day, it could be 90 minutes before the kids are awake, 60 minutes during naptime, and 90 minutes after they go to bed.

If you are consistent you’ll reach your desired results, play along with the time until you find the most convenient to your family dynamic.

 

4. Make it a habit

Kids love routines, this gives them a sense of safety, make sure they know exactly what to expect from you when you are in a study session. If you always study at the same hour in the same place, having your kids at a safe sight they’ll eventually get used to this habit of yours.

They’ll know that if needed you’ll be there for them and that you are giving your attention to something else for a few hours but between breaks mommy can play along.

5. Set up your almost perfect study environment

Have your desk with everything you need at reach, you have a really small department and don’t actually have a study space? Check out these ideas that could be helpful.

Can’t focus on your study with them running around, laughing, and yelling? You have 2 options, cancel the noise while staying in the room with them at sight, or go to another room and use a baby monitor.

  • Headphones: This is a great alternative if you can study with music, you can control the volume so it is loud enough to blur the noise but soft enough to hear a ‘something’s wrong yell’. My favorites have always been Skullcandy, these are wireless, have a battery life of 24 hours, also are noise canceling, and right now they’re 50% off!

  • Earplugs: you can use these to completely cancel the noise, but you’ll have to make sure to check up on the children with a quick look every once in a while, preferably have someone else at home, to be aware of the kids while playing. Mack’s Dreamgirl are specially designed for women, they’re super soft and at a very low price for the high quality you’ll get.

(image source: amazon.com)

  • Baby Monitor: this is the best option for your kids’ safety when you’re not around, you can have the babies and toddlers at sight from anywhere in your house while focusing on studying. This one is very high quality, what I like the most about it is the 2-way talkback option, you can talk to them if they need something while you’re busy; it’s also very helpful if you’re training your baby to sleep in his room.

6. Have people around to help

You can ask dad to have a day out in the park with the kids once a week, this will give you at least 3 extra hours to focus on studying, if going to the park is not an option, ask him to just play with the kids around the house for a couple of hours so you can study.

If daddy is not available can someone else babysit your kids for 2 hours? A family member? A friend? Or hire a nanny. Make sure you trust this person enough to take the time and unplug from house chores for a bit and just focus on studying.

 

7. Put in some extra work

You knew from day one this wasn’t going to be easy! But I know you have what it takes to achieve it, the simple fact that you’re looking for ways to be able to study with your kids at home is a hint that you have the motivation to do it.

You have to put in the effort, be disciplined; if you used to wake up at 7, now wake up at 5 and have 2 extra hours to study, change the Netflix binge for a study binge when the kids are asleep.

Think about the big picture, you want your degree and this is worth it, you’ll be tired and it will be hard just for 4 years at most, does it look like a lot? Break it down to seasons, 3 months of hard work, and then it is winter break you’ll get some rest.

 

8. Don’t be so hard on yourself

You didn’t get the grade you wanted? It’s fine, the fact that you made it to the exam being a mom/wife plus having a part-time job is a huge victory!

Focus on learning, not on the grades, take this opportunity to prove yourself that you can achieve goals that to others may seem impossible.

People will unintentionally discourage you, I’ve been told I was insane to even try to study, raise my kids and have a part-time job at the same time, that I’d get sick, that I should better wait until the twins were at school to continue my career.

Don’t listen to negative people, only you know your limits and your strengths. Only you know how disciplined you can be.

Be your own cheerleader! Cover your walls with motivational quotes, surround yourself with positive people, listen to inspiring podcasts, whatever ignites your energy to study, stand up when you fall, and keep going.