Currently in Medical School

SUNY Upstate Medical School Student
Colette Piasecki-Masters '18

What did you do to prepare for med school?

There are the obvious tasks that every pre-medical student needs to check off their list (pre-medical classes, MCAT, letters of recommendation, etc). At Ithaca, you are very lucky to have an incredibly supportive and helpful Pre-Health team and Career Services Department. Take advantage of them! They can help you make an action-plan to build your application starting from day 1! (side note: Make sure you schedule your MCAT months early (seats and locations fill up fast) and give yourself the time to implement your well thought-out study plan. I took mine the winter break of senior year and studied the summer prior, knowing I had planned in a gap year to receive my scores and complete my application). Here's a general rule: Your GPA/MCAT score gets you the interview, your authentic and enthusiastic descriptions of your extracurriculars during the interview get you the spot.

Aside from these critical application features, below are three features I believe prepared me best for the rigors of medical school and the profession:

1. My third summer of undergrad I became a nursing assistant on an elective orthopedics floor. This was my first clinical experience and I loved every moment of it. Many of my friends were EMTs. Find an opportunity that will allow direct patient contact and interaction with the healthcare team. It's vital to know the other healthcare professionals scope of practice (and this will also enable you to justify to yourself and others why an MD is your goal).

2. I can not stress the importance of seeking out and maintaining relationships with people you admire. Whether you meet them in person or you found them online and reached out to them, keep in contact. They will provide encouragement and opportunities that would not be available to you otherwise.

3. I prioritize self-care. For me, this means sleeping ~8 hours per night and exercising for an hour a day. You may think you do not have time for these things, but you do. This is completely necessary to staying sane and keeping your brain functioning. Many get to school and think they can work 12 hours per day and end up burning out. Start prioritizing self-care now so you can practice your time-management skills in a lower-stress setting!

Describe your day-to-day life in and outside med school?

Classes are generally 8 am-4 pm (with a half day Wednesday at SUNY Upstate). I always attend group sessions and lab time, though I have started watching lectures online. Sometime in the day I go to the gym/a park to run. At the end of the day, I return home, eat, spend time with my fiance or friends, then complete a few more hours of work before bed (~2-3 hours). About once or twice per week I schedule myself a clinical or volunteer experience (to remind myself why I'm studying so much in the first place...). Soon, I will be starting in a research lab, which will probably be a couple of hours per week. After classes, I take Friday completely off and, depending on the week, sometimes Saturday too! Occasionally I go home to visit my parents or visit other friends, but usually I'm a vegetable and sit at home reading/watching TV or spending time with friends.


Is there anything that you wish you would have known before entering med school? Is there anything that you’d go back and do differently?

1. You may have imposter syndrome and it's completely normal. In fact, everyone has imposter syndrome. Just know that everyone in your class has multiple strengths and weaknesses. This diversity is a wonderful thing, since it means you will be able to learn so much from each other. What about that one woman who seems like she already knows everything? She was already a Physicians Assistant. Or a lawyer. Or has a PhD. True story, these are all people in my class. Don't be too hard on yourself.

2. It was a surprise to me how much time is spent in class, after having it so good in undergrad. Just be mentally prepared for that.

3. I loved my gap year and I'd highly recommend everyone take one (or two or more!). This will really be the last chance you have to do something random and unrelated to your degree for a long time. Also, this will allow you to get everything prepared prior to you starting, since you need to be ready to hit the ground running. Good luck!

 Andrew Rodenhouse '16

Life in Medical School @ Penn State

What did you do to prepare for med school?

 At Ithaca:

During my last semester at IC, I spent a significant amount of time studying for the MCAT. Taking multiple practice exams was most helpful for me. Classes at IC gave me a strong foundation for both the MCAT and many of the basic science courses the first year of med school itself. During the application process, I was lucky to have multiple IC faculty and members of the pre-health committee help critique my personal statement, give me advice on applying, and prepare me for interviews. In addition, the research experiences that I gained while at IC also prepared me well for the research responsibilities and opportunities that awaited me in med school.   

After Ithaca:

            After graduating from IC, I was lucky to get some hands-on experience working in a clinical setting. I worked at my local hospital as a tech doing things like taking vital signs, removing casts / sutures, and more. It gave me an opportunity to work with patients and see first-hand what a career in medicine actually looked like. Taking time to work in this role was really important because it solidified my desire to pursue medical school and I gained confidence working with patients.

Describe your day-to-day life in med school?

First and second year:

            During the preclinical years we studied the basic sciences (cell bio, biochem, immunology, pharmacology, microbiology), anatomy, and organ systems. My typical day during these years would be: work out in the morning, go to school for a few hours of lecture / lab, and then study on my own during the afternoons / work on research. The preclinical years are more similar to undergrad in that you have a certain degree of flexibility in studying when you want. With the exception of mandatory lectures, my schedule was pretty open to study on my own time, and most lectures were posted online. I would try to front load my studying so that I could relax on weekends. Depending on the organ block, I would have more or less free time to do other things.

Third year

            Now on clinical rotations, my schedule is much busier. It really depends on whatever clinical service / rotation that I am on. For example, I might be at the hospital from 4am to 8pm on a surgery service, but only 9am-1pm on a medical subspecialty service.  The general flow of most services is the same though. Med students typically arrive early and help the interns with “pre-rounding”. Basically, this involves seeing a few patients in the morning, gathering data from the past 24 hours (vitals, acute events, etc), and preparing for rounds. Then the senior residents and attendings will arrive and the team will “round” together and see patients for the day. On a surgery service, this might take a few minutes to an hour before the ORs start, but on a medicine service this might take most of the morning. After rounds on a medical service, students typically write notes and help the residents with other things (consults, obtaining outside records, following up on labs, etc). On a surgery service, students generally just observe in the OR, but depending on the surgery you may get some practice suturing and “closing” at the end of the case. At the end of the day, the residents will release us and I’ll study that night for the next day in addition to studying for that particular rotation’s exam which will happen at the end of the block.

Describe your day-to-day life outside of med school? 

            Outside of med school studies, I enjoy the same hobbies as during undergrad: running, biking, working out, throwing the lacrosse ball, tennis, hiking, fishing, hanging out with friends / family, traveling. Med school has definitely been time consuming, requiring many sacrifices. That being said, if you are efficient and keep up with studying, there are plenty of opportunities to maintain a good work-life balance and to continue pursuing interests outside of medicine. 

Is there anything that you wish you would have known before entering med school?

            I think I wish I would have known all of the different study materials available earlier in my med school career. There are some great review books, videos, and a flashcard app (Anki) that I did not come across until after first year had ended. They became my main study source second year and I wish I had known about them earlier. 

Is there anything that you’d go back and do differently?

            If I could go back and do something different, I wish I would have had more time to travel before starting med school. I was accepted into school off the wait list (just about a month before classes started). When I found I got accepted, I went on a trip to Europe with my older brother for a week or so. This had been my first experience traveling abroad, and if given the chance I wish I could have spent more time traveling. I would definitely recommend taking time to do things for yourself such as traveling when you might have more flexibility before going back to school if given the opportunity. 


Update from Med School (Melissa Beinlich, '18)

1.     What did you do to prepare for med school?

I went into my freshman year at IC, knowing that I wanted to go to medical school. With that in mind, I looked for experiences that I could do over school breaks and the summer that would expose me to the medical field as much as possible. As an undergrad, I had the opportunity to work as a Hospital Aide in an emergency room where I could speak with physicians to learn more about their day to day responsibilities. I also made sure to shadow as much as possible. With the help of my advisor, I shadowed emergency room doctors as well as pediatricians (two areas of interest for me). Through these experiences, I gained even more exposure to what a physician does every day. During my gap year between my time at Ithaca College, and when I began medical school, I worked as a medical scribe, which was probably the most valuable experience to date. I was able to make connections with physicians, some of whom wrote my letters of recommendation, and learned a lot clinically as well. With that said, another essential thing to keep in mind is making sure you are doing well in your coursework, especially those pre-requisite classes for medical school. Your grades will come up during medical school interviews, they hold a lot of weight, and schools do look closely at them!

2.     Describe your day-to-day life in med school? 

If I had to sum up my day to day like in school in just one word, it would be busy! Typically, my week consists of 3 days, where we have classes from 8 am-5:30 pm (with an hour and a half break for lunch) and two days where we only have 4 hours of class. On those half days, we are encouraged to meet with professors, reach out to local doctors to see if we can do preceptorships (essentially shadowing), or have things like simulation labs or time with standardized patients scheduled for us. 

Right off the bat, it does seem like a considerable amount of time is spent in classes, and it is. For some of my classmates, they chose to study during the day and then watch our recorded lectures at night from home since we have optional attendance. For me, I like to be in class so I can discuss things with my classmates and ask the professor questions as they come up. I also feel like there are a lot fewer distractions in class than at home, but it’s nice to have the option based on your learning style!

3.     Describe your day-to-day life outside of med school?

A lot of my time outside of school during the week involves studying. One thing I try and do every day is set aside an hour and a half once I get out of class to watch TV and make dinner. On weekends, I also block out time to hang out with friends and go to the gym. Believe it or not, finding time for self-care was the most challenging part about the transition to medical school. You see your friends studying and doing work all the time and feel guilty for taking that time to do fun/non-school related things, but with planning, you can find time for yourself and the things you enjoy.

4.     Is there anything that you wish you would have known before entering med school?

I can’t say there was anything I wish I knew before entering medical school. One of the great things about shadowing physicians and volunteering in hospitals is that I had a good understanding of what physicians do. Also, as a medical scribe, I frequently interacted with medical students and residents, so I had the opportunity to hear their experiences and ask them questions I had about the process.

5.     Is there anything that you’d go back and do differently?

If I could go back and do something differently, it would be to take classes like genetics, cell bio, or microbiology. While they were technically not pre-requisites for medical school, a bunch of my classmates had exposure to that material before coming here, which made the first few months a little bit easier for them. As we transition into the more challenging content now, it seems that most of us are currently on an equal playing field in terms of not having seen the material in undergrad or master's programs. Still, I wish I would have taken a few more of the higher-level sciences while at Ithaca.