As a prospective medical student, you might want to know what it takes to succeed in medical school. AMA member Hannah Moser, MD, a first-year internal medicine resident at California Pacific Medical Center, is a year removed from graduating from Rush University medical school. She offered some insight on her undergraduate training.

Probably not. Some students with strong science backgrounds may begin medical school with a bit of a head start, but the lessons move at a furious pace. At some point, your knowledge surplus will become a deficit.

“Going into med school was intimidating for me at first because I felt that I had a class of students who were bio-chem majors, and my background was a little different,” Dr. Moser said.

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Why are you pursuing a career in medicine? Interviewers will ask.

“The first year, I felt, in some ways, I was playing catch-up. I think that feeling wore off pretty quickly. The volume of information and how much you have to learn, at some point, everyone ends up on equal ground. I made some really good friends with my classmates, had study groups, reached out to all my professors, tried to use all my resources to build my basic science knowledge.”

That question is best answered on an individual basis. Dr. Moser said that, when she started medical school, she “got lost in the mania of trying to memorize everything and making a million flash cards.” It’s what her classmates were doing. But she found that wasn’t the most effective method for her.

“I think it’s good in a limited way to memorize specific details,” she said. “I found for me it wasn’t the most effective way to learn. I learn much better when I start from the very basic and add the facts into a concept that I really understand. Without doing the reading and discussing with other people and building your framework, just memorizing facts gives you a tool you can’t use, even on a test.”

Communication is a big one. If Dr. Moser felt behind from a science vantage point, she had spent years working as a teacher and in social services before entering medical school. From that she had gleaned strong communication skills, which came in handy with patients.

“There was a lot about my background that has been really beneficial, coming from an education and liberal arts background,” she said. “So much of medicine was about being a good educator. Being able to relate to your patients. Figuring out how to communicate with them to make sure that what you learned actually came across in a way people are receptive to and understand what’s going on with their health. It’s a partnership.”

It may seem like medical school is one big pop quiz during the pre-clinical years. Once she started working with patients, Dr. Moser had a much different experience as a trainee.

“I loved the clinical years,” Dr. Moser said. “Once I got into third year, I really started enjoying medical school. You are involved with patients. You remember why you are doing this, which is to learn and help people. You get to interact with patients every day. It changes your frame of mind.”

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