Love & Medicine

On Dating Someone Else in Your Class

Rebecca Brenner and Brian Brady, M1s, before the Heart4Heart fundraiser for congenital heart defects

When I started medical school, I was focused on making friends in an unfamiliar city and not fainting during Anatomy lab. Dating a classmate was not on the top of my to-do list. In a class filled with talented, passionate people, however, it was hard not to notice my attractive classmate fearlessly traversing the City Museum and begging for sheep in a game of Settlers of Catan. While dating another M1 carries a risk of awkwardness and gossip, it is definitely worth it (in my experience). You’ll always have someone who understands why you’re freaking out over an embryology lecture or who can help you distinguish one cell type from another on a histology slide. Your significant other can even give you feedback on your physical exam skills! Plus, you’ll have free time during the same weekends and be able to plan dates to the symphony around Anatomy exams. If you find yourself falling for a classmate, don’t be afraid to throw caution to the wind and couple up.

— Rebecca Brenner (with fearless input from Brian Brady), M1s

On Dating Someone In a Different Class

Although much less common than dating within one’s class, dating someone outside of your class has all the perks of dating a fellow medical student with none of the downsides! Dating outside of your class introduces you to a social network of older medical students while allowing you to maintain friends in your own class. Having different schedules every day means that you and your significant other can lead independent lives but still share significant common ground. As a first year, dating a second- (or third- or fourth- year) provides a unique opportunity to get insight and advice to survive your transition to medical school. Dating another medical student also means that they’ll be fully aware of your responsibilities, and while normal couples have “date nights” multiple times per week, you can have the ever-so-romantic “study night” every day!

– Kevin Cohen, M2

On the Turkey Drop

The “Turkey Drop” is an unfortunate and insensitive term that refers to the fact that, for many students who were in a romantic relationship at the start of medical school, their relationship ends around the time of Thanksgiving. This is something I never thought would happen to me. I was wrong. It’s also not necessarily as swift or decisive as the name suggests — I suspect that many people who break up might end up reconnecting someday. Still, moving to Wash U from far away and entering the intense world of medical training is bound to put a strain on any relationship. Sometimes the even bigger strain is reuniting with your significant other and realizing that you’ve grown apart in the months you’ve been apart. Thanksgiving break is often the first time you see your partner after months apart. Thus the term, “Turkey Drop.” It can certainly come as a shock that the rest of the world changes and moves on while you’ve been fully immersed in your medical studies. Your mental image of how things used to be stops matching up with the new reality. Whatever happens, just keep in mind that the person you had a relationship with was an important part of your life and try to stay friends if possible. Who knows what the future may bring? A person can never have too many friends.

— Casey Drubin, M1

On Going to Class

I attend most classes, some mandatory and some optional. On average, this totals around 23 to 25 hours a week and includes lectures, labs and small groups. I find attendance at lectures useful because when it comes time to study for exams, I have been exposed to the material at least once already. I retain a lot of information from some lectures and very little from others. Although I have to review some lectures again because it was hard to pay attention in class or the concept was hard to grasp the first time, I find this method more efficient than skipping all lectures and watching the video recordings. (Side note: My habits in medical school are drastically different from those I developed in college. I used to skip all recorded lectures and watched them on my own time, so it’s definitely possible to change from a class skipper to a class go-er!)

— Louisa Bai, M1

On Skipping Class

Has it been more than six months since you have awoken up before 10 a.m.? Are you the type of person who likes to set your own learning pace? Did you major in philosophy? Don’t worry. The School of Medicine boasts plenty of opportunities for you to stick it to the system! Besides first semester (with its frightening, mandatory Anatomy labs scheduled at 9:30 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday), you will have a considerable amount of freedom in electing whether or not to attend class. I started skipping class from day one (I have yet to attend a single Molecular Foundations of Medicine lecture), and I turned out just fine (though some would argue otherwise). Don’t underestimate how productive you can be while watching lectures at two times normal speed, with the ability to pause at your leisure. And when classes ARE mandatory, it usually indicates you’re learning something useful. Don’t quote me on that.

— Michael Veshkini, M1

On Being an MSTP

So you’ve decided to join the No. 1 Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) community in the country? Congratulations on making one of the best decisions of your life! The program here offers a large and diverse class, a wealth of experienced faculty mentors and an immensely supportive administration (shout out to Brian Sullivan). You will quickly realize that there are no limits to your goals here; the school will fully support your interests in medicine, science and anything outside of your studies. At WUSM, MSTPs are hybrids who are truly valued for their different perspectives on medical and graduate training. About 20 percent of our class is in the MSTP program, and although we do have many MSTP-specific activities, we are still very well integrated with our MD classmates. Last but not least, get ready to enjoy countless free meals while hearing about exciting opportunities for research at our monthly seminars! Not enough, you say? Look no further than the weekly MSTP meetings and M1-exclusive journal clubs.

— Jad Belle, M1

WUSM MSTP boasts a large class, experienced mentors, and Executive Director/Resident Apiarist Brian Sullivan

On Being Highly Focused on Academics

In medical school, there are only two years worth of students (M1s and M2s) participating in student groups. This means that the executive boards of the clubs turn over every year, and first-year students are asked to fill leadership roles as soon as they arrive on campus. Most of my classmates were thrilled about the opportunities. I, instead, got overwhelmed. I’m the kind of person who studies really slowly and thoroughly, and I know it takes me some time to settle into a new routine. I opted not to sign up for anything at all. I put my name on dozens of listservs and attended events when they appealed to me, but I did not commit myself to any long-term responsibilities. That worked for me. I came here for the academics, so that’s my focus. I’m still involved and I very much still feel like part of the WUSM community. Now, I have a better sense of what I do want to get involved in and how much time I can really offer.

— Stephanie Tin, M1

Med school is a lot of information, and there’s no shame in fully throwing yourself into your studies.

On Heavy Involvement in Student Activities

As you may have heard some people say, medical school is like drinking water from a fire hose. I don’t think this phrase is entirely accurate. To me, that implies that students will inevitably become overwhelmed by the demands of classwork. Medical school is challenging, but it is by no means impossible — which is fortunate, because joining extracurricular activities in your free time will supplement your education and provide key outlets for self-cultivation. Indeed, WUSM offers so many interesting opportunities for research, shadowing, community service, activism and other non-medical passions that deciding what not to join can be quite difficult. Don’t be afraid to throw yourself into different groups. Simultaneously serve, for instance, as a volunteer for the Saturday Neighborhood Health Clinic, a leader for IDEA Labs, an editor for the Dis-Orientation Guide and an intramural team member. Just understand your time-management skills. Choose commitments wisely, and you will no doubt find the proper equilibrium between school, life and other pastimes.

— Alex Yahanda, M1

On Being A Man

Being a man in medical school is basically like being a man in general — awesome. Except now when you meet people you can impress them by saying you’re in medical school! The only problem is that most of the people you meet are also in medical school, so they aren’t quite as impressed. In fact, the only not so great part so far has been cutting into a pair of certain somethings in anatomy lab … you’ll see what I mean. Another thing: Even before you start class, people will ask for advice because they know you’re going to medical school. But, I only knew the name of like three bones and only because they’re the ones that my star fantasy football players kept breaking! So my best advice was to get a front loaded contract with a lot of guaranteed money. Anyway, I guess what I am trying to say is that I’ve noticed there’s no real increased pressure or burden that comes with being a man when you’re in medical school. In fact, sometimes it feels like we get a lot of respect and trust before we’ve necessarily earned it. But, you’ll begin to see that’s a fortunate experience that not everyone shares. It’s important not to take that for granted, but to strive to earn respect and live up to that responsibility.

— Griffin Plattner, M1

Med school is a lot of information, and there’s no shame in fully throwing yourself into your studies.

On Being a Woman

Being a woman in medicine introduces a unique set of challenges that add to the complexity of navigating womanhood. Washington University School of Medicine allows us to explore these issues, seek resources for guidance, and take comfort in the support of an amazing community. For example, the school’s American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA) organizes talks, mentorship and networking events to promote diverse voices of women in medicine and to discuss key issues such as salary, leadership and work-life balance. In addition, we have the privilege of being surrounded by advisors, professors and fellow students who are wonderful examples of wise, empowered women. I encourage you, as future female physicians, educators and researchers, to freely construct your medical experience around one of the most essential parts of your identity. In your own path to success, you might just find yourself making the field of medicine — and the world in general — a better place for women.

— Jane Wang, M1

Women of WUSM support each other through the challenges of med school.

On Being LGBTQIA+

As a queer woman, I definitely felt some trepidation about attending medical school in the Midwest. However, I have felt nothing but acceptance for my sexuality from the WUSM community since getting here. Our school’s LGBTQ med group is easy to get involved with, open to everyone, and has amazing leadership. Through this group, I was able to attend the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association Conference, which was an eye-opening and wonderful experience, within weeks of starting classes. Counter-intuitively, the time when I felt best about my decision to attend school in the Midwest was on the night of the election this past November, when Missouri and other states in the region voted to elect an openly anti-gay Vice President. Throughout that night and the following few days, I was devastated, but the primary thing that gave me hope and made me feel less alone was the overwhelming support and love that I felt from the WUSM community.

— Devon Camp, M1

On Having a Family

While there are few WUSM students who have children, there are plenty of great things that WUSM and St. Louis have to offer families. For support and navigating the experience of being a medical student and a parent, the Washington University Medical Center Housestaff Auxiliary (WUMCHA) is a great resource. Also, there are many kid-friendly and free attractions here in St. Louis. For instance, my daughter loves the Saint Louis Zoo and the Saint Louis Science Center. Along with these great resources, the first-year curriculum will allow you a substantial amount of time to figure out how to strike a new balance between being a parent and a medical student.

— James Gross, M1

Just because you’re a med student doesn’t mean that family life has to fall by the wayside.

On Having a Pet

Pets make good companions and, at times, nice study partners.

There’s nothing like having a warm (read: furry) body to go home to at night. Or having that same body sit on your chest and demand to be fed at 7 in the morning. Or lying over your laptop while you’re writing an email and helpfully pressing “send” for you. Or literally eating your textbook while you study. Medical school is one of the best times to have a pet! A furry (or scaly, or hairy, whatever floats your boat) companion is there for you at the end of a long day, gives you unconditional love and provides the right amount of distraction, plus you will also feel more adult and pat yourself on the back when you are scooping litter or walking your dog. If you already own a pet, don’t hesitate to bring him or her to medical school with you. St. Louis has plenty of pet-friendly apartments!

— Catherine Xu, M1

On Being Vegetarian

Don’t let the pork steak and spare ribs fool you. Alongside its popular barbecue scene, St. Louis has many vegetarian restaurants to ensure you’ll have more to eat than just salad. If you’re between classes on campus, grab freshly made sandwiches and wraps at Kaldi’s Coffee in the Farrell Learning and Teaching Center or pop outside and walk to the food trucks for portobello tacos and spicy tofu rice bowls. A short drive from campus, Lulu’s Local Eatery, Tree House, Seedz Cafe, SweetArt and Frida’s specialize in vegetarian dishes that often rotate by the season. Craving vegan sweets? Order a batch of Tree House donuts and SweetArt cupcakes. If you are in the mood for ethnic cuisine, Meskerem (Ethiopian), King and I (Thai), Everest Cafe (Nepalese, Korean, Indian) and Gokul (Indian) are delicious options. Lastly, Small Batch, Rooster’s and Winslow’s Home have veggie-friendly brunch menus, perfect for a weekend break.

— Eunhye Oak, M1

On Being Alcohol Free

Being alcohol-free is an added layer of complexity to the conundrum of balancing academic and social life in medical school, but it is essential to remember that fun does not hinge on consuming alcohol. I have been so lucky to attend a school where I am surrounded by amazing classmates who constantly organize exciting non-alcoholic activities such as salsa dancing, hiking, apple picking and camping. The possibilities are endless. I also have come to realize that I am not alone in my opinion that movie nights are sometimes the best ways to spend a Friday night! Furthermore, I have attended many events involving alcohol and have never once felt self-conscious about my choice to refrain from drinking it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking for that cold refreshing glass of water or ginger ale in place of alcohol. Just be open and strong in your values and trust yourself; your friends and classmates will appreciate your perspective.

— Shahroz Fatima, M1

On Mental Health

Don’t let anyone fool you. Medical school is challenging — mentally, emotionally and, possibly, physically challenging, depending on whether you are planning to train for that marathon you signed up for. Adjusting to a new environment is difficult enough. With the addition of a heavy academic course load and the new responsibilities that are thrust upon you, it’s easy to isolate yourself and lose sight of why you came and then fall into a downward spiral that can be hard to overcome. The great thing about WUSM is that its administration understand and recognizes the amount of pain you are going through and have resources and opportunities to support you throughout your journey as a student. There are two really amazing staff psychologists. They are incredibly easy to contact to set up an appointment (and they also don’t charge alot). All of the professors and advisors are open-minded and understanding. If you need to talk, they are always willing to sit down with you. Rest assured, there are many people here who care about you and your wellness. You are not alone.

— Michelle Chung, M1

On Being Black

Wherever you choose to matriculate (with exceptions), you will likely be one of a handful of black medical students in your class. Though this currently holds true for WUSM (work in progress), the administration works hard to surround you with faculty, students and a community that supports and welcomes you. So far, I have been pleasantly surprised by the openness of my peers and faculty to engage difficult topics that impact us as minorities. I haven’t experienced any overt or covert discrimination or racism by those affiliated with Washington University, and there are avenues in place to ensure a positive and affirming environment for everyone. Additionally, as a black medical student here in St. Louis, you will have many opportunities to work, live and play within a large black community. For more information, please feel free to reach out to the Office of Diversity Programs, the Student National Medical Association (SNMA) or myself!

— Georges Guillaume, M1

On Being Caucasian

It’s undeniable that race impacts how you interact with the world. Working at Barnes-Jewish Hospital is no exception and is a learning experience for students of all races because of the diversity of patients they will encounter. Gaining someone’s trust as a white (Caucasian) medical student can sometimes require additional sensitivity because of the history surrounding WUSM and the St. Louis community. Overall, don’t be shy about talking to any patient or applying any of the knowledge you have gleaned in your medical coursework, but still be open to hearing about new experiences and social histories that may be unfamiliar to you. Some helpful skills are being a good listener, trying to understand how someone else’s experiences may impact their worldview and even understanding that in many cases you cannot fully appreciate someone else’s worldview. If you make this effort, not only will you help your patients, but you yourself will grow as a result of your interactions with patients.

— Casey Drubin, M1

On Being Hispanic

When I was asked to write about being Hispanic at WUSM, I thought it would be difficult. To be honest, I have truly found only one Hispanic foods market (it’s called Carniceria Latino Americana) and I miss the plethora of Hispanic foods available at home in California. As I started writing this, however, I also realized that within the first few weeks of medical school I was translating Spanish at a free health clinic. I realized that the fear I had that I would not be able to find a community in St. Louis was never a real issue. WUSM has many groups that will allow you to continue being involved with the Hispanic community while also being able to share your background with an amazing group of people. For example, WUSM has a Latino Medical Student Association chapter and a MedSpan club. Another great way to be involved is volunteering as a translator with Casa de Salud, a clinic that serves uninsured patients. When I first arrived at WUSM, I complained about the difficulty of finding Tajin (my favorite seasoning), but when my new classmate went out of his way to find Tajin in St. Louis, I knew I was at the right place.

— Monique Chavez, M1

On Being Asian American

As a Bay Area native, St. Louis has significantly different demographics from where I have grown up. Asian Americans are almost always a minority, no matter where you live in the United States, but there is something particularly jarring when moving from a place with many Asian Americans to one with appreciably less. In the bubble of the hospital campus and your medical school class, it can be easy to become complacent and forget issues surrounding race. If you want to get involved, our Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association (APAMSA) chapter here and at another local medical school, is active in holding health screenings and fairs around the city, including the Chinese community center, a few of the Korean churches and Asian grocery store parking lots. Most people will tell you the better Asian food is concentrated in an area along Olive Blvd. and they are absolutely correct, although there are a few exceptions here and there. And yes, there will be times someone will stop you to ask where you are from (no, where are you really from?).

— Michelle Chung, M1

Asian American women of WUSM are always ready to dazzle.

On Being Conservative

School, and medical school in particular, should be a time of growth, and growth does not come from being comfortable. WUSM is like many other universities in that the conservative voice tends to be in the minority. At times this can be challenging, but that challenge is a good thing. Being surrounded solely by people who agree with you tends to foster group polarization without necessarily grounding ideas any further. There is nothing inherently wrong with leaning right (or left) as long as you have a strong enough foundation to support your beliefs. Being a conservative at WUSM means that you will frequently meet people who come from a completely different point of view and so have arrived at quite different conclusions. If you are careful to be respectful of others, then I think you will find your experience here to be enjoyable and transformative.

— Mitchell Lynn, M1

On Being Liberal

If you come from a liberal background, it may be tempting to regard Missouri as only a solidly red state on the border between the solidly red South and the more-or-less red Midwest. Yet moving here rapidly reveals that things are far more politically complex! You will probably find that individuals at WUSM itself tend to be more left-leaning. Missouri has a long history of Democratic governors and a Democratic Senator. Events two years ago in Ferguson and one of the closest races for a national Senate seat during this past election (featuring the Democratic candidate putting together a rifle blindfolded!) have also placed Missouri at the center of some of the most important policy and political battles of our day. I would recommend keeping an open mind, trying to learn as much as possible about the different political perspectives you are likely to encounter and becoming involved by advocating for liberal policy ends in the community. Living here provides a lot of opportunities to support issues ranging from reproductive health rights to Medicaid expansion to social justice, and there are many valuable organizations right here at school that are driven by WUSM students. Change must happen in places that need it, so welcome to Missouri!

— Ioana Florea, M1

On Being Religious

Whether you belong to a religious group or are exploring your spirituality, WUSM has a great network of support for you. Medical school can be an emotionally and spiritually challenging time and having a safe environment to share about your worries can be crucial to your spiritual and personal development. It’s easy to find churches, temples and synagogues around the city. We also offer a number of student groups to help you connect with other students of similar faith:

  • Atma is a student group for Hindu students and organizes activities such as visits to the Hindu Temple (Danforth Campus).
  • The Catholic Student Center (CSC) provides a supportive environment for students of all faiths to gather, serve, pray and relax together.
  • Christian Medical Association’s (CMA) weekly fellowship offers Bible study, worship, discussions with attending physicians and other health professionals, and other fun events. Our first year class also developed a weekly faith and prayer group, which is a nice way to reflect on God’s role in our medical education.
  • Jewish Medical Student Association (JMSA) connects Jewish students to faculty and other students, plans holiday celebrations, Shabbat dinners and learning lunches.
  • Muslim Students Association (MSA) fosters friendly interfaith relations and conducts social and religious activities (Danforth Campus).

— Jimmy He & Catherine Xu, M1s

On Being Non-Religious

To be frank, if you are non-religious in medical school, you are most likely in the majority. That being said, many of your classmates will come from a variety of religious backgrounds, and you will have some chances to stick your toes in the fray if you so desire. As a future physician, depending upon your specialty and where you choose to practice after you graduate, you will probably encounter a good number of patients who come from some sort of religious background. With that in mind, I would suggest making at least somewhat of an effort to learn about the beliefs and practices common to particular religions. It could be helpful to both your patients and to you one day!

— Michael Veshkini, M1