Learn how real students navigate their way through the medical school admissions process and med school itself with our What is Medical School Really Like? series.
Meet Ashley, an MS4 at PCOM
Ashley, thank you for sharing your story with us!
Which medical school do you attend? Any favorite classes?
Ashley: I attend the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine – Georgia Campus in Suwanee, GA just outside the Atlanta metro area. My favorite class by far was our Microbiology section – I love learning the different disease processes and how they affect all populations from children to adults. Microbiology mixes symptomatology, pharmacology, pathophysiology, and culture perfectly to me.
What personality traits do you have that make you well-suited for this career path?
Ashley: I would describe myself as a naturally happy and energetic person that loves helping other people. I think that helps me see more of the positive sides of medicine: the success stories, the service, and the lifelong learning. Plus we get to help patients and their families through some of the worst moments of their lives. There is something rewarding about the service aspects of medicine. Contrastingly, if we are being honest, there are dark sides of medicine (i.e. losing a patient, hospice care, being sued for malpractice, chronic disease management, etc.). I am also fairly empathetic so those aspects do affect me but I am usually able to focus on the positive.
What bumps did you experience along the road to medical school acceptance?
Ashley: Like so many others, I struggled with physical sciences, especially Organic Chemistry. When I took it the first time, I did not have a firm grasp of the material and risked failing the course. At the halfway point I decided it was best to “save my GPA” and start fresh in the Spring. I dropped the course but met with the professor to create a plan for the next semester. In the meantime, I identified a tutor and worked on a study schedule in preparation for my second attempt.
I think we all struggle along the way but the key is to never give up and prepare diligently when you hit a roadblock. It helped to stay focused on a path to success instead of dwelling on my potential failure.
What do you wish you had known about your medical school before starting out?
Ashley: I wish I had asked more about clinical experiences and board studying. When you are in your first two years of medical school you study a lot and spend most of your time in the books. Then you prepare for boards. As a student, I wish I had started boards-style questions from day one. Also, while coursework is beneficial, there is nothing like connecting with real patients and realizing why you started this journey.
Ask about clinical exposure opportunities and board scheduling during your interviews.
When were you first given opportunities for patient encounters during your training? Were you pleased with the division of classroom learning and time with patients?
Ashley: Throughout school, we have always had standardized patients that helped our training. For me, I cannot get enough patient interaction as I love the patient-physician aspect of medicine.
Was the workload more or less strenuous than you had anticipated?
Ashley: You never know what you are getting into until you experience it yourself. I heard all throughout undergrad that “medical school is hard” and “I have no life outside of medical school.” For me, undergrad was difficult during certain semesters and manageable during others. Medical school was different, as every detail is important and every topic is layered upon. There is never a true “off day” in medical school. Once medical school started I have been going full speed.
How do you find time to pursue your own interests outside of school and to maintain important relationships?
Ashley: I truly believe you make time for what you care about. For me, my family is invaluable. I give them a lot of priority in my life – when I can. This is not to say I haven’t missed important family and friend moments because of medical school. If you name it, I have missed it: birthday parties, funerals, the birth of a child, weddings, engagement showers, etc. The sacrifices you make for a medical career are often but I make it up to my family and friends by making sure I schedule time for them.
For example, I often have a 15-30 minute commute to and from my rotation site depending on the month. During this time I always call my mom. She levels me, keeps me up-to-date with the news, and summarizes any family updates. Similarly, when I am in the grocery store I am either texting or calling one of my good friends. While I type these questions, I am laid over in Baltimore awaiting my flight home. Ultimately, when I am at work – I work (i.e. no calls, texts, social media), but when I am outside of work I balance my personal life and my medical school studying.
You recently returned to blogging after taking a hiatus to focus on your studies. Your new blog features a new name and new content from your previous blog. How are the two blogs different? With all of the demands on your time, what motivated you to take on this project?
Ashley: Balancing it all is tough but I love helping others. Even without my previous blog (Daily Medicine), I was regularly receiving inquiries for questions and mentoring. I decided to start blogging again as an outlet and a way to give back. There were so many times during my hiatus that I Googled a medical question and no answers were readily available. I think that means there is a need for new answers and that is how my new blog, Dr. Ashley Roxanne, will differ.
This blog will be more based upon the subjects I am personally interested in as opposed to the Daily Medicine Blog which was more focused upon others’ passions and questions.
What is a typical day like for you?
Ashley: I actually have an article here, that details a typical second year schedule for me. I feel that is most indicative of a medical school student’s schedule. My schedule in 4th year and even 3rd year was vastly different because each new specialty requires different hours. For example, on my surgery rotation, we had to pre-round and thus I woke up at 4am every day and never left the hospital before 6pm. On other rotations, I did not arrive until 9am and left at 4pm. Each preceptor and/or resident is different as well and some want you to perform different responsibilities. Thus, medical school students have to be flexible and open-minded – their schedules can change nearly day to day!
Do you have any study habits that sound crazy but really work?
Ashley: I do not know if this is “crazy” per se, but I saw a drastic increase in my grades when I started utilizing memory palace as a studying and memory tool. Basically the idea is if you want to remember a concept better you should try to link a new topic to as many permanent memories as possible. This is the principle popular companies like Picmonic and SketchyMedical utilize to help students remember more detailed facts. It really changed my rout memorization skills and I recommend it to all my mentees who struggle with condensing details into their memory.
What keeps you motivated?
Ashley: For me, I look at my parents and family members and all they have sacrificed for me to be in this position. From a young age, my parents did their best to nurture my love for science and encouraged me to always give back to others. Those two passions led me to consider medicine, and once I started shadowing doctors in undergrad, I was hooked.
I stay motivated by thinking of my ancestors – I am literally their wildest dreams. If they can achieve what they did despite their circumstances, I too can overcome my struggles to achieve my dreams and fulfill my purpose. Isn’t that the ultimate American dream? I love that concept of pushing through adversity and striving for success.
If you could have a 25th hour each day, what would you do with it?
Ashley: I would cuddle up on my couch and watch old Alabama & SEC football games on YouTube. I love analyzing highlight reels of football while in bed after a long day and I’m preparing to fall asleep. Bonus points if I get to get some ice cream too.
What field will you do your residency in? Have your career goals changed since starting medical school?
Ashley: I have always loved primary care especially the continuity of patient care, rapport you build with your patients over time, and the various cases you are exposed to. The relationship you build as the “first line of care” for a patient is invaluable. I matched to a Family Medicine program this year and begin residency training in July. Nothing would make me happier than being a family medicine doctor.
Graduation is in May! Can you tell us a bit about your experience with residency applications? How did you choose residency programs to apply to? And what were interviews like?
Ashley: Yes I am so excited! If I have any advice, start on residency applications early. I would say January of the year you plan to apply is fair game.
I chose Family Medicine programs based upon 5 main criteria: training sites, required rotation schedules/call schedules, family- like environment of the staff/culture, research and leadership opportunities, and location, as I knew I would probably settle down wherever I matched.
Interviews were very different at each location. I had one interview at some institutions but most interviews were 4 different one-to-one interviews. There was also once a group panel with all interviewees in one room!
You have to do your research before and truly prepare. Along the interview trail you could tell which students were well prepared by their questions during the day. So search the internet forums, program website, and interview day folder for common questions, then be prepared to talk about anything on your application as you should know it backwards and forwards.
Overall, have confidence, be yourself, keep stress levels as low as possible and everything will truly work out.
If you could send one message to rising MS1’s, what would it be?
Ashley: Never give up. You’ll hear it over and over again but it is the best advice. There are probably going to be times you want to quit or become lazy and want to take shortcuts. Try your hardest every day and give your all every day. I never knew what level of grit I could achieve until medical school. This is going to be one of the hardest things you achieve, if not the hardest, but it is so worth it. So if you find yourself falling down along the way just remember: if you fall down 7 times, stand up 8. Eventually, you will get to the finish line.
Do you have questions for Ashley? Questions for us? Do you want to be featured in our next What is Medical School Really Like? post? Know someone else who you’d love to see featured? Are there questions you’d like us to ask our students in this series? LET US KNOW!
You can learn more about Ashley by checking out her blog.
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