Sarah graduated summa cum laude from The University of Texas at Austin, where she earned a perfect 4.0 GPA. She earned her M.D. at Weill Cornell Medical College, where among other achievements, she distinguished herself with honors in all of her clinical clerkships, and is now in her Dermatology residency at UCSF. Sarah is one of our most experienced tutors with over a thousand hours of tutoring under her belt and a tremendous track record of success. She enjoys working closely with students to determine the best possible strategy that not only fits the student’s learning style, but also provides him or her with the confidence needed to take the next steps toward their career goals.
*Blog post updated June 17, 2020 to reflect most recent USMLE data below.*
I have been putting off the writing of this post for a while. I’m not sure why. I guess I wasn’t sure how to say anything genuine that would convince you guys that you shouldn’t be hard on yourself for falling short of the lofty goals that you set for yourself
before beginning the arduous process of studying for the USMLE Step 1.
Perhaps it’s because I was in your shoes once, and no amount of reason could penetrate my longing for that perfect score, the one that I believed would either complete my application to dermatology residency (and therefore complete me), or dash my chances at my dream job against the harsh rocky shores of reality.
“What’s the definition of atrial fibrillation?” she began with an air of informality that made me look up to be sure that my attending was, in fact, talking to me.
When I realized she was serious, I replied, “Unsynchronized electrical activity within the myocardial cells of the atrium that ultimately makes it impossible for the atria to beat as a functional unit, manifesting as an absence of P waves.”
(I’m kidding. I stared at her incredulously.)
She looked back at her computer screen for a moment, and promptly swiveled in her chair to ask the nurse standing behind her to retrieve “an extra long rhythm strip” from the telemetry monitor for the patient in 2G41.
You’ve been tutoring for a few years and have worked with a lot of students, providing them with the right resources and guidance. However not everyone, I am sure, reached their goal.
"Based on your experience, what's the biggest mistake your students make that hinder them from surpassing their goal, even after giving them the proper tutoring and help? This way, I could try to avoid those pitfalls and not make the same mistake."
Working nights at the community hospital in Portland, Oregon, where I’m completing my preliminary year in internal medicine, means admitting up to five patients each night and cross-covering the entire teaching service of 40+ patients with one other resident.
As a morning person, staying up late and flipping my schedule by 180 degrees didn’t exactly come naturally. As a new doctor, making challenging medical decisions didn’t come naturally either. As a recent fourth year medical student, sustaining my attention and behaving responsibly for twelve hours straight came least naturally of all.
When I was younger, I used to so look forward to the first day of school; to the advent of school supplies and assignments and structure. However, in February of this year, I can't say that I was thrilled to put down
The Goldfinch and pick up a syllabus that morning. Waking up and preparing for school again felt like an assault on my freedom.
For anyone who's been there, fourth year is
so unstructured — you've survived 75% of your USMLEs, and are now in a string of pass/fail clerkships punctuated by periods of travel and self-discovery. I came into that environment after a research year, during which I structured my time as I saw fit and did so both happily and productively.
When February hit, I wondered, "Is this how it's going to feel every day for the rest of my life, now that I’ve had some time to experience what life is like when you don’t live and die by your study schedule?"
Sometimes I feel frustrated by how simple the truth is.
Perhaps this is because I don’t like to think that the challenges I face are manageable using universal strategies. Perhaps I like to think that my struggles are unique, or else, why would they be…
struggles? For example, it doesn’t seem like something as hyped as studying for the USMLE Step 1 (a.k.a. the most-important-exam-in-the-history-of-the-world-AAAAAHHHHHHH!!!) should be formulaic or simple.
But studying for the USMLE Step 1
can be formulaic. And I want to argue that it
should be formulaic.
When viewed through the rearview mirror, there are many things I’ve experienced that I didn’t understand completely as I was passing through them. More specifically, while I knew that flashcards had been useful learning tools throughout college and the first two years of medical school, I didn’t understand the concept of spaced repetition and how this technique was making it possible for me to achieve my USMLE Step 1 goals.
**This blog post was updated July 2019.** Life as a third year medical student is an all-consuming whirlwind:
1. You’re finally applying what you’ve learned. 2. You’re working long hours and getting paid negative dollars. 3. You’re forgetting to eat normal human food. 4. You’re getting sick on your pediatrics rotations. 5. You’re feeling sick on all your rotations because #2 and #3. 6. You’re pressed for time and therefore cannot study the same way you once did.
Studying for the USMLE can feel like an exercise in social isolation.
Even for those (especially for those?) of us who live amongst our medical school classmates, which in theory ought to be less isolating, the whole process seems to reward those who either hermit up or awkwardly dodge the 500 pound elephant in the room –
that we’re studying for the most important exam we will have taken to date.
The truth of this – that we are spending 10-12 hours a day preparing for an extremely important exam – is enough to drive anyone crazy. But there seems to be something about the human condition that fosters a deeper and more troublesome tendency to drive itself further into oblivion by insisting to itself that it is completely alone during difficult times.
I want to take a moment to tell you that
you are not alone in this.
Since becoming a tutor for the USMLE Step 1 and Step 2 CK exams, there have been a few times when I've found myself confused by a student’s lack of progress. They’re “doing everything right” – following their schedule to a T, completing each assigned USMLE World question block, taking NBME practice exams with reasonable intervals in between to enable me to track their progression....
But something is off; their scores are not budging and their anxiety is mounting.
Names of standardized tests are owned by the trademark holders and are not affiliated with Med School Tutors LLC. Score and score increase data are based on performance of Med School Tutors students who have completed their preparation with Med School Tutors since 2011. As always, results vary by individual.