Adjusting to medical school can be difficult. Here, graduating M4s and some of our M1 class’s most popular WUSM faculty share words of wisdom on how to make the most out of your time in St. Louis.
Assistant Professor of Medicine, Associate Program Director in the Internal Medicine Residency Program, Director of the EXPLORE Program
As you embark upon this next stage in your lives, it is normal to feel a weird combination of excitement and fear. Changes are tough and, for many entering medical students, medical school will be the most challenging period yet. Given this, it’s important to remember that medical school is not only about working hard, it’s also about community and personal and professional growth. Over the coming years, you will come to understand yourself better than you may have before. You will likely face many challenges, both personally and professionally. Remember to see these challenges as opportunities for learning. And when you have particularly tough moments personally, remember caring for yourself is a priority.
Self-care is critical to the work we do as physicians, but it looks a bit different for everyone. Sometimes it’s finding a way to socialize or exercise. Sometimes it’s spending time alone or resting. Take time (start now!) to reflect on how far you’ve come already, and what gives you fulfillment and peace. Find ways to purposefully integrate those fulfilling activities into your new identity as a medical student.
St. Louis can be a great place for exploration, growth, and restoration. The parks, museums, zoo, restaurants, breweries, and festivals are unmatched. More locally, our WUSM community is here to support you in whatever way you need. Reach out. Stop by. Ask questions.
I look forward to meeting you and supporting your needs in scholarship in beyond!
Amber Deptola, MD, FACP
Director, EXPLORE Program
Congratulations on matriculating to medical school! You have worked so incredibly hard to get to this point, so take a moment and celebrate that. Medical school can be tough, so it’s wonderful to try to remind yourself from time to time of who or what motivated you in the first place. Personally, swimming has been a huge part of my life and a general framework for my advice:
- “Stay in your own lane.” The medical school journey is long one, and everyone has their own timeline. Some may need more time to study for major exams, some learn in their own unique way, some know exactly what research they want to do and some have no idea what specialty they’re interested in. Don’t be afraid to keep an open mind, try multiple study strategies or specialties and focus on your own path. The administration is incredibly supportive with various accommodations and student health is a great resource for physical and mental health. It’s okay to change your mind, I know I have!
- “Spend time getting to know your ride or die teammates.” No one quite knows what medical school is like except for your classmates. This is such a unique experience, and it’s so important to get together, decompress, and celebrate each other’s victories. Your classmates will not only become your future colleagues but also your strongest support system.
- “Give yourself grace.” This one is simple — everyone makes mistakes and falters at one point or another. We are often quick to forgive and encourage others but often forget to give ourselves grace. Be kind to yourself.
- “Take care of your own wellness.” To be your best self at school or in the hospital, setting a good habit of recharging the tank is essential. Whether that’s hanging out with classmates, family or friends or maintaining hobbies or trying something new, don’t feel guilty for taking the time to step away from school and enjoy these moments. They are equally as important in your future career. St. Louis is a gem of a city with so many unique neighborhoods, festivals, and establishments. I would encourage you to try something new, be it a restaurant, coffeeshop, or park every so often.
Enjoy your time in medical school — it goes by in a flash! It’s the perfect time to make mistakes, build the foundation of your future, and make lifelong friends.
Office of Education, Senior Associate Dean for Education, Associate Vice Chancellor for Medical Education
Welcome! I hope each of you takes a moment to take pride in your accomplishment and to thank those who have helped you to achieve it. You have earned your place in this class, you absolutely deserve to be here, and we are so glad you are here. I have had the privilege of teaching, mentoring, advising and supporting medical students and residents for over 20 years now — it has been one of the greatest gifts of my life. Here are a few things to consider as you progress through medical school and the rest of your career:
- Reflect on what you enjoy and what you don’t enjoy. When you have a really great day, ask yourself what about it made it great? When you have a bad day ask the same. Look for patterns so that you can know what things really motivate you and will keep you happy and engaged in your career for the next 50 years — yes, it likely will be that long. 🙂
- Learn about the different specialties and what the day-to-day of work in those careers is like. Often, we come to medical school with fixed assumptions about what we want to be or what specific careers are all about. Try to push those biases aside and really experience it and what it would be like for you if you were doing that work. Talk to people about their jobs, what they love about them, what they like less. See how much those things align with your own self-realizations about your passions and interests.
- Take care of yourself. Each person has different things they need to be well — exercise, time with friends, reading for pleasure, cooking. Figure out what yours are and prioritize them. You will struggle to perform well if you are not doing well. You will benefit from these habits and patterns for the rest of your career.
- Get to know your patients. We can get wrapped up in only learning the medicine, but our patients have amazing personal stories and those stories help us understand who they are so we can tailor their care. Moreover, when patients feel seen and heard, they experience better care.
- Get to know each other and the other students on campus, the residents and fellows you work with, and the faculty. You are part of an amazing community of people who care deeply about your education and your interests, but also about you as a person.
- Ask for help when you need it. We have a variety of resources from peer advisors, to the medical student government, to Student Affairs, the ombuds office, Dr. Winters and Student Health Services, and, of course, your administration, faculty, and peers. We are all here to support you!
Finally, enjoy the ride. You will work hard — likely harder than you have ever worked in your life. You will see and experience things that are unfair and unjust. You will have the privilege to share some of the happiest and saddest moments of your patient’s lives. You will learn more than you ever thought possible. And, you will serve others and feel the joy that only a career of service can bring. Ultimately, you will help to make the world a better place. What could be better than that?
Eva Aagaard, MD
Senior Associate Dean for Education
Associate Vice Chancellor for Medical Education
Course Director, Clinical Skills
The “reminiscence bump” is a psychological phenomenon where older adults preferentially remember autobiographical information from adolescence and early adulthood. Researchers think this is because these memories contribute most to one’s sense of self. You are now (most likely) at an age that you’ll remember for the rest of your life. Most physicians (this one included) would tell you that their profession is a part of their identity. And your process of becoming a physician starts now. Like it or not, these are the times of your life you’ll look back on often.
That said, my advice is that medical school probably matters less than you think it does. “Being a doctor” will only be a part of your identity. Don’t let yourself believe that your success is solely based on what and how you do in school for the next 4+ years. Don’t forget to focus on life outside of the classrooms, hospitals, clinics, and studying, so that you can have experiences that you’ll want to remember.
Think for a minute about all it took for you to be here starting medical school at Wash U: where you came from, the people supporting you, your hard work and commitment to others, sweating the MCAT, capitalizing on what makes you you, crying in organic chemistry lab because you discarded the solution and not the precipitate (don’t pretend that was just me). Each of your classmates had an equally as interesting journey to medical school. The same is true of all your instructors. Even more so, your patients all live interesting lives, and are a part of amazing communities. One awesome privilege you’ll have as a medical student is meeting and developing relationships with people that you wouldn’t have otherwise. Learn from them all. Let them pull you outside of your comfort zone. Be curious. Share yourself with others. The work of medicine will cause you to grow as a person. Let your experiences outside of medicine do the same. Those two things aren’t mutually exclusive. Have fun. The future of your memories depends on it.
Associate Dean, Medical Student Research
You will spend the next four plus years at WUSM with your peers, and they will be your lifelong friends and colleagues. Form strong bonds with your classmates, collaborate, and support each other. Get to know the faculty, administration, and staff. We are here to help you succeed. Find an advisor or mentor who takes an interest in you. Your mentor will help you navigate medical school, and if you’re lucky, you may get a home-cooked meal out of it. Stay grounded by volunteering in the community. Have fun and stay sane by getting involved in school clubs and continuing with your hobbies. Get to know St. Louis; there is no shortage of entertainment, including the world-champion Cardinals and Blues, the world-famous Saint Louis Zoo, the Saint Louis Science Center, the Saint Louis Art Museum, and the Botanical Garden. In addition, there is a world-class symphony, many music venues, and plenty of nightlife. Pay attention to your academics. Take your basic science courses seriously. They will come in handy in later years, and your future patients will thank you. Don’t worry about your residency match yet. Most importantly, get enough sleep, exercise, and have fun. Oh, and if you want to do research, just email me (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Visit Dr. Chung for guidance on research opportunities and to ask her about her favorite rapper. (Hint: He’s slim, and he’s shady.)
Associate Dean, Student Affairs
Hello! I can’t wait to meet you. I am one of a team of people who are here to support you on the road to becoming a doctor. There will be many joys and challenges on this journey. As you begin medical school, it will be important to develop a community of support — to celebrate your joys and to team up with you in your challenges. By all means, attend to the important business of maintaining relationships with your people, and be sure to invest in growing relationships here as well. One thing the past year has taught me is the importance of staying connected.
What you have heard is true: Medical school will be demanding. There will be stretches of time when balance will be difficult. However, with a little attention, and assistance if requested, you will learn important tools and techniques to regain and maintain a healthy balance. Here are a few bits of advice that you may find useful:
- Build and maintain warm-hearted relationships. Quality is important here, not quantity. Remember that lifetime friends, colleagues, mentors, and advisors surround you. Let them in — the sooner the better.
- Remember what brings you joy and intentionally carve out time for it.
- Do what you love.
- Respect others in your actions and words.
- Assume positive intent in your colleagues.
- Stay connected to your people.
- Play. Outside.
- Laugh as often as possible. Choose companions who multiply laughter.
- Notice something beautiful today.
- Be grateful for a moment every day.
We are here for you. Ask for our support when you need it. You may not know exactly what it is you need or what we can provide, so ask and we’ll figure it out together.
Associate Dean for Educational Strategy
It seems like only yesterday that our admissions team was telephoning you, congratulating you and telling you how our Committee on Admissions thought you would be an outstanding addition to this year’s entering class. Some of you cried. Some of you screamed. Some of you were speechless. In that moment I was, and continue to be, so proud of each and every one of you. I’m unbelievably excited to get to walk alongside you as you start a new chapter in your life.
As you begin the journey into the breathtaking, beautiful and completely imperfect world of medicine, my advice is this — be courageous. In the small moments, with your peers, your patients, and yourself.
What does it look like to be courageous with your peers? Once, long ago when I was an early faculty member I was feeling exhausted and worn out. I was feeling all the pulls of a new leadership role, a young family at home, and a heavy clinical load. A colleague and I went to dinner and I was brave enough to tell her my story. She told me hers. Her story wasn’t perfect and really, it was just as messy as mine. Because of her courage, I didn’t feel alone. Be courageous enough, in small moments, to care about your peers and colleagues as you go on this journey together. Courageous enough to really listen, to really care, and to be ready to hear the true answer to the question, “How are you feeling?”
It isn’t just about colleagues. Be courageous, in the small moments, with your patients. Your role on the healthcare team as a medical student is right around the corner. Over your career, you will take care of hundreds, thousands, of patients and you will know, deep in your heart, when our health care system isn’t providing them with the best care possible. Advocate that they have a seamless follow-up plan and the right resources. Push when you think your team isn’t following a plan that’s comprehensively holistic. Be willing to resist the urge to call it a day when you know, deep down, that what your patient needs most is for you to pull up a chair and hold their hand. Do this even when you’ve had a long day and you’re juggling nine million things. I’m asking you to be courageous even when it’s hard.
Finally, I want you to be courageous with yourself. As a person, as a unique and remarkably incredible individual. Our Committee on Admissions has spent countless hours reviewing your applications. You talked about the family members who inspired you to go into medicine, your identity as children who immigrated to the United States, and your pride for being the first in your family to go to college or medical school.
As you embark on your journey in medicine, be courageous enough to celebrate your own story. In a medical world that sometimes force physicians into pathways and protocols, which is often good for patient care, never lose sight of the quiet beauty that comes with being you. Your culture, your passion, your values, and your individual identities make up the fabric of the true diversity we need in medicine.
Entering Class of 2021, congratulations again and I can’t wait to get see you!
Welcome to WashU and to St. Louis! Congratulations — you belong here. You can not only survive, but really thrive, if you do what is right for you. When I started med school, a role model told me “always stay in your own lane,” meaning make decisions based on what you need or want. You are surrounded by some pretty smart people (and you are one, too, by the way), but it’s important to figure out how you do things to succeed and what excites you. What works for you might not work for your best friend and that’s ok. Here are just a few short tips on finding your way:
- In preclinical years, experiment with different study techniques. Find what works for you so when you are in clerkships with less time and higher stakes, you are confident in yourself.
- Get involved in whatever makes you happy. Spend a lot of time and energy on your passions — be they at the med school or outside of it. You need balance in your life, and I found these activities gave me the energy and drive to get through some of my less thrilling classes/rotations.
- Spend time on friends and family. The unwritten curriculum will say you can’t go to a friend’s wedding, travel home to see family, run a marathon in a different city — but here’s the thing: you totally can and should. Our administration is so supportive in making school work for you, so don’t put life on pause!
- Reach out when you need it. To Dean Moscoso, to friends, to family, to a counselor, to whomever. Just know you are not alone and this community cares for you.
These will be amazing years, full of learning, growth, and fun. Take full advantage of what WashU provides and always remember, be kind to yourself. You are enough
I spent many long hours throughout the first three years questioning whether I made the right decision in coming to medical school. Everyday there was another reason why I should just call it quits. I felt like everything was interesting enough, and I was getting good grades, but itjust didn’t seem like I was thriving in the way that I’d always dreamed. At an “elite” medicalschool filled with amazing students, there’s such a pressure to appear 100% confident and sure of your goals. I’m just here to say that if you’re feeling this way, you’re not alone! I know that this feeling is way more common than we are willing to admit.
I ended up finding my home in medicine in a very small specialty that I wouldn’t have had exposure to unless I sought it out myself. You’re at an institution which has opportunities in every field imaginable, even in areas that are only peripherally related to the traditional scope of clinical medicine. Take advantage of these years when you are encouraged to explore!
Secondly, I tricked myself into a mindset of always keeping the end-goal in mind, thinking that it’s ok if medical school isn’t at all fulfilling or enjoyable because in the end, it’ll all be okay as an attending, but putting off your own happiness will become an unsustainable pattern as you go through medical school, residency, and beyond. Try to see every day as another opportunity to explore and learn and realize that it’s all part of the process!
Course Director, Clinical Skills
Welcome to Wash U! My name is Tim Yau, and I am one of your clinical skills director for the Gateway Curriculum. Our team is here to teach you all the “non-science” stuff that is necessary to becoming a great physician.
The qualities that will make each of you outstanding doctors is so much more than test scores, which all of you already are capable of. We’ll teach you all the things you expect — how to talk with and examine patients, how to formulate diagnoses, how to interpret labs and tests. But you will also learn how to see your patients as individuals, how to involve them in patient-centered decisions, and how to navigate the complicated societal and structural barriers to their health. The amount of information you will learn in the next four years is both staggering and intimidating. Your learning will not end with medical school, and we hope to light a fire for you to never stop learning!
During medical school you will have opportunities over the next four years to do things that you may never again do in your lifetime. I am a kidney specialist, but I still delivered plenty of babies as a third-year medical student! Learn for the sake of learning (rather than just to pass the test) and you will find the pursuit of knowledge more worthwhile, more meaningful, and longer lasting. Your individual path to fulfill your potential to be a great doctor will be decided by you. Faculty like myself are your mentors, role models, guides, and colleagues in this journey.
Lastly, we hope you are eager to learn, but also want you to ENJOY your medical school experience. Some of the strongest bonds are forged here, and you will need support from family, old friends, and the new friends you will make. Get outside, eat some good food, and have a drink to relax. Take time to enjoy things that make you happy, whatever they are! This advice sounds generic, but I live by my own words: Playing music kept me happy during medical school, and even now at the age of 40+ I enjoy competitive video gaming. In 2018 we even started the official WashU Gaming Club! Even with all the craziness of the pandemic, we’ve been able to play plenty of Among Us. When things get back to normal, I have instruments and consoles in my office, and you’ll be welcome to stop by for a game or to play a tune!
Director, Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP)
It’s exciting to be a first-year medical student! You will learn how the human body works in detail, from head to toe, from gross anatomy to subatomic structures. However, some of the current concepts and “facts” you will learn will prove to be wrong. That’s right (actually still wrong!). It’s not that you’re being deliberately taught misinformation. It’s just that we don’t know our own ignorance (yet). Keep in mind, what you’re learning is how we understand things, circa 2021. But we don’t know what we don’t know.
While it is certainly much easier to learn the materials if you just try to absorb it verbatim, my advice is to spend some time thinking about what you’re learning. I can now reflect on the lectures I heard as a medical student touting that the cause of peptic ulcer disease was too much acid. In retrospect, that couldn’t be right because acid is always there! I didn’t think about it then, but I should have, because now we know (I think pretty conclusively) that ulcers are often caused by a bacterial infection! Keep track of things that don’t make sense to you along with those that are incompletely understood. (There are lots of them!) For aspiring scientists, they will be great projects on which to work in the future. For future clinicians, they will be the ones that you will reflect on, and cause you to go back over your old med school texts and notes, if not when you’re practicing, certainly a great retirement project!
Associate Dean for Diversity
Welcome to Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. On your arrival, you will be captivated by the history, vitality, and progressive spirit of the Central West End, our home. You will also find that not everyone in the St. Louis region is reaching their full health potential. Several blocks from the medical center you will find neighborhoods grappling with generational poverty, food insecurity, joblessness and unsteady housing, and health disparities. The COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the roots and immoral nature of those racial and ethnic health disparities. Early in the pandemic, it became apparent that COVID-19 cases were largely clustered in medically underserved regions in North St. Louis City and County, regions that are overwhelmingly African American. Subsequent analyses noted that testing inequities existed, and that those inequities were a driver of the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color. As the pandemic reached full steam, the data confirmed that Black Americans are three times as likely to become infected with COVID-19 compared with whites, and twice as likely to die from COVID-19.
We now know that those modifiable factors contributing to the COVID-19 disparities also include structural racism. The pandemic creates an opportunity for you to acknowledge and address past injustices by learning how to engage in clear and honest communications with your patients, prioritize transparency and meaningful community partnerships, and advocate for accountability with Black and Brown communities. The path forward must recognize past bias, both overt and unconscious, and include “radical collaboration” with the communities that have been hardest hit to ensure we do not see another generation of unjust outcomes. It starts by placing a racial equity lens on our efforts to understand and mitigate health inequities, particularly the spread of COVID-19, including measures to increase uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine. Within St. Louis, due to deep-seeded distrust, only 30-40 of the African American community plans to take the vaccine. Increasing trust in the community will require extraordinary leadership, including clear and honest communication by health care providers, policymakers, and both secular and faith-based community leaders.
As an incoming student, you should indeed immerse yourself in the fascinating world of scientific discovery and medical innovation, but you should never forget the true purpose of medicine is the uplift of the human condition. The new Gateway Curriculum will assist you in gaining the tools you need to become empathic healers. The skills you will gain to address the racial disparities are urgently needed and need to be systems-oriented, community-driven, and guided by the unique social and historical context of race in the St. Louis region. In your years in medical school, make every effort to connect to the greater community, experience the tremendous personal satisfaction of service, and acknowledge the marked difference you can make on the lives of those less fortunate. Allow yourself to be trained, in essence, in a medical center without walls. Your overall experience as a medical school will then be much more rewarding, at Washington University. In St. Louis.
Advice Section Editor
I’m from the warm and sunny state of California and studied molecular biology at Princeton University. I can always appreciate a good puzzle and quality time with friends, especially if games are involved! When there’s enough time, I love binge-reading novels and have recently started to read some non-fiction … book recommendations needed!