Exam Anxiety

For Him is this only that whenever He intends any thing, then He says to it, ‘Be’ and it becomes at once. Therefore, Sanctified is He in Whose hand is the control of every thing, and towards Him, you will be returned. Surat Yasin, ayas 82-83.

Deep breaths, close your eyes and count to ten, drink some water…

No matter the level of their education, everyone has experienced some form of exam anxiety. If you’re like me, then its not just a case of the nerves, but a full blown panic attack. All the way through college, I used to feel extremely nervous whenever I had an upcoming exam, complete with trembling hands and a stimulated sympathetic system. However, I soon realized the anxiety that I was experiencing was doing much more harm than good, or to be specific, no good at all. I would miss easy questions that I should have known the answer too, but answered incorrectly due to the pressure that I put myself under. Not only would I leave the exam drained and worried about the outcome, but also with a pounding headache due to the tension. I soon reached a point where I needed to change things around, and alhamdulillah, I was able to find a way to overcome (most of)  my exam anxiety.

First thing is to read Surat Yasin before taking the exam. While most people tend to recite the first few ayas while hoping that the cops didn’t catch them speeding, it’s actually extremely beneficial to read this beautiful chapter from the Qur’an as a way to calm your nerves. The two ayas quoted at the top are a balm to your agitated soul when you realize and are reassured that no matter how big this exam is, Allah SWT’s will is bigger.

Next is to take a few minutes to make sincere duaa that the exam will be smooth and easy for you and everyone else. If you have any Muslims in your class, mention their names. Not only will you get some good deeds inshaAllah, but the angels will say after the duaa “Wa lakka mithlu” (And for you as well). Its also a good idea to renew your intention that you are doing this for Allah SWT and to help the Ummah benefit from your knowledge. Duaa really helps you maintain your focus on your end goal and is a sure way to gain some peace in your heart.

Not only do you need to feed yourself spiritually, but actual nutrition plays a major role in exam stress as well. Try to sleep well the night before your exam; all nighters are never a good choice. I’ve never pulled an all-nighter, not even in med school, and cannot for the life of me see the benefit of depriving yourself of sleep the night before a test that requires as much mental power and awareness that you can give. Avoid drinking copious amounts of caffeine, and be sure to stay hydrated. Eat a good breakfast, and if the exam is later in the afternoon or evening, a healthy lunch. One thing I noticed last year is that my blood pressure dips slightly when I’m nervous before an exam, so I have a salty snack nearby in case I feel lightheaded. I also found out that eating fruit as part of my main meal before an exam makes me feel lighter and more energetic, much more than a candy bar that will give you a quick high but a longer lasting crash.

At the end of the day, it really matters how prepared you are for this exam. If you studied and know your material well, then you should be able to calm down at least a bit. It sounds easier said than done, and I know from my own personal experience that after taking hundreds of exams throughout your academic career, its still not unusual for the panic bug to strike again. As I write this, I mentally count down the six weeks left until my board exams, and begin to feel worried that I’m still far from ready. However, what I try to tell myself is that this exam is really just an exam. It’s not what’s going to guarantee my entrance into Jannah. There’s a bigger test that we are facing everyday of our lives, and the outcome of that is what is going to determine our success and our failure. Its a bit challenging to keep this is mind when we are absorbed in our academic pursuits, but its what we all, myself included, need to remind ourselves. And always remember, you do your best and leave it all to Allah SWT, because His plans are better than our dreams.

What to buy for med school

It’s that time of year again: graduations are taking place and students with freshly printed diplomas are either getting ready to enter the job market or finalizing their acceptance offers of grad and professional schools. If you fall into the latter category, then you should expect several letters from the school that you’ve deposited your enrollment fee, if you haven’t started receiving them already. These forms range from a “required” textbook list to snuggies sold by the Surgery club that have your school logo embroidered all over. You thought the tuition was expensive, what about all these extra costs?!?

Before you start to check off the list of items that you think you need, here’s a bit of advice to help you navigate these numerous lists. Let’s start with the textbooks: chances are, you won’t have time to crack open a book; you’ll be too busy focusing on your class notes and supplemental power points which are the real exam material. Plus, medical textbooks cost a pretty penny, the range being $200-$300 per book, sometimes more. However, if you are a book person and really need to see words to understand the material, then you can find the PDF version of these books for free online. A great resource are the Google hangout groups, specifically the medical students ones. I joined one several months ago and was able to snag a copy of a physiology book that I’m currently using to study for boards. Hate online books? Then don’t be afraid of buying an older edition of a book. Anatomy hasn’t changed in the last three hundred years.

Be aware of the club trap! Every summer, all the clubs at a university have a monopoly of items that they have the authority to sell to incoming first years. They market the items in a way so that you are manipulated into thinking that you need them. No, you don’t need a pack of monofilaments until clinic in third year, and you don’t ever need the dissection kit for anatomy lab, you’ll find lockers full of them during your first lab session and can always share with your partner in the worst case scenario. What you should buy if offered is a “survival guide” that contains old exams and quizzes. No, this isn’t a form of cheating as professors rarely repeat questions but its a good way to gauge your understanding of the material and to see what type of questions are asked. Another good investment is any bone models that are up for sale. At the podiatry school every student is required to purchase a foot model to use in the lower extremity anatomy course held in the spring. You can either buy it over the summer and admire it until January, or wait until the second semester to purchase it. Either way, its a necessity but is something that you will actually use and refer to over the years. Plus its a nice addition to your future office.

Last but certainly not least are scrubs and white coats. You really do not need five pairs of scrubs for anatomy lab. Like it or not, you’re going to stink of formaldehyde even if you send them to the fancy French dry cleaners. Best approach is to buy 2 pairs, wear one for a week while the others are in the laundry. You are planning to throw them out (or burn them, depending on how well you do in anatomy) at the end of the course, and you will not be wearing those in clinic. Also, don’t jump the gun and buy the scrubs sold to you by the school. Chances are you’ll find them at a much cheaper price in one of the nursing stores or online. I’ve seen full scrub shirts and pants for $3. So unless your school is offering you a great discount, make sure to shop around. As for white coats, yes you are excited to have the one with your name embroidered and student doctor or medical student listed underneath, but you do not need to buy two or three. A single coat will suffice the few visit that you get to the clinic in first year. Honestly, you won’t need another coat until 3rd year, when you’ll be in clinic all morning and need to have a spare in case the other gets dirty. Just make sure that the one you order is your correct size, not too small that you wont be able to fit your notes and instruments in it later in your clinical years or too big that you need alterations.

It’s a bit overwhelming to see all those packets of papers and numerous emails in your inbox, so take a deep breath and relax. The main thing is to avoid making unneccessary purchases that you’ll regret later on. Med school is expensive, and you’ll need every dollar for other necessary expenses, especially if you are commuting or planning to move away for school. I hope you find these tidbits useful, and welcome to medical school!

Shadowing experiences before and during med school

The golden rule when for all pre-med students is simple and universal: have great recommendation letters, a high GPA and stellar MCAT scores. However, what some students neglect to place an emphasis on is shadowing experiences. Not only is it important for gaining a rec letter from a physician, but it can play a major role in determining what type of health care speciality that is the right fit for you. For instance, when I was in college, I was selected in a hospital program to shadow a pediatric rheumatologist . Although pediatrics has always been my interest, I did not like how this particular field was very…abstract, for lack of a better word. This experience helped me figure out that I wanted a specialty with more of a “hands on” approach; I wanted to see a patient, diagnose him/her, and be able to do something to help relieve some of their suffering and pain. After shadowing a podiatrist, that’s where I discovered my calling. I could combine all my favorite parts of medicine and enjoy what I am doing at the same time.

Another reason why shadowing physicians from various fields is important prior to applying to medical school is really to avoid making a wrong choice. One of my former classmates in the beginning of our first semester disliked podiatric medicine from the very beginning. After matriculating in the program for a month, she dropped out. Her reason? She’s always been more interested in teeth and wants to be a dentist. That’s a fine choice and another excellent health profession, but why would she have wasted time and tens of thousands of dollars to only drop out after a month? Medical school is expensive, and the word “refund” never made it into their dictionary. Perhaps if she had shadowed both a dentist and a podiatrist she would have been able to realize her passion earlier and had saved herself loads of stress and anxiety.

So you’ve shadowed, found what you’ve been looking for, collected the rec letter, and gained admission to your dream program. You don’t need to shadow anymore since you’re in, right? Of course not! Following a physician around and experiencing first hand  what they do is not only important prior to matriculation, it’s a great opportunity to help apply what you have learned in classes and to reinforce the concepts. Seeing it in print and googling pictures of a technique is not as effective as actually hearing that abnormal murmur or watching a physician perform a positive Lachman’s test. Following upperclassmen in the clinic is just as good, perhaps even better for students a bit intimidated by their clinical professors or afraid to be asked difficult questions by the physicians about the exams performed. You’ll get a taste of what to expect in your clinical courses, and most of the time you’ll be granted the chance to perform some of the basic tests or to offer a differential diagnosis.

If you have the chance to gain some clinical experience, don’t turn it down. Even if it’s a specialty that doesn’t really interest you, it won’t to try it, you can only stand to gain. It’s better gain a general idea early on of what type of career you’d like to pursue, and the best way is to gain as much information as you can about various fields. Medicine is such a wonderfully diverse land of opportunity, but narrowing your choices down before actually experiencing other specialities can lead you to regret your hasty choice.

White coat ceremony

After two years, the moment you have all been waiting for has finally arrived. Drumroll please…. white coat ceremony! If your school is like mine, we don’t have the pleasure of the ceremony a few days before the first year of med school. Instead, we must work hard to earn it, and to truly live up to its name as a rite of passage. Nevertheless, its a fun and amazing experience that I hope everyone who has dreamed of becoming a doctor to enjoy one day.

The basic way the ceremony works is that you enter the hall/building in which it will be held, and gather in a back room with the rest of your classmates and the faculty while your family is seated in the audience. When the MC announces that its time for the ceremony to begin, some eerie music begins and its on with the show. The clinical faculty sail in first wearing full graduation regalia minus the caps. Next, two faculty members, each representing either the left or right side, enters while we students file in behind them on the red carpet (yes a real red carpet!) in the pre-determined order. After our fashionable entrance, we sit in seats cloaked by our freshly minted brand spanking new white coats. Although we wore white coats to our clinical classes previously, they did not have the school badge that signifies completion of the basic sciences. The new ones at the ceremony do.

After listening to 45 minutes of speeches, the eerie music is turned back on and our names are called in groups of five to be coated by the faculty. Now, the way it works is that when your name is called, you march up onto the stage, walk to the farthest faculty member, stick your arms to the back and have the physician “coat” you. Several weeks before the ceremony, I contacted the woman in charge of arranging the event and requested a female faculty member to coat me, just in case the male physician wanted to shake my hand or pat me on the shoulder. She readily agreed and assured me that it was no inconvenience. Sure enough, when my name was called, the male physician who was supposed to coat me stepped to the back and allowed the Dean of the department of Medicine to coat me in his stead. It was done in a very respectful way and the transition was so smooth, no one noticed it. Best of all, I was the only person in my entire class coated by her!

After everyone has been coated, we all return to our seats and read the Hippocrates Oath alongside the Dean and make to solemn vow to use our knowledge for only pure, selfless deeds. That wraps up the end of the hour, and then its refreshments and picture taking with friends and families.

As my blog is named hijabi in a white coat, you might wonder what this hijabi wore for her ceremony! As you may know, the white coat worn by third and fourth years is a short clinic coat, not that long, “button it closed and can pretend its a tunic” coat. It’s a sign that you are still a student and I guess the length is to indicate that you are still “short” of your medical knowledge. Anyway, you need to dress formally for the ceremony, and you can’t get away like the guys can wearing a shirt, tie and slacks. Naturally, the best thing is to wear a dress, but not a poofy ballroom one worthy of your friend’s wedding; a simply design one will do the trick. I confess: I do like (modest!) party dresses, but usually pair them with a fancy cardigan or blazer. However, when you are getting coated, you really don’t want to wear something bulky or it’ll ruin the look. At the same time, you must remember the short length of the coat or else you’ll wear a long cardigan that has the ends trailing out like coat tails. And on top of all this, please don’t wear black or any drab colors! This is a happy day, so pick some bright colors! Keeping all this mind, I wore a chiffon pleated dress that was ice blue and coral, with a coral cardigan that was just the length of the white coat, with an ice blue hijab. And don’t forget the shoes! I wore sandal wedges, yet still seemed very short next to all my female classmates sporting 5 inch spike heels (a salute to all those who have the fortitude to withstand wearing them for several hours).

White coat is a wonderful experience that every medical student dreams of; its the next best thing to graduation! Whether its a celebration of your entrance to medical school or for transitioning into your third year, its an achievement you should be proud of and a motivation for what’s left of the road to your future. I’m using my coat as my motivation to study for boards this upcoming July inshaAllah (duaa please!!!), and when I look at that patch and see the class of 2017 embroidered on the arm, I remember that I’m one step closer to fulfilling my dreams.

The 2nd year

As my second year is winding to an end, I look back and realize how much I have learned from last year, both academically and life experiences. First year certainly pales in comparison to the amount of workload and clinical exposure that one experiences in their second year of medical school! From struggling to memorize a thousand slides of pathology in a week, to figuring out which digital surgical technique would be the best for an imaginary patient, all while fulfilling clinical assignments, both your brain and your body are pushed to their limits. However, throughout all the stress, you emerge as a better person, and with regards to your career, a better doctor.

The first five weeks of second year start out slow; between 5-7 hours of lecture everyday without any exams or assignments due. Best of all, there’s no gross anatomy lab, so there’s no fear of the smell of formaldehyde sticking to your scrubs, hair and skin. As it’s August, it still honestly feels like summer, but you’ve got to fight the temptation to laze around and pick the beach over the library. Before you know it, it’s September and there’s a pathology, pharmacology and microbiology exam next week. Welcome to reality, where every two weeks there are three exams. It sounds crazy at first, but in a very strange and creepy way, you kind of get used to it and fall into the routine of reviewing your notes as they come along.

Next, several new courses begin to start while you are still adjusting to the other ones. Radiology, pathomechanics, and Intro to surgery literally appear out of nowhere and you are expected to make room in your study schedule for these new subjects. Just like in first year, sometimes sacrifices need to be made and you will neglect a few subjects for several days in order to catch up on material for the upcoming exam. And just like in first year, it’s totally doable and just requires some creativity on your part.

Once Thanksgiving break rolls around, you’ve already taken the final exams for one or two courses, which leaves more room for you to breathe and take a break. Fast forward a few weeks later, and chances are you will be studying for an onslaught of finals once you return from winter break. January is a tough month, and is really the time when the fall courses are wrapped up while new ones are beginning. I repeat: totally doable! Yes, at times my classmates and I felt like tearing our hair out, but focusing more on buzz words and key concepts can go a long way. Also, it pays to play it smart and balance your time wisely. For instance, our pharmacology final encompassed every single drug, including usage, side effects, contraindications, and antidotes for overdoses, of which we had learned since the beginning of the semester. This consisted of fifty six lectures and perhaps almost a thousand drugs, if not more. I knew it would be impossible for me to study that much material while reviewing the notes from my other classes. Using the information from the course coordinator that the final was 70% new material since the second exam, and 30% previously tested material, I did not study any of the old notes and only focused on the new stuff. Alhamdulillah, with this approach, I was able to utilize my study time wisely and did very well on the exam. It would be amazing to study all the information presented in a course, but you’ve got to make the most of the limited time available to you.

Throughout all this, your clinical courses begin and it’s time to see how you will handle the stress of life while performing your job as a physician. Aggravated, anxious and talkative patients will grate on your nerves but you must keep a smile on your face and listen politely while they ramble about their neighbor’s cats stealing their marmalade and how their foot hurts so bad that on a scale of 1-10 the pain is a 27 most mornings. Although you maybe worried about your own issues, you have to push your own anxieties aside and care for this patient. In reality, your clinical course isn’t just teaching you how to properly diagnose patients, but is preparing you for the real life issues that you will face as a doctor.

In general, the courses in second year are much more interesting and correlate more to what a real physician does. Basically, you are starting to get a real taste of what you gave up in your life to attend medical school for. It’s a lot more work than first year, but in my opinion it’s a bit easier as you already know what to expect and have your study habits all figured out. Plus, you’ve got those afternoons in the clinic that help reinforce what you learn and give you a taste of what to look forward to in the next few months after board exams. Valuable skills are learned the hard way, but they will last with you forever.

My last final is on Tuesday inshaAllah, and I cannot believe how exactly two years ago, I was getting ready to embark on this journey and unsure of what to expect. Has it really been two years since I made my first surgical cut into a cadaver? A year since I took a deep breath and realized that it was my last free summer, and that I had three impossibly long years left? Now, I’m halfway through, preparing for boards exams this July inshaAllah, and within a few days will be labeled as a third year…SubhanaAllah how things feel like they take forever, when in reality, time passes so quickly. So make the most of it and study hard, you’ll be proud when you look back at these moments when you realize how all that hard work really did pay off.

Adjusting to the Study load

I will never forget what a wise upperclassmen said during my orientation: “College is like drinking from a water fountain, medical school is like drinking from a fire hydrant. They’re both water, but coming at you at different velocities”. This analogy adequately sums up what studying in med school is like; the subjects in which you are enrolled in, especially in first year, may not be much different than what you studied in college, but the amount of information that you are expected to learn is much more in much less time. It may seem daunting at first, but with a bit of time management and organization, it should be a smooth transition inshaAllah.

First, expect to put in a few more hours per day than what you had previously done in undergrad. Cramming won’t work here, contrary to what some may boast and claim to have done. It’s absolutely impossible to neglect the material or to push it off for several weeks then expect to magically memorize and comprehend it all in twenty-four hours. The best approach is to preview the material before going to class, then reviewing it right after. In this way, you’ve actually studied three times, which is what legend says will help you retain info. It may take more than three times for you to score above average on exams, but in this way you have a head start and are familiar with the material already.

Granted, this system will work until exams start piling up on top of each other. It’s perfectly normal and fine to leave the other subjects for a few days while focusing all your energy into the material that will be tested on. However, you must look back at that material as soon as possible to avoid having new material to learn upon old stuff that you still have no idea about. I was put into this unenviable situation in my first semester; I put all my energy into the histology exam and neglected my physiology and anatomy. Once the histology exam was over, I began prepping for the physiology exam and still had not reviewed the anatomy. As a result, I was completely lost in anatomy lab and had to put in many extra hours just to keep up, as the practical exam was right around the corner. Needless to say, I learned my lesson.

As I mentioned earlier, you need to put in more hours than you thought possible. What works for me is studying after Fajr prayer; its the time of blessings and when most of the world is still asleep, so enjoy the peace while you can! After that, I study on my commute to school, look over my notes during lunch, and study after class and on my way home. Once I reach home, unless I have a major exam the next day, I do not study and instead enjoy some time with my family. With this system, I am able to achieve my goal of 5-6 hours of efficient studying, enjoy some down time, and sleep early. You can study for twelve hours, but emerge with only a few facts worthy of an hour. Make the best of your time and focus on what’s important so that you will be able to have some time for yourself and said going insane.

Once you find your niche and find your groove, it gets better. It really does. The hardest time is adjusting to the study load and figuring out your best method and mode of studying. Whether its group study, flashcards, rote memorization (not recommended), or discussing with yourself the flow of blood and oxygen throughout the circulatory system, whatever works for you is what you should do. Although I’m only halfway through medical school, I like to tell incoming first years that the first semester is the hardest semester, not because of content but because of the transition. The second semester and the second year itself cover more difficult subjects, but the workload is easier to manage because you have been exposed to it already. You are going to be a doctor; facing challenges and overcoming the impossible will be your middle name. And always remember that it will be completely worth it at the end.

Attitudes and Personalities with patients

Imagine sitting in an examining room, nervously waiting to speak with your primary care physician. Earlier this morning, you received a phone call from the nurse requesting your presence at the office as your physician urgently needs to discuss with you your latest blood work results. As your mind races with thousands of scenarios and diagnoses, each more frightening than the other, your physician enters the room with a grim look on his face…

May Allah SWT protect us from ever experiencing such a situation. However, such a scenario is something that we will eventually encounter with our patients, beginning with the clinic and extending throughout our professional careers. As students, we sometimes get excited and become all wrapped up doing the actual medical exams that we forget how it is to be the frightened patient that is hearing medical jargon tossed around him and cannot make heads or tails of why the student doctor is frowning intently at the medical chart. Attitudes and personalities are important in the clinic and the keys to a successful career.

The Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him) taught us to smile. So smile! Entering an examining room and smiling at the patient is one of the easiest ways to display confidence and lower a patient’s anxiety at the same time. It doesn’t have to be a big toothy smile, just a pleasant one while introducing yourself as a student doctor is more than enough. Next, make sure to ask what the patient prefers to be referred as; don’t automatically assume that she would like to be called “Mrs. Rochester”, or that James is “Jimmy”. Some patients would like to maintain the use of their full names, while others are more than willing to forgo the formality. Whatever they choose to be called, it works to start to build a patient-physician relationship.

What is also important is for you to slowly build up rapport between you and the patient by forming some sort of connection. For instance, when asking patient’s about their chief complaint, show some concern about the pain they’re in. If when taking down their personal history they mention their children, make sure to ask about them and congratulate them on any grandchildren. A few weeks ago, my classmates and I were graded on how comfortable the patient felt about us. Since the patient was a standardized patient (an actor so to speak), they were bale to provide us with constructive criticism and worthy feedback. As so, my evaluator gave me full marks as she felt relaxed with me and mentioned the fact that I sat on a stool during the patient interview removed the barrier of the foreboding glare of a doctor looking down on a patient lying on the examination bed. It seems simple and silly, but people really need to feel that someone actually cares about them. In doing so, they may open up and reveal to you other issues that will help clue you in to what their diagnosis may be.

Please, please do not use medical jargon with your patients! Unless you are treating a neuroscientist or a fellow healthcare member, refrain from using terms such as palpation and edema. To us, these are normal words, but to the lay person, especially a frightened one, just hearing these words may cause them extra anxiety. Try to say something along the lines of, “I’m going to apply some pressure here” or “You’ve got some fluid accumulation”. Even the word tumor automatically causes people to assume the worse, so be sure to mention benign versus malignant when describing it. As one of my clinical professors says, “when you deal with patients, always remember your first day in clinic..you had no idea what people were saying or doing!”.

When discussing treatment plans with patients, make sure to ask them where they live and if they will need any accommodations to external health services. Although you will not be providing the care or making the final decisions, the patient will be more likely to cooperate with the health team and less likely to discontinue their medical treatment. The overall benefit is for the patient to feel relaxed and willing to come back; so get rid of the frown and loosen up! You may be a ninja with the scalpel and can perform ten different types of bunionectomies in thirty minutes, but if you have poor communication skills or a condescending attitude, you ain’t going anywhere buddy. If you want to be a successful doctor, it starts from now!

Academically preparing for med school

You may have heard it several times from many people, but I will reiterate it again: Med school is nothing like undergraduate. True, you may retake several courses that you took in college, but even then the information is present differently and certain areas may be stressed more than others. The ideal goal to achieve is to take as many courses as possible in your first three years that will help you get a small taste of how med school really is before you matriculate.

First things first, it is highly recommended that you take a course in gross anatomy. One of the most challenging courses in the first semester is anatomy, as it is a course unlike any other, no matter how many cat or frog dissection labs you took. The material is overwhelming, difficult to pronounce, and may seem like learning a different language (besides the fact that many terms are in Latin), and it would be a smart choice to have heard some of it previously. I personally was on the waiting list for an anatomy course at my undergrad, but was unable to take it. Later, I really regretted the fact that I was unable to study it earlier, but alhamdulillah Allah knows best.

Besides anatomy, try your best to take as many life science courses as you can, especially physiology and microbiology. If pharmacology is offered, seize the opportunity and register. Even if you are afraid of the bad reputation the professor has, or are worried that your GPA will be negatively affected, the benefits will outweigh the risks and you will be grateful later on. One of my biggest regrets is that I did not take certain science courses due to my fear of receiving a low grade. If material from any of these classes does not show up on your MCAT, it will definitely be covered in your basic sciences in med school and may make it one less subject to study for. Also, try to take at least two science courses, if not three, together every semester; in med school, you are taking nothing but science classes, so you want to show the admission officers that you are well prepared to take on a rigorous schedule and still earn high grades.

Broadening your realm with several non-science courses is extremely important as well. Med schools don’t want a science nerd with a perfect GPA yet without an inkling of information outside of genetics and biochemistry. They want to see diversity in your field of study. I’m not suggesting that you study a certain field and supplement it with science as a minor, or vice versa, but you need to make sure that you take some courses that are “outside of the box”, such as an Asian global studies course, or a course on fairytales. Pick a language to study, even if its a beginner’s course. Spanish is great, Latin is a good idea for figuring out medical terms, but why not try Swahili or Turkish? You don’t need to be fluent in it, but trying something different will look great on your resume and you’ll have fun as well.

Lastly, but certainly just as important, is your senior year. You most likely have taken the MCAT and have submitted your applications, but still have a few courses left to go. Do your absolute best to have completed most of your requirements, both your major and general education, before your senior year. It’s really the best time to relax and enjoy the senioritis that is bound to come with your graduation date slowly approaching.  Make sure your schedule is free at least twice a week as it is strongly recommended to conduct research during your senior year. It’s a great experience, you really do learn a lot and it is a unique chance to view how a scientific researcher carries out their clinical research to help you as a future physician treat your patient. It does not need to be a completely ambitious or outrageous topic, but something that has potential to perhaps become published. Not only do you build networking relationships with other clinicians from various fields, but it also gives you exposure to a field that you may consider supplementing with your medical training. Many students choose to pursue PhDs along with their medical degree after conduction researching while in college.

There is a lot that goes into preparing academically for med school, but there is a lot more to be gained. It takes patience and perseverance, but it really is worth it at the very end. If your dream is to wear that white coat, then hang it on your door while studying organic chemistry and remind yourself that you will make it one day. Nothing great was ever achieved the easy way, and always remember “In ma3 al 3sr yusra” (with hardship comes ease). Surat Al-Inshirah, ayah 6

Advisors-who to seek advice from?

May Allah SWT have mercy on Deah, Yosur, and Razan and reunite them                                          with their families in Jannah inshaAllah, Ameen

One of the most important things in medical school is to have a good advisor. Someone who offers you meaningful advice and support when you need it, and giving you constructive criticism when you require it. For those in the system already, you know that the academics and emotional stress placed on you in med school is completely different from your undergraduate education. Its a whole different ball park, and you need someone to help you navigate the way. Otherwise, you may find yourself trapped in a maze unable to find an exit.

When I was in my sophomore year of college, I walked into the health professions office seeking advice and exited twenty minutes fuming and vowing to never darken its doorstep ever again. The advisor took a glance at my file and declared that I would never get accepted to my medical school and that I should start looking for a backup plan. When I tried to ask why and how she came to this conclusion when I had excellent grades and was only in my second year, she arrogantly declared that there were too many med school hopefuls and that I just didn’t seem the type they were looking for. Needless to say I had a negative view of advisors and did not seek their advice throughout the entire medical school application process.

After I matriculated and started my first semester of med school, I realized that I was having a difficult time adjusting to the study load balancing my commute and free time. In fact, it became so emotionally taxing that despite my misgivings based on my previous experience, I was driven to the Dean of Academic Affair’s office to discuss with him about what I should do. Before I began to speak with him, I mentally prepared myself for an onslaught of negative comments such as those that I had experienced in undergrad. However, as soon as I began talking with him and discussed with him my issues, I realized that this was one of the nicest people that I had ever met. He advised me certain ways to study (see an upcoming post inshaAllah about adjusting to the study load), certain activities that I should give up while choosing a select few that I could balance, and most important of all, understood the deal behind my long commute. In fact, he told me about how he also commuted for two hours while completing his PhD, but the advice that he gave himself and shared with me was that its only for a limited time, ad that everything eventually passes. Most important of all, he told me to relax and that to focus on my clinical class more than the basic sciences, as that is what will determine whether or not you will be a great physician and able to impress the residency directors.

Another great resource for advice are upperclassmen that you can trust. I stress the ones that you are able to trust because there are many upperclassmen that still act like its their senior year of high school and they can lord it over the freshman while traumatizing them with horror stories. Just last month several third years tried to scare my class about the horrors of a certain final and how everyone drops a full letter grade due to the poor scores on the exam. We took it two weeks ago and alhamdulillah, when the results were released almost everyone passed with flying colors.

On the other hand, there are some upperclassmen that can serve as great resources for you. The advisor that I had spoke with introduced me to a third year as to serve as my mentor. We became great friends, and she was able to advise me in many matters throughout my first year. A year later, she is graduating mashaAllah and relates to me the dos and dont’s of what she had learned along the way. Not only did I receive excellent advice and guidance, but I was able to gain a wonderful friend as well.

It’s interesting how our religion encourages us to hear and accept advice. As a hadith quotes, Al deen al naseeha, or the religion is advice. It may be difficult to find someone who can give you good advice, but they are definitely worth searching for. Also, do not allow your previous experiences to cloud your judgement or prevent you from seeking guidance. If I had refused to speak with the advisor last year, I may have continued blindly in an unorganized environment, and Allahu A3lam where I would have been right now. If you can’t find a reasonable advisor who is willing to speak with you about your issues, then consider speaking with an upperclassman. Most schools have a big-little mentor program, and they should be able to hook you up with someone that has a similar background and experiences. Avoid taking advice from one of your classmates. Why? They’re in the same boat as you, taking the same classes, so they may be struggling like you but are unwilling to admit it. They may also discourage you so they can ensure that you are not taking their place on the ranking charts. Taking advice from the right people is important, and a little can go a long way.

Hurry to Prayer, Hurry to Success

Hayy 3ala al-Salah, Hayy 3ala al-falah (Hurry to Prayer, Hurry to success)–Azan

Its Monday afternoon, you just spent four hours furiously typing notes as your pathology professor droned on about amyloidosis, and you still need to look at your notes for a physical medicine exam in half an hour. Just as you are about to settle in and start studying, your phone buzzes with the notification of Zuhr prayer. Hesitant, you look at your phone then back at your notes. You need every minute to study, yet you also need to make wudu and pray. However, if you finish the exam in less than the allotted time, you can squeeze in the salah before Asr time. Satan’s playing his game, and you need to make a choice. What are you going to do?

You’ve got to weigh your priorities. An exam is going to start in 30 minutes, and will take you at least an hour, two tops. You might finish early, but it might also prove challenging and force you to take the whole two hours. Zuhr won’t take you more than ten minutes total with the sunna and tasbeeh after, so why take the chance and run the risk of missing it? If you think about it, you might space out or lose concentration for a few minutes, thus wasting valuable time that you could have invested in prayer. At the same time, the azan is calling you to hurry to prayer and success…what more of an encouragement do you need? Allah SWT is beckoning you to meet Him in the salah and promising you the success that you crave; just a short duaa in sujood and inshaAllah you will pass that exam with flying colors.

It’s not just the fard (required) prayers that are roads to prosperity, its the nawafil (voluntary) as well. Earlier in the semester I gave in my exam and left the room feeling dejected, and to be honest, was not completely confident that I had even passed. Before leaving the building, I prayed two rakas just to thank Allah SWT, although I admit I was not in the best of moods at that time. A few days later, the results were released and I was shocked to find myself at the top of the list with the highest scores in the class. Just prostrating to Allah SWT and thanking Him can go a long way.

Another interesting issue with regards to salah is finding a decent prayer area. You may need to leave class for a few minutes to pray, so walking to the nearest masjid is certainly out of the question. During my first week of school, I prayed in the hallway and near the stairway, but had many students passing both in front and behind me, which isn’t an ideal position to be in. After a bit of searching, I found a small lounge connected to the bathroom yet separated by a wall in each floor. I mapped out the qiblah and found myself a convenient place to nip in and out of class during salah time. An added bonus is that female students who passed through the lounge would cease their conversations or move their backpacks when they saw me praying. Several stopped to watch me pray and asked me about salah. Quite recently two nurses at our clinic waited until I was finished to mention that every time they enter the lounge they saw me praying, and were curious enough to ask a few questions. They then introduced themselves and mentioned that they looked forward to working with me in the clinic this summer when I start my third year inshaAllah. Anything that aids dawah is brownie points 🙂

When people see you respecting your religion, you earn their respect as well. Not only are you wearing hijab and avoiding alcohol, but you are making time in your busy schedule to meet your Lord. For instance, at our school, the MSA put in a request for a room to pray Jumma in. Although we only required the room for an hour, the building manager personally unlocks the door for us every Friday morning and allows us full reign of the room for as long as we need it, provided we lock the door when we are finished.          We don’t try to fit salah into our lives; instead, we center our lives around salah. Its the key to our success, and without it, we won’t be able to open any doors of opportunity, so why delay it? Yes, its ten minutes cut out of our limited study/class time, but the success that follows is sure to be worth it.