Medical School Update #6: Second Year in the Books! Pre-Dedicated Edition

Hello everyone!!!!!!! It’s been a while I know. Sooooooo much has happened since I have last written and I did not feel like sitting on my laptop and updating everyone. But I plan on separating the next couple of posts into three sections: pre-dedicated, my step one experience, and everything post-dedicated. For those who do not know what dedicated is, it is the time needed to study for the notorious USMLE Step One Exam, one of the worst exams in history lol. I wanted to jump straight into how dedicated went but it would be weird since in my previous update I last left on Thanksgiving break. Therefore, I thought I should fill you in on how that time period went. These posts are going to be very long and pretty vulnerable so read at your own discretion. But I hope you find it helpful!

TW: Talks about Death

In my previous update, we left after I took my B2E exam and passed it. I was excited to finally be done and ready to enjoy Thanksgiving break with my family. We were going to New York!!!! For those who did not read my other updates, I missed out on the chance to go to New York when I did not do well on my cardio pulm and renal final and had to retake it. I was bummed about it then so I was so happy for the turnaround.

New York was amazing. I got to meet up with my relatives and visit old places and try great food. I did not like how crowded and loud it was but it was definitely more lively than Columbus. It was so nice to forget about school and everything else for a little bit before I started classes again.

Finally, it was time to get back to school. If you did not know from the previous update, I had COVID and was not in person or have not seen my classmates in three weeks. We had started a new block called Balance, Control, and Repair (BCR) which covered MSK, derm, psychology, and neurology. Honestly, I was not ready to come back at all. I had felt isolated during that time period so to finally transition back into being in person was surreal and daunting. When I came back, I sat in the back of the class and did not want to talk to anyone. One of my classmates tried talking with me asking me how my break was which was really sweet of her. It allowed me to open up and feel comfortable being back in person. And of course, I was called on to answer a question in class so everyone knew I was back. Great.

Slowly, I was getting adjusted and I had to because of course we had our first exam on derm and MSK that Thursday. I was not trying to stress too much about it but it was hard not to. We had a little quiz the day before and I had gotten a 60% on it so my nerves were really high. I studied like crazy the night before, going over all of the slides, doing questions, and praying for a miracle. I do not remember exactly how the exam felt, probably was difficult, but I got a 70%! In undergrad, I would have not been happy with a score like that but my mindset has changed to Ps get degrees!

The following day, I had a standardized patient interview and feedback session. I was so nervous and I barely prepared for it. I went around to each patient, asking them what their symptoms were, how long they lasted, their family history, past medical history, etc. I thought I was doing fine. However, their feedback destroyed me. “I see you writing and you look like you are trying to understand what is happening but you are not there yet.”, one of the standardized patients (SPs) told me. I was crushed. I went into my car and just cried. I knew I was being dramatic but it felt like I could never be up to the standards that the SPs or the school wanted me to be.

The next week we started the neurology section and just when things seem like they could be getting better from the previous week, they were not. Neuro is something I did not understand then and I do not understand now, even after having studied for step. It’s one of God’s greatest mysteries that I do not feel like carving out and understanding but I am forced to. Lesions, brain imagings, spinal cord abnormalities…yup not for me. The first day of class left me confused and I later went up to the professor to ask for advice. “It’s ok”, he told me. “It’s going to take time.” But time was not in my favor. In less than 2 months we would have to take the final for this course and then start dedicated for step. Everything was happening so fast and I felt like I was falling off.

The next day, the school gave us a day off to stay home and study because of how difficult neurology was going to be. I planned on using that time to complete some volunteer hours as the due date to complete them was approaching. I tried to get out of bed that morning…but I could not. Shooting pain was coming from my back and I could barely walk to the restroom. I experienced something like this last year after sitting down for long periods of time during virtual med school. I did not think this would happen again. I canceled my volunteer opportunity and scheduled an appointment with the urgent care clinic near my house. When I was telling the NP the symptoms I was experiencing and the pain I felt she asked, “Why didn’t you come here last year?”. She had a point, but I was scared to enter any healthcare clinic with Covid on the rise during that time. “What you are experiencing is something someone my age should be having, so I am scared of what will happen to you when you reach my age.” Her condescending tone and annoyance at me and my condition made me want to leave the room. After some tests, I found out that l had sciatica and needed to follow up with my primary care physician to schedule some physical therapy appointments. Of course I had sciatica. Just another thing I needed to worry about in the long list of problems I already had to face.

I placed a heat compressor on my back and did the exercises that the NP recommended to help alleviate my symptoms. I focused so much on my grades and trying to get those up that I neglected my health. I could not remember the last time I went to the gym and I always spent countless hours sitting and studying. Now I unfortunately was paying the price.

Therefore during class breaks, I would try to walk around and move my body to help with the back pain. If I sat down for longer than an hour, I would feel the burning pain again. This sucks, this really sucks. Neuro was getting more challenging, I had back pain and, I also had a clinical medicine final on Friday that I did not study for.

As challenging as the days got, I tried to cheer myself up. Winter break was right around the corner and if I had to crawl to get to that point, then so be it. I struggled in classes and tried my best to study for the clinical medicine final. I made a PowerPoint of all the things I have learned from the beginning of the year up until December and I even shared it with my classmates. I got this, I am prepared for this. On the day of the CM final, I was determined to take the exam and pass it. It should be easy, I thought.

Hahahahaha, nope. The final was way harder than I thought. They asked questions that I had barely studied or did not know about. Oh no, I do not want to retake this exam. Please God, please. After the exam, I went to brunch with some of my classmates and after talking with them about certain questions and answers, I just knew I failed. There is no way I passed that dumb exam. Later on, I found out that I actually did not and I was crushed. Another retake I had to conquer.

If you thought I would be taking a break after that exam then think again. Every med student at my school is required to do a male and female exam on standardized patients. I had done the female exam in August and I was supposed to do the male exam the month prior but I had COVID. Therefore, I was scheduled to take it right after the CM final. Great. I was not looking forward to it at all. The female exam was fine because I was working with women but the thought of performing the male exam made my stomach churn and filled my whole body with anxiety. I came into the meeting room with my white coat on, apprehensive about how the day would end. The men were very nice and professional, explaining the whole procedure and the importance of the male exam which is to check the reproductive organs and detect prostate cancer. We first watched a video on how to do it, then we practiced on models and finally, I had to perform the exam on the standardized patient. Y’all…I was soooooooo nervousssssss. I have never experienced anything like this in my life so, of course, I made mistakes when performing the exam. The SP was so kind and understanding, making sure that I did it correctly and guiding me along. When it was all over, the SP and the observer clapped saying I did a great job and that I remained calm the whole time. Overall, I am glad that I understand how the male exam works and the importance of it, but if I have the choice to do it again….no thanks 😊.

Winter break was going to start on Friday and I could just feel freedom at the tip of my tongue. 2 weeks of med school had already snatched my hijab off and I was not willing to stay long enough for my edges to be ripped off as well. Our first exam for all of the things we learned in neurology was that Thursday and I was not ready at all. This was unlike any of the other exams in medical school because now we had to identify brain lesions, the brain stem, and which side hemineglect would be on. After the review session on Wednesday, my friends and I spent hours studying for the exam. The benefits of studying with others are that I can learn so much from them and see how they understand different topics in class. The disadvantages are that I realize I do not know as much as you thought you did and can get bouts of Imposter Syndrome and a lot of time can be wasted talking and doing other things. After our review session, I went home and did practice questions at home. There was so much I did not know but I hoped I knew enough to do decent on the exam tomorrow.

Finally, it was time to take the exam. When I saw the first question, I knew it was going to be a big fat L. I barely had time to get through them all and I ended up guessing on the next couple of questions. When it was over and I discussed it with my classmates, I was shocked when I found out my score. 48%. Dear Lord have Mercy. Is this how I am going to go into winter break? I had bubble tea with some of my classmates afterward to try to quell some of the anxiety I felt but it did not help that much. Why were these exams so hard? Why? 😭😭😭

I went home and tried to not think about the exam. Who cares, it is over, I thought. It’s winter break. I had to plan out some time to study for step since I was scheduled to take it in March. I also wanted to watch Spiderman and hang out with my friends. I was not going to let school take over this break.

Winter break actually turned out to be better than I expected. Spiderman was incredible and it had a huge turnout! I got to see a lot of my friends and I was able to do some questions over break. I met up with my professor about my exam virtually and when I told him I did not watch some of the videos he put out for us he said, “Well, I am not surprised that you failed it then.” Ouch. I was not looking forward to winter break ending. Because school was going to be a roller coaster of a ride once we started back up again.

And it sure was. January was our last month before we truly started step-studying. All the talks of “I am doing Uworld”, “I bought an NBME”, “I made my schedule” made me want to bash my head against a wall repeatedly. I was not ready for any of it. I was barely surviving school as it was and now all of the sudden I have to focus on this really important exam? Heh. At this time, some of my classmates stopped showing up to class altogether to study for STEP. The student lounge, usually filled with students getting lunch and playing ping-pong, became silent. Everyone was on study mode and it was a scary feeling.

The school material paradoxically got easier. We were learning psych and I actually loved it! It was understandable and did not leave me confused after class ended. There was a sprinkle of neurology we had to learn in addition to psych but it was not as terrible as the neuro we learned before winter break. One night I got food poisoning and had to stay home because of it (I undercooked my eggs for dinner), and it was still easy to follow the class virtually. I actually would have enjoyed this time period more if the pressure of step one was not breathing down my neck.

In the following days, I had to retake my clinical medical final and then prepare for the second to last exam before the final. The retake was not bad at all and I ended up scoring really well on it, thank God. I was so happy to be free from that. I also met up with my professor about the standardized patient exam that went poorly and he gave me really good advice on how to do well the next time. I was feeling better about school and went into the third exam with a better mindset than the second and scored even better! I might be able to pass this block once and for all!

Our school requires that every second year takes an OSCE which is similar to the standardized patient exams except it is graded. Everyone needs a 70% to pass and move on. Mine was scheduled for the end of January. I was sooo nervous but I studied the best that I could and had to leave the rest to God. I tried to be upbeat and cheerful but man were the cases HARD. One of the cases especially was something I barely reviewed. Ya Allah, I do not want to retake this one too. I was so crushed when it was over. Every single time I was on my comeup, another dumb exam tried to humble me to the ground. I was so over it.

Scores would not come out until weeks later so I just had to focus on the last exam before the final. In about a week, we would start dedicated. How did time fly so fast?

On a Sunday night as I was preparing for class, I heard about the death of Cheslie Kryst. I was stunned and saddened. How could someone so intelligent, beautiful, and driven take their own life? I related to her story of being successful at such a young age but not feeling enough. It was heart-wrenching coming into class the next morning and I cried on the way there. It was a reminder to myself to be kind to others and most importantly to myself. I kept telling myself that even though I always feel like I do not deserve to be in the position I am in now because I do not feel smart enough or good enough, it is ultimately not true. I try my best all of the time and that should be enough. And my worth should not be determined by how well I do on exams or how many awards I obtain. I should be happy with myself just the way that I am.

On Tuesday, I was feeling much better and went to do fingerprinting that my school required. Now that rotations were looming, students had so many things to do in order to prepare for it and we were running out of time. I was so happy to finally have that out of the way and rewarded myself with some bubble tea. As I was about to go home, one of my childhood friends texted me. “Oumou, you know what I just heard tho…?” What could it possibly be? I knew it was probably something serious as my friend rarely texts me. “Samiya died last night.”

I felt my breath getting knocked out of me. Samiya? My friend and previous Islamic school classmate? The one I texted to hang out with me a couple months ago? She died in a car accident. No way, I thought. She’s lying. How could she possibly know that? It’s not true, it cannot be true.

I was truly in disbelief as I was driving home. Surely, my friend is misinformed. She’s not even in the country right now. How could she know? But as I slowly reached home, I knew that she had to be right. I tried to control my emotions while driving home but I broke down sobbing. How? How could this be? My sister called me and I sobbed even more. This is not real, this cannot be real.

I went on my couch and spent the whole day crying. It felt like my world had turned upside down. I have never lost anyone so close to me and it felt like a piece of me left with her. I went online and saw the news of a carwreck on our local highway, further confirming the story for me.

I emailed my school to let me stay home the following day. The sad thing about that was that was the last day of class before our final. I was looking forward to being with my classmates that day, but I knew I could not. Some of my classmates shared their notes with me as I tried to figure out my next steps. I could not believe this, I just could not.

Our last exam before the final was that Friday. I spent the next couple of days studying and crying. Samiya’s funeral was set at the same time as our exam. And I could not make it. Even if I emailed the school to delay me to take the last exam, I was sure it would not work out because of how last minute it was, especially with dedicated starting in a couple days. On Thursday night, a huge snowstorm came and forced everyone to stay home, therefore we would have to take the exam online. Even with the weather changes, Samiya’s family still wanted to have the funeral on Friday as it is a blessed day in Islam and it worked for them. So there was no way I could make it. And I was devastated.

As I was taking the last exam virtually, I tried to be in a zone and forget about everything that happened the past couple of weeks. I just needed to do well to sit for this final on Monday and then I could fully grieve right after. Alhamdudillah, I ended up passing the final exam and getting the opportunity to take the NBME on Monday. While I was happy to hear that, there were lingering feelings of sadness around me. I still missed my friend’s funeral. Was all of this even worth it?

Was all of this even worth it?

I really wanted to visit Samiya’s family and give my condolences. My family and I decided to do it on Sunday when the roads were easier to drive but also the day before the last exam of my second year. No other time worked, so I stopped studying to pay my respects. When we reached Samiya’s house and walked over, each step I took felt heavy and I fought the urge to run back to my car. Could we do this another day?, I thought. When we finally reached there, we sat amongst her family members and friends. I saw her older sister and I felt terrible, wondering what she must be going through. When her mom came into the living room, she looked and me and said “I remember your face, Oumou.” It reminded me of the times I would come by Samiya’s house to pick her up, her mother trying to offer me some Somali coffee and cookies or the times when I would see them both at the masjid. And now Samiya was gone and we remained. When the other women realized that I had been friends with Samiya, they started to hug and kiss me making me cry uncontrollably. We stayed around for a bit talking about her life and making duaa (prayers) for her. Then it was time to leave. But now, I did not want to go. I wanted to stay and just hold onto this moment. I was not ready to say goodbye.

When we finally got home, I went straight into studying. The BCR NBME (the big final) was tomorrow and I wanted to pass it and move on into dedicated. I was not trying to retake it at all and wanted to use the first days of dedicated to take a breath. I felt selfish trying to do this while knowing my friend was not with me. I did not really know how to cope except move forward.

It was finally the day of the BCR NBME. I studied all that I could. I prayed that this exam would be easy and that I would be able to pass. I did not even care if I got a 70. I just wanted to pass.

I felt the anxiety hit me before the exam started. This is it. The last exam before we start dedicated. The last exam of second year. I could not believe it. I thought of all the times I have failed and did not think I would make it, but here I was.

The exam was 150 questions long. Some of the questions were easy while some of them were challenging. I marked 50 of the questions. Oh no, that is not good, I need a 70% to pass. The time went by slowly from 3 hours to 2 hours to 1 hour to 30 minutes to 15 minutes to 5 minutes to 30 seconds…TIME. It was over. At least I hoped so.

All of my classmates were in the hallways excited to be done. Of course, the gunners were going over the answers together saying “Oh yea, I chose this!”. I went and found my TBL group members and gave them each a small gift. It was crazy to think that I started med school with this group and now we would be group members no longer. I would be given a new group for the next stage of medical school. I was sad that it was over but looked forward to a new beginning.

When I got home I was scared about my score. Please God please let me pass. Please. I do not want to retake this dumb exam. Please. The school was supposed to release scores at 5 pm but had a delay and said they would release it at 12 pm the following day. Great just great. Now I cannot fully start dedicated until I know how I did on this exam.

I was supposed to have my first day of dedicated on heme/oncology where I would do 80 questions of Uworld and review them. I was excited to go into step studying, I was one step closer into rotations, no pun intended. As I was about to get ready to start, I received an email from the school. Scores has been released. Ok…please God please. I refreshed and I got…..68%.

I failed. NOOOOOOOO.

I was so crushed. I failed by 2%. That means I would have to retake it the following week, push back dedicated studying and probably push back my step date which was in 5 weeks. Oh no.

I decided that I would not be studying that day and just spent the rest of the day feeling down. It felt like I would never get over the trials and tribulations medical school handed to me. Each time I got out of one tunnel, I had to go through a bigger one. And I was sick of it.

I made a groupchat for the rest of the retakers and we decided to meet up virtually to go over concepts we missed on the exam. It was nice to know that I was not alone. As terrible as it felt, the retake was in a couple of days so if we passed that we could go back to dedicated and be ready in time for step. Each night, we hopped on Webex which is like zoom and spent hours going over everything. We actually made it into a game in which one person would answer questions for as long as they could until they got it wrong and then another person would take the hotseat and repeat. I reviewed all the neuro, psych, MSK, and derm concepts until my brain was fried and just hoped for the best. On Sunday night, studying was particularly challenging because my family was watching the SuperBowl and I wanted to watch it too. But I had to pass this exam tomorrow, I was not going to let it hold me back from entering third year.

Finally, it was the day of the retake exam. I was nervous of course but not as nervous as I was on all of the previous retakes I had to take. I am a professional retaker now lol πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚. The questions are usually the same and most of the time everyone passes. I went over the document of concepts we made one last time and prayed that I passed. I was just ready for this to be over.

And…the exam was still hard. Of course. Even though a lot of the questions were the same as before, there were definitely some curveballs and some of them made me question whether or not I truly knew the material. What in the world?, I thought. I finished the exam with a shaky hand. I had marked about 30 questions which was not too bad, but what if I failed this retake? Then I would not get to be a third year.

After the retake, I went to my favorite post-exam restaurant, Rusty Taco, and ordered shrimp tacos while watching show reviews on YouTube. I don’t care anymore, I did everything I could and I should celebrate all of my wins. I then went home and anxiously waited for my score. My school likes to do this thing where they know our scores but wait until 5 pm to release them. It is very irritating and anxiety-inducing but hey hopefully this would be the last time I deal with this. Right?

At 4 pm, I checked my score report and saw P. Wait, does this mean I pass???? Omg I passed! I tried not to feel to excited because I did not see my actual score. And then finally at 5 pm I refreshed the page and saw…..88%!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I PAASSSSSSSEDDD!!!!!!! Alhamdudillah!!!!!!!

When I saw that I truly passed I started crying. This pass meant so much to me. I went through soooooooo much this block and did not think I would make it out. I still cannot believe I made it out. But by God’s grace, I did.

I say this with each blog post but writing this was really difficult. I kept tearing up as I wrote each sentence because man was this a journey. I am grateful that I have been given this opportunity to be here and to share my story to inspire others. I learned that even when I want to focus on certain things like school, life does not stop at all. It’s such an important lesson that I feel like I did not truly learn until Samiya passed. Life is toooo short. Please please pretty please keep my beautiful friend and her family in your prayers. If you would like to donate to help build a water well in her name, here is the link:

Be on the lookout for my next blog on how dedicated went (probably in a month because it’s going to be a looooooong one). If you think this one was hard, just you wait. You are in for a ride. Enjoy your summer break, future physicians!!!

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