Back to School – Again

Today I want to tell you about my first week of school!

That’s right, school! Because a bachelors and an MD is not enough. I’m getting my masters! I need to plaster that office wall in diplomas.

I am happy that my alma mater had some options for this, although my guess is most universities with medical schools would have similar programs. I am doing what essentially amounts to a Masters of Public Health, but is designed to be completed in one year rather than two. Which is great because it lets me really get something out of this year! And I will gain some good skills and a better understanding of the very important area of preventative medicine.

Deciding to apply for this program was stressful. The deadline was only about a week after I found out that I didn’t match in the second round, so it was a second big scramble to get an application together for this while at the same time having to quickly try to figure out if that was actually how I wanted to spend my year.

There was a lot to weigh when I was making the decision to apply or not, and I had no idea what the program would be like. Did I really want to go back into classes? If I do it, should I do the program full time and finish the masters this year? Or part time and use the time for clinical work? Speaking of, could I still fit clinical time in if I did it full time? Will residency programs care about this masters? Will it make me more competitive? Or would it be better to just set up full time clinical work for the year, like another year of electives?

I don’t think there are answers to these questions. But it didn’t stop me from asking them. I met with students who had do the program in the past, both as full-time and part-time students. I met with Program Directors. I met with doctors in student affairs from my medical school. People had opinions and guesses, but no one had answers. No one knows how to deal with the unmatched student.

After talking with everyone, and trying to giving extra weight to the program directors and doctors on program selection committees I spoke with, I made my decision on what fit best with what I thought I wanted and needed to do. Program Directors seemed to like the idea of the masters – especially if I found a way to do my research project in an area related to my residency of choice. They also said that I should stay involved in clinical medicine. And students who have gone through the program said that you can work clinically if you do the program part-time, but it would be too busy if you do it full-time. They also pointed out that it isn’t immediately obvious to residency programs when you’re applying if you did it full-time or part-time: either way you list it as a masters “in progress”, so there was a nice little loop-hole. The unmatched students I spoke with who didn’t do a masters mainly chose not to because they already had a masters or had some other organized program lined up for the year.

So I applied for it (and got in!). Everyone involved with a residency program seemed to be telling me to, and I didn’t already have a masters or any other impressive plans for this year. In the end, I decided to take it full-time, which was a difficult choice. After all, as I already said, residency programs won’t necessarily notice if I did it part-time and I really need clinical experience so it certainly would have been easier to only take a couple courses and spend a lot more time in hospitals or clinics. But that’s not what I’m doing for a number of reasons. (1) I don’t like half-assing things. (2) I think I would always regret not finishing it, but I don’t think I can see myself coming back to it after residency. (3) I am looking at the option of doing one of the “plus one” options after a family med residency and it would probably be a lot more helpful to have a finished masters at that point then one that was “in progress” two years earlier. And most importantly, (4) I find epidemiology really interesting and while I hadn’t been thinking about the field public health before Match Day, I think it might actually be something I could get a lot of enjoyment out of, and so doing the Masters would give me a much better taste of it than… not doing it.

After these first two weeks into classes, I’m really enjoying it! My courses are fantastic with wonderful professors who are so passionate about their field, and I think I am going to come out the other side as a much stronger physician with better knowledge and skills in preventative medicine and public health and I’ll be more confident to be involved in research through my career. And I think I might actually finish the year with a good understanding of statistics, which is something I honestly never thought would happen!

So here I am! Sitting through hours of lectures in classes with people who graduated high school when I was starting medical school, working on my research project, preparing myself for writing papers and finals, and studying for more than a P=MD. And doing what all the past students told me not to do: the masters full-time and clinical work. I hope I haven’t bit off more than I can chew.

Photo credit: Wokandapix

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