Life of a Medical Student During a Pandemic

Next in the series is Evelyn Wong giving her view of her second year at medical school.

Everyone feels the impact of the pandemic on their education a little differently. I’m sure it’s a huge mix, with some feeling content and satisfied and some getting the short end of the stick. Let me tell you my experience of studying during the pandemic as a year 2 medical student.

By Evelyn Wong, 2nd Year Medical Student

I don’t know when it started but 2nd year was when I really found joy in studying. Honestly it’s probably because staying home all day has made studying the only way I can make myself feel productive and useful. With the previous 1st year cut short by three months and year 1 being a mess of ‘getting used to things and figuring out what it is I am actually doing,’ I found at the start of year 2 that I was still kind of clueless about how to study for medicine!

Since then, I went on a whirlwind of discovering how best to study. I consulted Reddit, Youtube and even Quora. That was when I realised that I should be doing more than watching lectures and taking notes. I’m sure a lot of medical students have gone through the phase of discovering Anki and practice questions. Those really added so much more fun to my studying. Year 2 for me was about discovering myself even in the absence of physical opportunities, and finding out why I want to try hard and how I can develop myself as a student.

I’m a learner that needs lots of catalysts. I remember going to summer schools in the US and feeling academically overwhelmed but weirdly loving it because the competitiveness drove me to want to constantly improve. In some ways, the pandemic took that away from me. There was no opportunity to feel that drive amongst eager students in a lecture hall, nor were there any opportunities to meet new people who would inspire me in more diverse ways. On days where I had lower motivation during the pandemic, I found that these were the reasons I felt lost.

And so I went on a search for new catalysts. I explored everything. The first stop was online events from across the country. I wanted the drive to learn more about different specialties in medicine, so I got it from watching webinars and attending conferences. The second stop was exploring alternative ways to study. I started studying for the USMLE, which helped incredibly to give me a milestone to aim for and a purpose to excel. From the huge online community of USMLE medics community, I discovered the best Youtube channels, websites, paid courses, textbooks and podcasts that I now use every day with a big smile on my face. It’s weird, but finding these things and talking about it with other USMLE people have made it feel more like a group effort and challenge than something I’m going through alone. It’s also really great that I’m now learning things twice as deep and using fun resources to study.

The third stop was connecting with people. I mustered up all the courage I can possibly have to face strangers on Zoom. It’s for a good reason – to find a mentor or just anyone who could give me a bit of advice. I wanted to figure out what I wanted to intercalate in and what to do after graduating. The future is scary, but thinking about it makes me want to do more with my life now. When I came out of those Zoom meetings though, I didn’t get the answers I wanted, but I got a sliver of life experience from them. Hearing a bit of life experience gave me more direction and confidence in my overwhelming journey to become the doctor I wanted to be.

Feeling more driven makes me feel happier, and in the pandemic I found that I had to crawl my way to get to that feeling. Something I did to take care of my mental health was start a little study club online. It’s probably the best thing I’ve done this year. Live streaming my studying, talking with other struggling students, having fun with them on movie night – honestly, how could I ask for a better community? I was comforted and encouraged knowing that my world was more than my small, window-less dorm room, but there were people going through the exact same struggles around the world. We broke through barriers of time zones and computer screens to come together as a study group.

As one Youtuber said about studying, motivation is volatile, but habits can get you somewhere. This statement has a lot of good meaning, but I don’t agree entirely with it, because for me studying during the pandemic has been like adding pretty melodies to a constant drum line. A song can be nice on its own with a good drum line, but I enjoy the flair of other instruments and a good melody. I need my motivation to build my habits, and I want to feel driven because I’m happy when I am. The pandemic has taught me there needs to be more to life than the constant studying for exams or else I’ll go crazy. Dive headfirst into new experiences during the pandemic and perhaps you, too, can find your drive.