Dear Med Student,
I know you’re scared, yet excited. You’re excited to finally be studying real medicine, not organic chemistry or physics! Clinical rotations are right around the corner, and you’ll finally be taking care of actual patients! But, it’s also an incredibly stressful time with so many pivotal moments - moments of growth, failure, anxiety, rejection. How will I pick a specialty? What electives do I do? How do I survive Step 1? OMG, what the heck is the match? How many interviews should I schedule?
If you’re an MS2, you’re probably preparing to study to take Step 1. If you’re an MS3, you’re finally in the clinical years you’ve been waiting for. And at the end of the year, you’ll be considering what electives to take for MS4. Then you’ll start to think about residency applications, which are also dependent on Step 1.
I want to tell you my Step 1 story:
For two months I lived in the library and studied forever like everyone else. Eat, sleep, study. That was it, and I was ready. On test day, I was one of the first people at the testing site. I waited in my car and carefully read one more thing that I wanted to remember (I don’t recommend that!). I signed in, and I carefully powered off my phone completely and put it into my assigned locker. I sat down at my assigned seat, and I started my test. I felt good.
No more than twenty minutes into my exam, the proctor tapped me on the shoulder and told me I needed to leave because my phone was ringing in my locker. I told her it was impossible. It was powered off. There was no way my phone was ringing. We continued to argue, but she insisted that I leave to check it.
If you’ve ever prepared to take Step 1, you know that the test timer does not stop for anything, nothing. This was horrible. It wasn’t happening. Reluctantly, I left, my timer still running. At this point, I was shaking. I’m a notoriously slow test taker and knew I needed every second to finish. I walked with the proctor to the lockers, unlocked mine, took out my phone, and showed her that, in fact, my phone was powered off. All she said was “Oh, I guess it’s someone else.” I was speechless. I was angry. But there was nothing I could do or say that would be worth wasting more of my precious time.
I rushed back to my seat to finish, but it was too late. I didn’t finish the first section. I didn’t even have time to fill out random answers and broke the cardinal rule of multiple choice exams - I left them all blank. I was completely rattled, practically in tears. I never recovered my composure, and I struggled the rest of the exam. That was it. That was my one shot, and it was over just like that.
Since then, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned to stand up for myself, to be confident, calm, assertive. Since then, I have hustled my ass off. I took step 2 as early as I could to prove that I could do better. I applied broadly and did twelve residency interviews all over the country. I matched into a top residency program. I won the Resident Teacher of the Year award for three straight years. I was faculty at a top institution in the world. And now, I’m a board certified ObGyn in private practice with patients who love me, a staff who respects me, and a family who supports me.
And you know what step 1 score got me here?
I speak from experience, and I am here to tell you:
You are more than a number.
So take a breath. It will be ok. You will be ok. You will be a doctor, and you will write your own story no matter what the number.
With love and hope,
Staci Tanouye, MD