By Eric Eraso | August 14, 2023 3:14 pm

Because a new school year brings a new class of M.D. candidates, we worked with faculty and students to create this FAQ about the first year of med school:

What does the coursework include during the first year?

The first year at the UCF College of Medicine is focused on two tracks – basic sciences and clinical skills.

“The basic sciences track goes through primarily normal body systems and processes, with genetics, cellular function and anatomy and physiology included,” said Dr. Christine Kauffman, M1/M2 assistant dean for medical education and associate professor of Pediatrics.  “The clinical skills track teaches students to interact with patients, focused on them as individuals rather than a disease process.”

Students are also required to begin their Focused Inquiry and Research Experience (FIRE) project in their first year. The FIRE, module is a two-year scholarly research project on a topic the student choses.  

What’s the day-to-day schedule?

Kristie Kim just completed her first year of medical training and is now in her M-2 year. She explained that classes are often split into lectures that can be attended and watched virtually and mandatory sessions that students are required to attend.

These mandatory sessions are often interactive, in which students work with standardized patients — individuals trained to exhibit symptoms so students can practice their clinical and diagnostic skills. Students may also work with high tech mannikins that can accurately portray a myriad of symptoms, including dilated pupils, sweating and obstructed breathing. These sessions allow students to prepare to work with real patients during their third-year clerkships at hospitals and clinic.

“I treat medical school like a job a lot of the time,” she said. “I wake up, study, attend the mandatory sessions, come back home, take a small break, study some more and watch my lectures.”

Carley Myszkowski, director of the Student Academic Support Services (SASS) Office, agrees with Kim’s choice to treating medical school like a job, adding that many of the most successful medical school students take this approach.

What are the biggest differences between undergraduate and medical school?

“Compared to undergrad, we are thrown a huge, huge, volume of content and it is intense at times,” Kim described. “It forces you to learn to retain a lot of information in a short period of time.”

She says despite the intensity of the coursework, her fascination with the material and her goal of a career in medicine keeps her engaged and motivated.

“I love what we are learning, it’s another reason why we are here,” she said. “I like the sciences a lot, so I find most of it to be very interesting. It can be very stressful and is a different use of time, but it’s worth it.”

Dr. Kauffman adds that pre-med students spent much of their academic career preparing to apply for medical school, focusing on ways they can build their resume. Once they are accepted into medical school, she said, students need to shift their mentality and focus on patients.

“As you prepare to apply for medical school, you have to focus on growing yourself to get in,” she said. “But now, we want you to shift into thinking about how what you are learning can be converted into creating the best outcomes for patients.”

So does this heavy workload mean students don’t have any free time?

Not necessarily, says Kim.

“My school-life balance is actually better than I expected it to be,” she said with a smile. “I thought I would be studying all-day, but after I got the hang of it, I tried to commit to taking a full day off from studying to make time for my hobbies and really intentionally get to know my classmates.”

She says this balance has paid off personally and academically.

“I think it has created a really good atmosphere because my classmates and I work together and help each other out inside and outside of school if anything comes up.”

Myszkowski says one of the best ways to achieve this balance is by using your time with specific intentions in mind.

“You will want to set a weekly and daily schedule for how to use your time and understand which learning styles are most effective for you,” she explained. “Medical school is like a treadmill that speeds up very quickly; if you fall behind it can be very difficult to catch up.”

SASS provides support in these areas, working with students to build study and free-time schedules and understand their learning styles.

What kinds of extracurriculars do first-year medical students do?

First-year students often use their extracurriculars to gain experience doing research or volunteering in clinical settings. Kim, like many UCF medical students, volunteers at the KNIGHTS Clinic at Orlando’s Grace Medical Home. The free clinic is run by UCF M.D. students.

“The KNIGHTS Clinic reminds us why we’re doing everything and why we go through these stressful times of studying. It grounds us,” she explained. “We interact with patients and physicians in a realistic setting.”

Not all extracurricular activities are strictly academic. Kim, an avid tennis player, was eager to take advantage of the UCF College of Medicine’s location in Lake Nona’s Medical City. She worked with the USTA National Campus, just down the street from the medical school, and created a club that allows UCF COM students to play free once a week.

“That is a really big deal for tennis people like me,” she said. “Available courts in Lake Nona were hard to find. So I reached out to the USTA National Campus, not really expecting anything to come of it, but they were willing to support us by providing courts for our medical students.”

What’s the best way to manage stress?

“Stress during medical school is somewhat inevitable,” says Dr. Katherine Daly, the UCF College of Medicine Director of Counseling & Wellness Services.  “What is more important is to develop good tools for coping with stress.”

She says finding healthy ways to express emotions, using resources to confront issues, and engaging in healthy behaviors are all tools for success. The most important tools, she said are relationships and human connection.

“Communication and being a good listener are great tools for success because they allow people to build strong relationships, and to ask for help when they need it,” said Dr. Daly. “Having healthy coping skills enables people to respond well to stress.”

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