By Wendy Sarubbi | April 3, 2014 5:54 pm

Sitting amidst two classes of medical students was a cooing 15-month-old toddler in a stroller, a sweet reminder that life goes on during medical school. That was a key point made during a “Survival from the Fittest” panel April 2 at the College of Medicine, where graduating seniors spoke to first-year students about successfully navigating four years of M.D. training.

The five panelists told stories of how they juggled their personal and professional lives, including marriage, pregnancy and growing families.

“We saw a need in our class to find ways to maintain a balance both personally and professionally,” said first-year student Jacqueline Babb, who helped organize the lunchtime talk. “I thought the best way to do that would be to talk to the fourth-years, since they’ve been through it.”

Married fourth-year student, Lyndsey Burton is the proud mother of 15-month-old Aiden, who was born midway through her third year in medical school. Battling morning sickness while studying for the grueling Step 1 USMLE exam proved to be challenging, but Burton said she powered through with support from family and classmates. When clerkships came during her second trimester, Burton planned ahead and worked with medical school administrators to complete as much training as possible before the baby was born.  “Once I got over that hurdle, I signed up for my hardest rotations first, so I’d have more time once he came along,” Burton said while cradling her son. “The school was really understanding, and the timing worked out perfectly.”

Married students Jenn Bazemore, Roger Sandelin and Nicole Armstrong talked about their challenges of being a good spouse and a good medical student. Armstrong says her overnight clerkship rotation schedule made it difficult to spend quality time with her husband. “There was one point where we didn’t see each other’s faces for days,” she recalled. “We had to meet in the parking lot at Winnie Palmer Hospital just to talk to each other.”

The panelists advised their peers to determine their top priorities and always make time for them.  “If there’s something that you love to do, you don’t have to cut it out” Burton said. Whether it’s friends, family, hobbies or even a TV show, students encouraged their classmates to decide what they really enjoy, and fit it into their medical school schedule.

Many first-year students had questions about clerkship rotations and the residency selection process.  The panelists admitted that their first experiences in a hospital were intimidating, but said they felt prepared for the real world. “I’ve found that we are more prepared than students from other programs because we have so many clinical experiences in the first two years,” said Armstrong. They encouraged students to keep an open mind as they experience different specialties during clerkships because their favorite might surprise them. “I came into medical school thinking I would do anything but OB/GYN, I even scheduled it as my first rotation to get it out of the way,” said graduating senior Roger Sandelin. “But sure enough, it was the thing I loved the most.”

One of the most important pieces of advice was to form relationships with classmates, and know when to ask for help. “I think it’s important to have each other’s backs,” fourth-year student Omar Shakeel said. “The people in this room are going to be your family through the most emotional, physical, mental challenges you’ve ever experienced. I know I couldn’t have done it without my classmates.”

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