Αξιον Ωφελειν τους Αλγουντας.” --Be Worthy to Serve the Suffering.

Member Profile

Brent Kokubun (2017)
Member Type: Student, Senior Member Campus: Chicago
Specialty: Orthopedic Surgery Program: University of California (UCSF)
Preface: My style was built on reading books and learning concepts over lectures/sources in outline format/flash cards. Not much emphasis on memorization, which made it labor intensive, but this was the best way for me to learn. Definitely find the methods that work for you.

Everyone is capable too; it’s just a matter of who can efficiently framework the material in his/her mind. The scary part of med school is that there is so much information that you get paralyzed by the question: “How do I know if I know the material?” If you can calibrate your mind to figure this question out, you will eliminate a lot of uncertainty/stress and be able to focus with more direction. My strategy/recommendation with regards to studying in every year of med school is to:
1) Prime your mind with a broad overview – create a framework/map that lets you know on a very vague level the extent of what you have to know. This will give you direction, instead of fumbling in the dark.
2) Fill in the details to that outline via books, lectures, clinical experiences. Ideally you can compile the different pieces of info into one source to refer back to when it comes time to review.
3) Use questions to drill/solidify the material. This is really the only way to see what you know.
4) Tell the story. If you can talk about each concept like you’re telling a story to a friend, you most likely have it down. The more angles you can see the story from, the better you understand it, and the more likely you’ll be able to answer a question you’ve never seen before.

Also, med school is one of the most uniquely amazing and stressful journeys and although the objective advice is what will seem the most important, I think you will find the emotional lessons to be what you really value/remember from your experiences. With that said, if you get anything from this and in whatever way you choose to interpret, my rules for med school were:
Put the patient first.
Be yourself.
Get pumped to learn.

M1 year is a crazy transition, so don’t feel alone. Everyone is going through it, but this is med school and you’ve made it! In retrospect, the progression of goals I went through was:
1) Experiment with strategies of how to study
Best advice is to attend the advice panels/talk to the upper class, find someone who you feel you can relate to, and mix/match with what they suggest. Start there and stick with one direction, it’ll be overwhelming to cater to all the resources out there.
2) Figure out which strategy translates to success
Your definition of success is yours. Med school is a competition against yourself and realizing your potential. Remember that and block out external pressures.
Don’t be afraid to change it up if it’s not working. Take risks this year, your goal is to get down what works for you, so during M2 year you can plug and chug.
Also, success is not perfection. You’ll never feel like you know it all, so don’t be worried by that uncertainty. This goal is mainly to correlate if I do x, then my result is y, so you can feel comfort in that.
My personal strategy: 2 week rule – at the beginning of each semester, write down on a calendar every exam date. Then 2 weeks prior to each exam, schedule to begin studying for that exam. I found I could only do 2 subjects/day, so I divided up my daily plan based on that. Stick to a realistic daily schedule that’ll be productive, but not overwhelm you.
3) Optimize how to perform that strategy in a healthy/efficient manner
Think of the parts of your life that are non-negotiable. If you can’t achieve your studying plan without violating those aspects, then find another way. For me, it was exercise, doing something social at least once a week, keeping up with family members/friends.
Don’t get me wrong, you will have to study everyday for the most part. There will be Friday nights you have to stay in, but if you do it with friends, it makes it way more fun. Your stamina will build too. I think a transformation happens after 1st semester is done. By M2 year, you’ll feel a lot more confident.
Stress is your biggest enemy, is mostly self-induced, and will drain your productivity and happiness. Surround yourself with positive influences. Confront/eliminate what worries you. You’re going to be a great doctor, so take it easy on those daydreams of quitting med school and making it to the NBA, becoming a big wave surfer, etc!
4) Focus on learning, rather than test scores once you calibrated
Once I felt confident in my methods, I stopped paying attention to the numbers. I based my studying on touch/feel, so if I felt I learned the concept well, then I could rest easy knowing I accomplished my goal regardless of outcome. This took away a tremendous source of pressure.
M1 does matter. Try your best to set a great foundation because everything builds upon each other and likely you won’t have time to thoroughly re-learn the material during Step 1 studying.
Another word - It might be inevitable that you will have to sacrifice learning one subject to prepare for a handful of others, but I would suggest learning everything well over crushing one subject, but totally bombing another.
5) Find mentors
If you have the time, it’s always great to have people who have your back and can guide you – faculty, upper class students, peers. Will help later on too for especially competitive fields (research, LORs, etc.). Best suggestion is to meet upper class students who can recommend faculty who are great advocates for students and then just reach out to them, showing enthusiasm/interest.
6) Have fun
You’re a med student, but you’re still a person. Enjoy life! Once you achieve a disciplined routine, find every opportunity where you can afford to have fun and be equally disciplined to let go during those moments/actually go outside instead of crashing on the bed.

M1/M2 Summer: Have fun/travel! Do research (Set this up 3-6 months in advance during M1.) I didn’t feel there was a need to study. If you’re really ambitious, you can watch Pathoma, but again I don’t think it’s necessary. Main goal – get back to life and passions outside of school, recharge to come back strong for M2, you earned it.

You’ve a veteran now and you’ve got your methods down. Time to gear up for Step 1. There is an adjustment in material this year – instead of understanding the story of basic science, you’re framing your mindset around applying those concepts to each pathology. Your schedule is a lot more flexible too.
1) 1st semester – I approached just like a normal semester, still focusing on classes over boards. In retrospect, I don’t feel you know enough to start studying for Step 1 at this point anyway. Everything you study in M2 will be key, so learn it well the first time.
Winter break – Begin Step 1 preparations. Pick 1 topic from M1 in First Aid and re-learn it (particularly one that you think you’ll need more work on). I did Biochem. Also, don’t feel uneasy about studying the right/wrong way since Step 1 may feel different than classes. Just do what you can.
2) 2nd semester – At this point, I feel you have the basis to attack board studying, along with your courses. I based my studying around Pathology and approached it systems-based like it was laid out in First Aid. I.e. for Cardiovascular pathology – Review the anatomy, physiology, pathology, microbiology, pharmacology. Then do the UWorld questions for that system – tutor mode. Don’t worry about your score, read each explanation for the corrects and incorrects. UWorld teaches you a ton. My goal was to finish one pass of UWorld before dedicated Step 1 studying. This is the pass where you struggle, but really learn.
3) Dedicated Step 1 studying:
Time: 4 weeks of dedicated study time
Strategy: I followed the Tau method (You can search online for it) and adjusted the schedule based on what I felt I needed more work on. The main idea is you do 2-3 blocks of UWorld in the morning and then study a few subjects in the afternoon. Rinse and repeat. At the beginning you’re reviewing subjects more, but by the end of the month you’re mainly doing UWorld.
UWorld: My goal was to finish UWorld 3 times in total (1st pass before dedicated time (struggle/learn), 2nd pass during first half of dedicated (solidify the material), 3rd pass during the second half of dedicated (drill the material). I think it’s best to get UWorld down and not focus on any other Qbanks. You may not remember all the facts, but it’ll train your thought process.
Practice NBMEs: I took 1 before dedicated time, which was mandatory for our class. I took 2 during my month off (two weeks in and one week before my exam). To be honest, for me I did not put too much weight into them and would not recommend doing them weekly. They take time you could be studying and I feel I got more out of UWorld. The NBMEs are mainly to condition your mind to taking a longer test/format, but some people like it as an indicator of their progress. I wouldn’t read into the score too much either. I’ve heard of a lot of variations of people doing better/worse/an average of their scores.
Overall philosophy: Stay calm and try your best. At this point, I don’t feel there is any magic/secret strategy to crush it. You put in the work for 2 years – your goal is to maximize the potential based on the foundation you built. I studied for 6 hours/day on average – 3 in the morning for UWorld, gym, 3 in the afternoon for review, and then take the rest of the day off. I knew for myself that stress negatively affects my performance, so I went home for my dedicated time and tried to enjoy myself when I wasn’t studying to take the edge off.
Mental stamina: Also, 1 month is a long time when you don’t have any new material/classes and you are reviewing concepts you have learned before. The material will come back to you. Mentally, I think you’ll start the month feeling a little uneasy, 2 weeks in feel more confident, and after 4 weeks you’ll feel primed and ready to the point you just want to get it over with. To be honest, you’ll never feel like you know it all and the questions will not be straight forward, but your thought process will guide you through.
4) Subjects/Sources:
Strategy: Systems-based focus. Review progression of anat, physio, path, micro, pharm. Compile notes in one source. Ideally, format notes during school year in terms of epidemiology, pathophysiology, presentation, diagnosis, treatment.
First-Aid: Write Pathoma and UWorld notes in here. Compile one go-to source to review.
UWorld: Try to finish at least 2 times. Read the explanations thoroughly. I would recommend focusing on getting UWorld down, rather than supplementing more Qbanks.
Anatomy/Embryology/Histology: First Aid
Physiology: BRS
Pathology: Pathoma for overview, Rapid Review and Big Robbins to fill details, Golijan Audio passively in the gym
Microbiology: Sketchy Micro
Pharmacology: Kaplan lectures
Biochemistry: Kaplan lectures
Behavioral Science: First Aid
Immunology: First Aid

M3 year is a transition in terms of mindset. Instead of working to answer concrete facts, you are graduating to a clinical thought process – presented with a general stem and then challenged to answer how to diagnose and treat. Having a differential, assessment, and plan will help you go far. It is fun to finally get into patient care as well!
1) Shelf Exams:
There is no perfect source or method, but try focusing on going through 1-2 sources really well instead of spreading yourself thin. My suggestion is to: 1) Watch the PEP review during the first week of the clerkship, 2) get through 1 textbook in the first half of your rotation to create a framework in your mind, 3) see patients and read about them to fill in the details, and 4) finish 1 question bank in the second half to drill the concepts. Again, the nature of the material M3 is more fluid and sometimes based on clinical judgment, so I feel it’s difficult to ever feel you know everything. Your best bet is to try your best in your clinical experiences. That will be the most memorable. I also found there is time to study during the day, so my goal was to read during down time and have free time after the hospital and on weekends to enjoy.
Search online for “Ben White MS3” and he has a good review of sources you may consider.
Peds: Case Files, BRS, UWorld
Ob/Gyn: Blueprints, UWorld, ACOG questions
Surgery: Pestanas, NMS Casebook, Step-Up to Medicine (GI, Renal), UWorld (Surgery, GI, Renal)
Family: Case Files, Pre-Test
Psych: First Aid for Psych, UWorld
Medicine: Step-Up to Medicine, UWorld x2
2) Clinical Rotations:
Med school is a true privilege and one of the most unique opportunities. Every specialty has its own virtues and if you put yourself all in, you’ll learn so much and become a more well-rounded doctor/person. There is sacrifice involved, but in some ways you’re living life to fullest in ways others cannot. You see life from birth to death. You get to connect with so many amazing people in an environment where all barriers and judgment are broken down and compassion is the rule, not the exception. And that is some of life’s real magic. Love every moment of it, soak it in.

It can be challenging to be graded/judged during M3 and there is no magical advice, but my focus was just to work hard and follow the rules I set for myself from day 1. I think overall, if you show you care for the patient and the team, people will respond to that.
Put the patient first.
Be yourself.
Get pumped to learn.

Med school is an incredible journey and these are many of the points I think would be helpful to know, objective and subjective. It is only one person’s perspective, so take some things to heart, take others as a grain of salt. Trust what got you here. I believe in you. If you give it your all, I guarantee no matter what you will feel proud after your Step 1, on Match Day, on graduation, and beyond. Good luck and have fun!