The second year of medical school is more than just another year of clinical science courses. Second-year students prepare for the COMLEX Level 1 exam and, if taking it, USMLE Step 1. They have more opportunities to pursue scholarly activity, community service and involvement with national organizations like SOMA.
The challenges of second year can feel overwhelming, but the hard work will pay off, says Kimia Etemadi, OMS III.
“I wish someone would have told me that you’re going to feel stressed, but trust the process. It’s going to work out. That would have taken some of the weight off my shoulders,” says Etemadi, who attends A.T. Still University School of Osteopathic Medicine in Arizona (ATSU-SOMA).
Here’s what to expect during your second year and how to set yourself up for success, according to Etemadi and three other third-years from ATSU-SOMA.
1. Dig deep and get involved
Second year is a good time to focus on things you want to explore more and are passionate about, says Chloe Weidenbaum, OMS III, who sought out opportunities where she would be interacting with patients to help break up the monotony of studying.
“It helped me maintain perspective in the midst of studying during second year and to remind myself why I wanted to go to medical school in the first place,” she says.
Etemadi volunteered at community health fairs where she treated a predominantly Spanish-speaking population.
“It really helped me develop my medical Spanish and now I’m on rotations and I’m able to connect with patients on that level,” Etemadi says. “It was tough balancing everything, but in the long run it was really helpful for rotations.”
2. Understand, don’t just memorize
2nd Lt. Mosab Ali, OMS III, emphasizes the importance of truly learning the material during second year.
“When you get to your third year, patients are not clinical vignettes. They are people and they don’t present like textbooks, so you have to really understand the first two years of medicine. You can’t just be a parrot. You have to actually learn the information and not just prepare for the test,” Ali says.
Etemadi says the material she learned second year built off of her first-year courses. She saw it all come together when she saw patients in clinic.
“I was surprised how much I remembered and was able to apply the skills I was taught,” Etemadi says.
3. Don’t fall into a study hole preparing for COMLEX/USMLE
After completing OMS II, osteopathic medical students take the COMLEX Level 1 and USMLE Step 1 between May and July.
Ali started studying a couple hours a day in the fall semester and then ramped up his studying as the test got closer
“Too many people drive themselves crazy studying 12 hours a day in January when the test is five months away. It’s important to remember that it’s a marathon, and you need to build up to it and take care of yourself,” Ali says.
Carl Whalen, OMS III, planned a rigid 12-hour a day study schedule to prepare himself for COMLEX. But he eventually realized that it wasn’t going to work for him and took a step back, decreasing the amount of time he was studying and taking breaks.
“I look back at all the hours I wasted forcing myself to study, and if your brain is not into it, it’s wasted time,” Whalen says.
Keeping the bigger picture in mind helped Weidenbaum focus during her designated study time.
“I tried to think of my future patients and how studying was going to make me a better doctor and keep them healthier. That really kept me going,” she says.
4. Build your network
Etemadi wanted to rotate at a Kaiser Permanente facility during her third year. She sent out cold emails to graduate medical education directors at Kaiser explaining her experience, her school’s mission statement and the philosophy of osteopathic medicine. By connecting with clerkship sites early, she eventually set up an 8-week rotation.
“It’s really important to talk about osteopathic medicine and your background,” Etemadi says. “There might be a DO at that site who wants to help and mentor you.”
Ali reached out to graduating fourth-years to learn more about rotation sites and which program directors were helpful to talk to.
“Treat every interaction with an attending as an interview,” Ali says. “You never know who the person you’re talking to is going to be and what they can do in your life.”
Note that the process of lining up rotations is different at every school, so be sure to check in with a student advisor at your school to learn more about how to set up your clerkships.
5. Indulge in a hobby
Whether it’s powerlifting for Ali or playing the guitar and viola for Weidenbaum, students recommend devoting time to an activity completely outside of medicine.
“Removing yourself from the all-encompassing world of medicine lets you appreciate the process you’re going through,” Ali says.
When Weidenbaum was planning her schedule for her second year of medical school, she made sure to budget time to pursue hobbies and spend time with friends.
“It’s refreshing to have a hobby unrelated to medicine and something to turn to when I want to release some stress and work a different part of my brain,” she says.