Heavy hitter

How I boxed my way through boards

After failing her first Level 1 attempt, this med student found a surprising pastime that not only increased her confidence, but also allowed her to knock out her boards.

Boards preparation is a distinctive season of medical school for many students. As students continue through each module, we may realize how much we have forgotten from previous topics as we approach our dedicated boards study period.

Many of us find board studying challenging, as practice question sets include myriad concepts with loose points of origin. Board preparation requires different skill sets and a different mentality than we may be used to.

I grew up competing in swimming and cross country. I discovered a passion for sports that encouraged a controlled, extended release of consistent energy to the finish line. Thus, I found opportunities to develop persistence and unrelenting focus. These values fused into my personality as I learned to get back up and try again when things didn’t work out the first time.

Overcoming obstacles

Like some students, I struggled heavily with Level 1 in 2021 prior to it changing to pass/fail. Along this journey, I failed my first attempt and deeply investigated how I was allocating my energy during the weeks and days leading up to the exam.

For some, many pieces need to come together to create an environment suitable for retaining and applying information.

Working with professors and the dean to create a schedule, rewriting what I learned on a blank sheet of paper, and working with tutors allowed me to interact with concepts while testing myself. What also helped me was self-belief and prayer, which magnified my dreams of becoming a physician. I passed Level 1 on my second attempt following much transformation within.

While preparing for Level 1, I remember each question bringing about hesitation and fear that led me astray from my thought processes and impacted my performance. These moments created much self-doubt surrounding my competency as a student and future physician. Many times, I wondered if I should continue on this path.

Stephanie Lee, OMS IV, poses with fellow boxers: "The power of a supportive community is truly palpable and liberating. It lifts up the parts of your life that feel heavy and makes them seem doable."

I realized I was lacking confidence in my thought process and flow with each question. I decided to learn the art of boxing, as I was deeply intrigued by its level of immersion. With my calm demeanor and attention to detail, I was curious to see what would come of this pursuit. 

Yet, I remember a trainer telling me I was so focused on the details that it was preventing me from growing. I connected deeply with this, as I was aware of this theme in many areas of my life. I was scared of revealing who I truly was, and this permeated in its own expression during my studies. It prevented me from applying concepts to unfamiliar scenarios, and I only remained comfortable when learning details about various pathologies.

Rolling with the punches

When the trainers put me on the mitt, one of them said, “You have the technique and skill. Trust yourself and commit.” They challenged me to get out of my comfort zone and told me not to focus on anyone else. “It’s just you and the bag,” one trainer said after I told him how self-conscious I felt.

From boxing, I learned to lean into the discomfort of doing practice questions. I found immense connection with my inner flame and a release of preconceived doubts.

Boxing further taught me the beauty of opening my heart without the fear of rejection or failure, releasing control of the outcome and watching myself grow in the unknown. In academia, I was so rigid in how I integrated information that it limited my understanding of how different pathologies were connected. Boxing encouraged me to soften my analytical and critical side and showed me the rewards of full creative expression.

Similar to a flow state in meditation, I was encouraged to accept and be mindful of discomfort and slowly watch it transform into coherence mentally, physically and spiritually in boxing. This alignment helped me accept the struggles I was experiencing in my board preparation as I further accepted the chaotic process of being disheartened with practice questions while moving forward and trusting that things would turn out alright.

Boxing and boards

Over time, this changed the landscape and structure for how I tackled board questions. I learned to accept that low scores on practice sets were part of the process, and every day my scores would fluctuate depending on my mental atmosphere. My swim and boxing coaches have all said the same things, “Ninety percent of it is in the mind.”

Lee and her fellow fighters.

Approaching each question was like throwing a punch: it required an intentional intensity and nonattachment to the outcome that I was shy to embody. I found no other way but to surrender my ego, which led to a faith in the process that would create flair and vitality behind my actions and thought process.

Renewed confidence

What boxing ultimately led me toward was an inner fierceness and an acknowledgement of the shame I had surrounding my inner aggression. The trainers showed me it was normal to express aggression while remaining aware of its borders. They taught me how to mix my love, passion, gentleness and intensity all at once, transcending the stigma I felt around denser emotions. This practice was a journey of strengthening the human spirit and stepping into authenticity in more ways than one.

During times of uncertainty, we must stand above any doubt that has crossed our paths and tell ourselves, “I can, and I will.”

Obstacles often force us to look into why something is worth fighting for. They create a feeling of humility, which becomes an opening to learn something new. They can often lead you to find the parts within that you are so desperately trying to overcome right before your breakthrough.

Like boxing, test taking asks us to restructure our inner thoughts. Building something from scratch isn’t always beautiful, but what it becomes can be. The important thing is that you immerse yourself into your craft, be with yourself through the highs and lows, and emerge a more expansive version of yourself than when you first started.

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