Daniel J. Egan, MD

Disclosures

August 07, 2012

Question:

If you could do medical school over again, is there anything you would do differently?

Response from Daniel J. Egan, MD
Associate Residency Director, Department of Emergency Medicine, St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center, New York, New York

That's a challenging question. I think we all look back on previous stages in our lives and think about how we could have approached them differently. You may be at a point where you realize that you have a limited amount of time and you want to make the most of it.

There are a couple of things I would have done differently if I could do it again.

The first -- a practical consideration about which I've written in the past -- is that I would have been more careful with my money. It is challenging to go through medical school living on loans, and it is really easy to pretend that your credit card is just another loan.

For me, I got into that habit in medical school and continued it during my residency. As a result, I spent the first couple of years as an attending trying to pay down my credit card debt. I often think about how great it would have been to put that sum toward my real loans or even to have saved it for a down payment on real estate.

The 2 other suggestions I have are somewhat related and have to do with taking advantage of opportunity.

Although you may feel overwhelmed with time commitments, medical school will be one of the last times in your life when you have time and can do what you want. If you have always wanted an experience that is not part of your chosen career, then you should take advantage of that now.

For example, take the elective that you'll never be able to do again. You are surrounded by scholars in multiple medical disciplines, and you can avail yourself of their expertise. You may also have always wanted to learn a bit more about something or expose yourself to a very specialized area of medicine. This is the time!

My biggest regret from medical school is not taking part in an international elective in an underserved area. As a member of a residency leadership team who reads hundreds of applications each season, I am always envious of the experiences students have had internationally.

It may be possible as a resident to take time for an international elective, but once you are finished with training, it is harder to find chunks of time to leave your job or practice.

International experiences remind many people why they were drawn to medicine. You may learn a language that will help you in the future. You may enhance your physical examination skills because you have to rely on them in regions without modern testing techniques. You will see some true heroes of medicine who dedicate a great deal of time to serving areas of the world without great resources. As a student, you can leave for a month or possibly more and have a substantial experience somewhere else in the world. Take advantage of this. There are few people I've met who have regretted international work.

Finally, remember to have fun. Medical school does not have to be a 24/7 experience, and it's still important to maintain contact with the outside world, pursue your interests, and stay healthy. Good luck!

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