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Student Experiences

Shivika Ahuja (M1)

Headshot of first year medical student, Shivika Ahuja

Grand Rounds: Tell us about yourself.

Shivika: "I am from Aurora, Illinois. SLU has been a huge part of my life; I have an undergraduate degree in biology and a masters in anatomy. When I finish medical school, I will have attended SLU for a decade. I was drawn to medicine because I admire how doctors help on such a personal level and continue to educate themselves."

Describe your first year of medical school.

"It can be difficult to establish a routine during the M1; the schedule changes from day to day and course to course. For instance, some days, we have active learning sessions that require us to be on campus, whereas other days only include lectures. Studying takes up most of my time, but I try to keep some parts of my schedule constant, like going to the Simon Rec Center or taking a walk in Tower Grove Park."

"I also enjoy volunteering and participating in extracurricular activities. A relatively new situation in Step 1 is pass/fail. Historically, your score would differentiate you from your peers when applying for residencies. Now, my classmates and I are seeking out additional extracurriculars to differentiate ourselves so we are prepared when the time comes to apply for residency. Many opportunities in research, interest groups, student organizations, and volunteering exist on campus."

"Currently, I serve as co-president of our class. I am also involved in volunteering through PEERS and Take 2 Tutoring. PEERS works with children who have been diagnosed with autism or ADHD, and they are taught how to socialize; medical student volunteers practice with the kids over Zoom. In Take 2 Tutoring, medical students volunteer at the juvenile detention center and tutor students in math and reading."

What excites you about medicine?

"The opportunity to learn more. There is so much to learn, but I am seeing that I can already use what I’ve been learning in my everyday life. For example, a family member experienced a hospital stay recently. A few months ago, if he had told me the names of the medications, I would have had no idea, but I recognized some of the medications and learned how they work and their effects because of my pharmacology class. I have been able to connect what I’m learning with real-life situations, in this case, to understand the medical condition my family member was experiencing. I have been inspired by what I have learned in just one year."

What has surprised you about medical school?

"I know this seems obvious, but everyone is brilliant, and we all have the same passion for helping others through medicine and science. This is so inspiring because we all have unique gifts, and I am looking forward to seeing how everyone implements those gifts."

What are your hopes for your future?

"I hope that I am in a specialty that I find personally and professionally rewarding."

Kathy Xu (M2)

Headshot of second year medical student Kathy Xu

Tell us about yourself.

"I am originally from Phoenix, Arizona, and attended Washington University in St. Louis, graduating in 2017 in biomedical engineering. I went on a service trip to an orphanage in Beijing, China, during my junior year. It was amazing to see the lifelong impact a surgeon has on the lives of these children, not only medically but also their prospects for adoption and quality of life. After that trip, I started to explore medicine as a career."

"I took three years after college and worked as a medical assistant before matriculating into medical school, and working in the medical field after graduation helped me decide that medicine was the path for me."

Describe your second year of medical school.

"As an M2, you learn foundational medicine and continue through organ modules. You solidify your knowledge base before heading into rotations. You fall into a consistent schedule; you start a routine, learn to prioritize, and learn how you study the best."

"Step 1 is always in the back of your mind."

"We have in-class lectures, and all lectures are recorded, so I watch those typically in the mornings, then I will use third-party resources provided by the school to study. As an M2, you focus your time on Step 1 studying, and the third-party resources help me prioritize and synthesize the information. Depending on the organ module, we will have exams every or every other Friday."

"I study until late afternoon, then take a break. After dinner, I will flush out material I did not get to or did not understand. I might FaceTime a friend or get a study group together if I need further help. Studying is a full-time job, with additional overtime as required."

What has surprised you about medical school?

"My class entered medical school in 2020, the first year of COVID. One might think that a class that starts with online learning will be more distant from each other, but we are a tight-knit group because of the adversities we overcame because of the pandemic."

"Our learning environment is very collaborative, and everyone is willing to help. For example, a classmate made flashcards for every clinical diagnosing exam, and she shared her resource with the class."

What excites you about medicine?

"Medicine is so vast; it is exciting that there is always something more to learn and it is not just limited to the physiology of the human body. It is amazing when people can take what we know and turn it around to create something - whether it is a test that helps diagnose, makes the patient experience better, or bridges healthcare disparities. Medicine is multifaceted care, and there is so much innovation involved and infinite potential on the horizon."

What are your hopes for your future?

"I hope that clerkships and rotations will give me clarity as to what I find the most interesting. This is the time I must ask the most questions; I want to be confident in who I am and what I know to take care of patients with confidence."

Reeder Wells (M3)

Headshot of third year medical student Reeder Wells

Tell us about yourself.

"I am a former Division 3 football player and current dog dad working to become a general surgeon. I grew up in Austin, Texas, and studied in Brunswick, Maine, at Bowdoin College. After a couple of years of research work at Boston Children’s Hospital, I decided to pursue a career in medicine."

Describe your third year of medical school.

"As third-year medical students, we are rotating through our core clerkships. Establishing a consistent routine is difficult because the work schedule and clinical responsibilities change month to month. But I’m typically up by 5:30 a.m., grabbing breakfast and taking the dog for a walk before heading to service. Then I jump right into pre-rounding on inpatient service or prepping to see patients in the clinic."

"The routine changes for everyone; for example, in an average inpatient service, you round on patients until lunch and work on notes/call consults in the afternoon."

"When there is downtime, you study; we take shelf exams every seven weeks. We focus on practice questions and read up on cases or diseases we’ve experienced in the past couple of days."

"In the third year, no one student has the same experience. We all go through the same clerkships, but everyone’s training is specific and unique."

What are some things that have surprised you about medical school?

"I have grown to appreciate the amount of logistical and technical aspects of medicine that need constant navigation. There is a form of acrobatics you need to perfect when ordering drugs or finding treatment adaptations based not on medical issues but system problems and navigating other barriers to provide patient care."

Tell us more about being an AAMC student representative.

"In my first year, I joined the AAMC Organization of Student Representatives (OSR), the AAMC’s student advocacy arm. Traditionally, every medical school in the US and Canada has four OSR reports, one from each class."

"Members of OSR exchange information with representatives at other schools and learn how they handle decisions and changes. It’s a great platform to share ideas and promote student interests."

"I always encourage student involvement in the community, campus, and national organizations; it provides a perspective that emphasizes “the big picture” and makes students more invested and more resilient. Committing time and effort to the world around you shapes you into a stronger student and provides even more opportunities to grow as a professional. In each role, you learn tools and gain experience to contribute more fully to your other roles–overall, building yourself into a better future physician."

What excites you about medicine?

"To contribute to patients’ well-being and be an asset to my team. I love that every day is different and unpredictable, and having the opportunity to help others navigate life’s curveballs is what gets me up in the morning."

What are your hopes for your future?

"I will be applying for general surgery. Soon, I will be in all surgical services as part of my training as a fourth year. As a resident, I hope to continue to hone my skills as a teacher and mentor to students behind me. I hope to provide care to rural areas one day in my surgical practice."

Harriet Appeah (M4)

Headshot of fourth year medical student Harriet Appeah

Tell us about yourself.

"I am originally from Kansas City, Missouri, and attended the University of Nebraska. As a kid, I loved going to the pediatrician for my exam; the candy at the end was a plus! In high school, I participated in a program that offered opportunities in medicine – like setting a cast, learning how to suture – this experience solidified my interest. Between my sophomore and junior year of college, I did research at UNMC in the NICU; this experience sparked my interest in pediatrics."

Describe your fourth year of medical school.

"The M4 schedule is more flexible than in previous years. The first half of the year is focused on residency interviews. In March, I started my personal statement and application process. In May, I completed a sub-internship in pediatrics for more experience and solidified that I wanted to apply to this specialty. In September, I submitted applications for residency and waited for interviews to come in."

"Interviews can happen at any time, and you have to be fast about scheduling as some places overextend invitations. The entire interview cycle was virtual. I applied to 26 programs, and I was invited to interview at 24, and I ended up interviewing at 19. Now that interviews are over and Match Day* is upon us, I am back into the routine of going to the clinic and classes."

What has surprised you about medical school?

"Medical school has taught me to be more comfortable with myself and effectively communicate my goals and needs. A big part of medical school is independent learning, and to do that, you need to self-advocate to get the resources and information necessary to be a better physician."

What excites you about medicine?

"The autonomy to practice. I look forward to taking ownership over a patient's care and being that person's advocate."

What would you say to a prospective student?

"Becoming a physician is an incremental process; you're not going to know everything, even if you're the smartest person in previous educational settings. Once you are comfortable with this fact, take the learning opportunities that come your way to grow, and you will enjoy the process. Be patient, have grace, and forgive yourself. This process is long, but you'll see a difference in yourself when you finish."

"Learn to be uncomfortable. In my first year, I ran for class co-president and won! Because I made myself uncomfortable, I have been a part of the changes at SLU; I have learned to be an advocate, a leader, and a voice for others. What I learned in four years will carry me for a lifetime."

What are your hopes for the future?

"I am looking forward to being a pediatrician serving black and brown patients from disadvantaged communities. Having children is complex, and finding accurate information online can be challenging. I want to be a parent's trusted person in the community to provide sound, evidence-based care."

*Harriet matched in pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.