a young pakistani doctor blogs...
Tuesday, July 05, 2005
  Yet another new plan...

The last few days have lasted the longest time and the shortest time, if that makes any sense. On one hand, I’m at my desk working for what seems like interminable hours, and on the other hand I look at the calendar and see it’s already the 5th of July. Gulp!

I’ve been working an average of 9 hours a day since I last posted. This is still short of the 12 hours a day I aspire for every time I sit down at the start of the day. Most of this time is spent in active memorization and little in just reading the text passively (which is far easier). One thing that has made a huge, huge difference in my morale is my use of the Kaplan Lectures for the USMLE Step 2 exam. This covers half of the subjects that I need to do for the final year exam, and it does so very very well. These lectures DVDs are so far relatively undiscovered in my region. They were only introduced in the country for the very first time a year ago, and then too, only a few folks had them. Over the last 4-5 months, more medical books stores have gotten their hands on them and I believe it will only be a matter of time when these lectures become the one and only source of USMLE study material. The lectures actively teach you the subject matter using a book series called Kaplan Lecture Notes. These notes have been available here for a couple of years. But, like I said, it was only a few months ago that the actual lectures to these notes surfaced as well. Mark my words, in the next year or so, you’ll see USMLE hopefuls coming into the library with laptops to go through the DVDs. They’ll prop the lectures notes next to their laptops, listen carefully to the lecture, and nod along with the words as the jolt down a sentence of two by the sides of the books.

When something is actively explained to you, when the most common mistakes students make in such-and-such topic is highlighted, when they go out of their way to tell you not to forget this and that, or to ignore learning that particular detail - it really becomes a lot easier. Of course, none of that really applies to my own final year exam, which in sophistication is to that USMLE what picture-by-numbers is to the Mona Lisa. However, the material they explain is the same and it’s all relevant. I’ve been going much faster through the topics than I normally do because it’s all explained, and the notes are already written down in front of me to be memorized to perfection.

I wrote earlier about a career in writing, a rather long post in fact. I said that I’d rather be a writer than a doctor. The truth of the matter is that I’d rather be independent sooner rather than later. That’s what the whole writing thing is about. There is a reason to that also. It involves a girl, and marriage, but there is no need to delve into. Going over these Kaplan videos, and seeing how much easier life is when they spoon-feed you instead of you have to open 3 fat books to understand a certain concept is a great morale booster. I’ve been working hectically these last three days on the basis of another plan altogether.

My final year exam will finish in the first week of October. Now, in order to be participate in the 2007 match, I need to finish both Step 1 and Step 2 CK by July of 2006. That means I’ll have, from October, 10 months to do both Steps. Now, no one had ever gone right out of final year (in my college) and straight onto the Steps without missing a beat. The reason to that is in the last 7-8 years (i.e., in the collective memory of the people there) the final year exam has always finished in November or December, which meant there were only 7 months till July to finish both Steps. It would be impossible to do both steps in just 7 months. Our class on the other hand is free in October, which is the earliest anyone can remember it being done (they’ve actually been bringing the exam 2 weeks forward every year for the last 4-5 years. Next year the exam will finish in September). So our class, for the first time has 10 months till July, which is the very last date you should be giving your Step 2 CK exam. Now previously, I would have thought that 10 months were not enough for both Step 1 and Step 2 CK. However, with the Kaplan DVDs…..

Around the first of July, I realized that in the next few years, more and more people will decide to jump on the USMLE band-wagon as soon as they are done with Final year. Not only will they have more time (with the exam ending 2 weeks earlier every year till they reach June - where the administration would ultimately like the final year exam to end), but the Kaplan DVDs will become a phenomenon. I realized that my class is at the very cusp of a trend I’m sure will emerge in the next few years. My class is at a very touch-and-go position. 10 months may just barely be enough time to do both Steps and score well. But I’m talking about skin of the teeth stuff. I mean, there’s no slack room in such a time-table at all.

My final year exam ends on the 4th of October. If I start studying on the 10th of October, I could give the Step 1 six months later on the 10th of April. If I take five days of rest thereafter, I’ll start studying on the 15th of April for the Step 2 CK, and can give it on the 31st of July, three and a half months later. That will allow me to participate in the 2007 match and start a residency, if all goes well in July 2007.

It’s a workable plan. It’s very touch and go, but that’s the only flaw to it. Three and a half months is actually how much time many people take for the Step 2 CK. And 7-8 months is how much time people take for the Step 1. However, all these averages were before the Kaplan videos were ever there. So it should be possible to do this.

But can I do it? That’s a totally different story. I decided then, also around the 1st of July, that I’d use this final year as a trial run. If I can study 12-13 hours a day and be able to sustain that pace for the next 2-3 months, then there is no reason to think I wouldn’t be able to do the steps in the 10 months time-frame.

That’s why I’ve been studying a lot these last 3-4 days. I clocked in 11 hours the other day, but only 8 hours yesterday. I have to start reaching my target of 12-13 hours a day from now on. If I can’t, then I’ve got to let go of the 10-month USMLE plan. Then I’ll also have to forget about a certain girl until I do finally do the Steps.

Let’s see how the next few days pan out. I’ll keep you posted.

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Recent med school graduate from Peshawar, Pakistan. Started blogging when in throes of final year exams. Currently studying for USMLE Step 1. Aiming for the 2008 Match. I blog about my studies, my worries, and my thoughts on life. I live in Islamabad.

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