Friday, October 24, 2014


Note: I'm writing this from the perspective of a medical school student, as that's what I am right now, but much of what I write pertains to those who are studying for or working at any career, however humble or highly esteemed. Many of you are further  in your educations or careers than I am. Please chime in with your own additions in the comments section. I'm interested in what you have to add.

There are actually a whole lot more than ten things you need to know before taking such a monumental step, but I don't have all night to write, nor do you have all night to read. Beyond that, I certainly don't know everything it is that either you or I need to know to in order succeed in medical school or even in working at In 'N Out Burger, so we'll condense this list to ten or so bullet points and call it good. The omitted items most likely will not either get you killed or thrown out of medical school or In 'N Out Burger. If I'm wrong and one of these things  does happen to you, I offer my sincerest apologies in advance, but that's the extent of what I offer. Don't even think about suing  me or having your survivors do so in the event that something I've neglected to mention results in your untimely death. I can offer my sincerest sympathy, but if you pursue any litigation, about the best you would ever do would be to get my cat in a settlement, and you'd have to fight my brother in court even to get the cat.

#1 No matter where you choose to live while in medical school or working at In 'N Out Burger, be sure that the place has a dishwasher. Even if you're forced to live in your car, get a dishwasher. Manufacturers still supposedly make those portable things that hook up to faucets and drain wherever you choose to drain them. They're not  as good as the real thing, but they're better than the continual fighting over the washing of dishes that wil be inevitable without a dishwasher. You don't want to waste your precious time either washing dishes by hand or arguing with your roommate (if you're unlucky enough to have one) about whose turn it is to do dishes. My twin brother and I would surely be divorced (or whatever it's called when a brother and sister formally dissolve their familial relationship) were it not for our dishwasher. We have a really powerful industrial washer that doesn't even require us to rinse the dishes before placing them in the washer, and they come out perfectly clean. Our dishwasher has an automatic garbage disposal built into it. My brother didn't believe it, so he stuck a frozen pizza [completely frozen; he didn't even bother to thaw the frozen pizza] on the top rack of the dishwasher, and put dishes on the bottom rack. Surely enough, the frozen pizza was completely obliterated and the dishes on the bottom rack were spotless.

#2 If you're really smart, try to act a little less intelligent than you are (or think you are) in class and elsewhere, at least around your peers. It's OK to allow your professors and advisors know that you're not a moron. Don't, however, do your best Arnold Horshak imitation by wildly waving your hand in the air a fraction of a second after a question has been asked without allowing anyone else a chance to respond. Save your brilliance for tests, where it really matters. Furthermore, keep in mind that some professors love the sound of their own voices far more than they appreciate class participation in lecture/discussions. Do take copious notes in these professors' classes, and parrot back what they have said verbatim when it's time for tests. Such professors do not always give credit for paraphrasing, even if it's a perfect paraphrase of what they have said. Memorize key points. They're easy to discern, as the professor repeats them, often writes them, and praises anyone in class who parrots them.  You will be rewarded with stellar grades when others who know the material at least as well as you do are left with mediocre grades and wondering what they could possibly have done wrong. You probably won't have many professors of this ilk, but you're practically guaranteed one or two. I've already had one.

If you're not particularly cerebral, try to memorize a few apropos words or phrases that will allow you to appear more intelligent than you actually are. If you're only marginally qualified for admission to medical school -- perhaps you're what's known as a legacy admission, or maybe you did well in undergrad course work but just barely scraped by on your MCAT -- it is essential that you get into a good study group. No one in a good study group wants you [except for comic relief purposes if you happen to be really funny or for culinary purposes if you happen to be able to cook] included in the group if they must waste essential time explaining the very basics to you. Once you're in, however, you're in. If you can fake intelligence or at least a lack of total stupidity, even for a short time, you''ll probably be OK. Still, memorize a few profound phrases just as added insurance while you're honing your cooking skills or comedic flair. Watch House, M.D. for lines if you can't think of any on your own.

#3 Try to postpone serious dating for at least the first quarter, and especially don't date anyone in your study group in the first quarter. Chances are it won't last, and it may not end amicably.  One or the other of you may need to find a new study group. Unless you're the smarter of the two or can cook or are genuinely funny, you'll probably be the one who needs to move on. It's not as easy to get into a new study groups as it sounds. Keep your zipper zipped. Subscribe to Playboy or Penthouse if you must. Date someone from another cohort, perhaps, or better still, from another program. I've heard that pharmacology students make very good dating partners [who have easy access to prophylactics], and if it doesn't work out, you will not be voted out of your study group.

#4 Don't date the sons or daughters of professors in your program during your first year no matter how hot the son or daughter may be and no matter how much he or she may seem to desire you. There are fish in the sea who have no connection to those who directly control your destiny. If your hormones are going bat-shit crazy, find those unconnected hot people. Refer to sentences #6 and #7 of Point #3 if necessary.

#5 In regard to any sex life you may choose to have, use protection of the safest variety. Dual or triple methods would not be considered overkill. As prospective medical school students, you  should not require a diagram or other visual demonstration for the purpose of explaining the need for prophylactics. Still, I will leave you with two buzzwords, which will, I hope, serve as adequate buzzkill in the event that you are in an amorous situation and you do not have adequate protection on hand: 1) Herpes -- the gift that keeps on giving; 2) Conception! Consider that you are about as fertile as you'll ever be; do you really wish to derail your medical school career before you've done your first proctological exam (perhaps this is a poor exemplar; if anything would cause you to intentionally tank your medical career before it has even properly begun, it might be the possibility of your first proctological exam) because you cannot afford both medical school and supporting a new life? Furthermore, every child deserves to be wanted and eagery anticipated. Anything less is unfair to the child. End of sermon.

#6 Don't wear pink scrubs on official premises. When you're on duty in a hospital, you'll be expected to wear hospital-issue surgical scrubs, which, for the most part, do not come in pink. At labs and in class, however, your attire is more or less up to you. Pink scrubs are cute, and some of us look our very best in pink, but it's bothersome for our peers and for our superiors to take us seriously while we're dressed in pink scrubs. I own two pairs of them. I wear them to bed, to study in, and to walk the dog when she is visiting, but I wouldn't dream of showing up on school or hospital premises in them. Youthful-appearing females have a colossal strike against them in the field of medicine under optimal circumstances. Wearing pink scrubs only serves to increase the magnitude of the strike. Males who wear pink scrubs to class or to labs place themselves under an entirely different stigma, so it wouldn't be recommended that male medical students wear pink scrubs, either, even if they're available in your size.

#7 Choose your roommate(s) wisely. I had very little choice in my roommate. My parents purchased a three-bedroom condo (the third bedroom is for my parents when they visit or for friends of ours on the odd chance that they have time to visit when we actually also have the time for them to visit) partly as an investment and partly for my brother and me to share while we attend medical school since it worked out that we enrolled at the same medical school. It was my choice to share the condo with my brother or to find another place of residence at my own expense. With the cost of rentals in this area, it wasn't a difficult choice for me. My brother has even less in the way of financial resources than I do, so it was an even easier choice for him than it was for me. My brother and I have had sixteen years to learn to coexist peacefully before going away to our respective undergraduate colleges, plus an additional seven or eight months in utero to work things out. By now we've learned well enough to  coexist more or less peacefully, not that there's never the occasional disagreement. My brother has no issue with leaving dishes in a sink overnight. He'll do them eventually, but not necessarily on the night he uses them. This bothers me. I can initiate Armageddon over the dishes in the sink, or I can stick them in the dishwasher myself, which is what I choose to do. In return, I ask my brother to carry out the trash whenever it's full, which he does without complaining, at least in part because if I were ever assaulted at night on my way to the trash bin, there would be utter hell to pay when my parents learned of it.

Most roommates, however, do not have that luxury. A friend may seem like a compatible roommate until the person is actually occupying one's living quarters. Some say the solution to this is not to live with friends. What's the alternative? Living with perfect strangers or with mortal enemies? That seems hardly ideal. The best solution is to try to find a person whose lifestyle doesn't sharply contrast with own's own. Party animals aren't compatible with compulsive studiers. Neat freaks don't match well with slobs. 

Commercial services will try to help roommates make successful matches. The problem lying herein is that not everyone fills out questionnaires honestly, nor sees himself or herself as others do even if he or she endeavors to complete the questionnaire honestly. My proposed solution would be initially to sign the shortest-term lease possible, as in the length of one quarter if such a lease is available, and to tough it out for that quarter even if the match is made in hell. By midway through a quarter, a medical school student or an In 'N Out Burger employee should have met enough other students or employees that he or she should be able to make arrangements for a suitable roommate. 

One thing to keep in mind is that if a person has consistent difficulties with roommates, the problem may not lie entirely in the choice of roommates. Sometimes one must look in the mirror for both the cause and the solution. Additionally, with the sheer value of the loans most students  incur to finance medical school or other professional educations, adding just a bit more to the final total in order to afford one's own apartment without a roommate may be the most practical solution for a person who needs his or her space and values his or her privacy. It's difficult to put a price on one's sanity.

#8 If one has a roommate or roommates, do not bring in or take in a pet without mutual consent. Ideally, the pet should be adopted together even if it causes custody issues in the long run. If one roommate adopts a dog or brings it from home, and the dog then chews up another roommate's shoes or laptop, a conflict will arise. The dog owner may consider that the shoe or laptop owner should have kept his shoes or his laptop in his bedroom with the door closed. The roommate may consider that as a payer of rent, he has the right to leave his shoes in the hallway outside his door or his laptop on the coffee table in the common area. If the dog is community property, such an issue is moot. 

Further issues arise when a dog creates damage for which the property owner or property management company expects to be compensated. It would seem a no-brainer that the dog owner would bear the brunt of responsibility, but one would be surprised at the number of Judge Judy or Judge Alex (may his show rest in peace; I miss him more than words can express) cases where the dog owner denies responsibility for the damage, as though the roommate and not the dog peed all over the wall or the carpet. 

Furthermore, a typical dog needs more attention than a medical school student or even an In 'N Out Burger employee can usually provide.  I would have loved to have brought our family dog to medical school with me had my parents been willing to part with her, but it would not have been fair to her because of the outrageous hours away from the condo that my brother and I put in on a regular basis. Cats, hamsters, and goldfish make much more appropriate pets for medical school students, and even cats need most of a med school student's time and attention when he or she is home.

Likewise, be considerate and do not abuse the privilege of having overnight guests. The Golden Rule applies here.

#9 Always lock the door to your living quarters whether you are inside or outside of it, and always have your key on you. The more you break into your own residence because you've forgotten your key, the easier it is for someone else to break in.  University areas -- particular grad student resident areas -- are prime targets for theft as well as for violent crimes including rape. Crime can happen even with locked doors, but most criminals will move onto an easier-to-access residence if their initial target is securely locked. I'm fortunate enough to live in a gated community where we know our neighbors and look out for each other, but we still keep our doors locked and our alarm set. Fences can be scaled, and security personnel are not always as vigilant as they should be.

#10 Don't lend out your textbooks. You may never see them again unless you take the lendee to small claims court, and by the time your case comes to court, the quarter will be over and you will have received s much poorer grades than you would have if you'd had access to your textbooks. The person who is asking to borrow your textbook could have borrowed enough $$$ to purchase his or own textbook but perhaps chose not to, most likely because he or she is a habitual freeloader. Sometimes legitimate emergencies arise. Someone's textbooks may have been stolen. In such a case, accompany the victim to a copy center that doesn't pay close attention to the photocopying of copyrighted material, or help the person to scan pages into his or her computer, but DON'T LET YOUR TEXTBOOK OUT OF YOUR POSSESSION. The same applies to software. Even if the person is honest, whatever caused his or her text materials to disappear could cause the same thing to happen to yours. 

me**BONUS ITEM** Budget for food. If your institute of higher education or In 'N Out Burger is in the same community as your parents' home, this point is entirely academic. As long as you have sufficient gas to reach your parents' house, their pantry and refrigerator are your pantry and refrigerator, and their food is your food, and you need not worry about the source of your next meal. Unless your parents are eventually to be on a fixed income (and maybe even then, as some parents, including mine, would be  willing to subsist on stale bread in order to see to it that their children eat well), this remains true as long as parents are alive and not living in nursing homes. Cruel as it may sound, many nursing homes and extended care facilities have been known to frown upon adult children showing up at odd hours to raid the institutions' refrigerators and pantries.

If, on the other hand, you attend school or work at an In 'N Out Burger further than two hours from your parents' home, this next point applies directly to you. However your money comes in  (quarterly for loans or the G.I. bill, monthly from your parents, yearly from scholarships, bi-weekly from employment, or otherwise), decide what portion of your income is to be devoted to food. Go to a decent grocery store  (not 7-11or its equivalent) and stock up on the staples you need that are non-perishable (rice, pasta, etc.).
Purchase the perishables that you are certain you will use before they expire. Look for good sales on fresh fruit and veggies, and supplement with frozen fruit or veggies, which are more expensive than the canned items, but also more nutritious and tastier as well. Exception: beans of various types. They can be used in many recipes and are much easier and quicker to use than dry beans.  Limit your purchases of convenience foods. They're more expensive than are the baisc staples that you use to prepare your own meals and are filled with substances not found in nature that are not particularly beneficial to your overall health, but having just a few of such items on hand can be a good thing. 

You'll almost certainly need to devote a portion of your income to such things as toilet paper, facial tissues, Q-tips, cleaning supplies, personal care items, and so forth. As unfair as it seems, these items, which magically appeared when you lived with Mom and Dad, now come at a price to you even though you derive relatively little personal satisfaction either from the purchase or the use of them. It's one of the many sad realities of being an adult. 

Plan carefully for fast food expenditures, and try hard not to overspend your budget unless you're one of the lucky few among us who happens to be rolling in cash. There will be times when you'll want to have pizza or some other restaurant food with a study group or simply because you feel like having it. Budget for it so that you won't be using your rent money to pay for these special meals, and then won't come up short when the rent rolls around.

Occasionally you'll come across a peer who is legitimately hungry. The person may simply have budgeted poorly, or the person may be less fortunate financially than you are. Regardless, if you are in a position to offer assistance, do so. You don't have to  take the person out for a steak dinner if you cannot afford to do so, which most of us cannot,  but scramble a few eggs for the person, prepare oatmeal for him or her, make a hamburger if you have the ingredients on hand, or give the person something. Don't let one of your peers starve. It happens.They don't usually starve to death (although such has happened), but students and young workers do go hungry to the point of losing consciousness. It doesn't cost much to share a can of beans, a package of ramen noodles,  a frozen burrito heated up,  a few eggs, or a sandwich and a glass of milk. Your help will not be forgotten, and the person may someday be in a position to help you, although that's not the reason you're helping the person. How a person treats another person who is in no position to reciprocate is a true sign of character. If we plan to become doctors, lawyers, quality IN 'N Out Burger employees, or other professionals, character is something that we should strive to develop. 

This song by Gordon Lightfoot speaks of the importance of being charitable to the degree that one can be.


  1. Your list doesn't have to apply to med school.

    I am in more debt than I'd have to be because I chose to live alone in grad school. It was a good decision for me, though... I wouldn't take it back, even though I didn't have a dishwasher.

  2. Like knotty says, this is a good list for a number of situations. I liked your tip about not being a know-it-all in class or around campus. So annoying when students do that. :)