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day in the life

Surviving The First Year of Med School

What it's actually like to become a doctor. And yes, it's as demanding as you think.

Photo credit: Jackie Molloy/The Well

Tamara Movsesova grew up in Crimea, Ukraine, where her father was a well-respected emergency physician and neurologist. She found the stories about his work fascinating, but she never considered becoming a doctor herself. “Given how long and expensive medical training is in the U.S., I thought that perhaps I could be happy doing something else with my life,” says Tamara. So after college, she traveled and explored different interests. But deep down, she had a sense that something was missing. So she did something about it—she applied to medical school.

Now a first-year student, this what a typical day is like for Tamara.


7:13am

Photo credit: Jackie Molloy/The Well

Tamara, 29, wakes up at 6:30 most mornings in her off-campus apartment—about a 10-minute drive from the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell. She gets ready for the day ahead.


7:21am

Photo credit: Jackie Molloy/The Well

She has a quick cup of green tea, checks her emails, and feeds her fish before heading out the door.


7:48am

Photo credit: Jackie Molloy/The Well

Tamara arrives at school in business casual attire, which is required on days she has clinics or other patient interactions. Her backpack contains a laptop, notebook, water bottle, snacks and other essentials, while her tote bag holds scrubs and a pair of sneakers for lab.


8:37am

Photo credit: Jackie Molloy/The Well

First up is a two-hour lab session. Today, she is asked to match a heart specimen to a fictional patient. “Medical school is not just about memorization,” she says. “It’s about really understanding the human body, reasoning through what happens when things go wrong, and correctly interpreting all the complex relationships that can affect patient health and outcomes.”


9:35 am

Photo credit: Jackie Molloy/The Well

Tamara and the other first-year students learn about the intricate structures and functions of the heart.


9:40 am

Photo credit: Jackie Molloy/The Well

Tamara is about five years older than most of her classmates, but it doesn’t matter to her. “I love what I’m doing now, but I’m also happy that I had a few years after undergrad to figure out what’s most important to me,” she says.


10:50am

Photo credit: Jackie Molloy/The Well

During a lecture, Tamara and her peers tap into their inner children as they illustrate the different stages of fetal cardiac development using colored markers.


10:51am

Photo credit: Jackie Molloy/The Well

Tamara spends about five to six hours a week in lectures. The rest of her class time (about 10 to 12 hours) is spent in various small group sessions, hands-on physical diagnosis and ultrasound practice, review sessions, simulated clinical scenarios and other types of active learning.


11:40am

Photo credit: Jackie Molloy/The Well

Today’s lecture is led by Dr. Robert Hill, an associate professor of science education with a PhD in anatomical sciences. “The sheer amount of information is very challenging,” says Tamara. “The commonly used analogy to describe it is ‘drinking from a fire hydrant,’ which I find appropriate.”

Photo credit: Jackie Molloy/The Well

“Everything we learn is important and relevant, and the stakes are high because we will be directly responsible for the health and lives of our patients,” she continues. “And since science progresses so quickly, every incoming class has more to learn than the class before them.”


12:13pm

Photo credit: Jackie Molloy/The Well

Tamara briefly checks in with her fiancé, Zach, her biggest source of support. “He works in Baltimore during the week, but comes to stay with me on Long Island on weekends. It’s not ideal, but we’re making it work,” she explains.


12:40pm

Photo credit: Jackie Molloy/The Well

Tamara enjoys a bit of afternoon downtime and grabs tea with friend David Sloane. “My classmates are fantastic, and we all bring different perspectives and backgrounds to our learning,” she says. “Our school has a very cooperative atmosphere, so everyone works together, shares study resources, and generally keeps each other sane.”


1:16pm

Photo credit: Jackie Molloy/The Well

Friends Melanie Rivera (center) and Holly Dupuis (right) meet Tamara at the Hofstra Fitness Center. “Transitioning back to school after being out for seven years has been hard physically,” she says. “I was so active and now I have to sit and study for hours, which isn’t good for me. I feel better when I exercise, so I participate in all kinds of physical challenges whenever I can to help me relax, focus and stay healthy.”


2:25pm

Photo credit: Jackie Molloy/The Well

Feeling recharged, Tamara finds a quiet place to study. She is enjoying dabbling in the different specialities and is currently undecided about what type of doctor she wants to be. “I will probably need to wait until my clinical rotations to get a better idea of what I want to pursue,” she says.


3:33pm

Photo credit: Jackie Molloy/The Well

Once a week, Tamara does a clinical internship with Dr. Joel Halio at his practice in Great Neck, NY. Tamara was paired with him during her first semester and will be working with him for the remainder of the year and next year. Hands-on experience early on in training is an important part of the medical school experience. On days when she isn’t working in the clinical office, Tamara might be assigned to an EMT shift, riding in an ambulance and treating patients on site. Every student earns their EMT certification during the first few months of school.

“Medical school is not just about memorization, it’s about really understanding the human body, reasoning through what happens when things go wrong, and correctly interpreting all the complex relationships that can affect patient health and outcomes.”
Tamara Movsesova, first-year med student
Photo credit: Jackie Molloy/The Well

Dr. Halio, who specializes in family and geriatric medicine, has over two decades of experience. “He is a walking encyclopedia,” Tamara says. “One of the most rewarding parts of medical school thus far has been seeing the impact that caring and skilled physicians like him can make on the lives of patients and their families.”


4:00pm

Photo credit: Jackie Molloy/The Well

Tamara writes notes between seeing patients at the office. “I love the early clinical exposure at our school and that we get to work with real patients in outpatient offices in year one,” she explains. “We aren’t just stuck in lecture halls. It’s incredibly rewarding.”


5:33pm

Photo credit: Jackie Molloy/The Well

Tamara heads home and enjoys some well-deserved playtime with her cat, Loki, whom she rescued from a shelter in 2011. “Loki is a great form of stress relief,” she says. "He's super fun and loves to play and cuddle, so it's great to not think about anything else and just have fun with him for a bit every day.”


7:07pm

Photo credit: Jackie Molloy/The Well

Tamara’s other favorite stress reducer is being physically active, so she laces up and heads out for an evening run. (On weekends, she also enjoys rock climbing.)


8:08pm

Photo credit: Jackie Molloy/The Well

Tamara takes a quick shower and prepares dinner: salad with a side of sweet potatoes, onions and a fried egg. “My diet is primarily plant based,” she said. “I happen to love salads because they’re a fast and healthy meal.”


10:01pm

Photo credit: Jackie Molloy/The Well

Tamara studies about four to six hours each night. She tries to get to sleep by midnight so she’s well rested for the next day. “I’m not great about getting enough sleep,” she admits. “On school nights, I sleep anywhere between five and seven hours. I usually catch up on the weekends.”

Despite hectic days and long nights, Tamara finds medical school “exciting.”  She especially enjoys relaying her adventures to her parents, who live in Ohio. “They love hearing about the things I’m learning, and my dad is, of course, really happy that I’m following in his footsteps.”

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Published June 5th, 2018