Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Second Year of Medical School (and the Board Exams)

A little less than a year ago, I wrote this post recapping the first year of medical school as a significant other a future-doctor. Now that the second year book has closed and Ben is completing his final week of studying for the step 1 board exams, it's about time for the year two recap.

Ben and I heard that medical school is extremely difficult on the odd years. Year one, three, and five are particularly hard. Year one is difficult due to the adjustment to the structure, schedule, and intense memorization that make up medical school classes. Year three is apparently difficult as you're doing your first year of rotations - often 14-16 hour shifts 6-6.5 days a week - and you're sleep deprived and still unpaid. Year five is your first intern year which means even worse hours and a gigantic learning curve as you start to have responsibility. The even years are "easier," if you can call anything in this process easy, as they are years when you've learned a bit more about how to approach your schedule and schooling. Year two is notoriously less intense than year one as you have learned how to memorize and what to expect on exams and in classes. Year four you've learned a bit more about rotation schedules and are focused on residency.

That has held true for us. Year one was brutal and I thought Ben was going to lose it or up and quit at many a turn. Year two was decidedly easier. Ben still worked really hard, committed a lot of time to studying, and had difficult classes and exams that tried him, but he had way more free time. I know that most of this was due to him learning how to study and what to study most effectively. He'd also gotten over the hump of being overly concerned with getting A's (most medical students are shocked when they start school and are getting B's or even C's after an undergrad straight A career).

We were able to have quite a few dinner parties, outings with friends, dinners out, movie nights, TV show time, and quality time together. We did a lot of weekend adventuring without Ben suffering in school. He was a lot happier this year than last year and honestly it flew by. What did turn out to be a bit of a challenge was wedding planning. Anything huge and involved like that is pretty much outside of a medical student's time/energy/brain capacity. I spent a lot of my time planning it with my Mom and feeling a bit irritable that Ben wasn't able to contribute more. In the end, we were able to spend a perfect week off from school getting married and having a mini-honeymoon and it all worked out! If you're looking at getting married during the medical school long haul, I'd recommend spring break of second year as your best bet. It's probably the best year in terms of mood, free time, and the last year that students still get a break for Christmas, Spring, and about a week during the summer if they complete their boards early.

While second year sounds fine and dandy, it's capped by the biggest exam that your significant other will ever take - step one of the boards. This first board exam (there are three, but the second two don't matter as much as the first) takes place during June of the second year of school. It's an 8 hour test that determines a medical student's future residency and career. It basically tests the student on every single thing they learned (and didn't learn) over the past two years. Each speciality has a soft cut-off score to qualify for their residency and if you don't make it, it's unlikely you'll be able to compete with other applicants for desirable residencies in your field. It's brutal. The amount of memorization required for this test is evidenced by Ben's current schedule:

Get up at 6:45. Leave for a study room at 7:30 a.m. Study until 3 p.m. Come home for 30 minutes of exercise and 15 minutes to eat lunch and shower. Return to school at 3:45 p.m. Study until 9:00 p.m. Go to bed at 10:15 p.m. Repeat Monday through Sunday, for five weeks. Ben currently takes half day Saturdays where we can berry pick, go grocery shopping, complete any errands that haven't taken place all week.  I have never seen Ben so stressed, burnt out, upset, sad, or scared in our 6.5 years together. All of his friends are feeling the same. And they are all holed up in tiny rooms getting eye strain headaches from memorizing facts about 12 hours a day.

So what's my role and what can you expect if you're going through the same thing?

I have to do everything. Not kidding. I'm the income earner, shopper, errand do-er, cook, cleaner, morale-booster, and friend. It's pretty exhausting but not more exhausting than Ben's schedule, so I just do it. For five weeks, it's my lot in life, and if your significant other is heading into year two, it'll be your lot as well. 

Be prepared to: have your own hobbies and friends as you'll be spending weekends and evenings alone for about a month and a half. But also be around in order to provide moral support, keep your house, plants, and pets happy when there's only one caregiver around. And keep your chin up. The process has been giving me anxiety as it's so HUGE and daunting, but I need to keep my attitude positive in order to cheer Ben on. 

My wisdom about the boards? This too shall pass.


  1. I'm happy to hear the second year was a little easier and that you have a positive attitude about the boards. You're being a great, supportive spouse and it will all be worth it in the long run!

  2. Wow! That is a lot -- for both of you. Good luck to Ben with the boards, and I hope you two are able to enjoy the summer together once this stressful time in your lives has ended.

  3. Just reading about that exam stresses me out, but it sounds like you have a really good attitude about the situation. I'd love to get together soon as it sounds like you may have some alone time on your hands! (Or if you guys want to get together once Ben is done with his boards, I know Henry would love to see you both!)

  4. Love your positive, supportive attitude!

  5. Your selfless attitude is refreshing - it sounds like an absolutely exhausting time for both of you.


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