Pursuing a Master’s in Medical Science before Med School, a Q&A.

My fabulous friend, Brittany Cox, was gracious enough to participate in a written interview about Medical School, pursuing a Master’s in Medical Science before Medical School and how she has maintained her sanity and loveliness throughout the entire process. She has helped maintain our school’s Free Clinic by serving selflessly on Free Clinic Leadership as well as being an outstanding mentor to MS1 and pre-med students. She has a closet that I wish I could steal and an infectious smile and kind heart that will brighten your day – check out her Q&A below!

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Tell me about a day in your current life?

A typical day for me consists mostly of studying- I aim to be up and ready to sit and start focused study around 8 AM. I usually break around noon to eat, prep for class (I travel with no less than 4 snacks at any given time, since I don’t focus well on anything when I’m hungry) and decompress a little. Then we have lecture, which can be anywhere from an hour to three or four; as soon as that gets out, I head to the gym. It’s right on my way home, and an important stress reliever for me, so I try to get there at least 5 times a week. After that I head home, clean up, eat, and get back into studying. After a few hours in the evening, I try to wind down and allow myself some me time- sometimes that’s yoga, reading, Bible journaling, TV or just loving on my puppy. Off to bed at some sort of reasonable hour- I usually aim for somewhere between 10:30 and 11 PM- then rinse and repeat!

What tips on surviving a medical masters program would you give to only a close friend (and the readers of this blog)

-Find a support system: This is honestly so important. You don’t have to study with these people all day every day (although you definitely can) but it’s imperative to have people that bolster you up and believe in you, even when and especially on those days that you don’t believe in yourself. I still regularly talk to my master’s group cheerleaders and it’s incredibly cool to watch how we all are growing on this journey through medical school at three different places!

-Don’t be afraid of change: You may find that what works for you during graduate school isn’t what worked during undergraduate, and that’s okay. You may find that what works for you in anatomy isn’t what works in physiology; that’s okay too. The big take-home point here is to embrace that change, and don’t get married to study habits, locations, and even study partners or groups that aren’t working for you. At this point in your career, school moves way too fast to stick with a tactic that isn’t working for you and giving you the results you want.

-Maintain Balance: this is so much easier said than done, I know. Every now and then, however, it’s important that you do something that recharges you. If that’s a hobby or sport you love, great- set some time aside every week for that. Maybe it’s calling your parents or a friend, or getting together for a Bible study. It could be as simple as reading something NON scholastic for a change. Just be sure that you occasionally take time for yourself – you’ll protect yourself against burn out and thank yourself in the long run, even if it feels unnatural in the short term.

What is a hard to spot pitfall that you would recommend avoiding during your MS1 year?

I think a lot of people go into medical school thinking they have it all figured out, and that they’ve finally “made it.” While to an extent, that’s true, I would caution you to be open to opportunities you might not have expected- you may discover you have a heart for a different specialty than you ever imagined! Another hard part of medical school is realizing that you are now surrounded by the best and brightest- and while that does definitely include you, that also now means that 50% of your class will be, statistically, below average. This does not define you or your worth. Just because you aren’t making perfect exam scores does not mean you will be a less phenomenal physician. We all have traits that make us unique and wonderful, and lean hard into the things that make you who you are, then bring those into the medical context. If you aren’t AOA, that’s absolutely alright- just keep pushing yourself to be the best possible doctor you can be for your future patients and yourself

How do you maintain balance in your life?

For me, having a dog has been a huge help. She showed up at my apartment halfway through my master’s program, and it was the best thing that ever happened to me. She makes sure I get up and get out occasionally, and there’s nothing better than puppy cuddles! That said, pets are definitely a huge commitment and not for everyone, so here again, find what works for you. I also take time throughout my week to remain active in my church, with weekly Bible studies and volunteering, and I aim to read one book a month that has nothing to do with medical school. The gym is another great way to maintain balance and sanity! Just remember, the extra few points you might get on a test if you study instead of sleep, eating, or honoring your body with some much needed rest, are ultimately (and in my humble opinion) not worth the mental breakdown you get for ignoring your own needs.

In 3-4 sentences can you summarize your journey to medical school?

I knew I wanted to be a doctor since around high school, and spent pretty much every moment of undergrad working for that. Even so, I was stretched pretty thin and did not set myself up well for success during my first application cycle. I ended up applying for a master’s program in medical science and getting in, and after that year spent proving to myself and to medical schools that I could handle graduate level work, matriculated into TTUHSC SOM. A slightly circuitous route to be sure, but I’m so grateful to be where I am now!

What has been one of the most challenging moments being an MS2?

For me, learning to limit myself as an MS2 has probably been the hardest part. I tend to want to volunteer for everything and help everyone, and as we start to really hammer down for Step 1 studying, I have had to turn over leadership positions dear to my heart and say no to some opportunities and events that I wished to be part of. Especially when it comes to big moments- out of town weddings, family events, and graduations- it’s hard to make that sacrifice. I have to continually remind myself that I do this in pursuit of a larger aim, and I know it will all be worth it.

Your staple clothing item?

Well, to study, I definitely recommend you have a few pairs of leggings or sweatpants that you just love! I opt for comfort over fashion here, for sure. For business attire, I love the Portofino tops from Express and my favorite dresses are Banana Republic sheath dresses!

Describe your life in 15 years and some goals that you hope to have accomplished by that point.

In 15 years, I would be done with both residency and fellowship…right now the dream is pediatric surgery. I hope by that point I will have had some establishment in my field, though I obviously won’t be the premier expert, yet. I’d like to have an incredible mentor who pushes and encourages me, and I’d like to BE that incredible mentor for someone walking the path I’m on now- medical education and mentorship are huge loves of mine, so I think I’d like to be in a city and affiliated with a medical school or residency program.

What did you do in college to prepare yourself for your career?

In undergrad (and even in my master’s program) I think the biggest thing I did to prepare myself for what I was going to eventually become was to pursue my passions. In undergrad that looked like me having several minors and being a resident assistant, learning different aspects that would play into my future pursuit of medicine and balance, as well as mentorship and crisis response. In my master’s program, I got involved with interprofessional societies like Graduate Student Association, as well as specific clubs and volunteer opportunities for the types of medicine in which I was interested. There’s no one perfect (or more correct) formula to prepare yourself outside of getting your required credits- it’s so unique to everyone, and I think that’s one of the best parts of medicine; it brings together so many diverse people, passionate about different aspects of the same primary goal: helping humanity.

Starting over? Would you do it again?

This has been the hardest, most challenging, most consuming adventure I’ve ever been on.

That said, hands down, no doubt, absolutely: I would choose this journey every single time.

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