Thursday, February 7, 2013

How Meditation Helped Me Adjust to Medical School

A student reflects on her first quarter: "Studying naturopathic medicine is the hardest thing I've ever done. Now I know I can handle it."

Siergiewicz in classroom
Naturopathic medicine student Leigh Siergiewicz in class

Last spring, Leigh Siergiewicz wrote a funny, honest account of deciding to enter Bastyr's Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine program. Now she's got another great story of beginning school, overcoming test anxiety, and learning to put her pajamas on one leg at a time.

When I first heard about naturopathic medicine, I was sure there was nothing else I wanted to do, so I did everything necessary to prepare myself. I conquered my fear of science, I took prerequisites, and moved all the way from Massachusetts to Seattle. I was so excited to start the program last summer, but I was also terrified of the huge workload.

I took a few first-year classes in the summer to lighten the course load during the year, but I still got off to a really rough start and had to repeat one of my summer classes. Starting out the fall by repeating a class felt awful. I felt embarrassed and frustrated with myself, but I realized the most important thing I needed to do was get out of my own way.

Siergiewicz in campus gardenOne of my biggest problems was irrational test anxiety. I would be so frantic from the stress of exams that I couldn’t think straight. I would take an exam, then look it over afterwards and realize that I absolutely knew many of the answers I got wrong.

I knew I had to figure something out. So rather than studying right up to the minute I walked into the classroom, I started meditating before exams. I imagined myself in a bubble and declared nobody else’s stress was allowed inside it to affect me while I took the test. Most importantly, instead of worrying about the outcome, I told myself over and over that I intended to do well. I also wore earplugs while taking exams, and my scores started improving by a lot — 20 points or more.

I am so happy to be at a school where there is so much respect for individual learning styles. I always struggled with taking notes in class, and I would feel guilty leaving without having written anything down. Until now, taking notes and learning in a particular way was always expected in school. I felt really validated when my Bastyr gross anatomy teacher, Dr. Love, said it was OK to just listen and not take notes. I found that taking notes from the textbook outside of class was more effective for me.

With the new integrated curriculum that began this year, there is less required lecture time, which is great. For students who need more time with instructors, there are optional tutorial times. I have also found peer tutors very helpful. I felt supported rather than judged for struggling. And I passed all my fall classes.

I've been more stressed out than I ever have been before — one night I climbed into bed and couldn't figure out why I couldn't get comfortable. Then I realized I had forgotten to change into my pajamas. I couldn’t think about anything other than managing my workload. But I don't regret the challenges, because I've grown through them. In seven short months, my views of myself and my abilities have drastically changed. I’m sure there will be times over the next three years when I am stretched extremely thin, but I have overcome huge barriers already. I know I can get past more.

Leigh Siergiewicz writes about being a student of naturopathic medicine at her blog, thrivemedicine.com.

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Learn more about Bastyr's demanding, rewarding naturopathic medicine program.

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