The Final Countdown

If you can read the board in this picture, you will see what has been striking fear into my heart for days now.

Not “Pig meeting — Dr. Morgan will be talking about painful sex taco bar.” As strange and sinister as that sounds (who wants a painful sex-taco?) such bizarre messages are common ads for med student lunch topics. I recently promoted a talk on physician-assisted suicide with the promise of homemade cookies.

No, what really scares me is the small line at the top of the white board, “The Final Countdown: 46.” That’s 46 days left until the end of my medical school basic science classes.

The seond year of medical school has, for me, been a kind of golden time. Compared to the overwhelming novelty of starting medical school, this year I feel far more in command, both of the material we are learning and of the rhythm and nuances of medical school life. It’s easier to be a medical student, I’m doing better, and having more fun. And it’s all about to end.

That’s sad. What’s scary is what comes when it ends. First, my classmates and I have five weeks in which to study for, take and pass Step 1 of our medical boards, an eight-hour test that condenses the first two years’ of medical education into 322 multiple-choice questions. You have to pass to become a doctor, even to continue in medical school. No pressure there.

Like many of my classmates, I have been doing some desultory studying for boards for weeks, intended to get more earnest during Spring Break last week, and played around instead. No regrets, but it was a shock to return to school and find my mock board results in my mailbox, a number that would be impressive for a European shoe size but was underwhelming as a glimpse at my future. I have lots of work to do.

And each day, as I walk into the classroom, I see I have less time to get that work done. I have watched The Final Countdown dwindle from 99 to 70 to 46, counting off the end of my golden year and the approach of a month of academic purgatory. Frankly, the only thing more disquieting than that Final Countdown in our classroom is this one: