Final exams are at the end of most school semesters, including medical school. So this post is dedicated to the medical students who are hunkered down right now in their study bunkers, preparing for the worst.
At the end of the second year of medical school is the USMLE-1 (United States Medical Licensing Boards, Part 1- the name is misleading, several countries use it). This covers every subject from the first 2 years of medical school: Anatomy, Biochemistry, Pathology, Pharmacology, Microbiology, Neuroanatomy, Physiology, Histology, and a few others. 2 years of learning, all in 1 awful test. When I took it the test consisted of 4 sessions spread out over 2 days. Each session had 200 questions, and 3 hours to answer them.
At my school, if you failed the test, you had to take it again. If you failed it twice, your medical career was over (though you still owed your student loans back).
It was the Summer of 1991.
I don't remember the specific dates. But basically, between the time med school ended for the Summer, and the dreaded test, was roughly 1 month. You had 30 days to re-study everything that had taken you 2 years to learn to that point. And pretty much your chances of a career in medicine depended on how you did.
So it was stressful. And, to this day, I still feel for all of you who are out there studying for it now. Any classmate, resident, or attending who tells you they weren't scared is lying.
Within hours of the semester ending, my class had gone into hiding.
I stopped shaving, to save time. My roommate, Enzyme, disconnected our TV, moved it across the room, and piled furniture in front of it.
My days consisted of me getting up at 7:30 and showering. I'd either stay at my apartment desk or walk over to campus to find an empty classroom to study in. I'd put in my trusty earplugs and the world around me ceased to exist.
Around noon I'd go back to my apartment for a PBJ, then go study again. At 5 I'd go back to my place for a sandwich, or ramen soup, or Rice-a-Roni. I'd sit out on my balcony and eat, for 15 minutes of relaxation. Or I'd read a book with dinner (Enzyme and I were both reading a single copy of "The Price of Admiralty" by John Keegan. It sat on our kitchen table for the month, and we'd have different eating times so we could share it). I never spent more than 30 minutes on a break. After dinner I'd go back to my desk, or campus. I'd study until around 3 a.m., then go home to sleep for a few hours.
I called my parents a few times. My daily outfit consisted of gym shorts (the short kind, from the 80's), T-shirt, sneakers, and the growing beard. Days blended together. There were no differences between weekends and weekdays. People I encountered were superfluous to my existence. I saw my classmates a few times, and we exchanged glassy-eyed nods as we passed.
I shaved a night or two before the test. I studied until around 11:30 p.m. on the eve of the test, re-reviewing a few last points.
It was weird, like I was living alone on another planet for 30 days. I have no idea what happened in the news that month. I was out-of-touch with everything but my books.
If there's one thing I came out of medical school with, it was this: The realization that there was absolutely, positively, no way you were EVER going to get everything read, studied, and reviewed that you needed to before the test.
And, somehow, when the test was over and the dust had settled, you'd done it. And you'd have no idea how. I still don't.
Good luck, everybody.