‘On the Brink of Failure’ — STATMed Study Skills Class participants share how the program transformed their approach to studying in med school
The struggle is real. Not for all med students (or vet, Pharm D, or PA students). But for the students we work with, medical school can be tough — sometimes it’s even the first time a student has struggled academically. In our newest podcast miniseries, recent STATMed Study Skills Class alumni share the events that led them to take the Class and how it transformed their approach to studying.
In this episode, Ryan sits down with six recent STATMed Study Skills Class students from different schools, different regions and at different points in their careers who all had one thing in common: they were struggling in med school, PA school, or on the boards. In part one, we meet each of the students who share their reason for taking the STATMed Study Skills Class.
“I was on the brink of failure. I sat through two meetings on my performance and issues within the classroom. The first was patently unhelpful. On the second, I took command and decided to discuss a leave of absence instead of going through the specificity of that course. I found STATMed after doing a thorough search of what’s available within the marketplace. …I had emailed a couple of them for information and got back quotes that were absolutely outrageous on the hourly fees. And I thought well, I don’t really want to spend $5,000 on a contract for tutoring when I know that I don’t need to be taught what’s going on in the classroom, I need to be helped with what’s not sticking for me. …I typed portions of vignettes of my story directly into Google and found a testimonial of one of your former students that was my story on the page. I thought okay, I could have written this story, so this is the place I need to start.” -Elise, a first-year medical student
If any of these stories sound like your story, we can help! Learn more about the STATMed Study Skills Class and apply today.
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– Welcome to the STATMed podcast, where we teach you how to study in med school and how to pass board style exams. Your host is Ryan Orwig, a learning specialist who has over a decade of experience working with med students and physicians. In part one of this mini series, Ryan sits down with recent alumni from the STATMed Study Skills Class to debrief from the class and discuss why they turned to STATMed.
– I feel hopeful and I feel a lot more confident because I now have the tools and it’s been proven in the class that these tools that we practiced actually work. So I can depend on this fact that I’m able to go forward, not into just this exam, but the exam after that.
– Welcome to the STATMed podcast. I’m Ryan Orwig, a learning specialist, who works exclusively with med students, physicians, and those in related fields like veterinary medicine, PAs, and other fields. And we talk about studying time management and test taking in med school and on boards. We are advocates for those who are looking for better solutions to learning in med school and we offer some robust solutions. One of those big solutions is our STATMed Study Skills Class. And today, I am lucky enough to get to sit down with a group of my students. We just finished one of our STATMed Study Skills classes. And so today, we’re gonna sit down and have sort of a round table debrief discussion about their experience. We’re gonna start off talking about who they are and what led them to take the class. So we’ve got six of my students here and we’re gonna sort of cycle through some of their reasons for coming here, taking the class, and then we’ll sort of debrief on their experience. So David, you can go first. You can introduce yourself, David. Oh, no. Our first technical. Oh, there you are, there you are.
– There we go.
– Hey Ryan. So yeah, I’m David. I’m from a DO school on the east coast, first year medical student. And, you know, I found STATMed because I am going to be required to repeat the first year. I unfortunately did not pass two of my classes in the second half of the year, really close to the end. And so, you know, that’s the primary reason I’m here, but the underlying causes for that really have to do with my study skills were not effective for me in the amount of, you know, grind that we were doing, in the environment that we’re doing with medicine. And my time management skills really needed to kind of be revamped and figured out because, you know, when you couple both those together, you have a winning recipe for not getting through.
– Yeah, absolutely. And so, yeah, what the environment of medical school we talk about, that’s that speed volume density equation. So much, so fast, coming at you so furiously and then the ability to manage our time, build workflows. I can’t teach people how to manage their time without teaching the study skills. But then the study skills are not gonna be as useful without the time management. That’s why time management and study skills have to be taught at this level. You know, it’s sort of in a codependent dynamic, right? So, yeah. So you came in because of that time management issues, the study skills issues not really aligning with the demands of med school. And then how did you find us?
– Yeah, well, I kind of Google searched first a bunch of different ways to, you know, try to fix my own situation while I was in.
– Saw some ads on Google for the STATMed class and then was referred directly to you by my learning specialist at the school.
– I think she has a personal relationship with you.
– Yeah, I know her. Yep, yeah, yeah, I know her and they’re great because it’s like your school actually has learning support people and they can recognize where they can help and then where their ability to help runs out, and then they send people to us, which I think is a very healthy dynamic for any med school to be able to say, “Yeah, we have support people that can help to a certain point,” but then they send them to us ’cause we, as we’ll talk about, the study skills, the STATMed Study Skills class really is about tearing down all these old ways you guys studied and installing all new systems, which we’ll talk about here as we move forward. Very good, all right. Let’s see. Next person, introduce yourself, Veronique. Can you sort of tell us a little bit about what you’re doing and what led you here and all that stuff?
– Yeah, hi, Ryan. I’m a dual degree, DO MPH student, medical student here on the east coast. I finished my third year of medical school. I muscled through my first two years, was told that I was gonna fail my first year. I fought hard and didn’t.
– Whoa, whoa, whoa. Whoa, whoa, whoa. Whoa, whoa, stop. So you were told-
– You were going to fail your first year by who? Who told you this?
– Well, the first year-
– Not by name, not by name, right, but just like someone told you this. Okay, go ahead.
– Yeah, so the first term of medical school, like people know it’s highly stressful. It’s everything at once. New way of doing things. So I bombed my first two exams. So I was called into this academic advisement meeting and I was asked what my MCAT score was and how long I had since I had graduated college. And based on those two facts, I was told that I was not gonna pass my first year of medical school because my undergrad I finished in 2004, yeah.
– I mean, that’s, again, I know this stuff happens. I think it’s really important that people hear that this stuff happens. That is insane, that is horrific. It seems kind of criminal. I mean like they let you in. So it’s like this idea of using these two random points of criteria to look at where you are and say, you’re gonna fail. And maybe they do have numbers to back that up. Like you are more likely to fail because of this, this, and these scores you have, but that’s not interventional, that’s not equipping the student with the learning tools that they need. That’s not assessing where they are right now. And I’m not sure what the, what was the goal there to have you just withdraw right then and there? What were the options or just trying to guilt you into working harder or something? I don’t know. What do you think it was?
– I think I still think about that Ryan and I don’t know the full answer to that.
– Yeah, geez.
– I remember being very upset after the meeting,
– I should think so.
– It not encouraging.
– And I ran to my anatomy professor and told him what was going on, that I was so scared that this is happening, I needed some help. And I will never forget him because he sat me down and he said, you know, do not let anyone tell you what you can and cannot do. And it was very motivating for me. I’ll never forget him, so.
– So I mean, thank goodness you had somebody, you know, supporting you in that capacity, but you know, the end of the day you kept it up. I mean, you worked, you suffered, you sacrificed, you made it through, you made it through first semester, you made it through first year. You made it through second year. You got through to the other side, through rotations. Never, I mean, obviously, so step one has not happened yet, right, you have not taken step one yet?
– So that’s where you are.
– That’s where you contacted me and you came to me and you sort of tell me where you are and that’s why, so you can sort of tell us that’s where you got stuck. That’s where you sort of found us somehow, you can tell us how you found us. And then what the two or three main things you’re hoping to get out the class are.
– Yeah, so after I finished my third year of medical school, I was put on a leave of absence for the fact that I hadn’t taken and passed my level one exam. So I immediately went, did research, hired a tutor off of a big medical school tutoring company. Was prescribed a detailed agenda and schedule by a tutor but it was based specifically on what worked for her and what went well for her.
– Yeah, test scoring. So I just had problems with, you know, receiving the information. How was I going to, like you say, encode it and then consolidate it, remember it and retrieve it to take a test. And it went on and on.
– Hold on one second.
– It went on-
– Yes, okay, so right there, beautiful. So part of our goals here in the STATMed class is to turn you guys into little mini experts on learning in medical school, learning in boards. That’s like a broader thing that’s a key part of what we’ve done. I just re-engineered the curriculum to really emphasize that. And then what Veronique just did was she just gave me back the model that I’ve outlined for learning, where we encode, storage, storage consolidation, organization internally, and then retrieval, that three-step process, encode, store, retrieve. That’s the simplest bare bones model for the learning circuit. And what this tutoring company did, which some people is exactly what some people want, exactly what some people need. Just tell ’em when to study and how long before moving on to the next thing, that’s what these tutoring companies do. Those are important services for certain people. I am not a tutor. You guys I think know I’m not a tutor. People ask me, “Are you a tutor?” I’m like, “No, I’m not a tutor.” They’re like, “What are you?” I’m like, “I’m not sure.” I mean, I think we’re like a really, I mean, we’re like I say, we’re learning specialists, but we are really, and you guys can help define this, I don’t know. Like we are coaches in a sense but we’ve got very specific methodologies and tools and mechanics and philosophies that we wanna install. The classes organized to really help make this happen. But one of the goals is for you guys to come out and be able to articulate your learning needs. And you know, we just finished the class today and Veronique is sitting here articulating where the breakdown was for her. Like, okay, yeah, you’re telling me what to study, when to study, but that’s broader than my problem. Your problem was at that encode, organize, store, retrieve, even knowing where the holes are. What do I know, what don’t I know? What am I familiar with and where are the holes within that? How can I have something make progress, show what I know as I work through? And that’s what people come in, sort of spinning out of control, like where is this? And it has to be a maddening feeling because you’re feeling like something’s wrong with you. You’re feeling like something is, you’re not working hard enough. Or maybe this isn’t for you, or you’re a pretender. I would argue the opposite. Like now we know how you learn and we’ll talk about that in this podcast. And it’s like, it’s everybody else in the class. It’s people, there are people just like you in every seat, in every class, in every med school, across the country. But you’re all hidden and struggling and being a little gaslit perhaps if I’m using the word right, because you’re being told, like, you’re not working hard enough, you don’t want this badly enough. And now I think, so now you came into me, I think you’re looking for, how do I receive, encode, organize, store? I mean, that is what you were looking for even if you couldn’t articulate. Is that fair to say, am I reading that right?
– Yes, that’s absolutely what you’re, that’s absolutely correct. Going through that tutoring process, trying to push myself through it, all the feelings of shame associated around not being able to get through this detailed agenda, the schedule, was just not helpful. And I realized that it’s not the tutoring that I need. I don’t think any of us need to be taught by somebody specifically the information. We just need to know, how do I put this, all of this information into my brain? How do I store it and then be able to perform well on an exam, high stakes exam.
– Right. So how do I organize, encode, store, retrieve over an extended period of time, a vast amount of information? That is what so many people say. And what she just said is one of the buzz words for like our people, the people that are gonna thrive in the STATMed class. And you guys tell me if this is right. She said, I don’t need a tutor to teach me how to study. It’s no single topic is beyond me, I just need to know the tools to make it make, you know, to have a high intensity workout every time I sit down to study to get more bang for my buck when I’m doing it. You don’t need a tutor to teach it for you and you probably don’t need a tutor to make a plan for you. That’s just a thing that can be done. And some people, like I said, do need that, but that’s not what we’re doing here. People ask me to make study plans for ’em all the time. I’m like, that’s just not what I do. Like I teach you guys. I mean, you guys made your study plans, that’s fine, that’s part of the class. You don’t need me to do that. You don’t need to pay somebody to do that. You guys don’t, others might. Yeah, so I think that’s what, one of the main things you were looking for. And then I think you tell, I mean, this idea of shame, it’s so painful for me. Like I listen to every one of y’all stories and I’ve been doing this for 15 years, 15-plus years. And the shame that people feel, it’s burdensome, it’s heartbreaking. I mean, like I hate it, but again, I don’t wanna be like, believe in yourself. Like I’m never, that’s not my temperament. That’s not what we’re getting here, right? This is not cheerleading. This is not like a bunch of like self positive affirmations. Like why do you, so I’m assuming you feel hope now instead of shame. Why, after completing the class?
– Yeah, I feel hopeful and I feel a lot more confident because I now have the tools and it’s been proven in the class that these tools that we practice actually work. So I can depend on this fact that I’m able to go forward not into just this exam, but the exam after that, step two, the next one after that and, you know, hopefully specialty one day, without this being such a big burden, such a big obstacle, and really just become the best physician that I could possibly be by having that academic aspect controlled or solved.
– Yeah, so, right. Like, I’m never gonna promise somebody like, “Oh, you do this class, you’re gonna get 20% increase on your grade.” Like I’m not gonna say that. What I’m gonna say is I’m gonna give you the tools once we figure out if you’re a fit profile-wise, so that you can unlock your ability to make that blood, sweat, tear, sacrifice, commitment pay off and show your best self from the study side, learning side, that then funnels itself to the tests and performance side. I mean, obviously if you learn the stuff better, you’re gonna be able to perform better clinically. So that’s all great. And again, it’s very exciting when people come in because again, I don’t want people to feel bad, but I can’t just, it’s not a performance, you know? It’s gotta be earned. You guys are gonna know, you guys gotta see it, feel it. We use real med school and board’s relevant material as we teach these skills. That’s a big part of it. Like I think that’s one of the secret sauces of the class, is I’ve been so meticulously curating these topics. It’s not like the hallucinogens is such a great topic, right? It’s that it’s so real in its disorganization the way we use it ’cause it’s like an ugly document, but you gotta learn how to deal with that ugly dense stuff so that you can then see it and know that it translates outward with these skills. Well, very good. We’ll come back, all right? So Elise, what can you tell us? Tell us like what led you here and where we are and whatnot.
– Sure, thanks Ryan. So I am a first year med student in a DO program in the Midwest and I am repeating first year after self-selecting to take a leave of absence. So I was on the brink of failure, had sat through two meetings on my performance and issues within the classroom. And the first was patently unhelpful and the second I took command of and just decided to discuss a leave of absence instead of go through the specificity of that course. And I found STATMed after doing, as others have discussed, doing a thorough search of what’s available within the marketplace. And a lot of what is available are the mass marketed, very large tutoring firms that offer students who score really high on the MCAT and really high on the step exams and are supposedly going to give you insight. And I had emailed a couple of them for information, got back quotes that were just absolutely outrageous in regard to the hourly fees that they charged. And I thought, well, I don’t really want to spend $5,000 in a contract for tutoring when I know that I don’t need to be taught what’s going on in the classroom, I need to be helped with what’s not staying in my mind, what is not sticking for me. And ended up after deciding to take the leave, I had a week or so of time to really think through things and found STATMed on Google. I actually typed portions of vignettes of my story directly into Google and found a testimonial from a former student of yours that was my story on the page and I thought, okay, this is, I could have written this testimonial so this is probably the place I need to start for this and, go ahead.
– Right, yeah, yeah. Well, I’m a big believer in these patterns, these pattern profiles. Like there are, I do think that we have really identified a handful of profiles that are, as you guys know, I mean, you can predict what it’s gonna be like, similar problems are gonna be there. And if we understand the profiles, we can understand the solutions. That’s how we build the solutions that we teach in the class. And I’m not saying it’s one size fits all. Like we know it’s very modular, it’s flexible, it’s adjustable for the learning needs. There are some of you guys I’m like, I don’t know which skills are gonna be the money makers for you, but we teach enough skills where say we teach 15 core skills, one person might use A, B, C, D, E and that’s what is their moneymaker. Somebody else might use, you know, E, F, G, H, I, whatever, you know, they’re using these five other ones and somebody else is using a crosshatching of them. We don’t know who’s gonna use what, you don’t know who’s gonna use what, but it is, they are finite. And we can understand that like if you’re coming in checking certain boxes, it’s a very strong likelihood that we are gonna know how to help you with that. And we’ll talk about some of these profiles, I guess, as we move forward. I mean, we can do it right now. Some of the main profiles, right, are we talk about the top down versus bottom up learning. Most med students are probably bottom up learners. They can learn from fragments, they can learn from details, they can put it all together. They use the magic elves to compile it all in the back of their head subconsciously, we call ’em these magic elves. Most of the students, I would say in the class, most of you guys if not all of you guys are top down learners. Raise your hand. Does everybody identify as a top down learner? Like meaning like, yeah, we need the structure first and we don’t have this cadre of elves in the back of our subconscious putting this stuff all together. We’ll talk about that more. That’s a big one, right? You know, relying on low yield study methods, you know, trying to do more of what used to work even though it doesn’t align with the speed volume density equation. Not keeping too many things internal and implicit, not building workflows, not knowing how to be active, knowing we want to be active, relying on like blocked learning, mass learning. I mean, we can talk about all this stuff as we go through, but I think all of you guys pretty much agree that that’s the kind of stuff you were bringing into the situation. So for you Elise, one or two, or two or three of the main reasons you decided to take the class? Like number one, I guess you could say you identified with that story, right? What else do you think was really an important thing for you to try to, you know, when you’re taking the class, you’re signing up for the class, what was something you were looking for?
– I’m a non-traditional student. So I graduated from college several years ago. I’ve been out of the classroom for a while and really felt as though I had to claw my way through my pre-med classes. I was not a pre-med student. I had not taken any of the hard sciences prior to going through a Post-Bac program. And so for me, I knew that I needed help with just the base fundamentals of how to approach the material. I know that I have very few or no cognitive issues. And so I knew it wasn’t an issue of trying to understand or work through the material as it relates to patient care or as it relates to its future application. But in regard to surviving these first two years, I knew that I needed help with that component. And really starting to understand and have, I think have an external party as you’ve done for all of us in this class, really tell us or give us a framework for how to fix the problems. I think all of us are fairly good or good enough at diagnosing that there is a problem and obviously we’re here, but really being given the tools to stop some of the chaos and the overwhelm and be able to have a very workable solution to the problem. And so for me, it was a matter of determining that these specific parts of my process were broken. And that’s not a reflection on me as a student necessarily. It’s not a reflection on my future as a physician, but it is a reflection on my ability to adapt and be successful in this environment for two years and needing to-
– It really is an in between window. Nobody goes to med school to be a med student, right? This is just a portal through which you must pass. And it is a brutal portal. And I mean, including your steps and your levels and all that, but it’s a brutal portal. And if you get caught up in the gears of it, it’s just gonna run over you. And it’s like, sorry, you know? And you probably just weren’t cut out for it or you weren’t committed enough or whatever we’ll talk about, right? And you feel like you really got these things, I guess, obviously because of where we are by coming through the class.
– Absolutely. I think I have an incredible foundation now for actually using the tools, but for reapproaching the material, for going back into school with a very different perspective on how to function within the class and how to be successful in a way that I wasn’t before. And for me, the biggest thing is that the chaos and the overwhelm of just a mass amount of resources and all of the things that are available to medical students, that has been controlled. And I know exactly what tools I’ll use, I know how to fight boredom or study slog or all of the other components that naturally come into play when you’re studying for 12 to 15 hours a day. And that’s a pretty powerful thing to walk out of a nine-day class.
– Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s a lot. I mean, Jim, the who sat in the class with us, he, you know, he underscored that this is like 45 hours pretty much. If you’re adding the on-demand videos, the homework, pretty close to like a full three-hour semester course in like 10 days. It’s a lot, but you guys are up for it. And you know, we’ve looked at like extending it and making it like slower and longer but this is the sweet spot. It’s fast, it’s furious, it’s organized and it’s successful. You know, people are bringing the stuff on board. We make that little plan for in between leaving and going back to your school and you get those extra reps in for bonus. But yeah, it’s an absolutely viable thing. All right, we’ll come back around you here. Anne, Anne’s got a little bit of a different story in the sense of where she is. So just really briefly tell us where you are in your career.
– Right, so, hi, I’m Anne, I’m an international medical graduate. I graduated medical school more than 10 years ago, but I didn’t practice. I went and became a grunt for the pharmaceutical companies. And then my family moved here to America so I had to quit my job and now I had to find a way to make myself, you know, fit here, find .
– And so you have passed USMLE step one and USMLE step two.
– Painfully, like a lot of hard work, independent study groups. And then you found us after step two. Why did you seek us out after step two? And now you’re working on USMLE step three.
– Yeah, I was just not happy with, although I did pass and I was, the scores were okay. It just, it was such a torture. The whole situation was just, like I told you, I felt like I was being I was a gavage duck being prepared to be made into foie gras, but I was the one doing the force feeding to myself. I was holding the gavage force feeding myself to have this good outcome and why, I love medicine, I love learning. Why should it be such a torture that the whole process of reviewing for this significant exam has taken the joy out of it? And I wanted to find the joy back. That’s why I thought if there have been advances in medicine the past 10 years since I’ve been out of school, surely there have been advances in better ways to learn how to learn without going through that torture. So I found, I went to Reddit and all the other forums, and then I found some testimonials about people who’ve been happy with STATMed. So yeah, I contacted you guys.
– Absolutely, and that’s where we are. And now we’re more in control with it. Yeah, it’s disappointing that, I mean, the growth is so slow in like the field of medical education. I think there’s just so many biases and, you know, a lot of bad advice being slung around out there, low hanging fruit, and we can do a lot better than that. And we’ll talk about some of the stuff that we did in the class. What else?
– Especially for when you said about bad advice, all the stories I can tell about all the bad advice, especially for international medical-
– We’ll get to bad advice here in another section. We’ll come back to that. All right, great, we’ll come back, we’ll come back to it, Anne. All right, Tess, tell us, you know, where you are and what led you here and where we’re going.
– Hi, I’m Tess. So I am a PA student. I’m the only PA student in this whole group. I did one semester at PA school. I had to get a certain overall grade in the class and was unable to get that, so I was dismissed from the program. So I came home, I was kind of talking to my dad and my dad’s a physician. And he was like, you know, I think you should check out this class STATMed. And my dad actually worked with Ryan because he was struggling with his EM boards and Ryan was able to help him out and he passed them. So, but yeah, he mainly told me to check it out and sign up for a class because I found myself not having a good school and life balance. I wanted my studying to be more effective and efficient. And yeah, I just felt stressed 24/7 in the first semester of PA school that I experienced.
– No, absolutely. And again, just a terrific example of the gap between undergrad or Master’s programs and then jumping into med school, vet school, PA school far, Pharm B. School, the gap is so big. And when you jump into it, I think the most logical thing to do is like, well, it’s more work so I just need to do more of what I did before. That’s logical, it’s just not true. I mean, it can be true for some people but again, we only care about when it doesn’t work. Better quality of life, I mean, you’ve proven yourself to be highly receptive, like your brain has just opened up now that we’re focusing on structure first. Structure inward all the way down to the details instead of details upward, that’s that top down learning. And it unlocks y’all’s ability to get into this. So, you know, Tess fortunately had a connection from your dad I met at some conference in Las Vegas or something years ago, right? But this is like the complete rebuild and we’ll talk about some of this stuff as we get into it. And then RN, last one here, give us a quick overview about where you are academically and what led you to take the class and, you know, one of your two or three main goals for taking it.
– Sure, I’m also a repeating DO student. I did not pass my first semester. I did not pass two of my classes. And the biggest reason why I wanted to take this class was I wanted to learn the proper methodology of how to study. First semester I was just using absolute brute force, ineffective brute force to get my way through. Waking up earlier than everyone, staying up later than everyone, and just going through the semester, I was like, if I’m putting this much work into it, I should be getting, you know, extremely good results. And I wasn’t. So that’s why I took a step back after not passing and wanted to find a program that really would allow me to really tailor my study methods for success. And I wanted to do this sooner rather than later. So now going forward and completing the program, I’ll be able to set myself up for success through all the future boards and test exams and everything that’s forward.
– Thanks for tuning in to this episode of the STATMed podcast. If you like the show, please be sure to rate it on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. You can find more test taking and studying strategies, specifically designed for med students and physicians over at our blog on STATMedlearning.com. Thanks for listening.