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On the STATMed Podcast: Study Skills Class Debrief Part 4

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STATMed Alumni Share Their Advice for Struggling Med Students Considering the STATMed Study Skills Class

In this episode of the STATMed Podcast, host Ryan Orwig is back with six recent STATMed Study Skills Class alumni for the final part of this miniseries.This week, they share top takeaways from our grand unifying theory on why learning in med school is so challenging. These alumni also dig into advice and what to expect for other struggling students in medical, pharmacy, or veteraniry school considering the STATMed Study Skills Class.

“This is a class for somebody who definitely is struggling academically and that they know that they have something to change regarding their study methods, but they need the help to do so, especially in the science field where material’s presented so quickly and so fast. That’s who I recommend this for. But in general, I would say anybody that takes this STATMed class will benefit in some sort of way because through the methodology to the time management, there’s always something to pick up through this class that can help augment your studying as you move forward.”

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 with more than a decade of experience working with med students and physicians. In the final episode of the 2022 STATMed Class Debrief miniseries, Ryan sits down with recent alumni from the STATMed Study Skills class to debrief from the class, discuss their expectations coming into the class, and their insights for future students.

– When I started doing the homework on maps and memory palaces, that definitely opened my eyes to the fact that this is a path that I need to take. And when I was in med school last semester, not many people were using this method, and nobody was giving this as advice, but going through your program, I’ve realized that this is a pretty valuable tool that I wanna make use of.

– I think that we’ve talked about a lot of the stuff that we wanted talk about in this little debrief. Maybe we could talk a little bit about the larger ideas about learning. So we start the class watching like my sort of grand unified theory on learning in med school and why learning in med school is so hard. It’s like an hour-long talk. It’s on YouTube, anybody can watch it, but that’s like the first part of the class, This is the first class where I’ve used it, and you guys came in hot. You guys came in hot and ready to really have some amazing conversations about this. We talk about my issues with medical education. We talk about some learning theory that I really tried to distill down and operationalize and weaponize for you guys. And then talk about where conflicts happen in the learning in med school design. So maybe let’s talk about, if you guys, anybody has any thought, like, what was the big thing that really opened your eyes or made you feel good or made you feel bad or made you get excited? Or maybe it was in the watching of that, from that learning foundations or coming around to the other side. Is anything about like the learning side of what we’ve talked about? Who’s got something? David, you got something?

– Yeah, I mean, I think that what really stood out to me in the foundation’s video was kind of that process of, okay, you’re going to kind of have that introduction to your material. You’re going to encode, you’re gonna consolidate, and then you’re gonna retrieve it, right? And that process, moving from point A to point C, can be disrupted. And when we’re in a classroom with a whole lot of material coming at us, and maybe we haven’t looked at it before or have never heard of anything before, it’s really easy to kind of get lost along that road and not be able to figure out where everything went wrong. But the actual vocabulary, being able to put together, okay, well, you know what? I’m realizing that I didn’t have retrieval practice, or I’m realizing that on the front end, when I was listening, I actually didn’t get any of the underlying structure to what’s happening in this lecture, which made it so that I couldn’t consolidate it, which made retrieval practice kind of pointless because I didn’t have that initial ground foundation. That was super helpful for me.

– So just giving you that big framework, a simple` super structure of how learning works. It’s kind of crazy we don’t teach people this, right? I live in this world, and it’s like, “Wait a second, when do we actually tell them this?” So I love the idea about telling it up front, and then it does sound, I think it’s very beneficial. It’s a thing to build off of, right?

– Yeah, 100%, because it gave me that opportunity to say, okay, so I’ve been looking at all these external factors, which is totally fine. Sometimes external factors are the deciding thing for what goes on, but really the majority of the time that I have trouble with something, it’s not because some lecturer just wasn’t understandable. They were not speaking the same language or something. It’s usually because I had some problem along this track, and if I can circle back to it, figure out what went wrong, I can correct that instead of just allowing it up to fate.

– So that’s ownership, number one, and then all the study skills sort of answer the how of how to fix that as well, all the skills that we’re teaching in the class. Very good. So that’s a big pivot point in how you see yourself as a learner. Who else can talk about some of the learning myths or the insights we’ve acquired here? Elise?

– I loved our discussion on desirable difficulties.

– Oh.

– And the idea of having to really lean into the things that don’t feel as good as a learner. We talked a lot about this with the first self-test, right, this idea of the initial iterations of retrieval practice in which you may only remember 5%, 10%, 20%. That really destroys the myth that you have to have it all in your mind to start going through testing. You have to have everything ready to go before you start doing these practice questions and all of the other things that I think we’ve been told in some fashion, some form over the years as students. No, it’s this really resets how we think about testing ourselves, how we think about acquiring knowledge, how we think about what’s actually valuable and being able to say, “Yes, that’s a difficulty, but I desire to get better at it,” is such an amazing tool because it forces you to do the things that, let’s be honest, none of us want to do, but in the end, they’re the most valuable for performance.

– Well, it’s that initial retrieval practice acts, especially when there’s no map or memory powers involved. After I’ve read something, and I’m going back to that initial retrieval practice activity, that’s where I’m gonna take an absolute beating, but then the self-checking accelerates the learning, consolidates it, but it’s invisible. You gotta do the second one. That’s where you start to see the growth, but, again, it’s invisible, and you know it’s not till you get to that third one. It’s a very steep curve, and it’s filled with areas to take away the incentive to do it. So this is why you guys sort of acquired this learning on, yes, difficulty is a good thing, not a bad thing, but we gotta really will ourselves through it a few cycles to get to it. Anne, did you have a thought on the learning stuff for you where we’re really changing your perspective on this stuff?

– Right, ’cause going in, I thought, “Oh, I just needed maybe a few things. Maybe I could just get a few things from this class so that I could bring it into my board review for step three.” But then the whole… You taught as so many skill that I know is going to change the whole way I approach to learning itself, not just for board exam. I can totally see how I can apply all the tools you gave us, not just to one exam but to so many other things that I want to learn. Just the idea is so exciting for me, especially with the frameworking. Remember how I was so excited that, oh, this 66-page hematology chapter, you gave us the tools to help me reduce it to a two-page framework, and then from there I saw all the blind spots that I had, that it showed me all the weak spots that I needed to study instead of the things I thought I should focus on for the test. That was just so life changing for me.

– Yeah, no, great, great. So who else? Oren, can you speak to any of the learning-type stuff that opened your eyes or different expectation? What can you say about that learning foundation stuff?

– Yeah, sure. So growing up through grade school, everybody has their own study skills and different study methods, but coming into med school, I was like, “Okay, we all have a similar kind of mindset in terms of how we study,” but I was completely wrong. When I got to med school, I realized that not everybody studies the same still, and everybody’s so completely different. So when I was trying, well, when people were giving me advice that they were doing, I was thinking to myself, “Why isn’t this working?” And then over time I started to realize I still am wired differently even though we are all at this high level and very small, selective level where it’s very focused. Yeah, so that’s something that really opened my eyes as I progressed through the semester.

– And then coming into the class, what do you think the main pivot point was for you? Like, what’s something you’ve learned about yourself as a learner that is from the learning side? I mean, I guess like the top-down might be the thing or I guess the need for retrieval practice, or, I mean, do any of those things really sort of stick for you as an insight about your learning needs? So you’ve learned that you, I think coming into the class, you knew your learning needs were different than a lot of your peers. Can you point your finger at like, I don’t know, something that is specifically different that you learned through the class about your needs as a learner?

– Yeah, absolutely. When I stated doing the homework on maps and memory palaces, that definitely opened my eyes to the fact that this is a path that I need to take. And when I was in med school last semester, not many people were using this method, and nobody was giving this as advice, but going through your program, I’ve realized that this is a pretty valuable tool that I wanna make use of.

– Right, so what you learned is that the power of visual memory, ’cause we, again, I think a lot of us think of memory as like a single solid state drive, like, this is my memory, but what I think we’ve learned in the class is that there are different layers of memory, different types of memory, and text-based memory is an add-on. We don’t come hardwired to read, so it’s a less stable memory system. We’ve all had that phenomenon of, I know where it’s on the bottom left-hand side of the page. It’s written over there in blue pen with a purple circle around it, but I can’t see what it is. That is where things are less robust for us, and it gets fuzzy and it breaks down. We do come hardwired with that visual memory and that memory of location, that method of loci that we exploit in the memory palaces. So we’re really using some primal visual and place-based memories, which can be different. Again, for some of us, that’s an augmentation. Good. Tess, what about you? Something about a learning insight from the class? What’s something you learned about just learning in general, learning for you, learning in medicine? What’s something that resonates for you?

– Yeah, so we’ve mentioned them a lot, the magic elves. So I learned-

– Yeah, well, let’s see. Let’s see. Let’s unpack that first. So the magic elves is like a weird metaphor that I just ended up landing on. So it’s the idea that some people, like if you jam a bunch of stuff into your memory, and you walk away, like, there’s these elves living in your head, and they put it all together in an organized fashion. So if I jam a bunch of stuff in a closet, the closet being the metaphor for my memory, I can walk away, and the magic elves will come and organize it nicely, categorically, sub-categorically. Those are the bottom-up learners, right? They’ve got these magic elves. A lot of my students, myself included, do not have the magic elves. If we stuff a bunch of junk into our memory banks, our memory closet, and we come back, it’s either just as bad as it was or worse. It’s like sprung a leak and there’s a hole. Maybe there’s like a short circuit on a wire, and there’s been a fire. Lord knows, it’s not good. The memory has not been consolidated and organized. Organization is the key. So, Tess, I guess when you saw these magic elves, did that resonate for you?

– Yeah, so I actually had some classmates in my first semester that would only study from Quizlets. And we’ve talked about this before in the podcast. I was like, “Well, they can do it, why can’t I?” I tried it, and it was okay, wasn’t the best, wasn’t the most effective and efficient, but, yeah, I just learned, at least from firsthand, I can’t do Quizlet. But coming to this class, I learned the reason why behind it. How can I fix it? How can I be better?

– Yeah, yeah, and that’s powerful. That’s the value of the silly imagery of it, is that it does give us a way to wrap our heads around it and own it and remember it and build off of it. And then, Veronique, I mean, I think you said to me in our first conversation, or right afterwards, like, you want those magic elves. You’re like, “Why can’t I have the magic elves?” And I mean, that’s where you started with it, right?

– Yeah, absolutely. I kind of feel, I feel really upset that I don’t have those magic elves, but-

– Fair.

– I’m also really relieved to know that others don’t as well and that there’s a way to work with that.

– Yes. That’s the moral of the story.

– But it would be great-

– That’s the moral of the story though, is we have to know what it is, and then we can work around it. It’s like, yeah, okay, you don’t have ’em. I’m upset I don’t. We can be upset for a few minutes. Then it’s like, “Let me learn the skills that work around it,” and that’s part of the skills we’re teaching, work around that limitation. Anything else on your end with this, Veronique? I sort of hijacked that from you, but anything else about the learning stuff, the learning theory that we went through?

– Yeah, the learning theory. It was, I mean, establishing structure, that just hit home for me. That’s what I needed.

– Everything. Everything.

– Everything.

– Everything has to be about structure. Everything has to start with structure. It has to keep structure all the way through. And, again, you guys know. It’s so exciting though, right? You guys know exactly how to build around structure and keep structure as we move forward. So I think the last thing here is, I don’t know. I mean, I think we could talk, do we wanna talk about our, like, I don’t know. I think that’s pretty good. I think if we go any longer, it’s pretty, I think this is good for two parts already. Final thoughts on, I don’t know, like anything about expectations that you had maybe coming in and how they were different? Or what kind of students you would recommend this for, the class for. So either expectations versus like expectations reality, what you learned about the class being in the class, and then if you would recommend this to others and to whom. So let’s see, Oren, we’ll start with you, and I’ll zigzag through this.

– Sure, so this is a class for somebody who definitely is struggling academically and that they know that they have something to change regarding their study methods, but they need the help to do so, especially in the science field where material’s presented so quickly and so fast. That’s who I recommend this for. But in general, I would say anybody that takes this STATMed class will benefit in some sort of way because through the methodology to the time management, there’s always something to pick up through this class that can help augment your studying as you move forward.

– Right, yeah, and I would say, I mean, I don’t think it’s for everybody, personally. I don’t think it’s for everybody. I think it’s for a certain type of med student and students in related fields, but I think the key is that desire, that hunger, ’cause it’s not gonna fix itself. Just sitting through the class is not like sitting through a movie. This is work. You guys did a lot of work. And I think it’s, I mean, I just love how much work you guys did. You guys put it in, and that’s where the payoff is, so I think I agree with that, good. Veronique, what can you tell us? Either like expectation versus outcome and/or who do you think this is for? Either of those would be a good sort of final talking point.

– Yeah. I knew there was a lot of work to be done, skills that were going to be learned. I didn’t realize how intense it was gonna be.

– Yeah, it is.

– ‘Cause we’re growing or we’re learning new skills. We’re growing, at least I am. That takes a lot of effort and energy, specifically energy. We’re all used to putting in a lot of effort. So yeah, I was exhausted.

– But you were surprised.

– After the day that was important.

– Yeah, you were surprised. You were surprised by the volume, and I think that’s fair. I think that’s fair. And I want people to know that, yeah, it’s work. It’s manageable, but it’s work. It’s also going against the grain of what you were maybe thinking about. We’re going against the grain of your default settings, and that is inherently tiring and exhausting, absolutely. And I think that that is part of my responsibility to make that happen. But, yeah, it’s not a walk in the park, but I think it’s like a good, hard workout. Is that fair?

– Absolutely. Necessary. And the other, I was thinking if during my first year, if I was recommended to go to do this but having all the other pressures on top of it, I would’ve not have been able to do it. You’re so pressured to learn that information as quick as you can. I think because of the anxiety, you revert immediately to methods that worked for you in the past ’cause it’s comforting.

– Well, but that’s why the training. Yeah, you need the time, you need the training, and that’s why we don’t do this with people who are in, you can’t do it in the run of play. You need to do it when you are on a break, right?

– Yeah, absolutely.

– Perfect. I mean, I would, honestly, I would’ve loved to have done it before starting medical school. That would’ve been great. Hindsight is always 2020. So I’d recommend students who are scared, who are starting medical school in the fall to take it.

– Sure, yeah.

– I think so.

– Oh, if they have the proper fear. So I could do a thing where if I went to a group of med students or entering med students, and I was like, “One out of three of you will struggle,” I think most of them would look to the left, look to the right, and be like, “Stinks to be you guys ’cause it’s not gonna be me.” So I think that’s not as well suited, but if you do have the fear coming in, I think it’s great. I mean, but for those of you who do, and some people do it between first and second year, and they’ve tasted the bitter fruit, they hated it. They do the class pro. It is a proactive intervention, but they can build off of it. And for those of you that are repeating, I mean, I feel like I should have every med student who’s repeating and hungry, should be doing this class. I mean, that, to me, is like a no-brainer. I have tons of people. There’s a lot of in-betweens doing it between first and second year, but if you’re repeating, it’s like, man, you know what it tastes like. You know what hurts. You know where the breaking points are. Do it now ’cause then you turn that negative experience into a positive experience. You guys, all of you guys who are repeating, we’re turning that bad experience, that negative experience, that traumatic experience into something that’s really positive, and not cheesy positive, but like, I know what’s up. I’m gonna go in now, and I’m gonna leverage all the stuff against it. David’s gotta go. So, David, what what’s what are your final thoughts on this?

– Yeah, I mean, I think that anyone that is trying to come into the class should kind of make sure that when they walk in, their expectation isn’t to just take whatever they’ve been doing and do that again, but rather to kind of walk in and be like, “Okay, whatever has been going on, I wanna try something different.” Even if it’s gonna sound whimsical, even if it’s gonna sound a little bit unusual, you need to have that drive to do that. That’s like the expectation that I wanted to have for myself walking in here, and I think it made a big difference for me specifically. And then I would absolutely recommend this class to anyone who’s struggled. I don’t know. It’s funny ’cause this year was really, really hard for me because-

– I bet.

– I haven’t been a failure student a whole lot in life.

– No, no!

– And you get hit a bunch.

– But this idea of failure, and we haven’t talked about that a bunch here, but, I mean, you guys are saying the word “I failed.” I mean, that’s hard. That’s a hard, hard thing. Most of my students come in and have never experienced anything close to failure, and it is a big deal. It’s a big deal, and I don’t harp on it, I think we know we’re here, but we’re here because we’re looking to change, and, again, that’s a pretty big motivator. But I think what David says is very interesting, the mindset of like, I’m looking to change. I’m not married to these skills. And some of us have a, I mean, it can sometimes be hard to let go of that even if you don’t like it. It’s just like the familiar is sometimes hard to change, and the behaviors that are entrenched can be hard to change. So I think that is a good parting thought there. Any other thoughts on that, David?

– No, I think you’ve pretty much covered it.

– Great, thank you very much. All right, Tess.

– So just quickly talking about failure, so I said this at the beginning, and I didn’t really follow up with where I’m at now, but my dismissal for my PA program actually happened like a month ago. And then I lucked out, got an interview with another program, interviewed and got accepted, so I’m starting in the fall at another program. But the thing I wanna say about this class is, yeah, I could be excited about starting PA school again, but this class has built the confidence that I have now to now I’m actually really excited to start in the fall. I have no doubt in my mind that I’m off on a better foot now, and I’m not in the fight mode that I was in the whole semester that I had.

– That’s right.

– I’m not skating on thin ice anymore. I have the tools that will keep me afloat, like we talk about with the boat and everything, but, yeah.

– No, and you’re at the very, you’re going to go in with this array of tools a little bit nervous. You’re all still gonna be nervous going back in. That’s normal, that’s healthy. But I think what’s gonna happen is you’re gonna really thrive, and then it’s gonna be more focusing on quality of life stuff, which is gonna be pretty exciting for you. So I’m excited for all you guys, and that’s a great way to look at it. Anne, what about you? What would you say? Like, sort of coming in, expectations, what you got from it, advice, thoughts at this level for you coming in as a international grad looking at this thing for step three.

– With all the bad advice I got getting into this whole USMLE prep thing, it was as if a friend pushed me in the pool and said, “You can do this! I believe in you!” So, I mean, it’s like getting back on a bike. It’s riding a bike. And I’m just downing there, not knowing what to do. And this whole course, what it give me was it gave me a life raft. It gave me the tools I actually needed to finish this whole thing, and I can’t believe like what I just said. I can’t believe I’m saying this: I’m excited to do step three now.

– Wow.

– Because now I know what exactly I’m going to do, that while I’m learning, I’m not wasting my time. I’m going to get my life back and spend more time with things that matter personally, like my family, that I felt I neglected them during my first foray into this whole review for step steps, the step prep.

– Wow.

– So I’m just keen to get on with it and have a better quality of life and find the joy of learning again.

– Wow. Well, and as we talked about, you want to learn, you enjoy learning, you’re excited to practice, you wanna know stuff, and we don’t want this phase to beat that out of you, but the nature of the design does that, so having the tools to put yourself in charge is one of the big goals of the class, to put you in charge of your own learning for the rest of your career, right?

– Yeah, and keeping things into perspective that I’m actually keen on learning so that I could help people later on rather than just learning to pass the test, just learning to survive it. It takes that whole burden out of the situation now for me, and I can just-

– Fantastic.

– Learn for the fun of it, for the joy of it.

– In a structured manner, working your way through all your step three stuff. We already looked at your super frameworks, your specific frameworks, I mean, absolutely glorious. And you’re just gonna circle through, like do the front end and then retrieval framework, self-testing, all the way through tracking with your study manager. It’s very exciting and I’m real happy for you. I’m so glad that you found us for the class. So finally, I think I have Elise. I think I’ve covered everybody else. I got a little disorganized there. Elise, finally, with you, what can you say about expectation outcome, recommendations, thoughts like that?

– Well, for me, being a medical student completely destroyed my desire to be a doctor. I’ve had to really work through what I call the great divorce between being a medical student and actually the practice and the clinical beauty of medicine. And so I came into this class, to be perfectly honest, I thought, “Well, this could work or this could be just another thing that I do to try to claw my way toward this ultimate goal of being a physician.

– Fair, fair.

– So I had hopes, and I definitely had expectations, but this has far surpassed any of my expectations. And I think the reason why I was, just as I was listening to everyone else, I realized that the reason why this works is because we do have enough time to practice together and to work our way through the skills, so you have real evidence and proof of their value, of their validity before you leave the class. This isn’t something that you learn all of this information and then you just wait until you go back to school and you hope you can apply the skills and see how it all turns out. And so I would say I’d recommend this certainly for students who are struggling, but for students who in particular feel as if they’re just in a swirl of overwhelming chaos, and they’re trying really, really, really hard to be successful. I think that you mentioned this, Ryan, this is not a class for people who want to slack off or want an easy fix. You don’t peddle tips and tricks. You are teaching us how to rethink our systems of learning, how to rethink who we are as students, as learners, and so this is really such a valuable resource and could be the solution for students who are caught in that swirl and just need help. For me, destroying everything I thought before, really dismantling some of those poor behaviors and those myths, and then being given a concrete way forward, this is the road out of that tornado of nonsense. That’s something that I think, in my opinion, you aren’t going to find, a student isn’t going to find in a self-guided, easy-to-access tips-and-tricks methodology that is freely available on the internet, and certainly the school would love to tell you what they think about how you should be learning. And so I really think that students will find value in walking through each step of this process.

– Absolutely. No, I mean, look, this thing has been built and torn down and rebuilt, torn down and rebuilt for the last 15 years. I think you guys can appreciate the meticulous build of it. It’s a very great experience, I think, it’s world class, but you guys are the ones that make it happen. I mean, I can arrange the party, but if I don’t have the right people come to the party, then it’s no fun. And this was a great experience, and I really appreciate you guys going through the class. I’m gonna miss you guys, but you guys will be in touch with me, keeping me updated. Everything we do, everything we build, is from feedback from you guys. We’re only successful as you guys are successful. So you guys will be in touch with me. I really thank you guys for sharing your stories and experiences. I appreciate any of you guys out there listening to this, so thank you very much. Feel free to reach out anytime. If you want to ask questions about our STATMed Study Skills class, reach out, and I’m happy to have a chat with you about it. Thanks for listening.

– Thanks for tuning into 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 Thanks for listening.

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