Spring Preview and Post-view

This past weekend USCSOMG hosted Spring Preview, which is an opportunity to show our incoming students and their families what our school is all about. I was a member of the Student Life Panel. Four fellow students and I answered incoming student and family questions about daily life as a medical student at USCSOMG. Here’s a not-so-little summary of the most frequently asked questions, most frequently given answers, and of course a smattering of my personal opinions and commentary.

Q: How did you find a place to live? Where do you live? How did you find a roommate?

A: It’s up to you and you have tons of different and affordable options.

Some have family nearby and commute from home. I did that for a year and a half from Spartanburg. It was great because my parents were very understanding of how much I needed to study and were quiet and supportive. I didn’t have to set aside money for rent, and they cooked and cleaned. It was not so great in that I spent two hours of every weekday on the road, often in heavy traffic, which is why I decided to move to Greenville over winter break.

Some people live in apartment complexes. A list of these is compiled by student affairs, but there are dozens more just as close to campus and even more within a 15 minutes drive. With a roommate they can be very affordable, but even without one, they aren’t nearly as expensive as a typical big city apartment.

Some people rent or buy houses. Probably the cheapest option, but requires a little more searching to find the right one and the right roommates. Houses in our price range are also in high demand in this area, so you have to be vigilant and move fast. I rent a single apartment, which is a fourth of an old house, but I never would have found it if not for a well-timed query to a fellow classmate. Others use a real estate agent or scour various other sources including the previously mentioned list compiled by student affairs.

As far as finding or having roommates, I personally prefer to live in a single, and am willing to pay the little extra to live alone. There are several different platforms for finding both medical and non-medical roommates, including Facebook, the previously mentioned list made by Student Affairs, Craigslist, etc. There are pros and cons to both medical and non-medical roommates. Some like that medical roommates understand the demands of medical school and are less likely to disturb you. Others like non-medical roommates, because it can be refreshing to come home to someone with an outside perspective.

Q: How much do you study? Do you have time for things outside of school?

A: I study however much I need to, and I make time for the things I choose to do outside of school. Time management is a prerequisite skill for success in medical school, but exactly how you divide up your time is a personal choice. I choose to make time to meet with friends from out of town about once every two months, and I volunteer at the free clinic about 3 hours every week. I probably would make better grades if I studied during those hours, but I choose to spend my time in other ways for my sanity, my stamina, and my happiness. Others choose differently and make time for whatever is most important to them. And those things are as diverse as the students themselves: spending time with loved ones, TV, videogames, community service, gardening, hiking, exercise, painting, pets. You won’t be able to do all of them, but the constraints of medical school make you realize pretty quickly which few things are most important to you and how much time you’re willing to set aside for them.

Q: What did you do during the summer between M1 & M2?

A: Whatever was most rewarding and enjoyable to me at the time, which for me was hiking through the Rocky Mountain national parks of the US and Canada with my family for half the summer and spending the other half hanging out with my best friend in Washington D.C. Many travelled, and others did research or community service. The one thing I would absolutely discourage is spending any significant amount of time studying for step. You have plenty of time, and there are so many other things you won’t have the chance to do again for a while.

Q: What was the biggest adjustment in medical school?

A: Extreme time management. I’ll admit I hardly ever studied for an exam longer than a week in college, and my grades reflect that. Now I definitely study every day and write down in a planner almost everything about my day: when and what I study, what I eat and cook, when I let out my rabbit, when I take a shower, what time I get up, when I play videogames, when I call a friend. Maybe you don’t have to be that extreme, but make every action intentional so that you are always consciously choosing how you spend your time instead of allowing how behind you feel dictate how much you feel like you have to study. Of course, I adjust if a specific lecture takes longer than I expected to review or a friend makes plans for dinner downtown, but it just lends some amount of structure and routine to my days.

Q: What is something you wish you had done differently in medical school?

A: I wish I had started being obsessive about planning my days earlier. I wish I had been more proactive about reaching out to upperclassmen for advice. I wish I had believed everyone along the way who told me I would be okay as long as I kept doing what I knew I needed to do (though I don’t think any medical student ever totally believes that at first).

Q: Why did you choose medicine?

A: This question seemed to surprise the whole panel. Partly just because we weren’t expecting it, but mostly because it feels so obvious to all of us now that it feels redundant to verbalize it. Being in medical school makes you more sure than you ever could be before about your goal of becoming a physician, because you have to choose it every day. Every day you have to choose to study when you’d rather not, skip a social function you’d rather attend, exercise when you’d rather sleep in. And every time you make a decision like that, you remind yourself why you choose to act this way, why you choose to become a doctor, and how this small decision will help you get there. It’s an entirely different level of existential certainty (for me at least)—living every moment in the active pursuit of something rewarding and meaningful you know you desire.

But to answer the question, everyone’s reasons for going into medicine boil down to wanting to help people. Specific motivations and experiences vary, but it all comes down to that. I am no different. But contrary to what interviews have taught you, that’s okay. Have a good answer for those interviews with some personal details to distinguish you, but once you’ve been accepted, your choosing to come to medical school is evidence enough of your commitment.

Part of what medicine means to me is valuing everyone’s dreams, no matter how big or small, how common or unusual, how sensible or whimsical their motivations. So I believe in all you aspiring medical students out there, and I don’t begrudge you your reasons, no matter how cliché. I hope one day you get the chance to be a doctor, to help people take control of their health so that they too have the opportunity to pursue whatever dreams they have in whatever way they choose.



Caitlin Li

I was born and raised in Spartanburg, South Carolina and attended Vanderbilt University for my undergraduate studies. I was heavily involved in Vanderbilt’s fencing club and musical volunteering at the Vanderbilt hospital before graduating in 2015 with a degree in biomedical engineering. I want to become a physician to help people pursue happiness in health and am honored and excited to study medicine at the USC School of Medicine Greenville.

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