Our first exam is on Monday. It covers two weeks' worth of biochemistry and molecular biology, which is about the equivalent of half a semester's worth in undergrad.
It is pass/fail, only out of 40 points, and we get nearly unlimited in-class time for it. It's not really a matter of getting a high grade on it. I guess, in the back of my mind, I am worried that I am going to fail. Fear--not neuroticism or gunnerism or pride--is what's motivating me to study for hours on end. I need to prove to myself that I didn't get in here solely because my application was "unique"--that I did cool things like science journalism, that I wrote a passionate personal statement, that I was able to charm my interviewers. I need to know that I can also master the material itself, which is the real reason I am here (despite what I hear from others about how "necessary" or "relevant" the nitty gritty details are to practicing medicine).
Our class has gone above and beyond in cooperation. On our class email list, old midterms, study guides, flashcards, and group meeting opportunities circulate. It's actually possible to feel overwhelmed by those alone (and I do!). With a pass/fail system, there is no reason to hide anything--we share the mentality that we do what we have to do to get ourselves and our classmates to pass.
It is interesting living in a nearly all medical/dental student dorm, where everyone is on the same schedule. We are away from the main campus, so we study here, in our class building across the street, or at the library next to that. We live on a block filled with hospitals. Basically, within this radius, it is all medicine, all the time.
So far, I've gone out to greater Boston at least once a week. This is the first time I've stayed within this medical bubble. It is very different from undergrad, where you could hear what you were missing right outside your window. (Now, all we hear are hospital sirens and helicopters.) You don't have roommates or classmates on different schedules tempting you to go out for the night. Here, it is perfectly acceptable to say to the girl you see in the bathroom on Saturday morning that all you did was study last night.
My classmates had originally scheduled a global health meeting for today and just cancelled it because we have a test on Monday. This is starkly different from undergrad and from "real life," where opportunities present themselves and you have to make decisions about them. Here, with 200 others in precisely the same boat, we don't have to make those choices and can pause things at will. This isn't the kind of reality I am used to.
Monday will be the new Friday, and I mean that as literally as I can. Here, we set our own calendar and thus our own reality. The world--undergrads, grad students, patients, people--is not our world right now. We're a class--a cult in the best sense of the term. I love the cohesion, but at the same time I am concerned. I had forgotten that today was September 11.
I already feel myself not having the energy to explain the details of my day to my outside family and friends. Maybe after this exam is over, that will change. But after dozens more, will it still?