First Exam

Today we took our first exam for “The Molecular and Cellular Basis of Medicine.” I think right now I feel more relieved than anything else knowing that in the end med school exams are just like any other exams I’ve taken. It wasn’t grueling; it wasn’t tricky. It was a straightforward 2-hour multiple choice and short answer exam.

There is one major difference though. As you may or may not know, the first two years of HMS is pass/fail, meaning that on our transcripts there is no A, B, C or D. It’s either satisfactory or unsatisfactory. Whenever I tell people this, their first reaction is “wow that’s awesome” and then they say “I wouldn’t want you as my doctor.” I can see how a pass/fail system may cause students to take it easy. It happens to me. But I don’t agree that a pass/fail system would necessarily make you a worse doctor.

– First I’d like to think that we are here because we want to be here. Sure there are exceptions, but I think that for the most part people here at HMS (and med schools across the country) are passionate individuals who want to be good doctors. If you wanted to be a bad doctor, you don’t need to go to med school and could save yourself a lot of time, energy and money. Because of our desire to be good doctors, we have a desire to learn this material that is being taught to us regardless of the grading system.

– Second there are external pressures at work other than just grades. An obvious external pressure is our future patients. As doctors we have an obligation and urge to provide the best possible care for our patients so we want to learn as much as we can now. Another external pressure is our fellow physician colleagues who keep us accountable in learning our material and being good doctors. Having grades I think distracts us from learning more for our patients and future practice.

– Finally the landscape of medicine is evolving. Medicine is moving towards a system of greater efficiency and organization, and the growing number of specialists and list of complicated co-disorders and chronic illnesses necessitate highly coordinated care. What better way to start learning how to work together with your colleagues than in med school? A pass/fail system removes competition and fosters an environment more conducive to helping each other out. Just this past week my classmates were sending out emails of notes, flashcards and study guides that they made.

There are varying degrees of the pass/fail system in med schools around the country. Some schools have an extra category of “high pass,” others have “secret rankings,” and one school, Yale, has complete anonymity when it comes to grades. I’m a fan of our system and I think it works well for me and my studying habits.

One benefit I’ve witnessed so far is that this system has made learning more fun. Last night before our exam we had at least 50 emails sent out over our HMS class-list about post-exam activities and several youtube videos helping us de-stress. This morning 5 minutes before our exam, the entire class congregated in the atrium and had one big group hug while singing “I throw my hands up in the air sometimes sayin ay-oh gotta let go. I wanna celebrate and live my life sayin ay oh, baby lets goooo!”

Yup those are the lyrics from our unofficial class song, “Dynamite.”

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