Cruising Through Medical School

Medical school is full of surprises. Sometimes, the surprise is a two hour ethics lecture the day before your midterm. Sometimes, it’s finding out that there’s a meeting with free food on a day I forgot my lunch. Sometimes, it’s taking in an introspective moment at my medical school friendsgiving and realizing how much I love the people in my life.

It’s no secret that medical school is hard. The path to becoming a doctor is arduous. That’s completely normal. We are acquiring an extensive fund of knowledge. Sometimes, I feel overwhelmed and overworked. It’s a different kind of pressure than what I felt as an undergrad; I feel more of a responsibility to perform well on exams. One day, I’ll wear the long white coat, and my patients will come to me for answers.

My favorite surprise?

Learning that medical school is fun.

No, really! It is fun! Ok, not like all the time fun. I still have days (a lot of them) where I am in the library for 10 hours straight. But even when I look back on those times, my memories are filled with people I truly cherish. I remember the library day leading up to our gastrointestinal midterm when we pushed two tables together and made one giant eight-person study table. To be honest, it was a miracle I could stay focused. I remember looking around at my classmates and swelling with pride. The people beside me were intelligent, kind, and capable. Later that evening, we had a pizza delivered and took a quick study break. Rather than moping and feeling sorry for ourselves (except for me, I moped), the mood was optimistic, and the conversation was light.

Sometimes, my friend Brandon and I quiz each other sitting on our friend’s deck overlooking Stewart Beach. Somehow, my life is more manageable on these days. The light breeze, salty air, and sound of waves set a pleasant back drop to the studying. After a while, we take a break and catch up on each other’s lives. Soon after, we are joined by our friends Kadie and Natti (a fellow Island By Choice writer) on the deck. We take time together to decompress and rest our minds. We listen to Natti’s record player, we talk, we laugh. It’s different when you are with lifelong friends; I lean on these people. They are there for me when I need advice, reassurance, and to vent. They were even there for me during our all day silent meditation retreat… don’t tell anyone, but we totally cheated at the end and talked during dinner. After our few short minutes of relaxation are over, we trudge back inside to our respective tables and get back to the grind. But I always approach the rest of my study time with renewed vigor.

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My cruise roommates and I (left)  about to board the ship for the first time!

Those small moments allow for my day-to-day sanity. But there was that one time we did something truly epic. My most awesome and fun time in medical school was the Fall Class Cruise. Yeah, you heard me right, CLASS CRUISE. It’s kind of an unofficial UTMB SOM tradition to plan a class cruise during the second year fall break. We went on a 7-night cruise to Cozumel, Grand Cayman, and Jamaica. After a year of resentfully watching cruise ships leave out of Galveston harbor, it felt amazing to finally be on one!

I had been on cruises with my family before, but this was different. This time, I was with 60 of my friends. Spoiler alert: medical students know how to have fun! I shared the cheapest interior cabin room that I and three other classmates could find. We may have been splurging that week, but we are all still relatively poor medical students. I loved the people I roomed with, and honestly, that 100 ft. cabin was completely fine for us. We didn’t spend that much time in there, anyway.

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Our group picture on deck featuring the family reunion-esque group tanks.

We quickly fell into a very comfortable routine on the ship. Our days at sea were largely spent lounging by the pool. Food was, of course, abundant. After a breakfast in the dining room, we lathered up in sunscreen and met our friends on deck. My favorite daytime activity was spending time by the pool listening to the live Caribbean band. The air was warm and salty, and the sun made our fruity drinks even more refreshing. We ate dinner in the dining hall each night. Dinner was easily a two to three-hour affair each night, and the food was delicious. The dining hall was very nice and surely meant to be formal, a consideration we took very lightly in our group. The table was always as full of laughter and banter as it was with food. Each night, we turned what was meant to be a three course meal into a six to seven course meal by ordering additional entrees at the behest of our gracious dinner server. We got to know him well and keep in touch with him on Facebook.

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Our first stop was Cozumel. A group of us decided to go on a catamaran snorkeling/beach party excursion. As the catamaran pulled away from the boat, it was the first time since being aboard that I got a chance to appreciate just how huge the ship was. It was a colossal, floating, metal city. I could see the slides and rock wall off the back, which I was itching to try.

 

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My friends and I on the catamaran after snorkeling.

 

 

 

Our time on the catamaran was a blast. We snorkeled for about 45 minutes and then went to the beach, which had inflatables on the water, stand up paddle-boards, canoes, and fruity drinks.  The atmosphere was pure fun; exactly what I needed after eight weeks of cardiovascular-pulmonology.

 

 

 

 

The next two stops were Grand Cayman and Jamaica. In Grand Cayman, a few friends and I decided not to do an excursion, and instead just enjoyed the beach. Grand Cayman had the bluest water I saw in the Caribbean (which was saying a lot)! Jamaica offered much more rugged topography. We hiked up the Dunn River Falls, a massive 180 ft. waterfall surrounded by lush jungle. We hiked from the bottom of the waterfall, through it, and to the top. I had never done anything like that before and it was incredibly beautiful.

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The famously crisp, clear blue water at the beach in Grand Cayman.
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My view of Jamaica from the dining room on board the ship.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A picture of my friends I took when we exited the ship.

 

 

 

The end of the trip came all too soon. I was feeling very sorry for myself when I got back home, which was luckily just seven blocks from the port. I could practically see the cruise ship from my house, but life was taking a rapid shift back to reality. Even though we were all sad for it to end, I left the trip with amazing memories and deepened friendships. And a gnarly tank top tan line.

 

 

 

 

As a UTMB Ambassador, I give tours to a lot of the SOM interviewees. I love answering the question, “What is your favorite thing about UTMB?” because it is such a simple and honest answer. My favorite thing about UTMB is the people. My UTMB family is thoroughly compassionate, undoubtedly odd, and, above all, infectiously positive.  Sometimes, my family and friends from back home see my pictures on Facebook and tell me it looks like I’m having too much fun, and that I don’t study enough. I’m always surprised to hear this! In reality, I study at least three times as much in medical school as I did in undergrad. I know that achieving work-life balance will be a new challenge in each stage of my career. At this time in my life, I think that I have by and large figured it out, but the balance is constantly challenged as I add in new responsibilities and expectations of myself (check out my last blog piece for more on this topic). My favorite surprise thus far in graduate school has definitely been the happiness and strength I draw from taking time to cultivate meaningful relationships.

-Zach

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P.S. Here are some more pictures because that trip was worth it. Enjoy!

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