Medical school is hard work, but it should still bring a sense of a reward at the end of the day. The David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA hosts many social events and trips designed to help students relax and enjoy themselves, and just as importantly, to make friends in med school.
It was during one of these events — a trip to a music festival — that Jiwoon Chang, MD, and Abinav Baweja, MD, first connected over their passion for diverse music and UCLA basketball. The two met at orientation in 2011 and, throughout their first year, became part of a close-knit group of friends. Even after medical school the group stays in touch, but Dr. Chang and Dr. Baweja have an advantage: They matched into the same internal medicine residency program at New York University.
"Both of us ranked it as our first choice," says Dr. Baweja. "So on Match Day, we ran into each other and were just in tears. We couldn't believe that we got our number-one choice and that we would have a good friend in our residency program."
Here, they discuss why having friends in med school made the experience more fun and better prepared them for careers in medicine.
Forming a strong social circle in medical school helped Dr. Baweja and Dr. Chang maintain a sense of work-life balance and excel academically.
"Having close friends keeps your energy up and keeps you motivated" says Dr. Baweja. "Even when times are tough in medical school and you're really busy, it's all about wellness. We had so much collective social outpouring amongst our friends. We went on several trips that were sponsored by the [David Geffen School of Medicine's] wellness committee. We went snowboarding in northern California and got together regularly for dinner or just to hang out. That made the experience of medical school so much better."
"For me," he admits, "it was more fun than college."
Even during their third and fourth years, when the group underwent rotations at different hospitals, they made it a priority to get together. Using an email thread called "Excessive Mastication," they arranged weekly dinners at novel restaurants throughout LA, employing the student guidebook as their resource.
"These friendships prevented me from burning out in medical school," says Dr. Chang. "They allowed me to become a better student in class and [at various] hospitals."
The group also hosted study groups at one another's apartments to prepare for exams. "Studying with friends made me more motivated to get work done and to learn," recalls Dr. Baweja. "Prior to our board exam, we did weekly assignment rotations where one of us would prepare a summary of some topic related to the exam and present it to everyone else. That really helped academics and further enhanced our bond."
Whereas premed programs can be very competitive — making it challenging for students to form strong friendships despite scholastic interests — medical school is a more collaborative environment. Dr. Chang and Dr. Baweja both consider this important training for future doctors.
"At the end of the day, having close friends in medical school really drives your experience as a doctor," says Dr. Baweja. "Being a doctor is all about dealing with people — patients, nurses, staff and other professionals — and being able to relate to diverse groups of people, on both a professional and human level."
Dr. Chang agrees: "Medical school can be challenging as students are on a steep learning curve and witness the humanistic side of medicine in the hospital for the first time. I think the most important set of skills to learn from medical school is forming strong connections, working together and sharing knowledge to work toward the same goal."
By Taylor Mallory Holland