Dear Incoming Student,
Welcome to Saint James School of Medicine!
I hope this letter finds you well as you are getting ready to move to another country to start your first semester of medical school. When I first started, I was so nervous and the whole situation of moving so far from the life I previously knew felt daunting. Apart from the school’s admissions team, who was very helpful, I was going in blind. I wasn’t sure who would be the best point of contact for my day-to-day questions, such as: recommendations on where to live, what I should realistically bring with me, who I should contact on the island if I felt lost during my classes. That being said, I hope this letter helps shed some light on tips and tricks I learned during my time on the islands.
Moving to the Islands
I started out my basic sciences studies on the island of Anguilla, which was very different from what life had been like for me back home in Canada. Anguilla is pretty small and flat, with a tight-knit population. When I said I lived on the West End at Jean’s place, everyone knew exactly where I was.
In general, my advice for picking somewhere to live is to really know what makes you most comfortable. If you like living with roommates and close to school, great! Find a group of friends and go for it. Personally, I preferred to live alone a bit farther away from the school and drive back and forth. It was a little more costly in terms of my rent and my electric bill, but I found the solitude to be just what I needed to ensure I got my studying in.
After Anguilla closed briefly after Hurricane Irma, I moved to St. Vincent to finish my last semester of basic sciences studies. Moving there happened so quickly that I barely had time to prepare. I really had to think on my feet! The school once again provided a list of landlords that students had used in the past, and I went down the list until I found one that had space for me to rent. I initially rented a single bedroom but moved into the upper apartment space to share it with two girls. In terms of cost, rent and electricity was a little bit cheaper compared to Anguilla.
Getting around on either island can be difficult if you don’t have a plan.
- The school does have a bus that helps students go to and from their living accommodations and the school. As with any bus service, it isn’t perfect. It doesn’t run 24/7 or on holidays, so you have to make alternate arrangements if you want to get in early, stay late, or study in the library when the bus isn’t running.
- Renting a car is more expensive in the long run, but it is convenient.
- Buying a car is cheaper in comparison, but if anything goes wrong you’re on the hook to figure out how to get it fixed. Remember that everything gets flown or shipped into the islands with a significantly smaller population base, therefore pricing is higher and so are the taxes.
- St. Vincent Dollar Van – There’s a van that goes around the island for $1 EC. I rode on these a few times with a group of friends. Make sure the first time you ride on it you go with a group to help you figure out how to get around and be safe!
What To Pack
It can be hard to figure out what to pack – after all, you’ll be there for a while. My advice is you should pack what makes you comfortable. If you enjoy reading, playing video games, or anything else, make sure you bring it with you. You may not get a ton of time to work on those hobbies, but spending some time now and then to relax will make studying a little bit easier to take. Personally, I brought a few novels and a gaming console. Don’t buy every single textbook on the book list and shove them into your suitcase unless you’re the type of person that can’t study without a hard copy. Even then, ask an upper classmate what books are already available on the island before you go spending a ton of money on books and overweight baggage fees.
Make sure you pack some business casual clothing. You will be working on and presenting to your class periodically throughout your time in basic sciences, so make sure you have the appropriate clothing at hand! Also, when you’re in the lab, you will need to wear scrubs and a lab coat. Check-in with students currently on the island to see if you need to bring a lab coat, or if there are some already there. Lastly, as crazy as it seems, pack some sweaters and maybe a blanket. Even the anti-freeze in my Canadian blood couldn’t withstand the AC in the classrooms, so I bundled up often!
Studying is hard work, and there are going to be plenty of times where you don’t want to even think of the word textbook, let alone open one up. You’re going to be tired of studying for quizzes every week, plus block exams every month, plus finals at the end of every semester. You usually get a one-week break between semesters before you go back at it and start all over again. There are going to be a lot of people in your class or above you who will try and advise you on the best study programs and resources, be careful whose advice you take. Study material isn’t one size fits all – your best option is to do really good research about what resource works best for you before you buy it. It’s a waste of your time and money to use a resource that doesn’t work for your study style.
Even though you’re tired, keep going. Keep digging into that material to learn what you need to in order to take care of your future patients many years into the future. Because believe me, those years will pass faster than you think. You’re going to start MD1 and feel like you blink and you’re already starting clinical. Going to class every day may feel like a waste of time, but you will learn new things from your professors every day. Even if maybe their style of teaching doesn’t fit your learning style, you are learning to adapt to your environment and developing your ability to multitask and work efficiently.
Attending classes and passing exams is only part of the battle though. It’s also important to develop yourself as a future physician, not just by your studies alone but as a holistic human being as well. Volunteering your time with organizations on the island or national organizations virtually not only help to cultivate your experience in navigating the complex world of medicine, but residency programs also like when students are active participants not only in school organizations (such as the SGA) but also national organizations (such as AMSA, AMWA, etc.). It’s easy to write down some orders, but unless you understand your patients’ needs and how policy is formed, you won’t be anywhere near as effective. That being said, don’t spend all of your time volunteering and forget to study – you need to present the whole jigsaw puzzle picture with no missing pieces when it comes to match time!
There are going to be days when you want to quit. When you don’t feel like you can read another page or write another exam. When throwing in the towel and heading back to the comfort of home with your previous life or career will feel much safer and more sensible. Don’t give up. Take a short break and show yourself some self-care for a bit. Then get up, keep putting one foot in front of the other, and move forward in your studies. When you’re struggling, always remember why you chose to pursue medicine – you made the decision to pursue a career dedicated to the health and wellness of others in what will feel like a detriment to your own at times. Trust me, no matter what specialty you choose, later on, your patients’ successes make it all worthwhile.
I can imagine that was a lot of information and I hope it all made sense. If you ever have any questions about the program, classes, or how to balance school and life, please feel free to email me. It may take me a little bit of time to respond but I will get back to you. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org
Happy first day of classes, and congratulations on starting your journey into medicine!
Amanda Michelle Ritchie, MD
Internal / Emergency Medicine, PGY-1
LSU Spirit of Charity
New Orleans, LA