community July 15, 2020

How the medical sciences exchange helped me with med school

As a 2nd year medical student, I was beginning an intense period of independent study for our first licensing exam (Step 1) when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in April. Studying for this test meant that I had less structured time for volunteering, so I wanted to find a way to contribute to the pandemic effort…

As a 2nd year medical student, I was beginning an intense period of independent study for our first licensing exam (Step 1) when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in April. Studying for this test meant that I had less structured time for volunteering, so I wanted to find a way to contribute to the pandemic effort remotely. I learned about Medical Sciences Stack Exchange through an initiative by Future of Care, an NYC-based health technology conference, to increase medical student participation on the site during the pandemic. The site was seeing a surge of COVID-related questions, so there was a need for more contributors with a medical background.

I was initially afraid to answer any questions. I wasn’t sure I could answer with enough depth of research to fully satisfy the question. During a conference call with my school about the current state of the pandemic, I learned that COVID-19 patients might be seeing higher rates of cardiovascular disease. After reading research articles on the topic, I was inspired to share what I learned with Medical Sciences. I submitted an answer to my own question: “Does COVID-19 cause myocardial infarctions?”

The answer was well received and encouraged me to continue answering questions with well-research answers. Someone also provided a second answer, which introduced me to other research articles, furthering my understanding of this critical topic. This experience taught me how to use my academic experiences to answer questions online. Learning about COVID-19 through school and article review is now a major source for my Medical Sciences answers.

Studying for my upcoming exam involves memorizing many medical facts. For example, I might be expected to know how certain drugs (e.g. amiloride) increases calcium reabsorption in the kidneys. While such knowledge is important for caring for patients, it is often difficult to find a mechanism for explaining such facts from textbooks. By asking this question, I was able to fill in the details that I needed to fully understand the issue. 

When I am able to find an answer to a challenging question, I like to share it with Medical Sciences through Q&As, such as when I researched how to monitor the effects of heparin. Writing out the question and answer helps me summarize the topic to myself while providing a reference for me to come back to in the future. It’s likely that other students have these same questions, so providing a reference for others shares knowledge with the medical community. 

If I am not able to find an answer, asking questions on the site has also been valuable to me beyond just receiving the community’s answer. For instance, I was confused why steroids had few kidney-related side-effects. While writing the question, I had to reflect on what I knew about the topic to better articulate my area of confusion. I included in the question my knowledge that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs often affected the kidneys, but anti-inflammatory steroids did not. Writing this question forced me to review what I do and do not know, which helped me better understand the topic. This background knowledge also improved my understanding of the accepted answer and the provided sources. Overall, asking and answering questions on Medical Sciences have become important methods for consolidating my knowledge and clarifying my thought process.

Medical Sciences is an amazing way to connect the wealth of medical knowledge of experts with people’s curiosity of medicine. As I begin the next step of my medical education in the hospital, I plan to continue using this platform as a way to reflect on my clinical experiences while seeking guidance from the community.

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