Hindsight is 20/20 – How I Survived School (Academics)

Although each person’s experience is different, one thing is for sure: you probably won’t come out the same person you were when you started.  In 3 short years, we saw divorces, budding romances, marriages, new babies, emotional ups and downs, physical metamorphoses and makeovers, and complete evolutionary transformations.  So, if you’re a student or a prospective student, be prepared for anything.

As you enter and progress through school, realize a few things…

You’re not stupid.  It really is hard, especially if you’re putting forth enough effort.  A closer look reveals that the material isn’t necessarily difficult, but the amount you’re responsible for learning at any given time is slightly unrealistic.  You really are learning 4 years’ worth of material in 3.

Things aren’t always what they seem to be.  The recruiters and incoming counselors you worked with, the luncheons and seminars you went to, and the resulting overall impression of the school you formed, don’t exactly tell the whole story.  It is possible to be love-bombed by strangers, munch on some good food, and listen to passionate, successful DCs get up on stage and tell the world they can do the work of a bone-setting messiah with a simple C1 adjustment.  I have no proof or hard numbers, but I do wonder how much of this is pipe dream and how much of it is reality.  So, if you end up sustaining a few scars and becoming a little jaded, oh, about halfway through (on average), it may not be that you’re a Negative Nelly.  Things may likely really have changed.

Here are some ways to cope.  They worked for us; your mileage may vary.

Remember that it’s OK to get Bs.  Now that the schools have woken up and found a clue, D no longer stands for DC (a smug old adage uttered by many a slacker student in years past).  However, you’re not a failure if you don’t get As.

Really learn the information, not just to pass the class, but to help your future patients.  It’s not the grade you get, but the information you retain for when it counts.  Who cares if you got a 92 on that Nutrition exam if you can’t remember enough to put together a decent nutrition plan for a patient trying to lose weight?  Who cares if you 90/90’d* Lab Diagnosis class if you can’t read a standard CBC or CMP?  I got 66, 68 on Biochem exams and now I work successfully with Biochemistry every day.  Take school seriously, but you’re not only as good as your school career.

Attend outside seminars.  On the surface, this may seem like the absolute last thing you’d rather do, especially with the workload piled onto you already.  However, even one weekend seminar a month can benefit you in so many ways.  First, you get perspectives from people outside the scholastic chiro-bubble.  You’re exposed to alternative ways of doing things from those who truly are successful in the real world.  Second, these seminars can show you how to utilize the academic, seemingly-irrelevant material you’re currently learning.  When you realize how you can use your class information, it suddenly becomes more relevant, and easier to assimilate and retain.  Presto – studying just got easier.  Seminar time is time well spent.

Now, one caveat – for best results, skip the school-sponsored or school-affiliated seminars.  Why?  They end up being more of the same that you already get all week.  This is particularly true if some of the seminar sessions are actually taught by some of your academic profs.  If your school is philosophy-rich, you won’t see any philosophical variation or tolerance during their seminars.  By attending one outside, independent seminar a month, we learned so much about other ways to practice, different specialty possibilities, the chiropractic environment at the state political and legislative levels, what’s coming and how to prepare for it, and other invaluable information not so much as breathed about at school.

Study every day.  It doesn’t have to be for long.  Scan your notes for the takeaway messages from each class and summarize them on a separate sheet of paper.  Each class should take about 15-30 minutes, and you’ve had 2-4 classes each day, for a max of 2 hours of studying each day.  Now, if you’re slower to absorb info like I am, you’ll find yourself stretching that into 3-4 hours sometimes.  That’s OK.  Just learn the information.

When studying, Google for extra information.  This doesn’t have to be in-depth or time-consuming.  When studying for Anatomy, Physiology, Endocrinology, Immunology, or Biochemistry, use Google Images to find schematic drawings of pathways or other pictures.  I have found some flowcharts of immune cell differentiation, gastrointestinal epithelial cells, skin cross-sections, ATP production, animated Citric Acid Cycle websites, and YouTube videos of allergic reactions extremely helpful.  Pictures say a thousand words.  I’d rather burn a picture into my head than have to read 1000 words again to solidify information in my head.

Understand that try as you might, you simply won’t absorb all the information.  This is especially true under stress.  If you’re stressed and your memory has declined, there’s a reason for that.  Memory, especially short-term, does decline under stress, and the two are directly related – as one phenomenon intensifies, so does the other.

Make friends.  Yes, you’re there to learn.  But having even a few good friends gives an invaluable support system.  There will be ups and downs, and they can save the day by getting you through them.

Be careful who you study with.  Make sure they are at least as academically serious as you are, preferably even more so.  A couple of slackers or otherwise well-intentioned people who can’t stay on task is a huge waste of your time and can actually hold you back.

Make sure to make time for YOU, where you put away the books for a while, guilt-free.  Spend quality family time, time with your pets and your parents, time outside, time being physical active, and time doing nothing.  Eat well – fruits and veggies, organic meats, unprocessed fats, and plenty of good-quality supplementation, including probiotics, CoQ10, lecithin, Vitamin B-complex, Vitamin D, and Magnesium.  Forget the alcohol.

Save. Your. Money.  At least, as best you can.  There is only a finite amount and as big as that loan disbursement check looks on the first day, it has to last you upwards of 4 months.  Money goes FAST.  Entertainment (movies, music, clubs, alcohol) is by far the biggest money-drain that ever lived.  Eating out (including Starbucks or even that quick little trip to McDonald’s) is a close second.  Fortunately, both of these are pretty much 100% voluntarily, which gives you incredible influence over them.  Make good decisions and revive the coolness that is “just saying no”.  You’ll be tickled that you did.

Of special note, hold off on purchasing toys for your future practice, at least until you’re thisclose to graduation.  Beginning in probably your first term, you’ll start to hear about so-and-so selling such-and-such that is supposed to chart the moon’s path and resurrect the dead, all while reciting poetry making your coffee.  We’ve all heard of acai berry juice and weight-loss pills, but now that you’re in school, with two or three years to go, the anxiety equivalent to that of 6 people, and a nearly incomprehensible student loan bill, you’re trying to get a one-up edge on the world and what better way to do that than with an eighteen thousand-dollar biofeedback machine or a twelve thousand-dollar cold laser?  Makes that four thousand-dollar pH-based water machine look like a steal.  Don’t fall for any of them–at least, not until you’re Damn Sure.  When you start hearing about these things, sit and stew on them for while…like until just before graduation, when you have more of your direction decided, your path charted, and a bit more experience.

Always think critically.  When a professor philosophizes or makes a recommendation for when you are out in practice, don’t necessarily take it as gospel.  Some profs have questionable backgrounds that you’re not being told about.  Others are squeaky clean but practiced in a different time with a wildly different landscape and you might not be getting the whole story there, either.  After all, the relationship between Academics/Clinic and Administration is highly politicized, with favoritism shown to yes-men and golden children behind the scenes; indeed a professor’s very long-term viability at that school may depend on how rosy a picture s/he paints and his/her ability to downplay any less-than-positive reality.

If you’re a prospective student (or newly-enrolled student) researching the profession (which I highly recommend doing and continuing to do), seek out accounts of the good AND the bad.  You’ll find plenty of both, trust me – the naysayers and vehement critics, as well as the chirovangelists and passionate proponents.  Indeed, the truth is somewhere in the middle.  Both have agendas to promote, axes to grind (the naysayers/opponents’ agenda is fairly self-explanatory; what is less obvious is that the proponents are grinding an axe, too–their beef lies with the medical profession and DCs doing just about anything but adjusting).  Do avoid sticking your head in the sand when you come across something you don’t like – their stories are often valid, too.  However, do seek to understand where they came from; many naysayers are out to extinguish the entire profession simply because they made some unfortunate decisions without due diligent research, attempting to blame everyone but themselves for their own situation.  There are nuggets of truth to some of what they say, but there is also a certain amount of personal responsibility that they didn’t exercise.

Remember: much of your experience and success depends on you.  What you put in is directly related to what you get back out.  Sure, there are unfortunate scenarios  or events that simply happen and a good outcome doesn’t always result, despite a healthy attitude.  But a healthy, well-balanced outlook, self-responsibility, and the ability to adapt to changes and overcome adversity is pretty much a recipe for success, no matter what the odds.

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