St. Matthews SOM Semester 1

Good Morning all! Why so chipper so early in the morning, you ask? WELL it is because I just asked Cortana how many days until August 16th and Cortana thusly informed me that I get to go home (well, sort of…home to Wisconsin…we can discuss my homeless feeling later) in 18 DAYS!! That means that I am 17 days away from being finished with my first semester of medical school! Oh man, that can’t really be true. But it is! SO, I was originally going to wait until the semester was finished before writing you all an overview but since I have started to get lots of messages with people that have questions about the school and island, I will right it now. Also, I cannot even begin to tell you all how happy it makes me that there are people reading and reaching out!! Please keep the questions coming. I am more than happy to be a resource.

The aforementioned questions and my brief conversation with my phone reminded me that there are only 5 weeks until the fall semester starts. I remember ALL too well the sheer and utter PANIC I was experiencing 5 weeks before coming here. Now, I am counting down until break but then, I am pretty sure I was trying to find some way to either slow time down, run away from it, or find a time machine so I could flash forward, figure out what to expect, and see whether or not I was making the right decision! So, let me be your time machine! While I can’t tell you that coming to St. Matthews (or any off-shore school) will be the “right” decision for you, I can give you a bit more of an idea of what to expect. I will attempt to proceed in a somewhat organized manner. However, given the state of my brain currently, I make no promises.

My First Semester at St. Matthews School of Medicine

First, the down and dirty:

There are 4.5 classes first semester. They are broken up into 4 sections called blocks. At the end of each block, you have block exams after which you will probably drink too much. The block exams are all on Mondays, I maintain this is so that no one drinks enough to drown or die of alcohol poisoning since there is class on Tuesday. After 4th block, you take the shelf exam which is cumulative for that class. It is standardized. All of the semesters (except 5th) take their block and shelf exams on the same days. 5th Semester is truncated to allow time to prepare for the comp so the blocks are shorter.

Classes and Profs:

First semester consists of Gross Anatomy, Histology, Patient-Doctor (PD) 1, Evidence based Medicine, and a weird, poorly executed pseudo-class called Student Development. We will start with Gross Anatomy and Histology. Anatomy is taught by region, clinical importance is tied in, and there is a lab. The lab has plastinated specimens rather than full cadavers. Having done both (I did a cadaver lab in undergrad), I actually prefer the plastinated specimens. They are actual humans (there is a rumor that they come from Russian prison camps but I can’t imagine that is really true), they have been preserved to the point where they still have hair and nails, and they are all at various levels of dissection. I find that you can see the structures significantly better as a result. With various preserved body parts lying about, the lab tends to look a bit like a serial killer’s birthday party but at least I don’t stink like formaldehyde all day long. Histology is taught for the most part to coincide with the material in Anatomy (this is more and more true the further you get into the semester) and that is incredibly helpful.

For both Anatomy and Histology, there is a TON of information. Both classes are every single day, lectures are 2-hour blocks, and you will NEED to study EVERY day. The professors are all great. I legitimately do not have complaints about them. They work hard and as long as you are working hard they are more than happy to do anything they possible can to ensure success. That being said, if you are slacking off, they will put no effort into helping you. They love for students to come to their office and are very accommodating if you can’t make their office hours (which are all over lunch). Seriously, do it. Go see them. They are all hilarious and full of personality plus, they have some GREAT tips.

On to PD. PD is the class on how to be a Doctor. All the exams physicians do – this is the class where you learn how to do them and WHY. It is broken down into 3 semesters and you don’t take the Shelf exam until after the last semester. This class is once a week and there is a lecture portion and a lab portion. The lab portion consists of practicing on one another or a model or mannequin depending on what you’re doing. 1st semester is the musculoskeletal system so arm and leg exams – all on one another. Prepare to be palpated. There have been some complaints (including from myself) about this class (mostly the lab) being a bit disorganized but I really think that it is because the 3 professors that run it are Docs and have such a passion for it that they get really excited to show/teach how they did things in their practice. At the end of the day, you learn various techniques and adopt what works best for you. So ya know…like real life.

Evidence Based Medicine…lovingly referred to as EBM….is a once a week class that you should not stress out about. Biostatistics is 2nd semester and we are required to write a research paper. This class is basically prep for that class. Go to class and pay attention but don’t stress about it, there’s not even a shelf exam. It’s a nice mental break.

Student development. Student development is a once a week class where they are trying to teach study skills…I think. It is only for the 1st block and they didn’t get into the study skills part until we already had so much material that we were not about to stop and learn a new technique. Great idea. Poor execution. I may look into the material over break and see if there is anything I can apply for next semester..but..uh…just…go sit through the class because you have to. Attendance is required, there is one assignment and no test. You will bond with your classmates over how ridiculous it is. Then, you can forget it ever happened! Or, maybe you are all way more awesome than me and will actually get something out of it.

General notes for all of the classes:

  1. They are hard. You will absolutely have to study every day. I am writing a second post just about this but just briefly – be prepared to study after school, every evening, and most weekends. That being said, as long as you put in the work, the classes are totally do-able.
  2. DO NOT BUY THE BOOKS. They have them all here on PDF and they are used mainly for review questions and reference. Put them on your computer or external hard drive and use them at will.

The School in General:

The school is small and nothing fancy but it is clean, safe, and comfortable. It is strongly emphasized that this is a professional environment and you are absolutely expected to be professional and respectful which I personally really like. The uniform is required. Invest in Shout wipes and Spray and Wash – white shirts are difficult. There is a break room with lockers (bring your own lock), a water cooler, refrigerators, and microwaves; so usually I bring my lunch. There are also several restaurants very close that are frequent lunch stops for students.

There are a couple of student body groups that organizes various interactive events for everyone. Some are social (back to school night, “formal”, etc) and some are clinical (injection clinic, suture clinic, etc). I have only been to the injection clinic but it was a great way to get your feet wet if you don’t have any clinic experience.


OK friends, that’s what I’ve got for you this morning! Sorry for the long post but hopefully it has relieved at least a little bit of the overwhelming panic (for the moment anyways). Just know that it is WAY scarier to think about doing than it is to actually do. I am also working on a significantly less focused, more confusing, stream of consciousness post for later but for now….Histology is calling!

Keep those questions coming!



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