Like it was for many of my classmates, our basic neuroanatomy course during my first year of medical school was a dark, dark time.
As someone who had never taken a neuroscience course prior to entering medical school, I struggled with understanding the complexities of the human nervous system. The various neural pathways that communicated pain, temperature, and vibration from the body to the brain and movement from the brain to the body was tremendously difficult for me to visualize. Right was left, and left was right. And the terminology alone was like a brand new foreign language I had been tasked to master! (Try saying dorsal column-medial lemniscus or medial longitudinal fasciculus five times fast!) The course was tough, but after struggling alongside my classmates, I made it through.
Our second-year neurology course was more clinically based, and, significantly more enjoyable for me. Talking about the dopaminergic neurons in the basal ganglia is one thing, but linking the lack of those same cells and its impact on movement for patients with Parkinson’s was a much more tangible concept for me.
I saw bits and pieces of neurology over my third-year of medical school in nearly all of my rotations, including surgery, pediatrics, family medicine, OB/GYN, psychiatry, and internal medicine. However, at my school, our official neurology rotation is not until our fourth-year of school. Because of my struggles with the subject in the first two years of school and the gap of intense studying concentrating on neurologic conditions in third-year, I was extremely nervous about my fourth-year rotation. I was even more nervous after finding out I had been assigned to the stroke service for three of the four weeks on my neurology rotation would put me head to head with my weakness in localizing neurological deficits!
Despite these worries, I embraced the rotation with an attitude to learn as much as I could in those four weeks. I think often times we can fall into the trap of studying the things we know or defaulting to doing the things that are comfortable because it’s the easier way out. But it’s these experiences doing things we aren’t great at and learning more about things we don’t know much about are really the best opportunities for growth and learning!