Looking Back: What I Learned During My First Year at AUC
It was January 1, 2016. After an 8-hour flight from Detroit, Michigan, I landed in St. Maarten for my very first semester at American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine (AUC). Once I checked in with the orientation advisors, I was escorted to a bus where 10 unfamiliar faces were waiting to take off. While walking over, I took a moment to observe my surroundings.
St. Maarten was beautiful. Waves of lush, green mountains, crystal blue water, and sun-kissed sands–an amazing first impression! After a 10-minute ride, a little checking in, and a lot of luggage dragging, I walked into my dorm-apartment and looked around my new home. I felt excitement, I was eager to start, and I felt lucky to be studying medicine in such a stunning place.
Looking back, I had no idea what was to come. I had no idea of the friends, the experiences, and the life I was about to embark on. I had no idea just how lucky I really was. Now, one year later, I am beginning my 4th semester at AUC and my journey here is slowly approaching the end. I came to AUC as a first generation college graduate and a first generation medical student, and I can’t express to you how thankful I am that I decided to follow this dream. Because I have now surpassed that one-year mark, I would like to offer a little advice to those who wish to follow in the footsteps of the great future physicians I have met while in St. Maarten, and to those who wish to follow their dreams like I did.
1. Get Involved
The opportunities and experiences that AUC offers are unprecedented. There are so many ways to get involved and to grow as a future physician not only academically, but also clinically. From the Student Government Association, to multiple specialty-specific student interest groups, Anatomy Teaching Assistants, and the American Medical Student Association (AMSA), AUC offers a “beyond the books” experience for us.
During my first semester, I became a member of both AMSA and the Emergency Medicine Student Interest Group (EMSIG), and I progressed to leadership positions during both for my 2nd and 3rd semesters. Becoming part of these organizations has truly added something special to my medical school experience.
The Executive Boards I was part of were more than that—they were and still are a second family here on the island. We organized workshops for various aspects of clinical medicine (including suturing, X-Ray, and phlebotomy), participated in group fundraisers, and we frequently went on Papa Dan Pizza runs before our meetings. But we also helped each other during stressful times. We aided in each other’s study and we were there to get a simple cup of coffee when needed.
During this time, I also became an Anatomy teaching assistant (TA) and a molecular and cellular biology (MCB) group tutor, which gave me the opportunity to spend more time in the Anatomy Lab and review the information I learned during previous semesters—all while helping the newest incoming class. A support system becomes a large component to the success of a student at AUC, and getting involved in organizations puts you another step ahead in that aspect.
2. Take Advantage of your Courses, Professors, and Faculty
Let me tell you, AUC has some amazing faculty. From the fulltime faculty that are focused on nothing other than teaching us, to the specialists that are brought in to teach specifically around their expertise, I am amazed at all the hard work and dedication given to us by our professors. The professors here come from vastly different and unique backgrounds, all which add something unique to the courses we take. They enjoy teaching at AUC because there is very little research done here, meaning that they can focus their full attention on us. There are no real “office hours” because the professors are always available and eager to teach. So, go talk to them. Go ask them about material you find difficult. Go ask them about something else in their field that interests you. Or even go ask them about their favorite St. Maarten restaurant. We are not only studying for exams, we are studying how to help people on possibly one of their worst days. We are studying how to save someone’s life. Learn as much as you can from your professors. You’ll walk away from their office happy that you went in.
The recommendations above do not only fit for the professors at AUC. There are many employees that are from St. Maarten, and they are full of information about your new home. They know the best grocery stores, or the best beaches, and they are more than happy to tell you all about the place they have lived their entire lives. Take advantage of that—talk to everyone!
3. Don’t just attend school on St. Maarten, LIVE on St. Maarten!
Medical school is tough. The classes are difficult, the amount of information is insane, and sometimes it seems like I do nothing but go to class and study. Regardless of how chaotic the semester can get, it is always important to take time for yourself. What better way to do this than on a Caribbean island?
You will be living here approximately 20 months of your life—a place where tons of tourists visit daily because they want to experience it. Don’t waste it!
- Visit the beaches, from Orient and Baie Rouge to Mullet down the street, they all have something extraordinary to offer.
- Zip line from Pic Paradis at Loterie Farm.
- Visit Fort Louis in Marigot.
- Learn from the locals and find the hidden gems that the tourists do not usually get to see, like La Belle Creole
The list goes on and on.
4. Document Your Experience
Lastly, document the journey you are about to take. Show future AUC students that you did it, and they can do it too. Moving somewhere far away from home can be scary but we can act as ambassadors for AUC and the program it offers to show our appreciation for the opportunity that we have been given.
Document your experience for your friends and family. Show them what St. Maarten is like. Show them where you live, and the unique experiences you will have while you spend a short time here.
Document for yourself. When I was accepted to AUC in October 2015 for the January 2016 Class, I started a blog: Paging Dr. Brittni. I began by discussing the process of applying to medical school and have continued ever since. Looking back and reading posts from my very first day on St. Maarten, or after my first exam here is remarkable. It makes me recognize and appreciate how far I have come this past year, and how much I have grown both intellectually and as a person. I will never forget the journey I took to follow my dreams, and I hope I have encouraged everyone else to follow theirs!
If you are interested in more about AUC and my experience, please check out my blog at https://pagingdrbrittniblog.wordpress.com.