Which year at ICO is the hardest?

Everyone always says that first year at ICO is the hardest. Well, I think many people would argue that second wasn’t any easier. Now that I have finished one quarter of third year, I can once again ask myself if it gets easier. I asked a few peers which year they found the hardest and why.

First Year

What makes first year hard? The consensus was that first year is challenging because you are getting used to a new environment, and have to transition to taking a lot more hours of classes (20+) and labs. The other hard part is the amount of studying you have to do during your “free time.” You have more exams in first year than any other year.

Second Year

The rumor always is that first year is the hardest. However, the majority of my friends agreed that second year is the most difficult year. The classes get tougher, and you are also in clinic. You are expected to retain and recall information from previous classes. Second year also includes pharmacy, which was the most time consuming class for me; there many, many drugs to know.

Third Year

Even though we just started our second quarter, some people are already feeling what makes third year tough. You are finally seeing patients by yourself three times a week. There’s also a little class called Retina. For me, Retina is probably the hardest class at ICO. There are so many diseases that look way too similar! I don’t think anyone in my class studied as much as they did for Retina, but I also think we learned the most in this class. There is no summer break for third year, but there are many smaller breaks. Third year also has an added challenge: we start studying for Boards, so we have to make time to study during our breaks from studying.

How To Get Through It

Some people told me that starting a study group or scheduling specific study times helped get them through each year. Others utilized faculty office hours to go over important concepts. Some people met with tutors each week to keep them accountable for the material. Others said that it is important to explore Chicago, eat Rice Krispies, drink a beer, and watch Netflix as a break from school. Take breaks and have fun because burning out from studying is very common. It won’t help you remember much to be cramming information when your brain is tired.

Just remember: You can do it. What is hard for one person may be easy for someone else. So, if you feel like you are in the middle of your toughest year at ICO, keep going! Eventually, it will get better.


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