MAY 4, 2016

My GEMS Experience by Jennifer Gyamfi

At 4:38 am, I can hear the pitter patter of little feet approaching my bedroom. The door swings open and even in the dark I can see my little human alarm clock peeking at my bedside. My toddler son beams proudly, “Mommy, I have to go potty.” This is the start of my mornings, as I get ready for another day in the GEMS program. As I bribe my son to brush his teeth, I simultaneously try to visualize the 20 amino acid structures in my head. Dean Taylor will ask me to draw this in F.S., I think to myself. We are in the biochemistry phase of the program, taking an upper level graduate course with the Georgetown biomedical graduate students. Although the lecturer for the course may have mentioned it is not necessary for students to memorize the structures, I knew not only did I have to know the structures, but I needed to be able to categorize them, characterize their pH and draw every structure on the board. This is the expectation that is set in front of the GEMS students everyday; to be ready to answer any question with context and understanding.

“Come on, let’s go”, I say to my son as I urge him to put his coat on. Once we finish with breakfast and our morning routine, we fly out the door by 6:30 am. As I kiss him goodbye once dropping him off at preschool, my cell phone vibrates in my coat pocket. Check the schedule, the message reads from our GEMS Group Me chat. I open my Google calendar and see the amendments Dean Taylor has made for the morning: “Each Team will present the Cardiac Cycle. ALL aspects of the Cycle must be drawn to scale with accurate temporal relationships. ALL students are expected to arrive by 7:30 am to draw the cycle on the board, and be ready to present at 8:00 am.” As GEMS, the skill of compartmentalizing and integrating vast complex medical science information is a daily exercise. While taking the biochemistry course, we also prepare for the cardiopulmonary module that will begin weeks later.

During facilitated session, or F.S., is where the mental obstacle course begins.

“I need some one to give it to me right and tight. Who wants it!?”, Dean Taylor exclaims. Immediately five hands are raised, eager to answer the drill. My hand is on my chin as I try to connect the dots as fast as I can. My heart is pounding out of my chest, as I know my name can be called at any minute. My eyes jump around the room as I try to avoid being a volunteer. However, my efforts fail me as Dean Taylor gives a Cheshire cat grin and says “Jennifer, to the board!” I take a deep breath and approach the board with caution. You got this, I say to myself, and answer the call.

As GEMS, we must be prepared to present and discuss material to one another, but we must also be ready to confront our weaknesses and break out of our comfort zones. Through the GEMS program, the collaborative environment fosters effective learning strategies. During these moments, my knowledge, cognitive and test taking competencies are stretched. They become enhanced with every session, eventually translating into better presentation skills and better scores on exams. This is what makes the GEMS program such a unique experience. The opportunity to learn how to learn imprints change from my ineffective study habits and cultivates confidence with true understanding of complex material. Through GEMS, I am able to be in a challenging space that strengthens my critical and analytical thinking which not only benefit me during the academic year, but also will stay with me as a physician.

“Mommy!”, my son shouts as he runs into my arms from the playground. Covered in dirt and remnants of chocolate, he smiles at me, as we get ready to leave his preschool. He gladly tells me about his day followed by a few curious “Whys” and defiant “Nos”. After dinner and bath time, he begrudgingly falls asleep, while I steal a few more hours of study time to prepare for whatever the calendar might ask of for tomorrow.