Making the Most of Your UCSF Adventure

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Reflections of a second-year med student

You have arrived at UCSF, yes, you have! You are filled with so much excitement you may still be pinching yourself at night to make sure this is all real. Let me be one of many to assure you that it is.

Once that surreal feeling starts to wear off, you might start thinking about how you want to spend your years at UCSF. What you make of your time here largely depends on you. If you are up for it, your time at UCSF could be the biggest adventure of your life. The city might only be 7x7 miles wide and the school might only be couple of blocks long, but within these thin walls there is a larger-than-life narrative about our humanity.

There are limitless adventures you can set sail on, but sometimes choosing an adventure out of an infinity pool of options can stop you from choosing at all. So here are my three essential criteria for choosing an adventure as a UCSF student. Let’s be honest, we don’t have much time, once school gets going.

Criteria #1: Choose an adventure that lets you explore the city.

Aside from parking, of course, San Francisco offers almost everything your heart desires. The different neighborhoods allow you to change your surroundings based on your mood. If you are in need of some beautiful murals and warm sunshine, head to the Mission. If you want to watch naked people roam the streets, take a run through the Castro. Or if you are in the mood for a peaceful meditation, get lost wandering around Golden Gate Park (you might just find nirvana).

The food and art culture in San Francisco is constantly changing and evolving. Surprisingly, restaurants and shows can be relatively affordable if you snatch up deals as they come. Goldstar, Groupon, and Scoutmob are my go-to apps for looking for good deals. My favorite website to check in on what’s happening in the city is It is updated weekly with all the inexpensive events scheduled for that week.

But the most effective way to get to know the city is through the people. In my experience, San Franciscans are pretty friendly. They love to talk. Most of the best recommendations I’ve been given for what to do in the city have come from conversations on Muni with other passengers. So don’t be afraid to chat it up with the locals.

Criteria 2: Choose an adventure that lets you get to know the campus.

If you are skeptical, as I was, about how much campus community can really exist when our school is spread out across so many locations, you are in for a surprise. The caveat, of course, is that you have to be willing to get to know the campus to recognize the community that is constantly being built.

The best way I have found to connect with the campus community is to attend the events put on by different organizations. Most of these events have free food, which is always a welcome perk. Keep a watchful eye on the UCSF’s Student Inside Guide to see what events are coming up, or take a look at the flyers in the cafeteria while you are eating. The Office of Student Life also puts on many fun and interactive activities. For example, they bring us puppies to pet during the fall quarter so that we can unwind with some puppy love. The Chancellor also sponsors a concert series where the sweet sounds from local musicians can wash our stress away. But the most important aspect of attending these events can be to get to know the people who are there right alongside you. The richness of experience that people at UCSF bring with them to campus will leave you amazed.

Criteria #3: Choose an adventure that lets you grow.

Growing is an integral part of life. We have probably pushed the boundaries of growing taller by now, but we can always grow in other ways. In particular, being at UCSF gives us many privileged opportunities for becoming better in sync with ourselves.

The magic of being a student in the health professions is that we have a front-row seat to life. We see people from a broad range of backgrounds, often in difficult circumstances. We are able to bear witness to the most tragic of events but also to the happiest of moments in the lives of the people that we care for. These privileges might be hard to recall while we are peering into our books, but it is worth taking some time to reflect on why we really came here to be educated.

When I feel overwhelmed by school, I have found the Moffitt Hospital Lobby to be a great place for re-centering. Sitting in the Moffitt lobby for half an hour gives me a glimpse into the world around me. Listening to people talk about their fears about the health of a loved one, or cheering the arrival of a new baby boy, helps me to remember the real purpose of my education. Finding a re-centering place has been a saving grace during my first year of school.

As on any epic adventure, there may be some low points along the way. But you are not alone in those moments. Everyone encounters them at some point or another. Be willing to ask for and to receive help when you find yourself struggling, and always remind yourself that who you are is much more than what and how much you know.

These three criteria will hopefully get you started on deciding how you want to spend your time at UCSF. Regardless of what you decide to do, it is hard to make a bad decision, because if you let it, every adventure will teach you something about yourself or about life. After all, those lessons are the true magic of any adventure.