HomeJune 2023The Good Doctor

The Good Doctor

Photos by Elad Massuri

A look at Dr. Julia Reading’s first book, which offers medical students test-taking strategies. Dr. Reading’s childhood experience caring for her sick mother inspired her to become a doctor, and today she hopes to serve as an example for a new generation of more patient and attentive doctors.

    Medicine is perhaps the most challenging of academic degrees: long years studying a full and exacting program that combines theory with demanding practical experience.
    Dr. Reading (32), a native of Los Angeles who lives in Playa del Rey, is the only daughter of a Jewish mother and an English psychologist father. Today a respected pediatric resident physician at UCLA, she has accumulated a great deal of experience from her lengthy studies and work with patients. Looking back on the long way she has come, she understood that to complete their studies successfully, students need strategic techniques for taking tests, a kind of guidance they don’t get from their lecturers in medical school. For almost three years she has been working on a unique professional book that introduces her proven, effective method for passing the USMLE Step 2 Exam.
    The book takes its readers step by step through strategies to pass the exam. One of the central topics is Test Taking Skills, skills for understanding material and preparing for the exam. Dr. Reading asserts that a series of learned skills can help students pass exams.
    The book breaks down the mindset needed for learning into its elements, discussing how they affect our ability to pass tests. Some are familiar: proper time management, self-confidence, and dealing with anxiety. Alongside these are less well-known factors: the ability to approach a question correctly, effective reading, and building a toolbox for understanding questions optimally. According to Dr. Reading’s theory, passing medical school tests requires more than just academic knowledge. Many students have told her that they feel their grades don’t reflect their knowledge or real abilities. The irony is that while the analytical material is difficult and challenging, learning test taking skills is relatively easy. The student simply needs to understand the technique and apply it.
Learning for medicine 101
    In her well-written book, Dr. Reading presents detailed study methods regarding how to approach general and specific types of questions, how to survey topics quickly, and how to work on strengths and weaknesses.
     Dr Reading: “Just like when we take up a sport or a new hobby, it’s only logical that we learn the techniques and how to apply them.”
    The strategy in her book teaches students how to dissect and simplify questions stems. The aim is to give the student the ability to read a few sentences, synthesize the information, and thus arrive at a conclusion that them to the correct answer. Dr. Reading: “Some students read the entire question without any strategy and waste time. They go over the question word by word, and then they start debating how to answer it. The goal of test-taking strategy is to figure out early on how you are going to answer the question and read the question stem with a plan in mind.”
Jlife: When did you decide that you wanted to be a doctor?
Dr. Juliia Reading: “Honestly, I never thought I was clever enough to be a doctor. I went to high school at Archer – a girls’ school. I didn’t get great grades. I surprised myself when I managed to get high grades in college. I finished Northeastern College in Boston. I specialized in clinical psychology—my dad’s a psychologist, and I always thought his work was very respected and important. I remember as a child watching patients arriving at his clinic and it always seemed very meaningful.”
    The decision to go into medicine followed childhood experiences with her mother, who was diagnosed as suffering from a chronic illness when Julia was only ten years old. As an only child, she took upon herself the role of carer. “That was a period that shaped my decision to become a doctor. I kind of practiced being a doctor on my mother. During this time, I understood how important the doctor’s attitude is: not only giving a medical response but also having sympathy, patience and attentiveness.”
Jlife: I understand that you found medical studies very challenging?
Dr. R.:“I studied very hard in medical school. Some days I sat in the library until 3 in the morning. It paid off. I finished the first semester with very good grades..”
Jlife: Why did you decide to become a pediatrician?
Dr. R.:“At first, I thought I would go into gynecology or OBGYN. I wanted to be involved in women’s health because I thought that it really empowers women The only baby I delivered came out with the umbilical cord around his neck and completely blue. We had to rush him to intensive care.  I visited him in the intensive care unit and found myself much more interested in caring for children. I love working with kids.”
Jlife: Where did you get the idea of creating a study method?
Dr. R.:“ When studying, I would prepare practice questions before tests. I’m not sure whether it was because of my ability to concentrate, which is a bit problematic, but I noticed that I didn’t like reading the whole question. So, I created a strategy to reach the answer more quickly. It was a different approach to that used by others, but it worked. When I studied with friends, they would call me “Juliog” like in the film Slum Dog Millionaire,” she laughs. “They called me that because I would answer them even before they had finished reading the question. Not because I had more knowledge than them but because of my strategy, which is based on experience and understanding the way the question is constructed and where it is going. I had friends who studied hard and knew the material really well but found it difficult to get good grades in tests. They started using my strategy and their grades went up. Some of them started to excel. Some said: ‘We feel like we’re cheating because we get such good grades without learning a lot.’
    “Many of my students did not realize that half of succeeding in a test is about the technique you use to approach the question and how to answer it. They got into a never-ending cycle of struggling with tests. I understood that I needed to write a book that will give students strategies and the right tools to learn for tests, tools that no one else is giving them.”
Jlife: Tell me a bit about the process of writing the book?
Dr. R.:“This is my first book, so at first I was not sure I would have enough material. But when I started writing, it just flowed. Perhaps because I really love the topic and I experienced it firsthand. Writing is also something that I really love. I always wanted to be a teacher and author, and now I combine both together with the medical profession. I received an offer to write the book from the publishing company McGraw Hill. It took me about a year and a half to write the first draft and then another year for editing and the production process. Although the book is technical and didactic, readers won’t feel that. I take the questions and explain in my own way how to answer them. I talk about pitfalls that the examiners put in tests. There is a lot of me in the book.”
Jlife: Is there a correlation between test scores and practice as a doctor after passing?
Dr. R.:“I think that the skills and techniques taught in the book can help any future doctor. But I don’t think there is a correlation between test scores and the ability to predict who will be a good doctor.”
Jlife: What’s your goal today as a doctor?
Dr. R.:“All doctors need to provide medical care, that’s their job. But one of the things I learned while caring for my mother is how important it is to give patients an emotional response, to give them support beyond the basic medical help that everyone gets.
    “When I sit with patients, I think about what I would want to get from the doctor, how I would want them to treat my mother. Therefore, my aim is to give my patients the best possible attitude, to be attentive and empathetic.”
Jlife: It sounds so important. In your opinion that’s what makes a good doctor?
Dr. R.:“Of course, medical knowledge and experience is something every doctor needs. But it’s also important for patients to trust their doctors. Studies show that bedside manner and good relations with patients lead to better medical treatment. When your patients trust you, they share more with you and you can diagnose better. In addition, if you advise your patients to take a certain drug and they don’t trust you, they can simply not take it. Patients sense when you don’t devote time to them and prescribe them a drug just to send them home and move on to the next one. Therefore, it’s important to create good interactions with the patient, and to remember that the doctor needs not only to talk but also to listen.”
Jlife: A last tip for students reading your book now?
Dr. R.:“Don’t forget why you wanted to a be a doctor. Sometimes, after all the difficult stages of learning, the pressure, the tests, the evaluations, the long residency in hospitals—at the end of it you want to go home, you lose motivation, you forget why you are doing what you are doing. But your interactions with patients and the help you give them will remind you that you are saving lives every day, and that it’s all worth it. I might have written a book about skills for taking tests when studying medicine, but it’s only a first step on the journey to becoming a doctor. The real work starts afterwards.”   

Elad Massuri is a contributing writer to Jlife magazine.

 

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