With her feet slipped out of her black ballet flats Danielle Kurant stretches her legs out on the bars below the green picnic table. Her long brown hair is swept to the side and her nails are adorned with intricate designs of apples and pears. This, she later tells me, is actually a study tactic. Once her nails are painted, she has no choice but to do nothing but sit still for at least an hour to let the paint dry. Reading from her notes and textbooks is about the only thing she can do.
Kurant is a second year medical student at the University of South Florida. This short break in the courtyard of the medical building will be the only downtime she gets all day. Yet for someone on a time crunch, Kurant seems largely unconcerned with finishing the homemade chicken noodle soup she brought.
Across from Kurant sits Clay Evans. Evans, also in his second year of medical school, has already finished his lunch and now takes small sips out of his red aluminum water bottle. He is tall with broad shoulders. His dark hair is slightly mussed and cut short. The red t-shirt and black basketball shorts he wears give the impression that he dresses for comfort, anticipating the hours of class time that lie ahead.
If there’s one take-away from Evans and Kurant, it’s that upon entering medical school, you will need to adjust. Be prepared for your free time to decrease dramatically. It is a full-on lifestyle change.
Being outside during the school day is a rare treat for these two. When they do get a break they retreat to the courtyard. The majority of their time is spent inside a classroom. Literally one classroom, Evans says.
“The same classroom, the same seat,” Danielle says. “It’s really insane. I go crazy by the end of the day.”
“Different professors come to speak with us, you get like 10 minutes in between,” he says. “All of the second years are in the same class together at all times. We’ll have lectures some days that last eight hours.”
That explains why the college of medicine can seem like such a ghost town. It’s a clear day in the middle of the afternoon, yet aside from the seldom passerby dashing hurriedly away, Clay and Danielle are the only people in sight.
The Morsani College of Medicine building and the Health Laboratories enclose the courtyard. Long narrow windows from the adjacent fitness center reveal a couple women running on treadmills. Besides the fitness center is the USF Health Sciences Bookstore and Café, where students can buy snacks such as yogurt parfaits, wraps, fruit salads, various sodas and of course, what the cashier says is the biggest seller, coffee.
Large green steps lead down into the courtyard. The floor is made up of oversized green and burnt orange concrete tiles. Seven circular picnic tables with umbrellas are scattered throughout the area. Most of the time they stay empty.
Evans and Kurant are just two out of 504 graduate level students at the Morsani College of Medicine. Danielle completed her undergraduate degree at USF. Clay completed his bachelors at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina. A native of Florida, he decided to return to complete medical school.
For students striving to become doctors, free time is regarded as something you generally don’t get.
“If I have free time,” Kurant says, emphasizing the ‘if’, “I like to hang-out with my friends I don’t see while I’m studying for med school. I like Kaleisia, the tea lounge, quite a lot.”
Being that the same students are together all day, classmates commonly end up joining each other off-campus.
“Often we’ll just be at each other’s homes,” Kurant says. If we hang out it it’s usually like we’re in here, working together, and we’ll go out to dinner.
An hour or so goes by until another student passes through the courtyard at a casual pace.
Justina Matthew is a master student in Medical Sciences. Following the one-year program she is currently in she would like to enter medical school. Though she insists she does have time to hang out and spend with friends when asked where specifically she likes to frequent, without hesitation she replies the library and Starbucks, two places whose very names practically denote studying.
For Matthew, the lack of free time doesn’t really seem like a sacrifice. She knows where she would like to end up and has the backing of her family to guide her. Her dark brown eyes seem to widen as she talks about them.
“They’re very supportive. They’re pretty excited about me going to medical school so they really want me to succeed in that,” she says.
Evans has already started a family of his own. Naturally, the vast amount of time he spends in class and studying equates to less time at home. Regretfully, Clay says, that is the one thing he would change; he would spend more time with his new wife.
It may seem like a struggle now, Clay tells me, but he knows that at the end of this chapter he will be living his dream.
He will be a doctor.