Annika Nilsen and Sarah Talamantes, third-year medical students at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, were strangers when they met at Feinberg’s Second Look Reception in 2016. Now they have completed one year of medical school and live together as roommates. From study nights and dance parties to get pumped up before exams, to playing with Sarah’s dog, Annika and Sarah share the story of how they started as roommates and became best friends.
How did you meet and become roomates?
Sarah: We met at the cocktail mingle hour at Second Look. I was staying with some third years and Annika was staying with some first years, so we all got together and had drinks. We talked very briefly, but Annika had to leave early for another Second Look event.
Annika: A lot of people who came to Second Look were already sure that they were going to Feinberg, but I was still looking at other options. My situation was up in the air, so I wasn’t actively pursuing roommates. When I made my final decision to come to Feinberg, I reached out to Sarah right way. I remember how energetic and warm she was, and I thought we would be great roommates and friends. Unfortunately, she had already found a roommate. I was so bummed but then she ended up calling me...
Sarah: My first roommate ended up choosing another school, so I called Annika as soon as I found out and the very next day we decided we wanted to live together.
You have been living together for a year now; tell us how it has been.
Annika: Living together has been the best! I would fully recommend to anyone who is going to medical school to live with another med student. Sarah really understands when I am having a really hard day or week, because she probably is too.
Sarah: I think especially when you are going through something that’s hard, it’s nice to have someone who understands what I am going through and vice versa. There have been a lot of times over the last year when things have been overwhelming and I know that I can come home and talk it out with Annika. We both work hard to be a support system for each other.
What are some of the ways you support each other through the demands of medical school?
Annika: Our desks are right next to each other in our apartment, so we almost always study next to each other. It is nice to go through a lecture together and if we have questions we can work through it together. We also understand what it means to take this path through medical school, so we always write each other little notes of encouragement or send texts when we know the other one has a big research meeting or clinical exam.
Sarah: We like to have dance parties before every big exam. We walk into every exam sweating because we’ve been dancing so much. It is a great way to release all the stress and calm our nerves!
Annika: We also have a lot of inside jokes and rituals that help us get through studying. We frequently take breaks to have a snack or pet Winston, Sarah’s dog. It’s very comforting knowing that I live with someone who supports me and understands what I am going through.
How has having a dog as a third “roommate” enriched your friendship?
Sarah: Annika loves my dog Winston so much and that is really the best thing. You never know how people are going to be with animals, but she really does love him and that’s a huge relief and it’s so nice to be able to rely on her to let him out or watch him while I am away.
Annika: Yes, it’s so nice to have him around the apartment when we are studying for an exam. He will always come up and paw us until we pet him. It’s a good reminder to take a break!
Sarah: A lot of our classmates really enjoy having Winston around too. I know that we’ll invite people over and they will be so excited to see him. We actually just had a birthday party for him and 30 people from our class came over. It was a lot of fun!
What do you do for fun?
Annika: Every week we have little things that we do together. We’ll work out or we’ll walk Winston in the park and on the Lakefront. Our class Facebook page is always really active. Everyone in our class posts about events around the city. There is always something to do or people to be with even if you just want to have a game night.
Sarah: There’s always some sort of class gathering going on. You can text almost anyone in our class and have something to do. This summer we all explored different neighborhoods of Chicago and tried new restaurants. Being in Chicago, there’s always something to do all of the time and people in our class are always excited to go with and see what’s out there.
How do you achieve work-life balance?
Sarah: I think this is something we are always working on. In medicine there is always more information I could be learning, but I’ve realized that it is just as important to take care of myself. So taking that extra hour to workout or doing something for you is really important.
Annika: Feinberg administration is really great about reinforcing that you will be able to study more effectively, be more present at this event or in class, if you take that extra hour to do something that makes you happy or you’ve wanted to do.
When I thought about going into medical school, I thought it was going to be four of the most stressful years of my life — and it is stressful — but it is also the happiest and most meaningful years of my life, and I didn’t think I would say that prior to coming here.
What advice do you have for prospective students?
Annika: Whenever I am talking to future medical students, I always tell them to go to Second Look. Deciding on Feinberg was a tough decision for me; I was between staying at Vanderbilt, which is my home institution, going back to Ohio State where my family is or coming here to Feinberg. It wasn’t until I came to Second Look and things just kind of clicked. The people I met, the caliber of the faculty that I would be learning from, how much they cared, how intentional the curriculum is — that combination was just really hard to beat.
Sarah: Medical school is challenging and has pushed me out of my comfort zone, but the community of students and faculty at Feinberg has made this transition into the profession an enjoyable and fulfilling experience.