Sunday, April 21, 2013

Thank you!

Elated to have been chosen as one of the Top 30 Healthcare Blogs of 2012 over at Top Masters in Healthcare

Also check out this feature over at The Goldberg Files: Frustration in Medical School.

Thanks everyone for the positive feedback and stay tuned for more of my ramblings that delve into the highs and lows of preping for step 1.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Note To (Future) Self

As a student I often find myself wondering how a professor or an attending could have the expectations that they do for us.  I am particularly perturbed by this because I know for a fact that at one point they were in my very shoes.  How then could they have forgotten how it feels to be on the other side?  I am writing this post in hopes that my future self will stay connected to this, to remind myself as I trek through this journey where it all began:

The test is in 3 days, no big deal.  Study.  Flip through notes. Eat. Where did the day go? Dinner. Yawn. Two more days. Sleep.

Two days.  Geez.  I'm getting a little concerned that I'm going to know too much for this test.  Seriously, 48 hours to cover this material? Thats more than enough. TV break.  Review notes. Sleep

One day. Oh my god.  What happened? I had three days, now theres 24 hours.  If I sleep four hours that gives me 20 hours to review.  Theres about five sections.  Four hours per section.  That doesn't seem like enough.  I start frantically flipping through the pages of the text book realizing five minutes in that I have absorbed nothing.  I'm just flipping.  Where is the day going? Its already 1 pm.  I woke up at 7.  By now I should have finished reviewing half the material.  I start counting: 1 pm, 2 pm, 3 pm . . . . 11 pm, 12 am, 1 am.  Thats twelve hours.

Okay good. 12 hours, that should be enough.

Somehow its 8 pm.  I've managed to eat my way through a bag of candy and 3 cans of soda.  All of a sudden totally irrelevant, menail tasks became high priority.  I absolutely had to reorganize the bathroom drawer.  It was happening before I could stop and I had to finish.  Its okay, I've gone through most of the material.

There is an ebb and flow to the panic and serenity.  A little dance, my heart rate fluctuates between tachycardia and bradycardia.  One second its beating in my ears as I see the minutes of sleep slowly slipping away as the night grows closer and my pile of work remains the same.  Another I feel on top of the world, envisioning a 99%.  High pass for me.  Stress. Relax.

Finally I decide I need some sleep.  I'm not one of those people who can pull an all-nighter.  I need a little shut eye.  I drift off to sleep with a page of notes clutched in my fist.

The clanging of my cell phone awakens me from a non restorative sleep and I bound out of bed as the panic washes over me again.  Two hours.  Theres only two hours left.  Is any of this actually going to stick in my brain now? Should I just stop? No.  I know these little details I can't remember, if I can just come up with a way to remember them.  Some mneomonic: krazy kittens gurgling the night.  There is no way I'm going to remember all of this minutia, there is no way they're going to ask about that.

As I reach the exam room the stress reaches its zenith as I pick up bits and pieces of other peoples conversations.  Every so often I heard a tidbit that I don't know and a fresh wave of panic washes over my body.  Its too late now--I'll just have to guess if that comes up on the test.

"You may begin"

I hate that feeling.  The on where you remember where the answer is.  Its on the bottom right corner of the 3rd page, you highlighted it and scribbled a note next to it.  Thats all you know.

Thats the worst.  When you feel like you should have studied just a little bit more.  If you could have just pushed yourself a little bit harder.  Then you wouldn't be sitting here with an exam in front of you and absolutely having to guess on questions.

Somehow your body goes into exam mode, you just start churning out answers.  The test taking monster inside you takes over.  Process of elimination and educated guesses slowly dilutes down to sheer dumb luck and guessing.

The walk home from the exam is awful.  First you have to escape the group of students bickering about question #68.  How do they even remember? I don't want to know.  I jam my earbuds in my ears and high tail it out of there.

On my walk home I pull out my slightly crumpled study guide and race to the bottom of the 3rd page, where I highlighted and scribbled a note.  IL-10.  Thats what it was.  How could I not remember? There's something wrong with me.

What if somehow I literally answered every question wrong? Statistically pretty unlikely but even at 25% would be awful.  What if I fail? What am I going to do? I thought I studied, I thought I knew the material.

I hope they post grades soon.

3 days later . . . .pass. Phew.  Wasn't so bad was it?

Panic. Fear. Pressure. Self doubt. Confusion. Restlessness. Sheer exhaustion. Those are all a part of this temporary condition but the fact of the matter is to us, at that particular moment they are all too real.

I understand that some of this is a part of the package.  Medical school is a grueling undertaking I juts wish more attendings and professors could take a second to reflect on what it felt like to be where we were--just to ease the pain for us a little bit.

They say "be the change you wish to see".  Someone check in with me in 20 years and see how thats going.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Comic Relief I

Some of my classmates can't resist the urge to already be appending an MD to the end of their names--this is how I feel about it.

Have any burning questions about med school? About classes, life, professors, family, lectures? Anything at all feel free to post a comment or shoot an e-mail at

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Teachable Moments III: Harm Reduction

I happily trotted through the front door of the clinic and planted myself in front of the elevator waiting to go up.  Although many students complained that their preceptors didn't know their names or didn't acknowledge them my experience was completely the opposite.

Dr. Parker was fantastic.  Not only was I clinically useless but mostly incompetent but he never made me feel that way.  He was kind, he was warm and he had this way of being reassuring that not only gave you confidence in him but in yourself, just for under his guidance.

A long time patient of Dr. Parker's, we'll call her Maria, came into the office for the 3rd time to finally be given a clinical diagnosis of hypertension.  Her BP was off the charts (in retrospect probably it wasn't that off the charts because if it was it would have been malignant hypertension--see me dropping that M2 knowledge--and we would have called and ambulance to take her to the hospital).  The obvious answer here was to start her on some pharmacotherapy and then make sure we could assure some compliance to keep her within a healthy range.

Much to my surprised Dr. Parker turned to her and asked what she thought.

Maria responded, "You know doctor, I really don't want to take a pill.  I know its really high.  I see that, but that is just not something that I want to do.  What are my options?"

"Well if we can get you a little bit more active and check in for another BP reading and see if its declined maybe we can hold off on taking a medication," said Dr. Parker.

For the next ten minutes Maria shared that some ladies at work had been walking a few times around the block at lunch time and doing yoga after work two days a week.  Dr. Parker and her decided she would try to get on this regimen with them and if the next time she came in it was still elevated she would choose to take the medication.

In my head I was screaming.  She had high blood pressure! She needed to take medicine to bring that down otherwise . . . and that was when I figured it out.  Otherwise what? She had been walking around  with this pressure for a while another week or two wasn't going to kill her, but giving her the opportunity to make a lifestyle change could alter the course of her life, could save her.

Too many of us, medical students I mean, are the type of people that see a problem, synthesize a solution and implement it in rapid succession.  Slowing that down, breaking the solution down into incremental chunks is a challenge for me.  I had the opportunity to witness a harm reduction principle in motion, before my very eyes.  For those of you who aren't familiar with the term it is essentially the idea that when you're wresting with a very severe outcome from an adverse event, any small decrease in the adverse event is a great.  Allowing free needle exchanges for IV drug users in order to reduce the transmission of HIV and Hepatitis C by infected needles is a direct correlate of this public health principle.

Dr. Parker met her where she was.  She wasn't ready to take a medication but she was ready to discuss adding some physical activity to her life.  If that didn't work or she wasn't happy with that outcome he would be there to guide her down another path.

At the time I left the clinic that day I was still baffled as to why the so obvious solution was not implemented immediately--but after some reflection I realized that making the conscious choice to delay use of that solution exemplified far higher level thinking.