July 31, 2011

Day 5 – Intro to ICM, Honor Council (and Orientation Day 3), and “meeting your cadaver”

Apologizes for the lateness of this post – the weekend was spent either out doing stuff or catching up.  So to re-orient ourselves, this is the post that was supposed to be on Friday.  The first couple paragraphs are just a brief summary of the day, the rest is on  our intro to anatomy.

Friday was a lot of stuff.  First, we had our Intro to ICM, which is basically a course on introducing us to clinical medicine and a chance for us to see patients, even in our first year of medical school.  Not much to say about that at the moment, except that apparently classes like this are more necessary than ever nowadays because people stay in hospitals for a shorter duration, so we will need to learn things at a faster pace in the clinic, with less time for our preceptor (aka clinical mentor) to teach us things.  Also, I liked this quote: “To study the phenomena of disease without books is to sail an uncharted sea, while to study books without patients is not to go to sea at all” – Sir William Oslen

Next was our 3rd day of orientation, where we had a financial aid talk (where I found out I would have had to pay ~$50,000 in school tuition/fees as an out-of-state student @___@… thankfully, as an MSTP, I don’t have to worry about that).  Next, we had representatives from different med school organizations talk to us, such as AOA (the med school honor society of which only the top quartile is eligible for in our 3rd-4th years), the Honor Council, and the Student Senate.  Apparently, skit night is also a huge thing here (and in other medical schools) – might be interested in joining that.

A quick word here about the Honor Council. The concept of it is pretty interesting.  Basically, the students run it and hold each other accountable to try to provide a fair academic environment.  In other words, the Council tries to make sure there is no cheating or any sketchy stuff going on in the med school.  It brings to mind the “conflict managers” we had in my elementary school, except instead of solving conflicts between people, they solve issues of morality and ethics.  There seems to be a pretty elaborate system in place, with an investigation, jury, and hearing for people who have allegedly broken the code.

Apparently the honor code says for us not only not to engage in academic misconduct, but not to tolerate it either (willfully ignoring said conduct).  And it makes sense – as they put it, in med school, cheating has a whole different implication than it did in undergrad or below.  People who cheat in med school will eventually become doctors who don’t know their material, and that could potentially cause serious consequences for their patients down the road.  There is a reason we’re learning what we’re learning, and there are no shortcuts.

As someone who’s always been interested in law, I think I might just apply for it.

The last academic thing of the day before the welcome-back party was Intro to Anatomy.  One of the first things the professor asked was “Does anyone know anyone who was donated?”  Apparently, that happened last year, and that student had to be switched out.  That’s definitely one (effective) way of jumping right into the potential issues and questions of working with cadavers…

The first slide had the following: “Dissection of the human body often raises questions about the source of cadavers, invasion of privacy, and human mortality.”  That was certainly on my mind when thinking about this course.  So for anyone interested, here’s how we do it at our school:

  • Donors have to pre-register themselves while alive, and their family carries out their wishes after they are gone.
  • Donors are kept for only ~1 year, even though the embalming process will technically keep them preserved for 10-15 years.  This is so we can return them to their families as soon as possible, which I think is really thoughtful of them.
  • We apparently get a lot of donors (~150/year) compared to a lot of other schools, some of which are having an increasing shortage over the last few years.  Not all of them are accepted of course – exclusion criteria include trauma, autopsied people, those with infectious diseases, or the morbidly obese (because they are hard to work with).
  • It is surprisingly not free to donate – it costs $750, which covers transportation, the embalming process (see next point), cremation, and return/burial of ashes).  Despite this cost, it is apparently the cheapest way someone can be cremated around here, so some people might opt to do it just for that.  Some people even give them a $5 check/month just to pay for this.  Man, I hope most people don’t donate for that reason – I would find that very sad.
  • The embalming process uses traditional embalming methods, but the chemicals used are 7x stronger, and they flush the blood out and replace it with phenol and a bit of formaldehyde
  • Most donors are in their 60-80’s
There you have it – all you need to know about how to donate and what it entails in a nutshell.  Apparently we will be sharing a cadaver with the 2nd years (not exactly sure how that works since we will need to be dissecting the back and neck first, while they are probably going to be needing organs or the other side of the body…)  As an aside, we apparently have the largest class in a while (apparently ~11 “recycles” (great name, huh?) – people from last year who either had medical issues so couldn’t finish classes, or people who failed.  Mostly in the former category)
A great quote on why we need to take Anatomy was by Ernest Juvara (1870-1933), who said “One must start on a cadaver and end up operating on a patient, unless one wishes to start with a patient and end up with a cadaver!”  Very true, unfortunately.  Another great quote was from the professor herself, after describing what we should do to take care of the cadaver (make sure it is always wet, covered, and bagged before you leave, and make sure to put any organs you take out into the bin for that particular donor, so when they cremate them, they can cremate ALL of them).  She said “These are your first patients, and you should treat them as such.”  Very insightful.
After the class, we moved down to the lab to “meet our cadavers”.  Quite a poor choice of words I thought, considering a “meeting” usually implies that both parties are present.  It was at about this time that I started feeling a little jittery in the stomach as I went upstairs to store my backpack in my locker and back down to the basement, where the labs were located.  I have never seen a dead body before, and the idea of cutting into someone that was once a living, breathing, being twists me the wrong way.  The two things I was least looking forward to in medical school were anatomy and sticking needles into each other (I hate needles).  And apparently with our current curriculum, we will have to have anatomy all throughout our first two years.  Joy.  T__T  Anyways.
My first impression of the lab was of course, the smell.  Thankfully, it was a LOT more muted than I expect, which was encouraging, though I hear it won’t be nearly so nice when we actually cut into the bodies.  We were told to wait until all our group members were there before opening the body bag, so that we could make sure everyone was ready.  Most groups had 5 to a cadaver, some had 6.  In our group of 5, one of the other girls and I were both admittedly jittery about seeing a dead body for the first time, though I think I was in better shape than she was.  The other two girls opened the bag and helped lift the towels off.
My first impression was that our donor was very well preserved.  I’m not sure what I was expecting – rotting appendages perhaps? – but she looked remarkably well, except for the incisions on her chest (she had passed from lung cancer).  All the cadavers had their heads shaved, and with her tattoo and earring, she looked pretty tough.  I may have to give her a name at some point this year to make it easier to refer to her, but my housemate’s group named their cadaver “Marty” and when he told me that so casually, it made me feel really weird inside, so I might hold off on that for a while.
We were only in the room perhaps a total of 5-10 minutes, but I felt sick in the stomach for a good hour or two afterwards.  And as we were leaving, the smell/remembrance of the smell made me gag a couple times.  A bit reminiscent of my reaction after we had to dissect a rat in bio lab in undergrad – it doesn’t hit until later.  And I don’t know that I was feeling queasy because of anything in particular really… it just felt like my stomach did not want to settle. Bleh.  But yeah.  Man.  It was easier than I thought it would be on some levels, but harder in others.  I can’t imagine actually having to cut into someone.  The rat was hard enough.
I leave you now with the last slide the professor had before we moved down to the lab, which was certainly the case for me upon leaving the lab on Friday. “It is commonly known that medical students dissect the bodies of the dead; it is less commonly realized that these same dead do a great deal of cutting, probing, and pulling at the minds of their youthful dissectors.” –Alan Greg, MD, 1957

July 30, 2011

Night 5 – It’s Friday (Friday, time to party on Friday…)

Filed under: Med School and the MSTP — sanguinemare @ 1:40 am
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A brief interlude between school topics.

Tonight was the welcome back party for the med students, including students from all classes.  (So you see, med school isn’t ALL work and no play!)  We got there kind of late ~10pm because some of us went to hang out at a friend’s apartment for a couple hours before going to the party.  Not being a drinker, I opted to first go to another friend’s place (who also happens to live in the same apartments), where I helped him assemble some IKEA furniture, which was fun and productive.

The party was actually in a pretty snazzy place.  The school had rented out a lounge for the night, and as my friend said upon entering, “This is the most well-vented club I’ve ever been too.”  Haha, he was right!  We could actually feel the air conditioning.  Granted, the space was pretty large and we didn’t fill up all the area, and most people were just standing around and talking, not engaging in sweat-inducing physical activity like dancing.  But still.

It was cool seeing everyone dressed so nicely – made it feel kind of like some posh party in the movies.  But I have to say, I was pretty sad that no one was dancing  – people were arranged all over the floor, but all they were doing was chatting!  I felt pretty bad for the DJ’s too, who were trying to get everyone pepped up and no one seemed to be paying them any attention.  Eventually a couple friends moved out onto the floor with me, and we started dancing.  Probably what really hit it off is that the song “Teach Me How to Dougie” came on, and they had a couple people in a contest doing the dougie.  Ok, so it was no where near as good as the one they had during the filming of ABDC I went to, but at least it got people starting to move.  And then it got really fun.  (As an aside: I do wish the DJ was better though… it’s kind of hard to dance when a song plays for maybe 10 seconds, and just as you’re getting into it, the song changes into something with a completely different beat, or one with no real beat at all, so everyone just ends up standing there with confused looks on their faces until the next 10 seconds.  Oh well)

I’m really glad the school/students hosted this party for us.  It was a good chance to mingle/meet new people, to let loose and dance! and celebrate finishing our first week of med school.  SO glad it’s Friday (and we can sleep in tomorrow! So excited.)

More on the actual school stuff tomorrow.  Just wanted to get the message out there that med school is NOT just about studying, and that the school actually does sanction and encourage social interaction (*gasp*).


July 29, 2011

Day 4 – “In Search of a Good Death”

Filed under: Med School and the MSTP — sanguinemare @ 12:20 am
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Today’s topics covered: the US health care system, the Hippocratic Oath vs. the Physician’s Charter, the (social) history of disease, and death and dying.   My focus today will be on the last one, the title of which I have borrowed for the title of this post.

In this class, the professor wanted us to participate in an exercise/focus group.  He gave us 10 minutes to think about someone we’d known who has passed away, and say what was/would make the circumstances surrounding the death good or bad.  Here were some things that were shared today:


  • Someone’s grandpa died when they were a teen due to a heart attack.  The good things were that it was quick and at home where he was in a familiar place with family around.
  • Able to make peace with God/family, etc before death
  • Someone’s grandma stayed in a hospice her last days, which helped take off a lot of pressure and stress for the family.
  • Having an honorable/respectable death (ie army)
  • Knowing that you’re leaving a legacy, or that you accomplished something


  •  The doctor tried really hard to keep someone’s family member alive longer, which could be good, but they were in pain for a long time, which was really tough.
  • Dying at a young age
  • Having dementia (Alzheimer’s) before death – being “gone” before death
  • Being along at the end of your life
  • Dying unexpectedly.  One example related to this was having a false expectation of how long the patient would live due to what the doctor said.  The doctor had said they’d live for 6 months to a year, and the patient died within 4 months.  Another person’s friend’s dad got shot in the head.  Very unexpected and traumatizing.
  • Death due to overmedication – the patient was given too much medicine and lost awareness/recognition of people during their last days, which shortened the amount of time the family could spend time with them.
  • Someone’s grandpa is currently declining, and they are having to deal with a lot of  unexpected medical bills
  • Feeling like you are being a burden on the family
  • Dying and leaving behind bickering siblings over inheritance
  • Not knowing what the deceased family member wanted done after death
  • One person had a bad experience with the doctor being very bad at informing the family about the death.
  • Taking your own life.  One person’s grandpa basically did that by not eating (through tubes) because that was the only thing he could control.

I was pretty surprised so many people shared their experiences.  And that there was so many people who have had to deal with death personally.  After the first couple of people, the examples just rolled right after another for the whole 10 minutes.  That probably would not have happened in my undergrad courses – people didn’t care about the classes that much to participate.  This is something I’ve noticed about medical school, at least so far.  People actually pay attention in class and are invested in it.  They participate.  (They also come to class like 30min early and stuff, which is kind of crazy, but oh well).  Returning to the topic on hand…

The people who used the focus-group method in a study came up with 6 “themes” on what makes a death “good”/”bad”:

1. Pain and symptom management – self-evident, but not always done well
2. Clear decision-making – dependent on having had prior discussions with the family/medical team about what to do in case of death.  Communication is key)
3. Preparation for death –  communication of the trajectory of illness, the potential options of treatment/location of care, ideally done with interdisciplinary teams.
4. Completion – having the “individual life review” and gaining closure.
5. Contribution to Others – a purpose to life
6. Affirmation of the whole person

Interestingly enough, a study showed that physicians apparently have a difficult time coming up with all the themes during a similar kind of focus-group setting.  Our professor was actually impressed at how “theme-rich”  we were (as vs. “theme-poor” like the physicians,) especially given how short a time we had.  He said he’d always wanted to do this experiment, because he wondered if physicians were theme-poor because medical school selects for people who tend to be that way, or if it is somehow squeezed out of people during the process of medical school (which would not be encouraging if it were true – it would imply/affirm that jadedness is an inevitable result of medical school).  I guess we at least proved that our class was not selected for theme-poor people during admissions, haha.

Death and dying, as mentioned yesterday, is not something that is often thought about at our age.  We tend to think it’s something far off in the future, and barring the few accidents that may cost a peer their lives or the passing of grandparents, the concept is nebulous, at best.  But as doctors, this will be something that is important to consider.  How to deal with the patient who has just been told about their potentially shortened life, how to come to grips with it yourself, how to approach the situation and what treatment to give.  Is quality of life more important, or is prolonging life, even if it might cause more pain?  “Suffering occurs when the intactness of being is threatened.”  People may thus be suffering, even in the absence of pain. How do you help ease the situation, and what preparation needs to be done so that in the event of death, everyone will know what to do?  How do you break the news to the family?

While on the subject of death and dying, I’ve been hearing a song on the radio a lot since I’ve gotten here (not unusual, considering this radio station plays like 5 songs on repeat).  It’s called If I Die Young, by The Band Perry.  The bridge always gets me thinking:

A penny for my thoughts, oh no
I’ll sell them for a dollar
They’re worth so much more
After I’m a goner
And maybe then you’ll hear the words  I been singin’
Funny when you’re dead how people start listenin’…

It’s pretty sad how true this is in modern society.  I just read an article this afternoon about a young girl named Rachel who was trying to raise $300 by her 9th birthday to donate to an organization to bring clean water to developing nations.  She was $80 short of her goal, but a terrible vehicle accident caused her to be seriously injured, and proved fatal.  After people heard about the accident, thousands of donations poured in, and many laud her selflessness.  But why did so few people respond to her heartfelt call when she was still alive and well?  Why do we go about our lives taking so many things for granted, thinking “oh, we can do that later, talk to that person later?”

We need to start appreciating each other more, appreciating life.  Let’s start listening now.

July 28, 2011

Day 3 – Aging, Ethics, Professionalism, and musings

Filed under: Med School and the MSTP — sanguinemare @ 1:42 am
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Today was the first day of actual classes (!) for the first course module of the medical school.  It is, in essence, an intro course designed to help us understand the role of the doctor in society/ things we should be aware of on our road to being physicians.  It is also functionally a way to ease us into medical school before the REAL work begins, and presumably a way to get us more acquainted with our classmates.  That’s how most of us view it anyway, haha.

The course is a smorgasbord of topics, ranging from professionalism to ethics, to a preliminary understanding of healthcare policies/reform to brief glimpses at the history of medicine.  Just today, for example, we went through the history of health care finance, how to differentiate between sick vs. dying patients, introduction to medical ethics, aging, and what medical professionalism means and entails.

I’m not going to go into details for all the classes, but here are some interesting things/food for thought (Note: I don’t necessarily agree with all stated here – these are just things I found interesting to think about):


History of Medical Economics:

In the early 1920’s, there were government-based programs/hospitals to take care of the sick, but there was no organization from the top-down like in other countries.  Mostly, it was a private practice market, where the ratio of doctors to patients was much higher than now, and clinics were run like small businesses.  One thing that I think was actually pretty neat was that though there was no insurance, patients were charged on a sliding scale, meaning people who couldn’t afford as much were charged less, and the rich were charged more.  That’s actually a concept an elderly Chinese math teacher I met last year told me after I told him I was going to med school. Having never thought about that before, I was pretty surprised and felt it quite an interesting idea at that time, as well.

Rising costs of healthcare were due mainly to 3 things:
1. 1890’s – antiseptic surgery became possible, so more (delicate) procedures could be performed.
2. 1895 – invention of x-ray, with rapid, widespread use within 10 years.
3. Lab tests (rudimentary) began to be ordered on a semi-regular basis
In addition, the Great Depression severely limited people’s ability to pay for health care.  All these contributed to the people’s feeling of a rising need for medical insurance.

Differentiating between the sick and dying:

Before, death was such a part of daily life that it couldn’t be ignored – 1:12 mothers died in childbirth around the civil war, siblings/grandparents died at home, country-wide plagues killed masses.  Now, with modern medicine and grandparents sent to nursing homes, death is seen much less.

“Medicine is a balance between science [/power] and humanitarian service.”  Recognize that you are serving people, not the disease.

The difference between the sick and dying in terms of what responsibilities the patient has, is apparently that the sick patient is expected to want to get well ASAP, so will undergo any type of treatment (even very terrible ones) to do so, whereas the dying patient is no longer expected to get well or seek help/accept therapies.  And apparently, as a physician, one does all they can to help sick people get well, but when you know someone is dying, understand that you can’t do much to help them, so you “withhold your power.”  I don’t know if I can agree with that… I think I subscribe more to what the other physician said in the panel discussion the other day.  He said “Never say ‘There’s nothing we can do.’  There is always something.”

“A physician is the only profession that fails 100% of the time to do what we profess to do” [which is to do the best we can to restore people to full health]

“In the attempt to defeat death, man has been inevitably obliged to defeat life, for the two are inextricably related.  Life moves on to death, and to deny one is to deny the other” – H. Miller, Wisdom of the Heart, in Creative Death, 1960

Principles of medical ethics:
1. Autonomy (of the patient)
2. Beneficience – do good
3. Non-malificence – do no harm
4. Justice
Thought question: what should be the order of importance?

Alternative: 4 Box Model
1. Medical Facts
2. Autonomy (of both patient and physician)
3. Benefits vs. burdens (of the technology, so it is no longer a sticky question about “is the patient worth it?”, but rather “is the technology worth it?”)
4. Contextual/other (family, spiritual, social, economical, etc).

“Even if people agree on the action [ie X is not ethical], they may not agree on why.”  Though I don’t know if you necessarily have to agree on why to be able to go ahead with the decision if both of you “know” something is “right”/”wrong.”

Aging (this professor was pretty awesome)
How do you define old?
1. Chronological – how old you are. (65+ is “old” in the government’s eyes)
2. Functional – how well does your body function?
Aging = “the loss of ability of an organism to adapt to change.”

The idea of pension first came about with Otto von Bismarck, when he was trying to unify Germany.  One of the ways was the idea that if citizens give to the country, and the country gives something back.  Eventually, this idea trickled to America through things like Social Security in 1934 and Medicare in 1965.

Side note: the life expectancy of people in 1900 was 47, and currently it is 78.  This is likely not because people actually died much younger, but because infant mortality was much higher, skewing the numbers.  A much more accurate assessment is seeing the avg. life expectancy of people who live to be over 65 years old. That makes a lot more sense (and the current numbers are 83 for males and 89 for females, in case you’re wondering).

The current problem with medicare is that it is designed for acute care, and is not well equipped to deal with chronic diseases, which is what many people at that age have.  For example, “[medicare] will pay for COPD patients for repeat hospitalizations for respiratory failure, but won’t pay for the air conditioner to keep them out of the hospital in the first place!  Because it is not counted as a medical cost.”

Europeans are more interested in morbidity, rather than mortality, like us.  This is also a reason for the great disparities in cost (we pour at least 2x as many resources into healthcare, with not much significant difference in outcome).  This is because we tend to spend all our resources into preventing one type of disease, and then another becomes prevalent and we spend everything in that.  “Don’t those silly Americans realized that in the end, it all adds up to 100%?”

There is no death education in the American health system.  Look at CPR.  It saves only ~2% of people who are 80 years and older, but 75% of 80 year olds think it would save them in an emergency.  Why? Because of TV, education, etc. (Scary thought – so those Traditional Chinese Medicine doctors telling me about the ineffectiveness of CPR actually did know what they were talking about…)


I had the second part of my basic life support (BLS) training/test today.  Pretty quick and chill.  I really do wonder though, why we still have this kind of training for CPR (and have to pay ~$50 for the certificate every 2 years) when statistics show that the rate of survival after using it is generally <5% (just like we talked about in class.  Yay, application!)  Plus it’s all done online, so you don’t even have the benefit of someone demonstrating the techniques in front of you/getting to practice the technique yourself.

On a completely separate note, during lunch at one of the Subways on campus, we saw the googlemap truck pass by.  That was pretty awesome.  Too bad I couldn’t get my camera out in time.

And finally, some musings of the day:

The next few years are certainly going to be interesting.  All of us are going to be taking the exact same classes every day, for at least the next two years.  I’m willing to bet most of us have never been placed in this kind of learning environment before, and probably never will again.  Potentially a sticky situation in the event of any drama, of course – one (very) senior upperclassman in my program did warn me before we started that it’ll be “just like high school all over again!” – but hopefully nothing too untoward will befall our class.  I think it might be kind of fun actually – at the very least, it should foster the whole “making friends for life” thing.  And it’ll be just like boarding school – or at least, as close to it as I can figure.

To be honest, the last couple of days have been really strange for me.  I’m used to being quiet and alone the first few days at a new school, not really talking to anyone and just listening in class to get a feel of group dynamics and soak in information.  And the general trend is that it takes me about 4-6 weeks to begin opening up to my classmates, to begin voicing my opinions in class and slowly getting to know people.  The last couple days though, I have been quite the opposite.  I am not used to being so outgoing and sociable, actively introducing myself to others and swapping stories or making wisecracks/jokes.  I feel like I’m not really being me.  I don’t know if it’s some kind of defense mechanism for adjusting to such a different environment/group of people, or if my experiences last year have forged me into a different person, or if I subconsciously want to change my image, or what… but it’s kind of weirding me out.

Upon reflection, though probably at least one of the above is true, it is also likely due in large part to the fact that I’ve already been here 6 weeks (the magic number, hah) and slowly gotten to know my MSTP class.  Thus, I’ve already gone through the gradual process of getting to know people this year, and am more confident in meeting more new people because I have people I sort of know around me as a kind of security blanket – people I can hang around and talk with when I am feeling too awkward with my newer acquaintances.  It’s kind of pathetic really, but hey, what else is a dorky, awkward, self-conscious girl supposed to do?

Also wanted to say a few words about different modes of operation (pure listening like a sponge vs. active thinking during a lecture) and their effects on learning, at least for me, but it’s kind of late and my brain is no longer functioning, so will save that for some other day… (if I remember…)

July 27, 2011

Day 2 – Orientation

Filed under: Med School and the MSTP — sanguinemare @ 12:16 am
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Today was the second day of med school/orientation.  Most of the speakers and events today were hosted by EAB*, a group dedicated to reaching out to underserved communities in the area, and also provides a free clinic service by med student volunteers once a week.  It’s apparently in a pretty early stage, only really implemented beginning in ~2007, but definitely growing in interest and effectiveness.

I think organizations like this are really neat.  Honestly, if you think about it, what could be better?  It’s great for the community, because it may be difficult for certain populations to receive adequate healthcare due to economic reasons, stigmas, lack of medical insurance, or simply lack of knowledge.  This way, they can receive the care they need for free, and that in turn helps the community as a whole from both a public health and a social standpoint (generally speaking, healthy people are likely to be happier since they aren’t suffering from chronic pain/illness).

On the other side, it provides a great training opportunity for medical students. Students get to interact with patients on a more independent level, which allows them to put their textbook knowledge to practice.  In addition, and more importantly, students will get to hear stories about patients’ lives, opening their eyes to the kinds of things people have to go through that they’d never even have thought about.  Kind of connecting back to yesterday – a large component of the healing process is feeling understood and accepted, and as a doctor, it might be hard to relate unless you have seen other patients caught in a similar situation, whether that is socioeconomical or biological.  And outreach/education, especially to kids/youth, is a great way to help the future generations be healthy and stay healthy (preventative medicine ftw!), while at the same time challenging med students to find a way to effectively communicate what they have learned to the general population.  Really a great concept.  Hopefully I’ll have a chance to see how it plays out in practice.

The rest of the day was spent doing community service – apparently mandatory during orientation for med schools.  Half of us went to help with the recent tornado relief efforts, and half of us were sent to help Habitat for Humanity build houses for people (who presumably had their houses torn down by the tornado as well).  Our House was split between the two (we always seem to be the “leftover” group haha), and my LC was sent to help build houses.  I personally was excited because I’d always wanted to volunteer with Habitat at least once to see what it was like, ever since a good friend of mine constantly volunteered and advocated for them in undergrad.  It was actually a pretty good experience for all of us, I think.  Learned some things about building a house, such as how to paint doors while blue-taping the hinges, and how to frame a doorway (not nearly as easy as I would have thought.  Luckily, we had our resident expert along – one of my MSTP classmates who has also been helping my housemate with building an epic deck in the backyard). I now also know what caulking is, and will be able to make a more informed decision when crossing a river in Oregon Trail.

In all seriousness though, I think the community service the orientation leaders chose this year was a good one.  We were able to provide significant, tangible help to the community (in a much greater capacity than last year according to the MS-2’s), and we were able to bond more as a class.  I’m kind of glad our group was split and paired with other groups, so we had a chance to interact with more of our classmates. I think I’ve now met at least a third of my class.

Moving slightly away from orientation – which has been remarkably well-planned compared to (most) other things – I wanted to make a quick note about one negative thing I’ve noticed: the general lack of organization around here.  Not only is the website notoriously hard to navigate (and this is apparently improved from previous years!) but schedules and info conflict up the wazoo, and things kept shifting around up until the day before school started, continuing even now!  It’s a little ridiculous, and not a little frustrating.  I’ve been trying to figure out since yesterday whether or not we have homework due tomorrow in small groups, because something on one (of three) websites seemed to indicate we had to read and bring some written answers to some questions tomorrow, but as yet, no one has said a thing about them in any lectures, announcements, etc.  And I’ve asked my classmates and they all have no clue either.  -_-||

Speaking of websites, why on earth do we have three different ones for classes??  It would make so much more sense to integrate it onto one system so there isn’t so much duplication and confusion.  Adding to the mess is the fact that we also get e-mails sent with attachments of the same stuff.  So we end up with data in at least 3 places, and with all the continuous “updating” that’s been going on, it’s hard to keep track of what’s what and where.  (Btw, it would help if we were told what exactly was updated, instead of just announcing that something is “updated” and having us scroll through, playing detective to guess what has changed.  Just a thought.)  I understand that a lot of people are working very hard to make this class the best it can be at this time… and I really appreciate all that.  But there needs to be a set deadline for everything to be finalized.  And that time should be before the start of the school year.  Definitely something that needs to be improved on.

Other than that, it’s been a good two days.  I’m seriously looking forward to the start of real classes though.

*EAB = Equal Access Birmingham (More info at:

July 26, 2011

Orientation/Day 1 of Medical School

Filed under: Med School and the MSTP — sanguinemare @ 2:10 am
Tags: , ,

Today officially kicked off my medical (school) career.

Well, sort of.  Technically, my MSTP career started 6 weeks ago to the day, on Monday, 6/13/11, when I first stepped into my PI’s office to meet him and the other professors/people in the lab I would be working with for this summer rotation.  That in itself was a pretty interesting experience.  Learned a lot more about HPLC’s and MS than I would have ever expected – I thought I’d be done with looking at strange, static-y looking pictures on a graph after freshman chemistry, heh.

(Some terminology here: for those who don’t know:

  • MSTP = Medical Student Training Program, aka a fancy name for MD/PhD programs that are funded by the NIH… in other words, the government.
  • PI = Principal Investigator, aka the senior professor in the lab.
  • HPLC = High Performance Liquid Chromatography, and MS = Mass Spectrometry  – basically some lab techniques you will probably never have to worry about.)

Anyway, as I was saying, today was the first day of medical school, and as such, I figured it would be a very appropriate day to start this new blog dedicated to just that.  Unfortunately, it’s almost 1am here, so I probably won’t be writing nearly as much as I’d like, but here goes.

As someone who missed being in school since her last semester in college was spent doing full-time research instead of schoolwork, I was pretty freaking excited about starting school again.  Especially after working 10-12 hours a day and weekends during this rotation , haha.

The day started out bright and early, at 7:30am.  A bit tough to get going in the morning since I couldn’t sleep all night, I guess partly from excitement, but probably mainly because I got 24-26 mosquito bites on Saturday from blueberry picking and they were itching all night.  Ah well…

Today was all orientation, so we heard a lot of people give speeches (but each one was only 30min max so it wasn’t too bad).  We were told to dress in business casual, and we’ll be needing to dress accordingly tomorrow as well, since we’ll be touring the hospitals and need to look “professional.”  This seems to be an ongoing theme here, and I guess it makes sense – imagine how it would look if a med student/doctor were getting trashed at a bar or disturbing the peace.  Probably not a good impression on potential patients.

They also told anecdotes about what patients felt made a good doctor.  To paraphrase one speaker: “You know all that other stuff?  Making the correct diagnosis, giving correct treatment, efficiency, etc?  That was expected to them.  But what they actually look for in a doctor are these things: kindness, and someone to listen to them.”  Though this seems like it should be common sense, I have heard that it isn’t for some people.  And so, I think it is good that we emphasize that here, because through my shadowing experiences, that does seem to be the consensus among patients.  And as a recipient of surgery and other healthcare myself, I know how it feels to have a doctor who is, shall we say, a little too efficient.  My dad even had a doctor tell him to “just look it up online” when he asked them to explain what something meant.  Seriously?  I think all med schools should try to incorporate more of the EQ side of being a doctor like it seems we’re doing here.

I debated for a while whether I should write the name of my school due to potential privacy issues, and I’ve decided not to disclose that for now, just in case.  But for anyone reading this who might want to have some idea of which tier my school is in for comparison purposes, suffice to say it’s one of the top 30 ranked schools as of this year, and we have quite a strong program in both research and clinical practice.  And the people here are awesome.  Everyone is very willing to help each other in lab, in class, to classes below them… at least so far that I’ve gleaned from what people have said both years (I deferred my admission from last year), and from what I’ve experienced in lab and at orientation today.  Though I won’t be telling my school name, I don’t think it’ll hurt to give a few stats for this year, since this blog IS meant for people who want to know about med school.  Here they are:

Total matriculating: 176  (in-state residents: 155, out-of-state: 21)
Female: 82, Male: 94.  Majority ethnicity: White
Age range: 20-36 yrs old, mean = 23.6 years
4 MD/MPH, 8 MSTP, 2 deferred from last year (heh)
# Times people applied for med school before getting in: 1=152, 2=22, 3=2
MCAT avg: 30.2 (VR: 9.7, PS: 10.1, BS: 10.4)
BCPM GPA avg: 3.76, Total GPA avg: 3.72

After the speeches, we got our registration done on the computers, got our clickers (ah, undergrad memories), lockers, and mailboxes, tested out the fit for our white coats, and got more info on the rest of orientation and the school semester.

One interesting thing about this year is that we are divided into “learning communities (LC)”.  And each LC is put in a House (2 per house), with a specific color and mascot associated with it.  The student orientation leaders literally explained it as being “set up just like it is in Harry Potter,” and we actually do earn points doing certain activities.  Someone from my group even asked if we were going to have hourglasses to record the points, and received a positive “yeah, we want to try to do that” response from the student coordinators! @___@  I think they – the 2nd years – are more excited than we are, haha.)  This is the first year our school is actually putting this to practice, but apparently this is a trend that’s spreading around med schools across the nation?? Craziness!  So the idea is partly that we’ll be able to get to know our classmates more, and partly so that we can get more interaction with our mentors and classes above/below us throughout the rest of our time at this school.  They’re trying to eventually have a system set up so all the mentoring will be done through these communities, and even have a “common room” for each group, or so it sounds like.  Interesting.  Well, for the record, the yellow panthers are gonna ROCK the competition!  (The others are the blue bears, red eagles, green cobras, and black lions.  Totally HP with us being the odd animal out ahaha).  It’s like I’m in middle school again with the panther mascot, only our colors then were white and blue.  And if I were in the blue bear group, it’d be like being in undergrad again haha! Strong memories there. Anyway.

Finally, there was a dinner reception where the LC mentors/faculty mingled with the new students.  Very good food and music, I might add – and it was all in the “Great Hall” in our school.

This year is apparently the first (lots of firsts this year…) that the orientation events are planned out by the students (mainly, if not all, 2nd years) instead of staff.  I think 1) they must have done a TON of work to prep for this – it sounds like they got rid of a lot of stuff, added a lot of stuff, and generally made it much more organized and less head-on-desk-worthy – and 2) they have pulled it off quite well, at least so far.  Kudos to you, MS-2’s! (More terminology here: MS-2 = 2nd year med student.  So we’re MS-1’s).

This day ended with a spectacular demonstration of how crazy the weather is here.  About 2 hours ago, as I was writing an e-mail updating people on my life here, it started to thunder and pour.  Like, really. really. pour.  With thunder so close that literally shook the floor of this house O.o. With lightning literally every 2-3 seconds (I counted) that lit up the whole street as clear as day. I actually understand that expression now, haha!  For CA people who have never been to the south… that tiny lightening of the clouds you see?  That’s not lightning.  Lightning is when you can see a clear thunderbolt shooting down from the sky or spreading out across the sky.  Lightning is when the darkness of night is illuminated to where you can see the house on the other side of the street like it was in a black-and-white movie.  And the thunder, man.  Now I know why the kids in Sound of Music were so scared, haha!  I would probably be too, if I were their age.  It was seriously super sunny and hot during the day today too… the weather out here really is schizo.  And after about 30min-1hour, gone. Just an occasional flash of lightning maybe, but it is completely silent outside now.  Perfect for getting some shut-eye.

Signing out,

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