September 22, 2011


Filed under: "Me" updates,Med School and the MSTP — sanguinemare @ 9:59 pm
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Hooolyyy shiznet.  Guess who just went over 19 hours of (non-anatomy) lecture in 10 hours?! @_________@ Quite a terrible idea.  At least my pace was much faster than yesterday, when I was struggling through anatomy lectures at a rate of 8 hours per 3 lectures.  I still have about the same amount of anatomy lecture hours left, as well as two for surgical anatomy (which I will post about as well in the near future due to it’s traumatizing effect on me…) but I think I will save them until tomorrow morning.  I definitely don’t have 8++ hours left before the test unless I don’t sleep at all, so likely, at best, I’ll have around 2-3 hours.  And this is why you should keep up regularly instead of being like me.  Gahhh. 

So is it possible to cram in med school?  Yes.  Is it a good idea?  No, unless you want to have no life and high stress levels for a couple days to a week.  So far I’ve been pretty bad about it – I tend to use the Wednesday and Thursday before the Friday test to just sit and study for 8 hours at a time or so (we get tested every 2-3 weeks in med school and 2-3 weeks in grad school at the moment).  It’s only worked so far I think because we haven’t had that much anatomy.  But from now on, there’s ALWAYS going to be anatomy.  So I’m definitely going to have to keep up more regularly.

We’ll see what the results of this next test will be…

One upside to studying at school for so long though – the school ordered pizza and soda as a “study break” for those of us who were still around for dinner.  That was really nice of them.

Alright, time to head on back.  Goodnight!

September 21, 2011

Money matters (… or does it?)

Filed under: Med School and the MSTP — sanguinemare @ 10:09 am
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One thing that we don’t have to worry about, as MSTP’s, is money.  It was one of the reasons I took a year off last year, so I could get a minimum wage job to see what it was like to have to work for and worry about money.  However, I don’t know if being so secure in my financial situation is a good thing.

As we go through school, and through conversations with peers, it’s obvious that most of the class, and most of the professors who are teaching the classes, are/have been on loans to get through med school.  Med school is not cheap.  For in-state residents, our school’s tuition costs a over $22,000 a year.  Add to that the cost of living expenses and fees/books/supplies, and you’re up to around $45,000/year.  And if you were out-of-state, like I am, the tuition itself is about $59,000.  Per year!  And that’s before interest!  That’s a pretty hefty amount. (Wow, I didn’t even realize the actual figures until I looked it up just now… that’s crazy.  Which exactly proves my point about us not having to worry about this.)

What all this means is that most medical students, excepting MSTP’s, people on military scholarships, or the uber rich, will be in at least $150,000-$200,000 in debt by the time they graduate medical school.  For out-0f-state-ers, the numbers are probably in the $240,000-$330,000 range!  No wonder people are talking about still being in debt 5 years out of residency.  Here’s a NY times article on the hidden costs of med school debt that one of my med school friends sent me at the beginning of school.

Inevitably, with so many resources being poured in just to be able to go to med school, one of the choices med students have to make when deciding residencies and careers is the question of money.  How am I going to pay back my loan?  Sometimes in class, this is clearly reflected in the questions we get for guest lecturers.  “Will insurance pay for that procedure?” “What is the reimbursement like?”  I often wonder about those people and think about all the stereotypes about people who go to med school only for the money, because these questions are things that are not even on the radar for me.  But then I catch myself and realize that I am probably one of few who have the luxury of not worrying about the next paycheck or how to pay back back my loans because I don’t have any.  Not many have the luxury of idealism that I do.  But is this a good thing to be able to have?

Sometimes I feel like it’s almost better to have to think about these tough questions, and to be pressed for money and time.  It seems people are more sure of what they want to do, or take school much more seriously because of it.  They study so hard and care a lot about the material (and some stress out significantly more…), and they are driven.  Motivated.  And for the most part, truly interested in what they are doing.  I, with all my financial worries taken care of, seem to be a little less focused, less driven, and very unsure about what I’m doing here or what I want to do with my life. 

Ah well.  I hope at least I’ve given a bit of perspective in the costs of medical school for you all.  Time to go back to class.

September 15, 2011

Family Medicine Interest Group

Filed under: Med School and the MSTP — sanguinemare @ 11:57 pm

The family medicine interest group met for lunch today, and being as I am – someone who pretty much has no idea what specialty (if any) she wants to pursue – I didn’t really expect to get that much out of it.  However, they were very clever… or such is how I choose to think of it at the moment… because they used some key words that immediately perked my interest.  Note that this is not in any way meant to say any other specialty is bad, nor that this one is better than any other.  The following are just a few reasons why my interest was piqued in this field.  Here are a few of them:

“We get to see people of all ages, ‘from the womb to the tomb.'”  Makes sense – the term ‘family medicine’ suggests the doctor would take care of everyone in the family, ranging from the newborn to the grandparents.  This helps make the clinic more varied in terms of who you see and what stages of life they are in.

“We get to know the whole family” – when they said this, I suddenly realized that that’s kind of the idea of a doctor that I’ve always held to be the best-case ideal… without even consciously knowing it.  When I think of a healer, in the traditional sense, I think of someone who goes around and treats everyone in the family and in the community – who knows exactly when Tommy broke his leg playing baseball, or when mom got sick with fever.  Someone who is almost part of the family, and who people think of first when they need to tell someone something they can’t tell anyone else in the family, or when they need medical attention/advice.

“We get to take care of the whole person” – physically, mentally, socially, spiritually.  More than any other specialty, or so they claim, family medicine allows the clinician to understand what’s going on with the patient in all aspects.  And since you know their family as well, you get to see the dynamics/interactions they have with each other, which is really powerful in understanding them as a person.  Also, since I am Christian, it is important for me to be able to help people spiritually as well (not that I would force my beliefs on anyone, but I recognize the necessity of spiritual health alongside the others, and want to be able to help my patients in that aspect when needed.)  It seems like family medicine is much more personal medicine – the “humanity” of medicine – and that’s the kind of “real,” lasting relationship I’d like to have with patients, not the 15 min a year kind of thing.

“We like to play detective” – oh man, this was a biggie.  I’ve always loved law and piecing together the big picture from clues, and to me, it’s probably one of the biggest things that make medicine interesting intellectually.  Because family practitioners “get to do some of everything,” it means they can use their vast expanse of knowledge to deduce what is going on, instead of only being specialized to one area of the body, one age group, or one disease.  I’m someone who has always been “pretty good at everything, not really good at anything,” so this seems the perfect fit. (Not that that’s necessarily a good thing…)

Along with that, they also said “we do more orthopedics than people realize,” which got my attention, because I’m interested in sports medicine, which family medicine apparently actually has a fellowship in!  This field is looking better and better all the time.

“Family medicine is flexible” – both time-wise (average 47.2 hrs/week) and career-wise.  You can basically end up sort of becoming a sub-specialist if you wanted, or you can practice in rural areas, or you can do… anything you want with it, apparently.  And since there’s such a shortage all over the country (except maybe the East and West Coasts unfortunately…), you can pretty much go wherever you want to and be ok.

“I didn’t want to have to choose between being a good doctor or being a good mom.  I wanted to be able to be good at both.” I’m not a family person by any means, but if/when it comes to that at some point, I completely agree with the girl who said this.  I don’t want to have to sacrifice my children/family to be a good doctor, nor do I want to be a mediocre doctor because I need to take care of my family.  For something as intense as say, neurosurgery, that might not be possible.  But family medicine almost makes you be a better mother/family member by default it seems, because you need to take care of people of all ages.

Those were definitely some good key words for me. I’m actually pretty excited – for once, the descriptions of clinical practice actually appeal to me, or at least have triggered an interest.  Perhaps I have finally found (one of) the reason(s) I am here.

Incoming med student interview day…

Filed under: Med School and the MSTP — sanguinemare @ 11:29 pm
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Today seems to have been the first day of interviews for this year’s medical school application cycle.  There were signs posted last night pointing to elevators and directing the interviewees where to go.  It’s kind of strange and nostalgic to think about how we were in their shoes a year ago (or for me, almost 2 years ago).  I see all the dressed-up hopefuls and I wonder – are they nervous? excited?  genuinely happy to be given a chance to interview?  What do they think of us, that pass by?  In their eyes, are we the stressed out shells of people we once were?  Or do we seem a tightknit group that have a good handle on things, both academically and socially?  What do they think of the school?  I certainly hope they’ve gotten the same good vibe and general friendly atmosphere of the school I did when I first came here.  Do they know what they’re signing up for?  How many truly want to be doctors for the right reasons?

Well, at any rate, congratulations to all the interviewees – you have made it this far, and hopefully you will make it in somewhere, if not here.  May your interviews be as painless as possible, and hopefully even fun.  And I hope my friends who are applying this year will be blessed enough to join you in traveling here at some point this year.  Good luck!

Anatomy lab

Filed under: Med School and the MSTP — sanguinemare @ 11:01 pm
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We had our first anatomy lab yesterday, concentrating on the back.  Our cadavers no longer look full and whole like they did the first day we met them face-to-face.  The 2nd years have already been busily at work at the bodies for the last few weeks, dissecting the limbs and various other parts of the bodies, so the flesh under the neck has all been stripped clean.

Or well… it should have been.

Our poor donor seemed to be a little worse for the wear, and only about half of her skin was removed.  The muscles on the side that it was removed for looked semi-hacked to pieces, and we couldn’t really make hide-nor-hair of it (no pun intended).  Thankfully, the other side was ok, so we were able to see some of what we were looking for.

I was scheduled to be a dissector (how lucky…).  Luckily, the body was already turned face-down, so we didn’t have to roll her over.  Our lab books were extremely unclear about what we were supposed to do, so we spent some of the time just staring at the book, at the body, and back, trying to figure out where to start.  One of our members, E, was very gung-ho about it, (apparently she “fell in love with anatomy” somewhere along the way before med school), so she started helping us “clean” off the cadaver – which basically means trimming the fat off, like you would a piece of meat.  Our cadaver was on the heavier side, so she had quite a lot of fat (and the skin that we had to trim was literally 3/4ths of an inch think, due to the layer of fat underneath).  She was also more “wet,” as one of the professors said, so it was supposedly easier for us to see the muscles of interest.

Actually doing the dissection requires a bit of art.  You can’t cut too close, or you will cut into the muscle, yet if you cut too little, you can’t really see anything because it’s all blurred together.  And it was actually pretty cool when you reveal the muscle fibers from under the fat layers.  Yesterday we focused on the trapezius, latissimus dorsi, erector spinae (which help the spine extend and are divided to 3 parts: ilicostalis, longissimus, and spinalis), rhomboid major/minor, levator scapulae, and the 2 splenius in the neck.  My dissecting partner (we are paired into 2 dissectors, 2 readers, and 1 floater) for the day, A, seemed at a loss for the most part, so I asked him to help me peel off layers (you have to “reflect” muscles to see what’s underneath, which is done by pulling the muscle back enough to get tension between the layers, and using the scapel to cut through the connective tissue/fat holding them together).  E helped with the other side.  I think she got kind of frustrated at how badly the cadaver had been messed up before we got to lab.  Don’t blame her though – I can see why.  This is some of what you’ll have to deal with if you need to share cadavers.  We’re lucky though – at least our body hasn’t dried out or molded.  Apparently there have been e-mails sent out about taking care of cadavers because some 2nd years were not doing a good job.  :\

Afterwards, E and I both felt like our fingers were tingly, and hers actually felt numb.  According to one of the professors, the formaldehyde does that sometimes.  And another classmate spoke of it feeling like it was burning his throat and making him choke.  So not only does it smell bad, but apparently it causes numbness if it gets in your skin too long (I guess as it starts the preservation process on your skin…), and it also causes sharp burning pains in the throat/nose.  Also, apparently washing one’s hands 3 times afterwards, and showering, does not remove the smell on the hands after it has been immersed in formaldehyde for 2 hours.  Great stuff.

Tomorrow we have anatomy again.  This time on the neck muscles.  Oh joy.   (It really isn’t so bad if your attitude is to learn about it from a scientific perspective.  I’m just being melodramatic :P)

I also found out from one of our preceptors yesterday that apparently at my school, they had stopped using cadavers for a while before us, so the dissections were already done for the students.  I guess they just brought this back recently, because our preceptor is only a 3rd year resident, which means he went through the program here 7 years ago.  At any rate, as I’ve said in a previous entry, I’m glad they’re letting us do this the “traditional” way.  I think we learn more doing things hands-on, regardless of the confusion/frustrations.

September 9, 2011

Time management required for a social life in med school

Filed under: Med School and the MSTP — sanguinemare @ 10:32 pm
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I have begun to realize more and more that in order to do anything in med school, you have to literally schedule it in.  Otherwise, it will never happen. (Such as blogging! Oh ho ho ho).  This is true for extracurriculars, and for studying itself.  But what is surprising is that it is even true for something as seemingly simple as hanging out/eating/talking with classmates.

I have discovered that I can go through a whole week of classes with everyone, and yet see/talk to only 10 people or less.  And most of those conversations consist of fleeting greetings between classes, or brief questions about test content/homework, or how disorganized/boring/hard-to-understand the classes are (yes, people still complain about classes just as much as they do in undergrad… or more).  Just yesterday, I realized that the times I have really talked to people or seen them within the last two weeks only happened through proactive scheduling on someone’s part.  And from what I’ve heard from people who have gone through/are going through long distance relationships during med school, they have to literally schedule in skype/phone time, because otherwise they’re too busy and their SO starts feeling neglected.

It’s something that creeps up on us without us even realizing, being in this environment where everyone studies all the time.  The time that we have to spend with people we care about will grow less and less, until we end up speaking once a week, a month, a year, 5 years… and then wonder what happened with our life.  It disturbs me a little to notice that I have to make a conscious effort to maintain contact with people that I see every day, much less people who are not in the area.  On the other hand, it also makes me appreciate it that much more when I get a chance to reconnect with someone.

You know how people say college tests people’s ability to actually take care of themselves, because that’s when they need to start waking up in the morning and getting to school, making meals etc. without their parents’ support?   Well, med school tests people’s ability to be organized and manage their time really well… because simply put, if you can’t, you’ll flail and sink.  Once you fall behind, it’s almost impossible to catch up. I know – I’m behind about 2-3 weeks and I can’t see an end to the catching-up I have to do.  In 3 weeks, I’ve already filled up a notebook each in med school and grad school, and that usually doesn’t happen until the end of the semester (15 weeks) in undergrad, and in high school, I would still have at least 1/3 of blank pages at the end of each semester.  That tells you how fast we go here.  So you really need to be on top of your game.

My advice?  Start learning to manage your time well in undergrad.  Then it won’t be such a major adjustment.  You don’t have to go overboard like I did, doing ~3-5 major extracurricular commitments on top of 20+ units every semester, but it will help to stretch yourself a little bit and try to take on more than just the minimal going to class and studying.  It’ll help – trust me.  And as a bonus, you’ll be involved in something outside of schoolwork, which is always good for application processes 😛

September 2, 2011

First med school exam – check!

Filed under: Med School and the MSTP — sanguinemare @ 2:24 pm
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Just finished my first ever, real med school exam!  As you can probably tell from the exclamation mark, I did quite well… this may actually be the first time I’ve gotten a solid “A” on a bio/science-related test since… high school?  Whoot!  I think the questions were a lot easier than most of us expected – very much read the question and pick out a one word answer (word association).  A lot of people came out of this test smiling, so presumably everyone did pretty well.  🙂  That’s encouraging.  I feel like there was a lot less emphasized than I would have expected though… for example, our test had a LOT of the nutrition lectures in there – I feel like they were in disproportionate amounts compared to everything else we learned.  It almost makes the last two days (and my currently crying forearm from writing so much) seem like a waste.  But it’s good – it’s about time I started having better study habits.

I’ve never really understood before how the concept of “work hard, play hard” worked.  I was kind of always a floater – play/procrastinate most days, then work somewhat hard for a couple days before an exam, only expecting mediocre from myself and basically getting just that.  After the last few days, I’m starting to understand better why people say that work hard, play hard attitude is what you need to succeed in medical school.  It’s because you need to work hard – to study a few hours a day at least to keep up with the material, and then after all that high-focused intensity, you need to find/do something to relax and keep yourself sane.

We MSTP’s actually have it easy – my med school classmates had to memorize every single enzyme and reaction in all different types of metabolism (carbs, lipids, protein…) in one week!!!  We’re only just starting it in grad school… I may end up just listening to the medical school lectures though, because they had an amazing lecturer who had amazing slides to go with the explanations.  Med school is actually making me start being interested in all this stuff – the craziness!  It’s kind of interesting, because you get this whole spiel around high school (or possibly even middle school), and then again in undergrad, then again in medical school, so you’d think it would be old hat by now.  But seeing the clinical relevance of these cycles (i.e. what diseases arise when things go wrong) really helps put things into perspective.  I feel like I’m totally getting in tune with my nerdy side – I’m always really excited when I can connect two lectures together when one mentions an enzyme or disorder, and another one mentions the same thing in passing to explain something else.

That’s probably what we need more in undergraduate education.  My institution was really big on research, so we would get into all these enzymes and proteins and what they did… but it was never really that interesting to me (with occasional exceptions of course).  But now, when I can see an application to “real life”, it really makes me want to learn it more, and to a better degree.  So perhaps educators could try to include some applications to ground their theoretical findings in a more tangible way.

Anyway, I’m glad that first hurdle is over.  Time to catch up on notes, write some abstracts and e-mails, and then maybe dance/exercise, celebrate a classmate’s birthday and take a well-earned break! (<– that’s the first time I’ve ever said that, because it’s the first time it’s actually true!)

September 1, 2011

Study groups

Filed under: Med School and the MSTP — sanguinemare @ 10:38 pm
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I have discovered that as an MSTP, it is next to impossible to study with someone who is not an MSTP.  This is because a large chunk of the material we are studying is different.  Since we have a much shorter amount of lectures we are required to cover, when trying to study with people in the med school, very likely most of what they would like to go over are things we are not responsible for.  So in effect, being part of the MSTP drives you to study with other MSTP’s who will need to know the same material in just as much depth as yourself.  Which intrinsically makes us “hang out”/spend more time with each other – as if we don’t get enough of that already.  Ah well.  It is nice to have other people to study with though – one of us used to be an English teacher in Japan for 4 years.  He is really good at teaching things in a way that is easily understandable, so I’m really glad I got a chance to study with him as he was going through his flashcards today.  Through that, I’m also glad because I realized that whatever I’m doing to study (which is basically re-writing all the lectures while looking at slides/transcripts of lectures at the moment) is working, because when we cover the stuff I have gone over, I knew them all pretty well.  It’s really slow going though… and I don’t think I’ve really “studied” like this for so many hours at a time in my life (except maybe cramming the day before the test in undergrad… which I guess I’m kinda doing right now haha…)

It’s definitely important to form study groups in med school though, regardless of who or how many people are in it.  Actually, that’s probably the case for any school you’re in.  It always helps to see different people’s perspective on what’s important, and to just review things multiple times.  Plus, they say when you teach someone something, you learn it much better (and it also exposes all the things you thought you knew, but actually didn’t!)  So I would definitely encourage people to do that – generally after you’ve already studied by yourself so you can contribute to the discussion, instead of just mooching off and being a sponge like I was for most of today. Heh.

We found out a few hours ago that our test tomorrow is going to only be 34 questions long, which we have to finish in 51 minutes (compared to our classmate’s 100+ to be finished in 2.5 hrs), and yet it is still going to be worth 15% of our grade. That means missing each question is going to factor a lot, so we have to know each lecture really well.  Bad news for someone like me, who tends to get general pictures, but doesn’t remember details very well.  Well, we’ll see.  I suppose I’ll have to skip grad school in the morning after all, so I can study.  Lots to catch up on…

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