Friday, October 17, 2014

ask me anything: medicine

What's the thing that scares you the most about your future career?

On a professional level, my biggest fear is that I will kill someone. That just comes with the job - someone's health is in your hands, and I'm terrified that some day I will miss something, or do something wrong, and that that will result in the death of my patient. I think that's every doctor's greatest fear.

On a personal level? that I won't be able to do it all - have a fulfilling career, a happy marriage, and a house full (or just 2 to 3) children. I don't know if it's just a woman thing to constantly worry about those kind of things but I'm scared that it won't be possible to "have it all".

How has your vision of your future changed since beginning med school (if at all)?

On a professional level, my future hasn't really changed much. I'm still unsure what I want to do, so I haven't had my dreams broken about being a pediatric neurologist after disliking neuro, or something along those lines. I'm trying to be open to every subject we start, so now I'm at the place where I liked the GI system, and don't think that cardio is for me. I'm hoping that it will all be a bit clearer after third year!

In my personal life though, a ton has changed since I started school last year. I was dating someone for 5.5 years when we broke up a year ago - before that, it was always trying to figure out how we were going to try to figure out 2 lives in medicine that were 3 years apart in the medical school thing. Now I'm dating someone in my class, and that makes it a lot easier to plan a future together.

Can you please explain how you study for exams?

I talk alllllll about that here in this video!

I'd love to read about your studying and working habits - both study techniques, and also how you organize your time.

Organizing your time is really recognizing your own habits. I have figured out that my best study time is at night - I can focus so much better between the hours of 6 PM - 12 PM. I get really easily distracted in the morning, so I use free morning time to get other stuff taken care of - bills, blogging, reading news, running errands. I also am a big list maker, especially when it comes down to the last day or two before an exam. Having it all laid out in front of you means you won't forget anything, and you get to feel a little accomplished every time you get to check something off!

What specialty are you thinking?

I still have no idea, but I think so far I've decided not cardio. I just don't have a feel for it (watch, come back in three years I'll be be in an IM residency for cardiology haha)

What are your plans for taking care of your dog while on 3rd and 4th year rotations? And residency?? I really want a dog but I'm worried once 3rd year hits I'll be gone on some really tough rotations where I won't be home much. Plus I plan to do away rotations my 4th year, and I'll be moving every few weeks/months. Not to mention residency, where I'll be gone for even longer periods of time. I don't have a boyfriend or roommate or family or anything, so I'd probably have to pay someone to take care of the dog and I'm not sure if I can afford that with loans.

I'm moving at the end of the school year for my third and fourth year rotations, and the plan is to move in with my boyfriend. We are planning on being on somewhat opposite rotations, so when one of us is on surgery, the other will hopefully on something less time intense, like family medicine or psych. We'll have three pets between the two of us, so we'll both try really hard to be there for them. But since that may not always be an option, I'm really hoping to find a dog walker - someone who just can come let my dogs out once a day. Ideal situation would be a high school kid in the neighborhood who loves snuggling :) But really, I don't have a full plan at this point. I'm just hoping it works out! I would suggest maybe holding off on getting a dog until residency starts. Between long rotations, and a lot of traveling your fourth year, a dog would be a huge commitment, and it would be super expensive to have to board them all the time. Maybe a cat instead? ;)

Medical school related: I'm taking 2 gap years (not by choice) and I'm applying next cycle. What do you think I should in the mean time to improve my chances of acceptance (and not going crazy before then)?

First of all, enjoy this time! I took two years off between undergrad and starting medical school, and while at the time I was like "OMG just let me start!", looking back, it was such a blessing. It gives you time to yourself, gives you time to have a little fun, and I think it matures you a bit. I would contact your top choice school, and ask to talk to an admissions counselor about your application. They'll tell you what they would like to see you improve on, whether that's re-take the MCAT, take another class or two (I took immunology at my undergrad while I was working full time - my work even paid for it, so maybe look into that?), volunteer more, whatever. I would find something to volunteer at, for both your application and to just do good. I volunteered at a senior center and played euchre with a great group of retired men and women. It was a ton of fun, and looks good on an application. Most of all, use this time to veg, work on yourself, and travel!

Weirdest thing you`ve learned relating to medicine?

You know, there are new strange things I feel we learn every day - like where I stop reading, and say to the person next to me "OMG, did you know blah blah blah". Some of isn't every weird, it totally makes sense, I just never thought about it. Like that if you have a transplanted heart, not all the nerves are connected, so you can have a heart attack and not even know it because you can't feel the pain. Plus there's all the crazy things that happen in utero during development, and the fact that humans evolved to have all these strange shunts that fix themselves after birth. Did you know that there is a disorder where all of your organs are flipped, so that everything that is normally on the left side is on the right? Crazy. Our anatomy lab actually had a body like that a few years ago! There's also a thing called intussusception where one part of your intestines slides into intestines next to it. There's even a meme:

Did you consider/apply to allopathic medical schools?

I did. I applied two times when I was applying to schools, once after working for a year and then during my second year of working. In the first round I applied only to allopathic schools, and was rejected after interviewing at Wisconsin. In the second round, I applied to both. I was again rejected after interviewing at Wisconsin (and boy was I heart broken at the time), but then applied to a few more osteopathic schools, and here I am! I know that osteopathic medicine isn't for every medical school applicant, but for me, it was most important that I get to be a doctor, and not what letters are at the end of my name.

How many med schools did you apply to?

I applied to about 15 allopathic schools, and 8 osteopathic schools. 

What are your favorite school supplies and study tips for staying organized in med school?

In the time of electronics, I couldn't do anything without my computer and iPad. I think an iPad is so useful because you can carry all of your books with you at all times (since almost all hard copy medical school books come with access to the online version), and you can have all of your notes from the past years with me too. There have been countless times since starting systems that I've opened my old anatomy notes to check something. As much as I'd love to have a paper planner, my schedule is updated on a calendar shared with my class, so I just use my iPhone calendar to keep everything in order. Plus I always have it on me, so that makes it easy to always know what's going on.

...but I still really love office supplies too. I've been using these clear tipped highlighters recently, which are great because you can see what you are actually doing. I love the TUL pens, and recently also these Sharpie pens.

How did you decide you wanted to be a doctor?

I have always liked science, and in my senior year of high school I really thought I would be pre-med. Then I went to a huge university after coming from a high school of 250 people total, so I backed off and did what came easy to me, like my English classes. During my sophomore year, my parents sat me down and asked what I wanted to do when I graduated, and then convinced me to at least give science a try. They also suggested dentistry instead of medicine (my dad is a doctor and thought dentistry was better haha) so I was pre-dentistry for a year. After a bit of dentistry shadowing, I knew it wasn't for me though - I loved that it was hands on and you see your patients over and and over again, but it just didn't feel right. I ended up shadowing a family doctor for several days the summer between my third and fourth year, and just fell in love - and here we are!

Do you watch Grey's Anatomy? Do you have a favorite character/couple? Do you look at it differently now that you're in medical school?

I do - I've been a loyal watcher from the beginning. Now that I've learned some things about medicine, it's fun to understand what's actually being talked about. There's also a fun trend in the last year that every time we are learning a certain subject, that's what is on the show! Last week we were neck deep in learning about various heart problems, and then that week's episode was all about cardiology! So that's kind of cool. I haven't worked in a hospital yet though, so that side is completely foreign to me still.

How can I best support my boyfriend who is in the application process? I often feel I am being "realistic" but maybe not supportive enough? Hard question, I know, but I'd appreciate your insight.

I think most people who are applying to medical school know that their chances are slim of getting in, especially if you aren't a 4.0 38+ MCAT applicant. He probably knows that he should be realistic, and everything his advisors and the internet says has reinforced that. I think it's most important to just be supportive of him - sure, being realistic is good in certain situations, but just be there for him as his support system. Let his advisor be the person to tell him to be realistic :)

Maybe you answered this before but I'm new here. Do you take a real backpack to class and/or switch off during the day to a purse at the library or something? I'd prefer something a bit more stylish like a large purse to carry notebooks, etc. but I've been having trouble finding decent options

I use the same bag for everything - it's large enough to carry my computer, module packet, book stand, and usually one book with me. I don't generally need to carry much more than that with me, so it's worked so far! I use a Kate Spade bag I received for Christmas, but there are a ton of bags out there at all price points. On the lower end, I am really intrigued by this bag from Target - it just looks really nice and sturdy, and I love the colors. On the pricier side, something like this leather tote would be a classic for years, yet hold the materials you need (if you aren't carrying that much with you). If you are looking for a cute backpack, I think these from Herschel are great because they are stylish and simple, yet carry everything you need. 

Can you tell us about your undergraduate experience? Your "unconventional" journey to med school is really intriguing and I'd really like to know about how you developed study habits, time management, social/public speaking skills, etc. in your four years of undergrad!

Sure! So like I said, I was a humanities major until junior year when I added biology. It was kind of rough, taking a ton of science classes in a short amount of time, and sometimes I feel a bit at a disadvantage because I never took micro or upper biochem or anatomy or any of those classes (but really in the end it all evens out anyway, it just doesn't always feel like it!). There were classes I definitely struggled with, like physics, and in those situations it's all about reaching out for help. I also had to really learn how to make the most use of my time - I was in the UW Marching Band, and that takes up around 30 hours a week during the fall. Because I declared the science major so late, it did take me five years to graduate (I'm sure my parents aren't too pleased! sorry mom and dad) but I had a really great fifth year experience, including going to the Rose Bowl, and New Orleans for the Sweet Sixteen. I wish I had more concrete study tips or anything, but thinking back, I didn't really have that much of a plan, or compared to now, barely studied (or at least that's what it feels like now haha).

Do you have any tips for studying for science classes? Do you have any tips on how to balance learning material for more than one science class? Do you have any tips for studying for the MCAT? Thank you so much for your time and any help you have to offer. Congrats on two million page views!

I said this in my studying for med school post, but you have to figure out what works for you - are you a visual learner, or a listening learner? Do you need to see facts several times, or can you remember it if you see it once but spend a lot of time with it then? Then find ways that work for you to keep the information straight. I make a lot of tables because I like my information to be very organized, but for example, my boyfriend much rather likes lists. For the MCAT, it really helped me to take a lot of practice tests, and ones that are timed! Get used to the style of questions, and how quickly you have to get through them. Then learn from your mistakes on those tests! Keep messing up a similar physics problem? Really set out to learn those equations and how to apply them! It's tempting to get through thousands of questions, but if you don't learn anything from them, it's a waste of time.

I also live at least partially on student loans, and I wondered if you are ever nervous about eventually having to pay them all back, especially when you discuss buying clothes and things with your loan money.

Money and loans are always a tricky thing to cover, because everyone's situations are different. So like you said, I live on student loans. Once tuition is paid, I have $16,000 a year to live on. That covers rent, bills, car payments, insurance, food, books, and testing costs (the boards will cost me upwards of $1000 in May). So, not a ton of money. At the same time though, everyone deserves to have a bit of an outlet. Everyone in medical school has interests outside of school that cost money. I have a friend who brought her horse here and boards it, and rides it several times a week. That's her thing, and that's what she chooses to spend her part of her expendable "income" on. Other friends like to take pottery classes, or choose to take their dog to puppy daycare a few times a week, or buy decorations for every holiday, or buy upgrades for their car. Luckily we're all adults, and have learned budgeting skills. I have a budget specifically so I live within my means - I have set that amount so I can still do things I enjoy (shopping) while not going into credit card debt or not being able to pay my bills. So yes, in the end, I could take out $14,000 a year instead of $16,000, but buying a new skirt once a month, or upgrading a pair of boots once a year brings me joy, and that's worth it for me to take a little bit more out. I did choose to go to a cheaper school in an area that doesn't cost as much, so I think that also helps. I will be around $200,000 in debt when I graduate, but that's nothing compared to my friend who will be $450,000 in debt after they graduate. So yes, I am nervous to pay all of that money back (a quarter+ of a million dollars when interest is added), but the good thing is that at the end of my training, I will have a job that gives me the means to pay it back.

As someone returning to full time graduate school (law) after working and earning a decent wage for a for years how do you budget your student loans. For the first time ever i will be in a situation where I will have all of my cash for the year in one lump sum at the beginning of the year (September) and need to make it last until may. How often do you "pay yourself" and how do you allocate budgets for each category of expenditure. Also what would u recommend as a contingency/ emergency fund?

So like you said, we receive our money twice a year - we "get paid" in August and in January. The way I do it is that I calculate all of my costs out first - rent, estimated bills, car payment, phone bill, insurance costs, vet costs. I put that money into a savings account, and have automatic transfers set up so that 2 days before my reoccurring costs come up (rent, car payment, phone bill), it transfers that amount over. I do nothing, I never have to think about it - everything is paid on time, and I never run out of money for bills at the end of the time period. Then I put the amount of "spending money" into another account, and have that transfer over $150 every 2 weeks. This covers my groceries, gas, and whatever other daily costs there are. Then I have a certain amount I put into a school account, which is for books, and saving towards the board costs. That way if I need a pathology of the heart book, it isn't coming out of my grocery money and the money is already set aside. Then I put my clothing budget into another savings account, and every time I buy something, I transfer the money into my checking account. Lastly, whatever money is left over goes into a savings account that is an "emergency" fund. It usually has around $1000 in it, and I always try to add a little bit each month from blogging money I make. This has worked out pretty well for me so far!

I am currently applying to medical school and have several interviews coming up. Coming up with the perfect interview outfit is driving me nuts. I currently have a navy blue skirt suit and black wedges, but I cannot decide on what would be an appropriate blouse to wear! What do you suggest for medical school interview attire?

While everyone hates the "penguin suits", it's really the way to go. Black and dark grey are really staples, and probably what I would suggest going with. I wore a dark grey pants suit with a solid colored blouse underneath. Simple shoes, simple jewelry, simple hair and make-up. You want to stand out in a positive sense for what you say in your interview, not for a negative reason because you were dressed inappropriately. It's boring, but that's the way those few hours are. Also, I know it doesn't help, but as long as you are safe in what you wear, what you wear doesn't really matter :) Want to wear a dark grey dress with black blazer? Sounds great as long as it is an appropriate length and not wrinkly. Want to wear your cute new red pants? Probably save those for another time!

How do you suggest preparing for medical school interviews?

Read student doctor network to see how the interviews are set up - are they one on one, or are you in a group? Is it open file (they see your GPA/MCAT/activities) or is it closed? That makes a huge difference since with an open file interview they may ask you about anything that stands out to the interviewer. See if there's a certain question that is always asked, and prepare for that. There are lists all over the internet of standard interview questions, so look at them and practice! I drove 10 hours to my interview here, and I probably talked out loud to myself practicing questions for a good 7 of those hours. In the end, stay calm, be your charming self, and you'll do great :)

I've heard that everybody gets an ego check in medical school, and I just wanted to know how you have personally dealt with disappointment and/or failure. Also, how do you keep yourself motivated with schoolwork and not get burned out?

I don't know if it's really an ego check, because for me, I've always had to work at school - I don't consider myself naturally gifted at all. So for me, coming into school, and having it not come easy was just the norm. Disappointment and failure though, is a whole other beast. I would say I'm disappointed in myself on almost a daily basis. From missing a simple quiz question because I read it too fast, to forgetting to do a heart and lung check during a History and Physical practical because my "patient" was in so much "pain", I'm constantly beating myself up - but that's what makes you learn! Every major mistake I've made on an exam has taught me something, whether it's to take time to actually read the whole question instead of assuming to know what they want, to just actually thinking about a problem if you don't know the answer, to not forgetting to check the damn heart and lungs (this happened yesterday, so I'm still mad at myself, if you can't tell!). The point of all of this is to learn, so I just try to remind myself of that while I'm upset about failing at something. As far as keeping myself motivated, I think for me it's thinking about applications - I don't want an F on my transcript, so that just keeps me going. At this point, failure is not allowed, so I just don't allow it to happen.

Are you thinking of doing a couples match with your boyfriend for residency?

As of right now, that is our plan :) We are moving to the same town next year to do our rotations in hospitals that are close to each other, so we just have to go from there. So much can change in the next few years, that's something I learned first hand in my previous relationship, but it's also nice to have a plan together, instead of two people trying to plan lives that may or may not coincide with each other.

How do you balance being in medical school, having a social life and running a blog?

Part of it is just time management and knowing what works for me. I don't study well right in the morning, so I do a lot of blogging or errand running then. I study well at night, so I don't usually blog during that time. I'm lucky that I live with one of my really great friends here, and my three other girlfriends live right across the complex parking lot, so I get to see them heaps! We make little reasons to see each other, like having our dogs play together for 20 minutes while we chat, or scheduling Thursday nights to watch Grey's together. It gives you something to look forward to, and then you're refreshed when you get back to studying ;)

How did you get used to medical school?

I'll let you know when that happens! haha ;) In all seriousness, that just comes with time. For the first couple of weeks when school started last year, I was having a really hard time - I was sooooooo tired all the time, I was super overwhelmed with anatomy, and my personal life was kind of shitty. I eventually just got used to learning 16 hours a day, I figured out a way how to study, and I got out of a relationship that should have ended before I moved here.

P.S. Last year's AMA on Medicine
P.P.S. All pictures are from instagram :)