blog update

Hi everyone, I will be taking a week off from the blog to prepare for a block final this week. I will also be moving this blog to its own domain, which is going to take a few days :). Everything should be up and running by next weekend.

Stay tuned!

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Melo: the best decision ever

My husband J and I were lucky enough to have met each other four years ago. Within a month we fell so in love and decided to pursue a life together. Sure we were only 20 and still in college, but we were absolutely certain that we couldn’t live without each other. And now we’ve been married for nearly three years. After two-and-a-half years of being long distance we finally moved in together right before I started med school & he started his masters program. Living together and starting the “adult” chapter of our lives was really exciting. I mean, who wouldn’t want to see their best friend all day every day?

It was during that first semester of living together that it hit us: we want; No, we need a baby. Of course it was somewhat of a silly idea. After all, we were only 22 and definitely didn’t want to compromise our future, or the well-being of a baby by not being able to provide all the things a child needs & deserves. Nevertheless we couldn’t shake the desire to have a baby of our own. We had openly discussed the topic of children since the very beginning of our relationship – how many, when, girl names, boy names, what sports they’ll play, will they be a doctor like mommy or an engineer like baba? And hopefully one day that dream of ours will come true.

At that time in our lives we knew a baby wasn’t a responsible choice for us, but we knew that we had so much love to give and we wanted to be able to care for and love something together. It was also a spiritual decision in that, religiously, there are good deeds for showing kindness toward any living creature. So one day during my second semester I was searching local dog breeders when I came across a listing that sold mostly yorkies. I thought a yorkie would be practical, small and easy to care for so it seemed like a good place to start. I sent J the link and he suggested we go check them out. That weekend we drove up to the breeders house. Under a pile of loud yorkies laid a shih-tzu* puppy with the sweetest face in the world. He was so meek amidst 5-6 crazy little yorkies and seemed to not mind that they were jumping on him and using him as a stool. I knew immediately that he belonged with us. Funny enough, I found out later that my husband had seen a picture of him on the breeder’s site and wanted him but didn’t mention it because I had been so insistent on a yorkie, lol. But this little puppy was so calm and sweet that the name we had chosen for him before even meeting him was perfect: Melo, short for Carmelo…specifically, Carmelo Anthony. At 2.5 lbs, Melo was the smallest thing we have ever fallen in love with.

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The day we brought Melo home

I knew having Melo during med school would be challenging. Up until we brought him home I had been attending lectures in the mornings instead of podcasting. But that all changed. I knew he needed to be potty trained and taken care of. At only 8 weeks old he was basically an infant. I decided to stay home and podcast all of my lectures so that I could spend more time with him. I still attended my required lectures, clinical sessions and other club / research meetings, but most of my days were spent studying from home with Melo. It kills me to leave him at home alone and I honestly would not have gotten him if I had not been absolutely sure that I would be able to give him the attention and love he deserves. It took Melo about 2-3 months to be fully potty trained. And though he had a few accidents here and there, the hard work of training him really paid off.

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Potty training is tiring

Switching from attending lectures to podcasting was probably the best thing I did for my time management goals and I wouldn’t have done it without Melo. My current day-to-day schedule with Melo goes a little something like this. At about 7:45am I take Melo on a 1 mile walk which is just enough activity to get him to nap for a few hours in the morning while I do my most intense studying. That means doing my daily firecracker questions (~200) for about 2 hours followed by 1-2 hours of podcasting at 2x speed while I’m on the elliptical. In the afternoon I typically review first aid and flag some more topics on firecracker. In the evening I review topics from previous weeks. I think having Melo has made me more efficient and more conscious of how I’m spending my time. It has also taught me to take breaks and relax, usually by taking him out to the yard to walk around or play fetch for a bit while I get some fresh air. On days when I have to be gone for a few hours I make sure to tire him out before I leave so that he can sleep. If I have an extra-long day ahead, which doesn’t happen often, J will come home during his lunch break and walk Melo.

Balancing med school with having a dog is doable and has brought me so much joy and balance overall. When I begin my third year rotations in June I won’t be able to be home as much as I’d like so we will be getting a new puppy to add to our family so that Melo has a little buddy to play with!

It is crazy to think how much Melo has grown in the year that we’ve had him. He has such a big personality and is truly the love of our life. He’s taught us so much about what it means to love a creature so much that you would do anything for them. He has also taught us a lot about ourselves as partners and valuable lessons about patience, being observant and being present. We hope that these lessons will make us better parents to Melo and to our future children.

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* Melo later turned out to be a pekingese / shih-tzu / lahsa apso mix which we discovered through DNA testing. We are actually relieved to know he was a mix and is healthier because of it. The breeder was, surprisingly, cooperative and we resolved the issue financially. Later I googled her name and it turns out there were many fraud claims against her business so be sure to do your research before buying a puppy!

reflections on empathy and tragedy

Can empathy be taught? Yes and no.

Even when I was just a kid, whenever I heard about a tragic act of violence I would think – “Please, don’t let the person who did this be one of us.” For my family and my community it specifically meant mexican / hispanic / black / an immigrant / undocumented / brown. For a child to acknowledge that the actions of one person could falsely condemn a whole community, while internalizing a fear that it may affect one’s own life, speaks to the cultural and political climate that we Americans grow up in.

Growing up in Arizona as a first generation American was definitely interesting. It is a border state, and one of the most vicious when it comes to its political vitriol. It’s a very unique dynamic to grow up in. I am brown, I have dark hair, I “look Mexican.” As an adult I have pride in these things. But as a kid I learned to internalize these traits as less than favorable, and even learned to hate them. When you’re just a kid you don’t really comprehend the things your parents go through. You don’t understand why your mom was so profoundly upset at something that happened in line at the grocery store. You don’t understand why she is angry that a white woman made her leave the gym pool with three little ones in tow. You don’t understand why the people she works for look down on her. Hell, you don’t even realize that they look down on her. But you know something isn’t right.

Like many children of immigrant parents, I saw my parents work so incredibly hard to provide a childhood for me and my sisters that was infinitely better than what they ever had. I feel guilty for not comprehending what my parents did for me at the time. My mom especially. For 30 years she has worked cleaning houses and it has cost her parts of her health. But why did she do it? For us. I wish I had been able to comprehend the immensity of her sacrifice when I was a kid so that I could have appreciated her even more. As an adult I feel guilt. That heavy, thick kind of guilt. Because of her I am able to worry about seemingly petty things – about time management, about what specialty to choose, or what my sister should name her dental practice. My mother always told my sisters and I – “You have to get an education because no one can take that away.” And so, as a child, I learned that I had no excuse but to get educated and be a successful person because the road was paved for me in the struggles of another. I learned that in order to escape a stereotype I had to distinguish myself in some way. And since you can’t change people’s opinions about your community, you have to change yourself in hopes that it has some significance, right? You hope that you can become an exemplary citizen whose contributions dispel prejudices about your community. You hope that you can change minds for the better. And so you start university thinking that you’re one step closer to making a difference by separating yourself from what the majority hates. But you’re wrong. I was wrong. Becoming an educated citizen of the world was a step closer to understanding the infinite suffering of others around the globe and feeling lucky but utterly useless all at once.

Becoming a Muslim brought me immeasurable peace at a time where I thought I would not have long to live, and continues to push me to be the best version of my self in hopes of bettering the world. Becoming a Muslim came with a lot of responsibility: praying five times a day, fasting during the month Ramadan, giving back in charity, and just being a good person. But what I didn’t know is that it also came with a new level of social responsibility: to shatter stereotypes about muslims, to denounce the marginalization of the muslim community by the mainstream media, to work towards disproving political leaders who use the defamation of the muslim community as a means of cheap political gain. As a child I learned that the actions of one do not define the whole, and now as an adult and a muslim this lesson is more important than ever. Was the education and success I sought out and achieved enough to distinguish myself and my community, or is there more to be done? There is always more.

The deaths of Deah Barakat, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, and her sister Razan Abu-Salha this week are monumentally tragic and are a product of the American culture of hate that is propagated widely and shamelessly. This atrocity fundamentally strikes me not because I am a Muslim or an ethnic minority, but because I am a human. As a medical student this breaks my heart. Deah was a second-year dental student who, with his wife Yusor, gave back to their community at home and abroad. Yusor would have started her first year of dental school this August. They had a promising future and would have impacted the lives of many. I pray that my future children live the way these three did. My heart aches. It aches because this could have been me, my sisters, my friends. They are all of us. The world has lost three young leaders in a senseless act of hate. They were educated, bright, compassionate, exemplary young people who had incredible lives ahead of them. They had achieved everything I grew up thinking would keep someone safe from the hate and discrimination of others. They had distinguished themselves and were truly exemplary in their character, yet their lives were still taken.

Regardless of what community one is part of, we all have a duty to uplift the downtrodden and show solidarity with those who are marginalized whether they are in our city or across the world. So, can empathy be taught? Yes and no. Humanity is a prerequisite of empathy, it cannot be taught because it is already a part of us. The human soul cannot see suffering and not feel compelled to relieve it; it cannot see tragedy without the need to seek justice. It is our humanity that gives us the ability to empathize with the struggles of another. The experiences in our lives simply solidify this and teach us how important it truly is. To deny our ability to empathize and show solidarity with our fellow humans is to deny our own humanity. It is our responsibility as fellow humans to work, with sincerity in our hearts, towards a better world. Towards a present and future where no child inherently knows that they are part of a marginalized community where they will have to work to distinguish themselves from a stereotype; where no child has to grow up fearing that their life could be taken because of what they look like or how they worship.

☮♥

DYR

so you got an interview – what do you wear? ♀

For you ladies out there who have gotten an interview (congrats!) or are simply thinking ahead, another dilemma awaits you: what do you wear? You’ve probably read blogs or forums giving you the basics on interview attire for women. I, too, read these and was still pretty confused. Honestly I was a little jealous of how easy the guidelines were for men. So hopefully I can help with a few do’s and don’ts of what to wear to your med school interview.

Whether we like it or not, our first impression is purely physical. A clean, put-together look is imperative. A look that isn’t professional or even worse, sloppy, will hurt you. A friend / classmate of mine and I were discussing this topic recently. She had been interviewing prospective students at one of our interview days and was shocked at how much the initial physical impression affected the rest of the interview. Your interviewer should not be distracted by your appearance. On the contrary, your first impression should be a positive one so that the rest of the interview can focus on what you’re saying, your strengths as a person, and why you’ll make a great future physician.

Dress professionally. You will likely end up wearing some kind of suit, either a pantsuit or a skirt suit. Whichever you choose doesn’t really matter as long as it suits your shape and you feel confident. East coast interviews tend to be more “traditional” and it is common knowledge that a skirt suit is preferred for women. Personally, I wore my pantsuit on my East coast interviews because I prefer them and don’t appreciate the archaic notion that women must wear a skirt to look professional. I digress. Bottom line: pick a suit style that fits your personal style and comfort level – you’re going to look great regardless. Great places to look are Dillards, Macy’s, Express, Banana Republic, J Crew. I got mine from Express, similar here. Although I chose to wear a black suit, other colors are options as well. As long as you keep it simple, grays and dark blues can look amazing.

A tidbit about skirts. Make sure that the skirt you choose to wear is of professional length and cut. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen ladies on interviews with skirts that are too short, too tight, and altogether too revealing. That means: slits that are too high on the back or the side; and skirts that are made for anything but an interview.

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As far as a blouse is concerned, choose a color that won’t be distracting. Most people opt for white. I personally chose a white silk blouse with black lining. In retrospect, I wish I had worn a color that I liked instead of what I thought was expected.  However, if you know you look amazing in a more bold color go for it. You can always maintain a professional look while staying true to your personal style.

Heels. Even if you’re an expert in walking in heels, try to keep your heels under 3.5 inches. You will likely be walking a lot during your interview day and you want to be as comfortable as possible. Remember, you want to be your best that day and painful heels will definitely distract you. I loved the heels I wore on all of my interviews, but made the mistake of not breaking them in before my very first interview. It was awful – so many blisters! I wore them to all of my interviews and still use them for clinics or conferences. Investing in a good quality heel will pay off in comfort, style, and longevity. Avoid heels that are too high or too flashy – you’re not going out, this is an interview that could decide the rest of your life. Save those heels to celebrate after you get in!

Flats + Wedges. Though heels are more common along the interview trail, flats are certainly a great alternative. To be honest, half way through most interviews I was pretty jealous of the other interviewees in flats or wedges. If you do choose to wear flats with pants make sure the pants are short enough so they won’t be dragging under your shoes.

FullSizeRender (1)Hair + Nails. Keeping your hair simple is key. If your hair is long or you find that it gets in your face often, consider pulling it back into a ponytail, bun, or half-up. I have pretty long hair that falls in my face so a half-up style worked best for me, and kept me from messing with it. Nails are another area where simplicity pays off. A clean, trimmed set of nails goes a long way. If you choose to wear nail polish, go for clear or quieter colors.

Makeup. Less is definitely more when it comes to makeup. Makeup routines vary so much from person to person so it’s completely up to you what products you decide to use, but the overall goal is to be natural, put-together and clean. A fresh face, some mascara and subtle lip will go a long way. If you’re looking for inspiration, there are thousands of tutorials on YouTube, like this one.

What you wear on your interview is all about being able to feel comfortable and confident. Once you’re offered an interview you are that much closer to an acceptance. It’s a time to show why you’ll make a great fit, so it’s important to make a lasting impression. It’s also important to stay true to your personal style because buying pieces that you’ll be able to use in the future is so important, especially since we are all poor students with crippling debt :). Overall, don’t let anything on your interview day distract your interviewers from what is really important: you.

third year clerkship schedule

Happy Sunday, everyone!

This was a very busy week for me. On top of block and board studying, I attended a conference where I presented my current research. It was my first conference and it was an oral presentation so it was definitely a bit stressful. It went well, however, and I really enjoyed getting to spend some time with my friends who also got to present. As a med student you know that your peers are smart, but you forget how brilliant they are sometimes. Watching my friends present their incredible research was really exciting. It was also really fun to spend some time at the beach (because we tried to study there but obviously couldn’t get a whole lot done, lol).

In late January we had submitted our preferences for our third year clerkship schedules. Third year clerkships or “rotations” are where you get to use all of the endless information you acquired your first two years of med school and apply it to the clinical setting. It’s also a time where you solidify what your interests are and what specialty you’ll choose to pursue. On top of all of the fun exploratory stuff, you still have to perform at your best in order to be evaluated highly and be worthy of your attendings’ letters of recommendation for residency applications. That sounds like a lot, but I’m really looking forward to it. After all, I’ve been in a lecture-based setting my whole life and this is the next step towards becoming a physician.

My school offered a choice of 16 pre-arranged “tracks” that we could choose from. We were asked to rank all 16 tracks and then submit our list in order for a lottery to be run. It was rather stressful because clerkship order is important, and getting a track that you weren’t totally fond of wouldn’t great, though you could certainly make it work. The only piece of advice that we were given is to make sure what you’re interested in is not first or last. That still leaves a lot of questions. I scoured the internet for other med student blogs that might offer insight on what the “best schedule” was, but it varied. I also asked a few of my friends that are residents or current third/fourth years. I found this resource to be the most helpful.

Though I don’t know exactly specialty I’m set on, I have a few that I’m interested in: surgery, peds, ob/gyn – in that order. With that I was able to look for tracks that would keep these three somewhere in the middle and definitely not first/last. I had also been told that in order to do well on on the surgery shelf exam, a strong background in internal med is a great starting point. I know for sure that I’m not interested in internal med as a career, and since it is so fundamental for success in other rotations I decided to place internal med first.

A few of my friends and I submitted the same rank orders since we know we would work well together and also have similar interests. And lucky for us we ended up with our first choice!

As far as subsurgical specialty choices I’m leaning heavily towrads Ortho. I’ve had exposure to the fireld through an ortho elective and find it surprisingly interesting. We also have the option to choose a hospital setting or a private practice setting for a few clerkships. I’m considering doing ob/gyn in private practice because my friend (who is now an ob/gyn intern) had such a great experience doing that. Also, ob/gyn tends to be more of a malignant experience for medical students at my institution’s hospital so private practice seems like a better choice for me, especially if I’m looking to learn a lot and be an active member of the care team.

I’m so excited to start clerkships this June. I’m also looking forward to sharing my experiences regularly through this blog since insight into the clerkship experience online is pretty bleak.

Have a great week!

quick travel update

Studying on the beach is impossible when you’re somewhere as beautiful as Carmel, CA. I feel very fortunate to be here for a conference with some great friends, and even more fortunate to have a day off to explore this quaint little town.

New blog post coming Sunday 🙂

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the one about undergrad

Once upon a time, I was an undergrad. Just kidding it wasn’t even that long ago, I graduated from college in Spring 2013. I never really liked the label “premed.” It always sounded so pretentious and automatically conjures a specific stereotype – you know the one. I started college knowing that I wanted to go to medical school, and I knew that undergrad would define the kind of applicant I would be. So, I did everything with the intention of using the opportunity to go to college to become the most well-rounded student I could be.

Being a first generation college student had its challenges but it was definitely a blessing as well. With no one to pave the way for me or tell me what I should and shouldn’t do, I was responsible for every aspect and outcome. That meant figuring a lot of things out for myself and that was okay – if anything I was even better at navigating the nuances of college because of it. Being in the Honors program also encouraged me to explore ALL of my interests in a meaningful way. You only go to college once (usually), so why not go all out?

Majors. I knew that going to college was an opportunity that many don’t have so I felt that I should get the most out of it. Knowing that I wanted to go to medical school, I signed up for my university’s BS in Physiology, which is a challenging program. I think a lot of people in that major only chose it because they, too, wanted to pursue medical school, dental school, or otherwise. And unfortunately, by the second semester of college many people had to drop it and switch career goals altogether. I chose Physiology because I knew I could perform well and I was confident in my ability to succeed.

I’ve always loved to read and enjoyed writing. Some of my favorite classes in undergrad were actually composition classes. So I decided to pick up another major that would allow me a more creative outlet and a “break” from all of the stress of my physiology major. I started my BA in Religious Studies my second semester of college. I absolutely loved that I could think in a concrete/analytical sense in one major, while exploring the abstract, intangible parts of existence in the other. Having these two very different majors allowed me to stay grounded and focused on the bigger things in life without getting bogged down by all of the neuroticism that often accompanies a premed track.

I was raised speaking Spanish and English so I’m a native speaker of both. I had always wanted to improve my literary and written Spanish. I saw no reason for that improvement not to take place in college so I picked up a BA in Spanish & Portuguese around the same time that I had picked up my religious studies major. And since I already spoke a few languages, I figured, “Why not learn another one?” So I added a minor in Arabic.

Juggling three majors, a minor and 19-25 credit semesters was by no means an easy task, but I’m certain that my ridiculous course load on top of volunteering, working, and leadership roles prepared me for medical school.

Extracurricular activities. By the time I started college I had already been volunteering in Peds/PICU at the university hospital for three years. I loved working with the children on those wards and continued to volunteer there until I started med school. By the end of my first year of college I got an email calling for applications for a Student Coordinator position with the Hispanic Scholarship Fund. I applied and started my work with them that summer. I had heard somewhere that leadership roles were essential to a med school application, so I figured why not start my own club and be president of that? And that’s exactly what I did. I established the HSF Scholar Chapter of my university and got a few of my friends to serve on the executive board with me. I was never one to get involved in other “premed” organizations, and I saw starting my own club as something I could really grow and be proud of instead of latching onto something else. Through the Scholar Chapter we outreach events to underserved high schools & middle schools; talking to parents and students about college, and what financing a college education was all about. Encouraging students and families from lower-income districts to go to college was something I was really passionate about. I was part of other med-oriented interest groups and clubs, but the scholar chapter was my main focus.

Research. Finding and getting to actually participate in research as an undergrad was such a hassle. Many research faculty don’t take undergrads very seriously for the most part. Fortunately there was a program at my university that selected a few dozen students each year for paid research positions. I started working in a neonatal nutrition research lab right after my first year of college. I learned so much and developed a huge appreciation for the research process. Though I didn’t get published, it was definitely a great experience that I was able to talk about along the med school interview trail.

Money. I financed my entire college education with scholarships. That wasn’t easy, though. I applied to every scholarship I could find and got some really great faculty/staff to write me letters of recommendation. Applying to scholarships was basically a job, but it was worth it to not graduate with debt! The last two years of college I worked as a tutor, nanny and clinical assistant in a private practice.

Tips:

Don’t pick a major you hate just because you think you have to. If your goal is to go to med school but don’t think you can truly excel in a science major, that’s okay! Choose another major where you will do well, instead of struggling. The prereqs for med school will still be science, and since you won’t have an entire major that is super hard you’ll be able to focus on your prereqs a little more. Plus, many of my classmates come from a predominantly non-science background and they do very well.

When it comes to finding research experience as a premed you really have to show your prospective PI that you’re committed, interested and a hard worker. Research experience is vital when applying to some schools so it’s important to do your best. It’s also nice if you get a letter of recommendation out of it.

Be involved. It’s better to contribute significantly to one activity than to be involved superficially in many.

Apply broadly to scholarships. You never know what you might get!

I didn’t take any time off between undergrad and med school. After graduation, I relaxed, worked a bit, and traveled before starting med school that Fall. I know for a fact that what I did in undergrad had an impact on my med school performance. My physiology background helps with my medical knowledge curriculum and systems-based learning. My religious studies and language knowledge helps with clinical situations where communication and empathy are key. And the general craziness of my undergrad work load helps with balancing the stress of the demands of med school. Oddly enough, I actually have more free time during these first two years of med school than I ever did during college!

Undergrad is a time to explore all of your interests and become a better person. It’s a critical time from 18-22 where you really grow into yourself. You learn a lot about yourself, your goals, and what you really want out of life. The biggest piece of advice I have is to construct your own journey (both in school and life), because what works for someone may not work for you. Also, try to remember how privileged you are to be worrying about school, grades, and a future in general. Having the opportunity to attend college is a luxury, let alone med school. Whenever I feel stressed, I try to remember how fortunate I am to be where I am because education isn’t something afforded to everyone in this world. So use your education to make the world a better place, because in the end it won’t matter what your major was or if you got a B; what will matter is that you bettered the lives of your patients and their families.

early step 1 study plans + resources

In a little less than six months from now I will be taking the biggest test of my life: USMLE Step 1. Not only is it an 8-hour mental marathon, but also a huge deciding factor in residency applications. Residency programs typically have Step 1 score cutoffs that they do not interview below, so getting a high step 1 score is definitely favorable regardless of what specialty you choose.

USMLE Step 1 Basics:

– 7 question sets of 46 questions each; 1 hour for each question set

– 1 hour of break time total

– Much longer question stems than our med school tests & require multiple steps of reasoning/knowledge PER question

– Did I mention it’s the most important exam of my medical career?

The preparation for Step 1 begins the first day of med school. And though I didn’t  go out and start memorizing First Aid right away, I did study for all of my blocks with the intention of retaining that material. Now that it’s the second semester of MS2 I’ve been getting opinions from residents and third / fourth years into what worked best for them. Nevertheless, I know that I don’t do well when I strictly follow someone else’s study schedule – I have to make my own! This Saturday I took an NMBE practice exam that my school requires in January, and again in April to assess performance and improvement in each class. Approximately 99% of people (out of a 112 person class) fail the first practice test since no one has really studied. I got an approximate step 1 score of 164 – yes, I know scores are often “taboo” to share but I really don’t care. I’m pretty happy with my initial score because it’s better than most of my classmates and also gives me motivation to improve! Also, our school’s average is approximately an 80-100 point improvement by the time we actually take step 1 – so that’s pretty exciting!

After taking inventory of all of the resources available for step 1 studying I’ve decided to a pick a few that have worked best for me so far. (I’m not sponsored by any of these, just want to share in case it helps anyone!)

1. Firecracker*. What can be said about Firecracker besides the fact that it’s the best thing I’ve ever used for long-term memory? I’ve never been a “flashcard” person but the fact that I don’t have to make my own and everything is ready to go for me on Firecracker really drew me in. I’ve been using it pretty consistently since the end of MS1, doing approximately 50-120 questions per day. I plan on having all 2,081 topics flagged and reviewed at least a few times by mid-April, so that my “dedicated study weeks” will be strictly review.

2. Picmonic*. I love picmonic. At first I was skeptical of looking at crazy pictures with narratives and medical knowledge all in one, but this is the only way that I’ve learned all micro + pharmacology. It has also been great for biochemistry. Plus, Picmonic was actually created by students at my school so it’s even more awesome, obviously.

3. Pathoma. Besides Dr. Sattar’s extremely soothing voice (lol!), Pathoma is an incredible resource for learning important pathology and the associated physiology in an efficient, comprehensive way. I’ve used Pathoma for every block in med school and will continue to review it as I go into board studying.

4. UWorld Qbank. I just bought Qbank earlier this week and have done a few dozen questions so far. It was pretty expensive compared to the other resources but the general consensus is that it’s worth it. I really like the explanations at the end of each question set. There are 2,000 questions that I plan on going through once before April. And then at least 1.5 more times before taking the test in June.

It’s hard to narrow down which resources work for you but in the end I feel confident using the ones I mentioned above. The one thing no one ever mentioned was HOW EXPENSIVE all of the resources would be. I digress. I have approximately 15 weeks until my dedicated board study period begins, at which point I will become a recluse that will likely not see daylight during the weeks leading up to my test date. But until then I’m going to focus on going through the material at least once while balancing these last two blocks of the MS2 curriculum. These are the most dreaded six months for some, but I’m pretty excited. Plus, this week I’ll be meeting with one of my school’s “Learning Specialists”

In the next post I’ll discuss my premed/undergrad career and what I would have done differently! Till then, here’s a picture of Melo – he’s not really a morning person. 🙂

* [For you premeds out there, they now have an MCAT program!]

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this week in med school – the one with the surgery mixer

Happy Sunday! This week was the first week of second semester of MS2. I arrived from travelling a few days into the week with a raging cold! It’s pretty funny because prior to winter break I thought to myself – wow, I haven’t gotten sick in, like, a year. Ooops. And so I basically did nothing all week and this weekend was spent doing some intense catching up. The current block is called “Life Cycles” and it is basically what it sounds like. It’s centered on reproductive anatomy, physiology, embryology and all the fun path that goes with it. I’ve been looking forward to this block since first year since I heard everyone wants be an ob/gyn after finishing it, but we’ll see about that!

My biggest struggle right now is figuring out how to incorporate focused board studying during this last semester of med school. Step 1 is in June, and I plan on taking it really early that month to give myself two weeks of vacation before starting clerkships. My institution allots 6-weeks of dedicated board study time starting in mid April, but of course that’s not enough time. Studying for step 1 really does start the very first day of med school and I’ve studied for blocks with that in mind. But now that I have six months until step 1, it’s time to get focused and effective. I have a general idea of my study strategy but I will have a definite plan by the end of the week and will share it in my next post. For now, here are the resources I’m going to use: Pathoma, Firecracker, First Aid + UWorld qbank.

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On Friday night, my fellow coordinators and I held a student/resident/attending mixer for our chapter of the Association of Women Surgeons. One of the breast surgeons on faculty was generous enough to host the event at her home. I had been looking forward to the mixer for months and was so excited to meet and talk with female surgeons and residents about their perspectives on balancing a surgical career, family and life in general.  We had an incredible turnout that included three orthopaedic surgeons, two breast surgeons, and the chief of surgery herself. One resident joined us as well as about 15 other med students. I’ve been drawn to surgery for a while now and it was so refreshing to get a female’s perspective on how the surgical climate has changed over the years in terms of welcoming more women. I mainly chatted with an orthopod who specializes in foot and ankle surgery. She was so cool and easy to talk to; and I really loved how real and genuine she was. Though she did stress that surgery, specifically ortho, is extremely competitive, she also made it clear that a supportive mentor is extremely important at any level of a surgical career. All of the surgeons at the mixer were incredibly supportive of other women choosing to pursue a surgical career and were extremely receptive to all of our questions. It was really great to be among such inspiring women. When I think of my future specialty I struggle with what I want my life to be outside of work and talking to the surgeons reminded me that I can have it all, but it will be hard work. And that’s okay, I’m a med student after all – delayed gratification and hard work are my specialty :).

I’m really looking forward to this week, since I will finally get to work with some pediatric patients in our teaching clinic. At my school we are separated into groups of six students + a faculty mento, called our “Societies” group. We start from the first day of med school seeing patients every week in the hospitals, teaching clinics or simulation labs. Up until now we have only worked with adults, and I am SO excited to finally work with kids. The children in this week’s clinic will range from a few weeks old to adolescence.  We will see real children and their parent or parent-equivalent with the goal of learning the unique aspects of the pediatric clinical encounter including the importance of development, prevention, and age relevant approaches to the pediatric physical exam. Did I mention how excited I am?

Have a wonderful week, everyone!

guest interview: mommy in med

Happy Friday everyone! Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what it will mean for me to be a mother in medicine one day and the experiences that will entail. I think the female med student/resident/attending perspective on balancing motherhood, career, and lifestyle is an extremely important one that may not be discussed as widely as it should be.  For today’s blog I featured an inspirational classmate of mine, L. She was kind enough to answer some of my questions to share with you all.

1. How many children do you have and how old are they?

I have seven children, 4 girls and 3 boys.  From my first marriage, I have three kids, ages 18, 16 and 13 and with my current husband, we have four kids, ages 8, 7, 5, and 2.  My 18 year old, is autistic and will likely always live at home.  I don’t have religious reasons to have so many children.  If I did, I’m sure it would make me look more sane.  I grew up in a large family (the oldest of nine) so it feels “normal”.  My mother was the oldest of 12 children.  They are a huge family of cattle ranchers and everyone worked to help out from the time they were small.  We’ve always viewed large families as an asset.  When I was growing up, we were the “city folk” that would help for large cattle drives, branding the calves or slaughtering the chickens, but the ranch wasn’t part of my daily life like it was for my cousins.

2. Why did you choose to go into medicine?

As a young adult, I had no clue what I wanted to do.  I had a number of scholarships, but I just wanted to play once I went to college, so I took general classes and had a “B” average.  I didn’t get into drugs or alcohol, but did a lot of skiing, hiking, rollerblading (it was something people did back then) and hanging out with friends.  I was unmarried when I had my first child during the second semester of my sophomore year.  It was surreal.  This little human was completely dependent on me.  But once I was a parent, I found myself again.  I went back to being an “A” student.  I found a job at a bank as soon as I finished maternity leave and it paid almost twice as much as my previous job plus I had health insurance benefits for myself and my daughter.

I did my best as a single mom, but it wasn’t easy.  She literally didn’t sleep more than 2 hours at a time for the first 2 years of her life.  Even today, she doesn’t sleep much.  When she was 7 months old, she began having issues with a seizure disorder and was hospitalized on a number of occasions from complications.  She saw a pediatric neurologist, but none of the medications worked for her.  When I told him that her development just didn’t seem quite right, he listened to me and referred me.  I took her to learning specialists and speech therapists.  She was in early intervention programs for “speech and language delay”.  But why she was delayed in speech and language, we didn’t know.  I remember when she was 5 years old, I received a phone call after 8:00 on a Sunday evening from her pediatrician who had just returned from a conference on Autism.  She was so excited because she thought of my daughter and couldn’t wait to call me to let me know the news.  It was hard news to hear, but it was good to finally have an idea of what we were actually facing.

I married my daughter’s father when she was a year and a half old.  To finish college and chose the easiest degree I could think of (which was a B.S. in Photography.)  I continued with my job at the bank to support my first husband as he finished his degree and our eventual three children.  I took promotions and worked my way up.  After I divorced, I kept working at the bank.  I don’t think I actually stopped to figure out what I wanted to do, but did whatever made the most sense for my family.

When I was remarried and pregnant with my 5th child, I asked my husband if I could quit work and be a homemaker.  He knew me well and warned me that I liked to work and would hate being at home.  I insisted I would love it at home, so he reluctantly agreed I could quit.  It took me less than a year to realize that he was totally right:  I needed to do something.  I liked volunteering, but felt like something was missing.  I knew that I didn’t want to return to banking, I wanted to do something that had more meaning to me, was challenging and that I felt good about.  I think the experiences I had with my oldest daughter and her medical needs that helped me realize that a physician can affect lives in unique ways.  I can thank my daughter for helping me find my path to medicine.

3. How has being a mom affected your med school experience?

My first year of medical school, I was determined that I would have the same medical school experience as everyone else.  I joined every club.  I went to parties and tailgating with classmates.  I did “electives” and started “distinction tracks”.  I volunteered to work with underserved people and volunteered to help with alumni events and for the medical school graduation ceremony.  Anything that I thought sounded interesting, I wanted to try it.  But, I saw very little of my family.  Luckily, I did a rural professionals summer program that allowed me to take my family to a rural place to do a rotation.  The doctor I shadowed had kids while she was in medical school and advised me to have fun and enjoy my summer with my kids.  She invited me over for a July 4th barbecue with her family.  She encouraged me to take the kids fishing and to the local community pool.  After the 6 week rotation, I returned home, but I had a hard time getting back into the swing of medical school.  I didn’t want to be away from my family so much.  Prioritizing is difficult, something always has to give.  I decided to commit specific time to my family.  I dropped out of some of my extra clubs (like the a cappella group) and started volunteering a lot less.  Overall, I don’t know if being a mom changed my medical school experience.  Some of my classmate are dating and I know dating is time consuming.  I don’t really watch television but most people do.  We all fill our time with something and we all have to balance school, family, friends and self.  So while my time is consumed differently than others, I don’t think it’s very different from other medical students.  I think we all took on too much at times.  Reprioritizing is part of medical school.

4. Do you have any advice for current moms that are interested in pursuing medicine?

  • Shadow physicians:  make sure you like the job you want to do.  If you don’t love it, don’t do it.
  • Nothing is better than having great childcare.  If you feel good about where your kids are and who they are with, you can feel good about what you are doing when you are away from them.  It’s worth every penny to have better childcare (I personally recommend family or a nanny if at all possible.)  Make sure you have backup childcare as well.  And backup to your backup childcare.  In other words, you need to know that if you couldn’t be there, it would work out, somehow.
  • Don’t let people tell you that “you can’t…”  No matter what it is.  There are many ways to do things, so maybe you just haven’t found the one that works for you.  There will undoubtedly be roadblocks.  Be strong enough to find the alternate path.  Don’t let rejection be an excuse.  I was rejected my first application year, waitlisted my second year, but got into multiple medical schools the third time.  I just had to try different approaches each time.
  • There will never be a good time for things.  If you wait for the best time to come, it won’t.  A pre-med friend of mine had morning sickness during the MCAT and didn’t do well.  She decided not to apply with a poor MCAT score and instead to take time off to prepare for her little one and retake the MCAT again in a year.  But a year later, she was so busy with her baby and she didn’t retake it.  Now, I haven’t had the heart to ask her why she hasn’t applied yet.  Maybe she she decided against it or maybe she has applied but I just didn’t hear about it.  She’s young, she has many years to decide.  But I kind of think you “lose” the work you’ve already done as time goes by.  Recent experiences matter on the medical school application just as much as a history of experience.  So if you’ve already done a lot, don’t make it a waste.  If you really and truly know you want to be a doctor, don’t say you couldn’t because you were a mom.  It’s not fair to them or to you.  If you want them to reach their potential, you should reach yours.
  • Make sure to take the family with you on your “journey” to medical school.  Help them be part of it, if you can.  It was the coolest thing ever to see my little ones jump up and down cheering when I got into medical school.  The teens, didn’t jump up and down, but I’m pretty sure they gave me a fist bump or something.  I’ve been working on this very hard for 5 years now.  The kids are still excited and tell me they hope they can become a doctor someday, too.  Well, three of them tell me that and one of them is a 16 year old teenager, so I think that’s impressive.  This journey didn’t ruin them.  Cloud their judgement, perhaps, but not ruined. And they don’t seem to think I’m the worst mom ever.  Or they are super great at hiding it.
  • Reflect.  Take the time to think about yourself, your weaknesses, your choices, your plans, your children, your significant other, your strengths.  What could you have done differently?  What are you glad you did?  What do you like?  What do you not like?  What makes you happy? How do you learn? How did you get to where you are?  What stopped you from taking another path?  What are you doing?  Are there other options? Use reflections to re-evaluate and prioritize.  Plus these sorts of activities are needed for medical school essays.  Trust me, I filled out 40 secondary apps my 3rd time ‘round.

5. Do you have any advice for other moms currently in med school?

Stop doing things because you’re supposed to do them.  Think about your time as a valuable thing.  Now granted, you need to “waste” some time each day, so make sure you waste it in ways you choose instead of letting wasted time happen to you.  Overall, how you spend your time matters.  There are so many things that don’t matter and as moms we get wrapped up in the guilt of attempting to do it all perfectly.  I think the type of person that goes to medical school may be more likely to demand perfection of herself than other moms.

Does it matter if I wait 15 months for the dental check ups for my kids when it’s supposed to be 12 months?  Meh. They don’t have cavities, so it’s not the end of the world.  And yes, those dishes really will still be there waiting for you after you tuck the kids in to bed.  They can wait: they are ridiculously patient, those dirty dishes.  Are you in the PTA because it brings you joy and overwhelming happiness, or do you feel like it’s what you’re supposed to do?  I personally would prefer to spend time reading to my son’s kindergarten class than attend PTA meetings.  Have your kids help you decide. If my kids ask me to volunteer a half hour to pass out flyers for the booster club, I ask them if they would prefer I set aside that same half hour for them, doing something they like, like maybe going to the park.  It helps them to realize that life is full of things you can do, but you shouldn’t do it for the sake of doing it.

You already know this, but you could study every moment of every day and still not be done studying.  I’d rather spend 2 hours when I’m alert and ready to study than 6 hours inefficiently rereading notes.  Just do what you can as efficiently as possible, then let it go…..

Oh, and ditto on my childcare sentiments for pre-med moms in the previous question.  Worth it. I’m pretty sure if you got into med school, you got this.  But how on earth do you find the time to read a blog? Kudos to you: please share your wisdom with me.

6. Are you interested in any specific specialties right now? If so, how has being a mom influenced your decision?

I’m still undecided.  One comfort is that I will be happier in any specialty I choose than I would be in another career, so I can’t go wrong.  I considered specialties that are more conducive to family, but am leaning towards surgery which, well, isn’t.  I think overall, the fact that I have a family won’t change the specialty I choose.  There’s no reason to put in so many years of education if it isn’t the specialty I love best.  I figure that even if it’s a longer residency, it won’t really matter.  Residency is similar to what we will be doing the rest of our lives, so the length of residency isn’t a factor in my mind.  The hours should be an issue to me, but they aren’t because I know that I would rather work more hours at something I “love” than work less hours at something I only “like”.  The thing that I am finding the most difficult is possibly moving.  I moved my family over a thousand miles for medical school.  I would feel guilty moving them again for a residency program.  Moms always wonder if they should have done something different.  It’s something that plagues moms in any career.   Luckily, there’s no right answer.