Categories
Life Medical School Medicine

I'm Back– Close Calls, Boards, and the Start of Third Year

My life looks very different now than what it did 5 weeks ago. And, 5 weeks before that, I was in another galaxy. I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but these last couple months have been more of a startling transition than going from college and a summer off to matriculating the first year of medical school. I will say though, this transition has brought much more enjoyable changes.
So let’s start back at the end of April/beginning of May during board exam preparations when I deleted every social media app and other time-sucking things from my life and moved in with my best med school friends; it simultaneously became a huge load off my back having awesome roommates and being in a more nurturing place at home, but then it got a whole lot more stressful because Macy and I needed to buckle down and study. Hard.
This was 6 weeks before my big test, and classes were already over to give us time to study for boards on our own. (Before I go on, for all you non-medical people- passing this test is crucial to moving onto your “clinical” years of medical school and an absolute necessity for getting the big D.O. after my name. Residency programs look at this test score and assess your worthiness, and if getting into medical school isn’t hard enough, I daresay this was about 437 times harder than anything I had to do to get in.) Anyway, I took a practice test that the school required we take to make sure we were ready to take the exam and pass it.
I was not at a passing score at that test, 5 weeks out from D-day. I’ve debated writing about it because it feels like a big deal to talk about scores. This test and the months of preparation leading up to it are such a big part of my life right now and no one shares their scores except with the closest of people. Still, I want to share at least some of my story for the same reasons- because it is such a big part of my life and I learned so much.
I was devastated about this practice test score for days. I curled up in my mom’s lap and cried. My dad bought me a Quiktrip pretzel and told me to take a step back and maybe talk to the school about pushing everything back a few months. I cried to an attending physician in his office- the medical school equivalent to calling your teacher “mom”. Still, I decided to buckle down and move forward as planned and the plan was to pass at all costs.
I knew balance was key and I needed to stay sane with breaks and hobbies, etc, but I also wasn’t stupid. I knew my “studying status quo” of cooking a nice dinner, running 4-6 miles 5 times a week and taking Netflix breaks- even without the social media- wasn’t going to cut it. With a very important deadline, some more sacrifices had to be made.
I think I ran a total of four times in that last month. I watched one 22 minute show at the end of my study days. I started drinking Ensure nutrition shakes for meals. I lost 20 pounds in the 6 months before my boards, which is not a healthy amount for me by the way. I gave my dog back to my mom for a number of weeks. I went to an 8-5 board review class and stayed. awake. for. the. whole. entire. week. I hit the books hard and cried and panicked and learned more than I have ever learned in my entire life. I was also very miserable and alone for the majority of every single day for those six weeks.
I took two more practice tests before my exam, and I surprised myself, getting significantly better each time. I didn’t really know what to expect as far as what kind of progress was possible that close to a test date, but I did it. As well as I was doing, my anxiety lurked in the shadows during every minute I wasn’t studying. I would go get dinner with Dru and inside my heart was pounding, saying “You’re going to fail because you didn’t bring your book with you.” In the shower every night, “You don’t deserve a break with scores this low.” Laying in bed, biting my lips until they bled, texting my family and anyone else that would listen to try to get any sort of 5 second reassurance where I didn’t feel like I was going to vomit my esophagus up into my mouth. The harder I studied, the more I feared I would not pass.
Being naturally high strung, having anxiety, and a having healthy dose of fierce test anxiety to boot, I fully expected to need a dart gun to feel calm on test day. The night before, I took a Benadryl and a melatonin at 6 PM just to cover my bases. I added an ice pack on my head and a heating pad on my feet for good measure. I was out by 7:30PM. I woke up that next day and grabbed my packed lunch and rode with Macy to the testing center as we were taking it on the same day. I felt like everything was going to be okay. I got low on time during the first four hours, and I had never needed extra time before. Still, I didn’t feel nauseous. Even during lunch, when my mind was able to wander,  I didn’t ever feel like it wasn’t going to be okay like I had been feeling for the past 6 weeks. Macy and I finished and went home- together, relieved, overwhelmed and exhausted- where my sweet boyfriend had cleaned my house and got me a couple precious happy gifts. Still, it would be another 6 weeks before I knew for sure I could take a breath.
In that 6 weeks I spent a lot of wonderful, mostly stress-free time with my family, roomies, and Dru. I learned Advanced Cardiac Life Support. Some of us went to the lake and saw lots of med school friends that we hadn’t really been able to let loose with really since orientation before first year. It was sweet, sweet relief to my tired, studied-out soul. Memories were made that I know I’ll cherish forever.
And then we started rotations. Possibly the most daily rewarding thing I’ve ever been privileged to be a part of. This useless noggin full of jumbled up, color-coded notes and random lectures finally has a use and can make heads or tails out of what’s actually wrong with my patients! (most of the time.) It is much easier to read medical things at night and on the weekends while being able to put a real patient’s face to the condition I need to learn more about.
I got my scores back last week and I was mostly pleased with the results. In my Type A hindsight, I like to think I could have done more and gotten an even better score by tweaking some of my preparation, but I do I know I did my best and really got a much needed confidence boost out of finding out that my best was good enough this time. Medical education can be extremely taxing in the self-doubt department and make you feel like you’re failing all around because it is so all-encompassing, all-consuming. This was not one of those times.
If you didn’t want to read the whole thing and scrolled down to the end here; I can really sum it all up by saying how extremely blessed I am to be in a career with these sorts ups and downs. Where the rewards are that much sweeter because of the trials. I can focus now on being the face-to-face, compassionate, knowledgable, doctor now that that pesky test is in my past; thank you Jesus.
I’m also lucky because of everyone that brought me meals (thanks, mom), sent me encouraging texts, cupcakes, edible arrangements, Starbucks, and hugs. My roommates really pulled together and helped me get through, while also studying and working really hard themselves. My family prayed for me and supported me emotionally and financially and recruited others to pray as well. My school faculty and classmates supported me and gave encouragement, resources, advice and kicks in the pants where needed. Dru loved me, taught me a lot of test material, and listened to me whine repeatedly; he did dishes, cooked meals and absolutely knocked his own test out of the park all at the same time.
I don’t remember where I read it or if it popped in my head or where I got it, but somewhere along the line, I told my family that I had a mantra for this seemingly insurmountable test. I started telling myself “You are overestimating the problem and underestimating yourself.” It sounds crazy at this point in my life that I would still be crippled at times with self-doubt and confidence when it comes to my ability to belong to this schooling and eventual career, but I do. Even after I got accepted to medical school, if you had asked me to look at a future hologram snapchat video of me seeing patients competently and happily coasting into the start of third year in July 2016, I would have said an incredulous, dumbfounded, “No, that can’t be me.”
It blows my mind, in the best of ways. 
 

Categories
Medical School Running

Olympic Years and Boards Fears

You guys. It’s an Olympic year. Rio 2016. I don’t know how many of you know this, but I friggin’ love the Olympics. I’m not really that patriotic any other time, there’s just something about the USA’s best of the best going to compete against the world. And- even better everyone gets to see the runners that I love perform on the world’s stage.
It always surprises me that the best of the best of America’s runners train together. You would think they would hide in their respective corners of the country and conceal their earth-shattering workout times and world class coaches and not let anyone know their secrets. In reality, its quite the opposite. They gather in Flagstaff like Amy Cragg and Shalane Flanagan, or Portland, or Boulder and take training trips up to altitude together. They run their tune up races stride for stride with each other. Its a pretty great example of how no one truly succeeds on their own. They push each other, help each other come back from injuries and pregnancies–yeesh!- faster than anyone would think possible.
Once they make it to the World Champs and Olympics these runners face the reality that they are now competing against their best friends, sometimes roommates, and running partners for the gold metal. But, they all know they never would have qualified without their teammate pushing them there.
My class is freaked out about boards. So freaked out, in fact, that our school cancelled a previously mandatory class this semester to make room for a mandatory board review class. Today, during that class, one of our professors told us how the last class that got a 100% board pass rate managed to pull it off. It was simple. They decided they weren’t going to let anyone fall back. They saw to it that everyone was going to do their practice questions, put in the work. We are eventually going to be competing against each other for residencies- but this is not the time for that. We all have to pass first. Its like making the US Olympic team together before you line up at the start and see which runner has what it takes to take it all the way to gold that day.
We are all starting from different places. Some of us are seasoned marathoners just following our routine that’s always given faithful results.  Some of us are transitioning from really great 10k performances to the almighty marathon- and hoping to be able to manage the mileage. Some of us cough-me-cough-cough are like Kara Goucher when she first went pro, who has been on the elliptical 4 hours a day for months doing no real high-impact work and instead of getting somewhere, got a stress fracture in her femur. Yes, that happens. The point is that we get everyone out there on the roads, putting in miles and hitting their splits.
I want to tell everyone that my class didn’t let anyone bow out of the race early. I want to tell everyone that even though some of my teammates are better than me, that we all helped each other get on Team USA. Those that fell or got injured, were lightly nurtured back onto their feet and shown that they have what it takes to still finish strong.
I’ve found my resolve. Let’s do everything we can to get there.
The Olympic Trials Marathon is February 13th. It determines who’s going to Rio. Our boards are scheduled throughout May and June. That is our qualifying race.
Class of 2018- Let’s take these boards to Rio!
 
 

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Categories
Medical School

2nd Year Rut: Revisited

Apparently I scared my mom with my last post. I didn’t mean to be all dark and twisty. In medical school though, the drag on and on is not really a huge negative every single waking minute. We still lead pleasurable lives. To all of us, the huge amount of work is simply a fact of our lives right now. No more depressing than a weather report.
“It’s 14 degrees outside.”
“I have to spend 14 hours studying today, tomorrow and the next day.”
They are one in the same.
After that blog published, several classmates told me they felt the exact same way. We just keep on going. So in that, I find inspiration. We just keep moving forward, trucking on through. I wouldn’t rather do this journey with any other group of people anywhere on earth.
 
Allow me to bring last weeks post into a more positive light. One of runnings’ most fulfilling qualities, to me, is its incessant ability to apply as a versatile metaphor for medical school and life in general.
The semester stretches ahead of me- my last body systems courses, my last months in the classroom, my first board exam, studying for both as much as possible- it all looms ahead like a road race I didn’t train for.
I’m nervous. Scared I won’t be able to finish. Dreading the pain and suffering. The anxiety is enough to make me want to sit this one out. Wait until I’m better prepared. Go back home to my warm bed, and promise myself I will start training for a different race…tomorrow of course.
Suddenly I remember all the other runs I’ve dared. How they empowered me and I always came out stronger on the other side. I remember how sometimes I was cold or uncomfortable. Maybe I was having a hard time breathing or got spooked by a shadow. Sometimes I had other things I wanted to do but I chose to invest in a little run to get my heart rate up and my mind in the right place. This semester stretches ahead about 97 times longer, harder, and more daunting than I would like. Something always keeps me coming back to it though, just like how I do with running. Signing up for road races- and medical school for that matter- seems to be a lot more difficult than I bargain for a lot of the time.
I’ll make it though. I always do. And I always look back at how far I’ve come, amazed, legitimized, privileged and strong.
Will it hurt? Yeah. Could I be doing something else more fun with my time? Probably.
But with my heart already racing, mind full of worries, and soul growing weary with the weight of it all; I can’t help but take a deep breath, put my toe on the starting line, and wait for the gun to go off, so I can give it all I’ve got.

Categories
Family Friends Growing Up Life Medical School

2nd Year Rut

I wanted this blog to be real. Honest. No sugar coating it.
Med school sucks sometimes. There I said it.
Its three days into a new semester and I’ve already hit a wall so hard that I can’t even sleep. Usually when I don’t want to study, I can sleep, or at least binge watch something while simultaneously “candy crushing” until sleep finds me. Here I am, though- its 2 AM and I’m Facebook stalking pictures of myself while I was in college, feeling sorry for myself.
Something is off. And it has been for a while.
I feel happy each day. I wake up, I eat, I laugh, I study, I see my friends, I sleep. Even my family is always close by when I need them.
But, after looking at my own pictures on my feed, I see I’m not even the girl I was a year ago. That girl was “pinch me” happy to be in medical school. That girl lived to go into school each day and learn. That girl was running everyday. She loved going out, even on weeknights- regardless of the sleep she’d lose- just to be with her new friends, gain the life experiences.
I loved my first year of medical school. It changed my life in all aspects for the better.
Shortly after first year started, an older gentleman in a restaurant overheard me using “first year” and “second year” terminology and leaned over and said “You must be in law school, using those words.” I smiled and proudly said, “No sir, I’m in medical school.”
“My mistake,” he smiled, “Congratulations then.” My “thank you” to him was heartfelt and beaming with pride. I was passionate that I was finally where I had wanted to get to all these years.
Last year, it was this all-consuming-love-of-my-life and I couldn’t talk about anything else because I was so enthralled.
Now, I’m this 15lb. heavier zombie, dragging my sedentary body around with my arms in front of me growling and yelling “SLEEP!!!! Where is my sleep?” and feeding on any friends and family nearby, sucking them into my darkness whenever possible.
I don’t want anything to do with going to class or shoving any more knowledge into my haggard, feeble, and engorged brain. Hanging out with friends? Forget about it. The first thing I do after class is come home, throw my jeans on the floor and sit in bed. I study when I have to and do anything else besides school that I can find when I don’t have to.
My best friend asks me how school is going “Horrible,” I say. “can we talk about something else?”
 
 
So tell me, which girl do you want to be your doctor in a few years?
 
 
I’m not the type to squander this opportunity. I truly, deeply want you to know that I know I should be more grateful. I know I am extremely privileged to be able to pursue this profession. I just happen to feel like its costing me a lot in this season of my life. I know these feelings are normal too. I know I’m human, but I hate the fact that I am already this burned out and broken down by my medical education. It’s hard, though. Its hard to go back to the honeymoon phase when you’ve seen medical school in the light of day.
When you’ve had to miss birthday parties.
When you’ve had to tell your nieces that you can’t make it to dinner.
When your jaw is throbbing from clenching it when stressed.
When you miss those concerts with your friends.
When you feel 80 years old for wanting to sleep at 7:30 PM and you are only 23.
When you have to start studying for a $600 test 6 months in advance.
When you want to be active and run and play and shop and dance and stay up until 5AM with your girlfriends.
When you want to be sore and tired from all the things you did that day, but instead you are sore from sitting on your leg too long and you have a hand cramp from writing too much and you are tired from straining your eyes.
All for a potential illness you have not yet learned in a future patient you have not met, in a clinic you cannot picture. There’s no such thing as instant gratification in med school. I have only a far off hope that someday, some rewarding case will instantly make it all worth while. Do you see what I mean?
 
 
In undergrad, I was very wary to not use the term burned out whenever I was frustrated because I knew how much longer I had to go.
But this…there is no other word for this than burn-out. I flailed through last semester and faked it til I made it but three days in to my second semester of my second year and I am having some serious trouble.
The worst part is- I don’t have a solution.
I’m struggling. I’m doing my best. I try to find the good. I don’t let comparisons to my awe-inspiring friends and classmates steal my joy. I stay disciplined to my studies. I keep my head down and work. I just keep swimming.
I guess I know I’m doing something right when I wouldn’t trade this crappy 2nd year rut, for any other experience anywhere else.
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