I get to be a sorta-kinda-almost doctor now!

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Well, it’s here, that moment we’ve all been waiting for when we are unleashed up onto the hospital wards and allowed to actually take care of patients. No, we’re not doctors yet…but we are 3rd years and with that new title comes the time to close (most of) our books, leave the lecture halls and learn, quite literally, on the job.

This week I began my 6 week rotation on OB/GYN. With my crisp, clean, new white coat with personalized embroidery and blast-from-the-past beeper in hand, I looked like a doctor but sure didn’t feel like one! I would be lying if I didn’t say that I am quite literally terrified of what this year has in store.

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In my past 18 years of education I have mastered the art of having teachers present material to me and then regurgitating it back to them on exams. Classrooms, books, and tests have defined my entire life. But now I have a new set of teachers, my patients, and the final exam is no longer a set of multiple-choice questions, but instead involves the health, well-being, and wholeness of a person.

Today I scrubbed into my first surgery, a vaginal hysterectomy/cystocele & rectocele repair/sling placement, and it was awesome!!! I felt completely incompetent wandering around the halls of the OR suites and mostly just tried to do my best to stay out of everyone’s way. It’s terrifying to feel like I have no clue what I’m doing, but at the same time I know that I’m doing my best to learn fast.

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Despite my best efforts, I know that I will make mistakes. My hope for this year is that I will not lose sight of the fact that each decision I make and the effort that I put into learning during the next 2 years of clinical training will have an impact on countless people either for the good or for the bad. I hope and pray that I will be able to honor the patients that put their lives in my care by learning absolutely everything that they have to teach. I also desire to learn from my residents and attending physicians who have an infinitely more advanced depth of knowledge and experience. I hope that I will not take one moment of this next year for granted for the formative power that it has on my training to be a caring, compassionate, and knowledgeable physician. Despite the apprehension and uncertainty that I feel when thinking about beginning this new year, I am also excited for the new experiences that will come my way!

Saying Goodbye to 2nd Year

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Many people have said that the second year of medical school is the hardest and most grueling year of all.  I’ve heard countless people tell stories of how busy, exhausting, and completely consuming 3rd year is, but it is always followed up by the statement, “But I’d take just about anything, including getting hit by bus, over 2nd year.”

To be completely honest, this was in fact one of the most challenging years of my life for reasons that extended far beyond the rigorous course work that we were faced with each and every day and the ever-looming presence of Step 1 (the exam that makes even other medical licensing exams cry themselves to sleep out of fear).

HOWEVER, I can honestly say that despite the challenges that we faced this year, I will look back on 2nd year with fond memories and a never stronger sense of the presence of God’s guiding hand in my life.  Let me take you through a quick whirlwind tour of what the end of this year was like and what made it so challenging, but I promise there’s a light at the end of the tunnel so keep reading!

From January on, the only thing that 2nd year medical students across America have on their minds is Step 1. This is the mother of all exams; it is 8 hours long and covers all of the content that we have learned in the first 2 years of medical school – anatomy, physiology, cell & molecular biology, immunology, behavioral science, biostatistics, preventive medicine, biochemistry, pharmacology, pathology, pathophysiology, psychiatry, and neurology.  Now this test wouldn’t be such a big deal if it didn’t have so much weight toward which field of medicine we will ultimately be able to enter.  It’s basically the MCAT of residencies and our scores will either make us eligible for competitive specialties like surgery, ophthalmology, radiology, or not.  The saddest part, in my opinion, is that students who may excel in those fields because of their clinical skills and passions may not have the chance to experience those professions because this exam holds so much weight in residency applications.  This was one of the things that I struggled with the most near the end of the year.  I watched countless classmates, who I know will be incredible healers struggle beneath the weight of the pressure that this exam places on students.  The tensions were certainly high and at times the morale was low, however, I can say that the silver lining through it all was learning to trust more in the fact that God has called us to this place to serve in a profession that he will placed us in.  If he has gotten us all this far, then surely he will see us through to the end.

Despite the challenges that we faced during 2nd year, I promised that there would be a light at the end of the tunnel.  Medical school is a process that is so much more than simply learning how to be a doctor; it is a process that challenges people at the very core of who they are and I can honestly say that I have enjoyed that challenge.  I’ve been stretched and forced to grow in ways that I could have never imagined.  I have been required to search for the true reasons why I chose to enter this profession.  I have made the best friends of my life because of the common struggles that we have faced together.  I have been inspired to grow in my walk with God.  I have learned more than I ever thought was possible.  And I have been humbled by the realization that I will never be able to learn everything there is to know about the workings of the human body.  Although the process has been challenging, frustrating, and seemingly impossible at times, I now stand on the other side of the first two years of medical school and can say with confidence that I wouldn’t change anything and would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

 

I would be remiss if I did not take a moment to thank the incredible people who helped make this year both meaningful and enjoyable!:

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My study buddies, Scott and Justin.  We met both years for 2 hours almost every night, 6 hours every Sunday, and ran through at least 45,000 flashcards – about 15,000 cards times a minimum of 3 repetitions. I couldn’t be more blessed or more thankful to have had them by my side through this journey.

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My fellow “Carrelers,” Keri, Krisalyn, Melissa, Stephen, James, David, Linden, Casey (not all of whom are in this picture). I spent my afternoons studying with these wonderful friends in the Study Carrels of Alumni Hall throughout 2nd year.  I have been continuously inspired by each and every one of them and have been spiritually and emotionally uplifted by each of their friendships.

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Dr. Werner, our famed professor of Pathophysiology and the Dean for Medical Student Education to whom we owe our gratitude for continuously inspiring us to never stop learning and to be the absolute best physicians we can possibly be.

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And my classmates, who I love with all my heart!  Coming to Loma Linda and joining these incredible, talented, brilliant, God-fearing, and all-around absolutely wonderful people was the best decision of my life!

I have a pager and a white coat with my name on it???

Kristina, Third Year Medical Student

First year – check. Second year – check. Step 1 – check. Orientation week – check. Tomorrow, with white coat on and pager in hand, I step onto the wards.

It’s both exciting and scary that these mile markers for medical school have passed already. For so many years I have been learning from behind a desk, and now it is time to actually do things.

As I look back on the last two years, it is pretty incredible to see how I’ve changed and been molded to face the changes of medical school. The experience has enabled me to get to know myself in a more raw and vulnerable way. I’ve discovered strengths and weaknesses that I didn’t realize during my college years. If this has only happened in the first two years, I cannot even begin to imagine the changes I will experience in the last two years!

With Step 1 (part one of three board exams that dot the path to becoming an MD) behind us, it’s so interesting to even see the changes my classmates went through in such intense stress. I saw some burning out, some are peaking just at the right time, some in a panic to get the highest score possible, and some at peace with just getting it over with. I realize that we have all come to this point in order to become physicians by mostly studying, studying, occasional OSCE…studying, studying, …and more studying. Yet this is one of the first mile markers of many that REALLY stays with us significantly into the future. I really try not to think of that too much as I wait for my score to arrive sometime in July.

Although it has been draining, I have gained some of the valuable things this year. One of the best things I have experienced is making new friendships and strengthening existing friendships like never before in my life. My friends that I have made in medical school are definitely ones that I will keep for the rest of my life. This is one thing that I have absolutely loved about second year of medical school. In college, I had a harder time getting and maintaining friendships. I’m not sure why. Maybe I spent too much time in the chemistry lab, or maybe I just wasn’t a friendly person! But this year, the hardships have made friendships stronger, and that is something that I will always treasure. Because it’s these friendships that get you through the rough times, and it’s these friendships that make the good times even MORE awesome.

Another thing I’ve really learned this year that has been VERY important for me to “turn off the chatter”. There are always people around you suggesting the newest and best resource for preparing for classes and step 1. The class nearly goes into a panic at the beginning of second year trying to find the best books and notes and flashcards and dropbox pdfs in order to succeed in classes/boards. Early on, I found that this kind of talk reallllly gets to my head. And even though I managed to turn the chatter off first year, I had to do it all over again second year. As a result, my days grew to be spent entirely at home with studying from 6am to 11am, working out, eating lunch, studying from 1pm-6pm (with an occasional 20 minute power nap thrown in), dinner break, then studying from 7pm till about 10pm. Repeat the next day. Yes, it did get a bit lonely at times, but I was MUCH more at peace and much more focused.

This past week we had orientation, which was…..interesting. We had a lot of lectures about smoking cessation, preventive medicine, ethics, and some about how to succeed on the wards. There were ups and downs in my attention span, I will admit.

Thursday night was the clinical commencement dinner for our class at Castaways restaurant. It was so awesome to see everyone in nice outfits, all done up for the occasion! But what I think I loved the most was seeing how relaxed everyone was. Seriously, I don’t think I’ve seen such relief on our faces in all my time here. Now, come our first presentation to our attendings in a few days, I don’t think that will be the case! But, I loved seeing so much happiness then.

The program consisted of a vocal rendition of “Let it go” by some of my classmates (Hans, Ben, Vincent, Jackson, Vanessa) and I along with an encouraging and educational speech given by Dr. Werner on how to succeed in third year (probably the most informative speech of all orientation week). It was an awesome evening of no studying, good food, awesome friends, and a gorgeous sunset.

So in short…third year starts tomorrow. Without a doubt, I am SO happy second year will be over and behind me. But about third year, I’m not going to even pretend like I know what is going to happen, because frankly, I have no idea! I’m sure I will miss the days that I could completely control my schedule and plan my fun activities around my studying. However, at the same time, I so appreciate the first two years of molding me into being a better doctor and a better friend. I have grown in my solitude of prayer and study this year, and now I’m ready to continue growing around patients, attendings, residents, and nurses.

And the saga continues…

Sincerely,

Kristina…now MS3

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How did a year go by so fast?

Tiffany, First Year Medical StudentWow I cannot believe how much I have learned this year! After completing 2 weeks of tests, one week of normal in house exams and one week of finals/national mock boards, I wasn’t feeling super knowledgeable. I was wondering was this whole year a waste? I was exhausted and literally going blind from studying non-stop for 3 weeks. But now I am on wards in Internal medicine and I can clearly see how much I have learned. Everyone says that you’ll be amazed by how much you learn but I didn’t know how amazed I would be. I recognize some basic medications, bio-chemical pathways, visual signs of diseases, tests, and lab workups. Instead of just nodding at what the residents are saying I actually understand almost every word and for once in my medical career I do not doubt that I can do this. I was even able to complete a history and physical exam. Don’t get me wrong there is still SO much that I do not know but I am confident that in 3 years I will be able to graduate and become a competent Intern.

My first year of medical school has been filled with many ups and downs. Good grades and not so good of grades, days when I felt like I learned a lot and days that I felt were a complete waste, and feelings of excitement for what my future holds and feelings of terror for what my future holds. Some days I had to remind myself that this is an opportunity I have been working towards my whole life and have even begged God to give me. I would never have been able to make it though this year without the incredible support of my family, friends, husband and God. What has gotten me though the hardest of days is knowing that I am pursing a career that I know God has called me to do. And He doesn’t make mistakes so obviously I am supposed to be here. Since I was a little girl I have felt that I was put on this earth to be a physician but it wasn’t until later in my life that I realized it was God’s call to service that I was experiencing. I thank Him for giving me this chance and believing in my capabilities when I didn’t believe in them myself.

Here’s to two more weeks on pediatric wards and then summer vacation! I will be running a summer camp research project and traveling to Greece, Turkey and Austria with my mom. It’s going to be a busy but fun summer. See you all in the fall.

Changes

Hayley, Fourth Year Medical StudentIn two and a half weeks the familiar faces of the class of 2014 will be lining up with hats, robes, and tassels to celebrate the completion of medical school. Many people say “medical school has flown by!” But as I think back I can remember the different years, the different flavors, the different themes. There have been so many changes – new friends, new relationships, new habits, new life directions – in both my life and in the lives of those nearest and dearest to me. I want to tell you what I remember of the four years in medical school and if you are in one of those years and feel like your life will never change, you can feel comforted knowing change is always around the corner in medical school.

First year:

New. Everything was so new. I couldn’t believe I lived somewhere where palm trees grew! Centennial complex was shiny, new, and so big! The cadaver lab was formidable. The lectures were intense – and there was tons of information to learn. Many of the subjects I had already had in college – biochemistry, anatomy, physiology – so sometimes studying felt boring. Also I wasn’t always sure why what I was learning was important. The application often evaded me. But I was a Medical Student. I had that brazen confidence of first year students. I was used to being the top in college and confident my mind could grasp anything professors cared to throw in my direction. When people asked me what I was going to be, I confidently told them I was going to be a Doctor.

Second year:

Overwhelming. First year is hard. Second year makes first year look easy. So Much Information. I felt like I was constantly drowning in a sea of pathologies I should know. Cloistering myself in the study rooms in alumni hall kept me focused… I would last there 8 or 9 hours until I got too hungry or tired or my eyes couldn’t focus anymore and then I would trudge home with my bag of books, ear buds droning Goljan, till I got home and could get out a “fun” book – something like clinical microbiology made ridiculously simple – to read while I ate something. Then out for a walk with the flashcards I had been pumping out all afternoon, then back to my bedroom to flip through some powerpoints and pathology slides. Repeat times infinity – or at least that’s what it felt like.

So many flash cards

So many flash cards

I remember one time during second year I went to the bank and needed to talk to a teller about something. While I was waiting in line I almost started crying just from the stress of being out in public and having to talk to strangers. I felt like I couldn’t even cope in society because I was so sequestered all the time. And then of course, as second year students are wont to do, I began to worry I was developing agoraphobia (which I had just recently learned about). When people asked me what I was going to be, I told them I was hoping to be a doctor someday.

Third year:

Busy. Being on a clinical rotation is much like being in a small boat tossed by the whims of the ocean. Sometimes the sailing is smooth and you can go where and when you want, but often your direction is completely out of your control – your schedule fluctuates dramatically from one week to the next as your team shifts or your rotation switches. There is really no pattern that can be established. In my scant time off I was constantly reading review books to try to prepare for the inevitable board exam at the end of each rotation. But third year is no second year. Seeing the faces of patients, understanding that the hours I had poured into learning meant something, made a huge difference to my morale during third year. I was excited to read about sarcomas because I wanted to learn more treatment options to talk about with Ms. X. I wanted to know why enterocutaneous fistulas stayed open so our team could move Mr. Y toward resolution of his large EC fistula. Everything had a lot more meaning for me. When people asked me what I was going to be, I told them I was learning to be a doctor and hoping to go into obstetrics and gynecology.

Asleep in the physician’s lounge between surgeries – instead of waking me up when the next surgery started, my attending texted me this picture.

Asleep in the physician’s lounge between surgeries – instead of waking me up when the next surgery started, my attending texted me this picture.

Fourth year:

Unique. I feel like no other year in my life will ever be quite the same as the fourth year of medical school. The first third of the year is intense – sub-I’s (sub-internships – where you attempt to play the role of an intern on your team) back-to-back, collecting letters of recommendation, the step 2 board exam, filling out the online application forms and the stress of wondering if you will receive interviews (you will – unless you completely disregard Dr. Shankel’s advice).

Then the middle third of the year is consumed with flying all over the country, evening dinners with crowds of people you don’t know, endless small talk, and always – “why do want to go into obstetrics and gynecology? Why do you want to come here?” Cities I interviewed at included the greater LA area, Palo Alto, Seattle, Portland, Minneapolis, Rochester MN, Denver, Chicago, and Boston – as you can imagine it is quite a feat to coordinate interviews especially when interviewing in specialties like OB-gyn when the program often only has 2-4 days on which they interview between October and January. Some programs just told me a day that I was going to interview.

One of my interview trail essentials – dry shampoo.

One of my interview trail essentials – dry shampoo.

When the flurries of interviews are over and the ranklist is formulated there is an interminable period of waiting. Waiting. You are aching to go to your number one, but you try to stay on okay terms with the top six on your list so you won’t burst into tears on match day.

Then match day comes. The tension is unimaginable. It is the culmination of everything you have been striving for tirelessly for the past four years. I remember the long hours in the cadaver lab first year, the even longer hours bent over pathophysiology notes during second year and the sleepless nights on surgery in third year. Did it pay off? You open the envelope and suddenly there are no more possibilities. There is just the one reality and that is your future.

And now, when people ask me what I’m going to be, I tell them I am going to be an obstetrics and gynecology resident at University of Washington next year.

Extremely happy on match day!

Extremely happy on match day!