Quarter Century Update: Writing, CPR, Neuroscience, and Finding a Balance

This might sound silly, but I am destined to do something great with life. Perhaps we should all feel this way to some degree. It drives my intrinsic motivation haywire and might explain my joining the military to be a physician. This might also explain why I feel a lurking presence telling me I should be doing more. I want to do something great, but I cannot tell you what that is yet. If it’s not medicine, I want it to be a book.

My greatest goal in life is to write a novel. Nothing like the ramblings in this blog, mind you, but something more legitimate. There’s a story I have been wanting to tell for quite some time. Still cannot figure out how I want it to end though. Maybe I’ll figure it out as I put the pieces together and start letting my stream of consciousness take over into something of substance.

An unfortunate thing about creative writing: I am most motivated in times of emotional despair. Words come easily when my amygdala is on fire. Probably related to why the most amazing artists have the most tragic backgrounds. I will use that as one of my explanations for the gaps in my blog posts during medical school: I am having a great time and do not feel the need for writing to be an outlet for negative energy anymore. I think I need a new approach: channeling my positive energy into writing as much as I use it as an emotional outlet.

In other news, I turned 25 on Friday. Celebrated at the Cheesecake Factory (my fave) and received warm wishes from friends and family all over. Birthdays 23 and 24 don’t feel like too long ago, yet so much has happened in the past couple years, let alone the past few months. For one, my first-author manuscript about hippocampal volume changes in childhood-onset schizophrenia has been accepted for publication in Psychological Medicine! Achieving a first-author publication has been a dream since I first looked into working at NIH. I have experienced my fair share of projects falling through last minute, as is the case with medical research. I am lucky to have a few co-authorships, but achieving that first-author was a battle and great success.

For anyone curious about post-winter break USU curriculum, CPR (cardio-pulmonary-renal) and Neuroscience modules have certainly lived up to their reputations. Most organized modules but also the most difficult. Rumor has it that school is much easier during GI module, which seems like a break in comparison. Honestly though, in CPR I began relaxing more and successfully struck a balance in this work-life business that people say you lose during medical school.

Medical school is about balancing priorities. Mine are academics, mental wellness, physical health, and family/friends (I show up to the important things)… with my priorities in that order on a normal school day. Others likely have a different order, especially if they have children, focus on extracurricular organizations, or are social butterflies. We all have our own methods of studying and we all have our own methods of decompressing. You do you.

CPR was a great opportunity to find that balance, and I have kept it up in Neuroscience. The module directors in both of these modules are beyond accessible and approachable; faculty members genuinely want their students to succeed. I watch a lot of television these days, but I feel my time spent studying is more high quality (I will let you know if I am singing a new tune after Tuesday’s midterms). CPR and Neuroscience have Dean’s Time galore (2-3 free afternoons a week), making it easier to keep up with the material. I find this is the case more so with Neuroscience because CPR had dozens of assignments due (plus I was not a huge fan of the graded small group sessions), but the nice thing in CPR was having a full week dedicated to both midterms and finals. My preferred study style is old school: by myself, with papers and notebooks. Some other classmates prefer the group style and/or computers/tablets.

Our combat medical skills classes have been pretty cool the past few rounds. Military Medicine is an overarching module we have interspersed in our curriculum. We’ve learned how to intubate and other methods of establishing an airway, how to appropriately assess a patient at a scene and safely transport them, and we’ve done basic IVs on each other. Later this week, we will be doing more advanced IV techniques (still on each other) that involve injecting local anesthetics. I’m both excited and terrified! [Note: no one is pressured to perform the procedures or to have IVs done on them, but most people do. The goal is that we know the process and are familiar with these techniques during our preclerkship years].

Life has been treating me well. Today is actually the first day in two months that I have not had a low-grade fever, and I am finally recovering from an unfortunate bout of pneumonia. Oh right, my other explanation for not updating my blog… The Saturday after our CPR midterms, I went on a 7-hour GoRuck event romping around DC with some Air Force buddies. I had a sore throat before the event, which likely predisposed me to catching something more serious. I progressed to full-blown “I have never felt so awful in my entire life” within 24 hours and lost 8 pounds in the first week. Don’t worry, I got my appetite back pretty quickly and found those pounds again. All that matters is I am finally feeling well and got my much-needed energy back, hence motivation to write 🙂

Well, that’s all I have for now. Neuroscience is certainly my favorite module thus far — coming from a Neuroscience major who wants to specialize in something related to Neurology/Psychiatry. No matter your interests, opening a human skull and dissecting brains are surreal and truly amazing.

Stay tuned for an up-to-date COT packing list for those of you heading to Alabama this summer. TBA in a future blog post.

Happy Spring!

Personal Statement Throwback

I’ve been reading through personal statements for friends applying in the upcoming medical school cycle and decided to look back on my own. Best of luck to current applicants, and congratulations to matriculants! …

I grew up in a family of philosophers and poets, free-thinkers and political activists, intellectuals and athletes. My upbringing framed limitless goals for the future, which were as expansive as my interests. I wish I could say that my love for science and the desire to be a physician run deep in my blood, but my relationship with medicine began in college. In high school I had said, “I can see myself as anything but a doctor.” The universe only heard ‘doctor’, and my goals for the future shifted dramatically.

My first semester freshman year, I completed the physical science requirement with General Chemistry 103, thereby eliminating any future obligations to science. My chemistry professor shared his philosophies of life to the 100-person audience consisting of mostly pre-medical students. Occasionally, he paused from writing on the blackboard, turned to the large lecture hall, and broke into poetry. Reciting memorized works or thoughts of his own, he often began with, “Science is beauty, and there is beauty in science.” My introductory chemistry course taught me more than the art of balancing reduction-oxidation equations; I learned how to approach the unfamiliar world of science with my background in humanities. Medicine became a marriage between the disciplines of science and humanities, and I see now why my professor found it so beautiful.

Benefiting from an undergraduate liberal arts education, my interests adapted from humanities to the sciences. By the semester of Spring 2010, I declared my major in neuroscience for an interdisciplinary exposure to science and declared a minor in mathematics with a focus on mathematical modeling of biological phenomena. I appreciated the complexities of brain activity determining how we sense, perceive, behave, and function; thus my fascination with molecular networking in the human body began.

The transition into science felt surprisingly natural. My parents and non-nuclear family fostered an environment of self-reflection and independence, giving me the opportunity to grow in any field of my choosing. As my pursuit for a pre-medical education continued, my mother, already diagnosed with bipolar disorder, began to decompensate in mental and cognitive function. The impact of disease goes beyond the biology of the affected person and alters one’s abilities, lifestyle, and relationships. Her battle with mental illness reaffirmed my desire to become a clinician and inspired me to combine compassion, intellect, and curiosity into a career.

My proclivity towards psychiatry brought me to the Child Psychiatry Branch at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in July 2012. After settling into my research position, I remember meeting an 11-year-old patient in a wheelchair admitted for our childhood-onset schizophrenia study. Dark circles under her eyes, thin, and clearly agitated, this little girl was lost in her own world and could not register my “hello”. About three months later, when I walked into the unit, she jumped into my arms for a hug. Hand in hand, we paced down the hallway to calm her and to talk about the day. At rounds before the girl’s discharge, our team members reflected on her hospital stay. Her father smiled with tears in his eyes as he thanked us for bringing his daughter to life. With careful observation, diagnosis, and treatment, the psychiatry team prescribed her the right dose of antipsychotics that improved her functioning, and to some degree, saved her life.

The girl reminded me that although the human body functions remarkably, we are naturally flawed in biology. Perfect health is nonexistent, and physicians play an integral role in nurturing well-being. The responsibility of physicians goes beyond addressing immediate clinical presentation; they also provide hope for patients to think beyond their conditions and enjoy a better quality of life. I embrace the challenge of a clinician to address patient health within my community, no matter what specialty I ultimately practice.

The distinguishing factors between a good doctor and a great doctor elucidate traits that determine the success of one physician over another. A good doctor is quick-thinking and intelligent. A good doctor is highly organized and dedicated to medicine. A good doctor effectively diagnoses and treats patients. However, a great doctor executes the roles of a good doctor in addition to fostering interpersonal relationships with patients, colleagues, and fellow health professionals. A great doctor builds trust, fundamental for the success of a clinician. Beyond the academic traits necessary to be a good doctor, I believe I have the personal characteristics from my experiences to become a great doctor. In the pathway to becoming a qualified physician, medical school provides the necessary skill sets through relevant coursework, exposure to specialties, and actual clinical practice.

I aspire for a career in medicine, an ambition that feels true to my character. My foundation as a pre-medical student is strong, and I would appreciate consideration to attend your institution. I guarantee that I will be a valuable asset to the medical community, and medical school is the next step of my journey to becoming a qualified physician.

Oh, the places you’ll go!

T minus 74 days until my last day at NIH, and 4 weeks after that I will head to Commissioned Officer Training in Alabama. From there on out, I will be a busy busy medical student. Surprisingly, I am not too worried for medical school because classroom academics used to be my jam. It’ll be an interesting transition, but I am looking forward to it. Plus, I’ll be close to amazing friends, my nuclear family, and I’ll have Andrew for emotional support at home when I hit the books day in and day out.

In the meantime, I have a massive to-do list. To touch on a few of these would be awesome, but I want to take advantage of the time I have before the ball gets rolling.

  • Travels galore – – I am truly a homebody, but I appreciate going to new places and seeing how life away from home is. Every new place gives me a better understanding of the world and how I fit into it. Mostly though, I like visiting friends and having them teach me about their lives in a different location. Just returned from Czech Republic and Austria (blog post TBA), with future plans to go to Chicago, Canada, New York, Boston, Maine, and Brazil.
  • I have been gunning for an independent project and first-author publication at work since I interviewed and asked about writing opportunities for the lab’s Post-baccalaureate IRTAs (Intramural Research Training Awardees). Fun fact: when someone is selling a position to you, the delivered information isn’t 100% honest. Different IRTAs in my lab have completely different opportunities based on their mentors and the work they have inherited, mine being a fight-for-everything-you-want sort of position. After two years of blood (oh so much blood), sweat (the lab can get hot), and tears (not just my own), I can safely say that I love the science of child psychiatry.
  • Physically prepare myself – – I am one of those individuals who barely makes the weight requirements. I needed to diet and exercise like a beast to lose 15 pounds before my USUHS weigh in (thank you for the time, government shutdown), and I will likely need to lose the weight I gained back for my next medical exam. I also want to get in tip top shape for running (not my forte) as well as the push-ups and sit-ups. Pretty sure I can currently pass the sports physical, but I don’t want to be close to the cut-off. Don’t get me wrong: I love working out. I absolutely love exercising when I have the time. I just wish that we could include more body combat, weight lifting, and yoga into PT.
  • Learn Farsi. Apparently learning my native tongue would make me more money in the Air Force – talk about motivation! I am working on my Rosetta Stone and have my family for back-up. Growing up with Farsi at home made me comfortable with listening, but I want to get the alphabet down and solidly learn the speaking basics. Afterwards, I can start thinking about Russian again.
  • Read up! I should appreciate reading while I have the time for it. I have fiction novels, detox books, and my guide to being an Air Force officer. My to-read list keeps growing and growing, including a few French novels to brush up on mon français.
  • Dabble in piano like the good old days. Jazz, classics, some pop songs that I can sing to by my lonesome. Time to invest in a portable keyboard because my Sojin is staying with the parents.
  • Enjoy down time. I know the average 23-year-old wants to go out and party, but I REALLY love doing nothing. I’ll appreciate lazy Sundays while I have them 🙂