The Existential Crisis of a Second Year Medical Student

As someone who never intended to be a doctor growing up, I struggle with this crossroads at times where I am losing the side of myself I find most precious and dear. I worry about losing the girl who loves creative writing, reading fiction, watching political discussions, and contemplating the philosophical complexities of humanity and how we fit into this strange world.

My interests go far and are certainly not limited to science or medicine. I could have chosen many professions, but of them all, I most preferred becoming a doctor. Perhaps my reasons are the same as others, for the cliché reasons of wanting to help my patients. And I find the functioning of the human body amazing. Studying medicine is useful both in practice and in my own life. Mostly though – I am inspired by the pain of the human condition and how I can play a part in using my knowledge to take that pain away.

I began the second year of medical school feeling confident in my abilities as a student. I excelled academically and knew how to study for exams. Reproduction and Endocrinology Module set me off on a good start for second year and certainly helped for my first rotation in Ob/Gyn. Multisystems Module felt like the academic time to tie up loose ends, build on previous concepts, and reminded me that microbiology is more complicated than I realized. I had a great run and ended up with a distinguished performance award for pre-clerkship didactics. The first year and half of my medical school career were some of the best times of my life. I figured out a routine and thoroughly enjoyed my free time. I stayed close with friends and family and got to spend time in my favorite area (northern Virginia ie home).

FB_IMG_1466999659599

Jessie and I at her wedding!

My last real break this past winter felt like more work. I spent the majority of my time packing my entire apartment into storage amidst construction due to a flooding/molding issue and catching up with friends in the area before heading out to San Diego for rotations. I spent a few days in Sacramento (Andrew’s first trip to California!) for Jessie’s wedding – first time I was a bridesmaid. I learned about how American weddings normally go and got to wear a beautiful dress and take part in their beautiful wedding. Jessie and Andrew (her husband is also named Andrew) had a lovely ceremony and amazing New Year’s wedding party.

USUHS is unique in that we go out on rotations halfway through our second year of medical school and postpone Step 1 exams until after our “clerkship” rotations (Ob/Gyn, Surgery, Pediatrics, Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, Psychiatry, and an elective). 3.5 months in San Diego for Ob/Gyn and Surgery was the longest time I have been away from Virginia.

The first few weeks of Ob/Gyn, I was insanely enthusiastic and enjoying learning. As the days continued, I began feeling the enthusiasm wane a little as my days consistently dragged longer, as I was missing home, as I felt like I was never good enough. Being a medical student at a teaching hospital is being at the bottom of the totem pole. Some doctors want to help you climb up and others will stand on you and ignore you. Ob/Gyn in San Diego consisted of 5 weeks: complicated obstetrics, labor and delivery, reproductive endocrinology and infertility, gynecology, and oncology. I loved getting a taste of everything, but it was exhausting switching teams weekly. As soon as I felt comfortable, I had to start all over. The program director was amazing and the experience was great to start out with as Ob/Gyn exposed us to the wards, surgery, and clinic.

The next 10 weeks were surgical rotations: cardiothoracic surgery (I held a heart – it was cool), ENT (great life experience), and general surgery. My existential crisis pretty much compounded itself during surgery when I began questioning whether I fit into medicine as a culture. I enjoyed my weekend trauma shifts, met inspiring people, and did awesome things in the OR. Something just didn’t click though.

During my time in San Diego, a beautiful friend of mine from college took her life. I think about her in waves of mixed emotions, and sometimes I find myself falling apart at the thought of the world losing such a lovely person. It got me questioning the purpose of life and what I want to get out of it. San Diego represented this new phase in my life where I no longer felt confident in who I was as a person anymore. I survived because of the beautiful weather, my amazing USUHS classmates, and my mom.

On days I question why I wanted to become a doctor, I try to remember what brought me to this moment. When I feel like a failure, or feel exhausted, or wish I did something else with my life, I try to think about the superficial struggles in life that tear us apart. The little things keep us going, but the little things are also enough to break us down.

I define myself by my academics, life choices, dedication, compassion, need to learn, and by my desire to change the world. I want to be a writer, but I don’t know how to write anymore. I want to be a doctor, but I am only beginning to understand what that entails. I want to stand out, yet I find myself hiding as if I am ashamed of being caught, of people thinking that I do not belong in this field because I question it. Is it bad to not love anything enough to want to do it for more than 12 hours a day every day? Is it bad to say that by throwing myself into one facet of my being, I feel like I am losing the rest of who I am? I try to take a deep breath at the end of each day – both the good and the bad – to reflect and remind myself that I am in a microcosm of medicine that is but a small piece of my career and future. I may not be the philosopher or writer I once hoped I would become, but I cannot lose the humanities side of myself and part of me that is so deeply engrained to love my patient more than I love medicine.

I might not enjoy new uncomfortable situations, but I constantly find myself doing things I never planned to. I sometimes think I crave challenges just to prove to myself that I am capable. That probably factored into my choice of commissioning into the Air Force (one of the best life decisions I have ever made). The military forces me to experience the world in ways I never would have otherwise.

Anyway, the existential life crisis continues. Throughout medical school, I assumed I would pursue psychiatry, but I am definitely considering pediatrics. I beyond LOVED my pediatrics rotation at Walter Reed, and it reinstated my faith in medicine. For the first time throughout my rotations, the faculty and patients made me feel like I belonged in medicine, which is a beautiful thing. I had never picked a baby up before nor changed diapers, and now I am pretty much pro at both (nursery week was my favorite). It is funny to think back at the cardiothoracic surgeon attending who kept calling me a pediatrician, because he said I was “too nice to be a surgeon.” Pediatricians definitely won the prize for most friendly field thus far.

So that brings me to now – I am currently in Omaha, Nebraska during this transition to being a third year medical student. Family medicine has been treating me well, and I love being with the Air Force. As opposed to the San Diego experience where I questioned if I should be in medicine at all, Omaha is giving me time to figure out how and where I fit in because the options are endless.

Pretty sure existential crises are healthy parts of introspective awareness. I have been doing way too much thinking this past year and could not figure out how to get it into words, so I appreciate anyone who took the time to read my stream of consciousness written on a late Sunday night.

The MSI Finale, Summer, and Beginning MSII

I have been living with a new motto recently: learn to enjoy the moment. That being said, I will blame said motto for the extended hiatus between blog posts. This past year has flown by, and I cannot believe I am already in the second year of medical school. It’s been an amazing journey, and I am truly grateful!

GI Module
Neuroscience module came at a great time after spring break and was extremely well-organized, fun, informative, and the easiest module for me. Granted, I was a neuroscience major at William and Mary, so it came in handy. GI module (let me clarify: Gastrointestinal Tract, Hepatobiliary System, Hematology, Oncology, Metabolism and Nutrition Module) was pretty horribly timed. As the last module of first year with no more than Saturday/Sunday to de-stress after our last final, I was burnt out and didn’t even realize it. The first couple weeks of school were killed in terms of productivity because the lottery to determine third year rotations took place throughout the school day and really distracted from learning – especially for the few lecture-goers like myself who found ourselves checking our lottery statuses instead of paying attention and taking notes.

Because the first two weeks of GI module were lottery weeks and the next weekend after that was Memorial Day weekend spent catching up with family/friends, including a lazy tubing adventure in West Virginia, I focused all of my energy studying like mad for the next couple of weeks before midterms. I thought I had appropriate catch-up time studying and actually felt prepared for my midterm exams. At this point, I have learned that feeling prepared for an exam is a major red flag. When I feel prepared – as I was for both MSK and GI midterms – I do far worse than when I have a mini-freak-out the night before an exam. Anywho, my midterm scores motivated me to kick it into high gear, so finals were fantastic. They were redemption for my bruised academic ego. I think I might be more interested in Heme/Onc/Nutrition, so that likely played a part as well. For current USUHS classmates, beware that the GI midterms were a dud across the board for our class and the class before, but I hear that the module directors are working on improvements to see how to fix that trend from the past couple years. Ultimately, it was my worst module academically, but I still passed and feel confident about the information we learned!

The Lottery: Third-Year Rotations
The lottery is quite the system. In the end, it all works out. Basically everyone was happy in the end, and we are getting a great experience at all of the locations. We started out with 100 points, and at least 1 point had to be used for each of the 9 rotations. You can prioritize based on the order you want to do your rotations or the places you want to go. I knew I wanted to get the surgical rotations over with, and being local to northern Virginia, I wanted to stay in the area as much as possible. My order of rotations was definitely not how I originally planned, and I am not going to Hawaii at all despite putting it #1 almost every time. However, I feel particularly lucky and am ecstatic at how my rotations came out.

We had two options: go homestead or go singles. Homesteads group three rotations together in one location. It’s a pretty great deal. It’s less stressful in terms of moving between rotations and less stressful in terms of time towards the lottery during GI module. I am doing my first set of three rotations in San Diego and my last set of three rotations at Walter Reed.

Local locations became vastly more popular this year than previous years because the system for housing at rotation locations changed. Now, we have housing provided for us at rotation locations rather than having an allowance for housing. I myself prefer this, but it was not a pleasant surprise for the folks with families who planned on bringing their kids to different locations. We were told that our lodging is comfortable for a spouse or significant other to stay, so I am excited for Andrew to visit while I am in San Diego!

Stay tuned in 2016 for rotation updates. My schedule is as follows:
– San Diego for Ob/Gyn, Surgical Subspecialties, and General Surgery, January – April [where my mom lives]
– Walter Reed in Bethesda for Pediatrics, May – June
– Offut Air Force Base in Omaha, Nebraska for Family Medicine, June – July [believe it or not, I’m actually excited for this one too]
– Fort Belvoir, VA for Psychiatry: Addiction, July – August [my selective rotation]
– Walter Reed for Internal Medicine (Outpatient and Inpatient) and my favorite for last, Psychiatry, August – December

AMP101
I had four days off after the end of the school year to run errands galore before leaving for my summer operational experience. All Air Force students go to the Aerospace Medicine Primary 101 (AMP101) course, the first of three required courses to become a flight surgeon/medicine doctor. I road tripped up to Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, OH with a few other USU students and was happy to see my fellow classmates as well as familiar HPSP students’ faces. Of the 70 attendees at our July 6-17 AMP session, the majority were USUHS kids, about 20 were HPSP, and four non-2nd-lieutenants were doctors and reservists who were given the responsibility for accountability. Our AMP session was booked to max capacity. The two June sessions were majority HPSP students and the July session after ours was reserved for mostly physicians rather than students.

First week at AMP101 was death by powerpoint, but I enjoyed the presentations in the sense that I have a much better idea of real life operational Air Force now. The weekend of AMP I attended my first friend wedding at the Alumni House in Williamsburg, VA. It was a blast to my college past, and I was glad to have Andrew meet the fabulous bride and groom – two of my friends from William and Mary. It was a mess of stress to coordinate this. I had been emailing the AMP higher-ups as well as up my own chain of command for a few months to get permission because I needed to take leave and plan my flight back to Virginia – – note that on the Thursday afternoon of the first week, students had the opportunity to switch schedules around with other students to allow for personal trips. We were given three days off that were different based on your group, and I am happy I did all the work and coordination in advance because I would have originally been scheduled for a fly day on the same day as the wedding and would not have wanted to wait until last minute for scheduling.

Reunion of friends at William and Mary for the #LizGoesPro wedding

Reunion of friends at William and Mary for the #LizGoesPro wedding

That being said, I also was at the mercy of weather. For such a large AMP session, we had three groups scheduled to fly on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. Unfortunately, Saturday had the best weather and not enough pilots scheduled, so a few students were pushed to Monday fly day when it rained in the afternoon. I was among 8 students who had to go in for a chunk of our Wednesday off to fly. If I had lounged around Ohio all weekend like most folks did, I wouldn’t have minded. However, I was beyond exhausted and sleep deprived. I do not regret going to the wedding, but it most definitely put a damper on some fun activities during the second week of AMP festivities, the highlights for me including the tour of the Air Force museum, flight simulators, and flying the SR-22 Cirrus with a pilot. We had to present a safety brief and study for the final exam, both of which were not difficult at all but involved time and energy I was horribly lacking.

Heads up for those afraid of heights, flying is an incredible experience and not-at-all scary because of how exhilarating it is. It helps that there was a seasoned pilot manning the controls in the passenger seat like driver’s ed.

About to fly the Cirrus SR-22

About to fly the Cirrus SR-22

Summertime Off
After coming back from AMP, I finally had time to catch up with friends and family in the area. It was so very necessary to see the important people in my life that I had trouble keeping in touch with over the past year. As an INFJ often mistaken for an ENFJ, I recuperate by becoming a bit of a hermit and organizing my life. I had to balance my excessive social life with scrubbing the bathroom and trashing random items I hoarded as mementos for my past or references for the future. And of course, there was lots of HGTV/Netflix.

Andrew and I attended a wedding in Long Island that should have been on MTV (it reminded me of those crazy impressive super sweet 16 parties). We also spent several days at Sebago Lake in Maine. I spent the first rainy day reading Go, Set a Watchman. The rest of the days were gorgeous and sunny, so they were filled with paddle boarding, paddle boating, canoeing, swimming, speed boating, and being lazy. It was lovely. We went to Portland for our last full day to shop, eat, and be merry. Lobsters all day, every day.

ACME: TCCC, BLS, ACLS, Antietam March
All the acronyms.
ACME – Advanced Combat Medical Experience, part of MFP 102 (Military Field Practicum)
TCCC – Tactical Combat Casualty Care
BLS – Basic Life Support
ACLS – Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support

We were split into two groups. One group started with TCCC (i.e. “TC3” or “T triple C”) and the other started with BLS/ACLS. I was happy to start with TCCC – we had longer days, but they included fun activities and were reflective of our combat medicine classes during first-year medical school. All we had to do to pass was to study TC3 guidelines and learn the primary/secondary assessment sequences for patient encounters. TC3 was especially fun because we had paintball guns, ran into the forest to save patients, and got to see ourselves on camera to realize we weren’t as much as a mess as we felt during the experience. We also learned medical skills like cricothyroidotomies and chest tubes.

Ready to save some lives!

Ready to save some lives!

In the weekend of ACME, Andrew and I attended our third wedding of the summer and saw two of our friends get married!

In the weekend of ACME, Andrew and I attended our third wedding of the summer and saw two of our friends get married!

BLS and ACLS were more fun for the emergency medicine/ICU personality types. It involved a lot more studying for folks like myself who did not have the background for it, but it was a worthwhile experience. BLS was the simple CPR and defibrillation sequences. ACLS involved leading a megacode team (and being part of a megacode team). It involved a team leader, time keeper, CPR, maintaining the airway, defibrillation, and medications. There was a practical where we could use the all-mighty ACLS card and a written exam based on classroom material (it helps to do the practice questions we were given as well as reading the book/supplementary packet).

I had been looking forward to the Antietam March. It was a 6.5 mile walk/trail/hike that is easy when you aren’t falling behind schedule and basically jogging it with all your gear on. Also, I didn’t mind the rain much because it cooled us down, but rain + jogging = blisters (and here I thought my boots were the most comfortable shoes I owned!). It was a fun way to end ACME and to allow us to compare military medicine from the days of the bloodiest battle of the Civil War to today.

The Official End of Summer
This past weekend consisted of a fun MSI/MSII mixer and an impromptu beach trip to Dewey Beach (the waves were so aggressive!), so I have definitely had some laughter and sun before hitting the books hard again. Cheers to this past year and making it to Reproduction and Endocrinology Module!

To Pandakar and Back

It’s time to break my longest hiatus from the blog. Alas, I’ve officially succumbed to the hectic life of being a medical student. I often choose the pleasures of sleep, food, and an occasional Netflix or Hulu episode over writing. I might need to reevaluate my priorities.

Fundamentals proved fruitful. Unlike the other modules, it’s a hodgepodge of information, and I personally liked the variety of subject material (most of my fellow classmates probably disagree and prefer the focused content of most modules). We were graded on more classical methods of class work (lab quizzes, weekend quizzes, NBME midterm, NBME final, practical final, faculty exam final) and some more society-centered studies (medical interviewing of patients, full physical examination, and humanities essays on medical history and emotion processing after seeing patients). I actually enjoyed myself during Fundamentals. Despite the stress and long days, I enjoyed the information and had a decent time on the weekends, not so social, but I at least managed to get relaxing time in, which I desperately need to recharge.

Within 20 hours of my last Fundamentals final, I found myself on a bus to Pandakar, our patient role-play destination where the four-year USU med students used first-year students as well as volunteers as guinea pigs for a mock deployment scenario of patient health care. We stayed in barracks, which were much nicer than I anticipated. Likewise, all the porta-potties around Pandakar were surprisingly well-maintained. It’s the simple pleasures that keep you going.

We began our first day by taking an emotion intelligence test, personality test, and by learning how to play patients (which included an understanding of various medical abnormalities, how to act them out, and how the fourth-years should be treating our conditions). The next few days in Pandakar were quite epic and exhausting with more or less moulage involved. We played patients in combat scenarios as well as in sick call scenarios to give the fourth-years a plethora of presenting conditions to treat.

I will have more on what the MSIVs do in a few years for their side of the story of Bushmaster (Bushmaster was this doctor-patient role-play experience in fake-country Pandakar/real-world Fort Indiantown Gap in Pennsylvania). They had several roles to play, including security, surgery, ATL, CSC (for mental health), medic, litter carry, and a few more I either cannot remember or never learned myself. The poor fourth-years seemed exhausted by the end and were organized by platoons into different clinical teams by helmet color. I happened to see the Red platoon all the time, and I also happened to play a couple of hilarious patients, one of which was an “odd person”. For the respect of not showing us goof off with fake injuries, we can’t share our photos from Bushmaster, but it was an awesome/exhausting/educational experience for both the patients and the physicians – an experience no other medical school gets!

After Bushmaster, we had our own military training experience as MSIs within our platoons that included M9 shooting/safety training, LRC (leadership reaction course – my COT training served me well), land navigation, preventive medicine, ultrasound, CBRNE (training for chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense), combatives (thanks to a West Point graduate I partnered up with, I learned way more and definitely enjoyed myself…slash we sparred in pairs at the end, which I found terrifying to watch but fun/painful to do myself), Health Service Support (strategy of establishing medical/military posts during combat), casualty evacuation, and movie nights to watch clips of videos/documentaries and listen to panels/speakers ultimately illustrating the realities of military medicine [besides my parenthetical insertions, I promise this sentence/paragraph wasn’t a run-on].

And thus, we reached the end of our time in Pandakar. I bonded with the members of Alpha company (the half of MSIs that did Bushmaster before MSI training), and it was nice to go home and have a few days off before classes started up again. Unfortunately, on my last day in Pandakar, I woke up with the world spinning around me. I basically crawled to the bathroom to vomit from dizziness. Luckily I found two kind classmates to take me to the medic who diagnosed me with vertigo due to a viral infection. Fun times. The next few days were mostly spent at home recovering and relaxing, with some occasional activities within the scope of my ability to sit and walk slowly.

This past weekend before classes started, I went to a pumpkin patch with some Air Force friends and had my first experience pumpkin-carving at my parents’ place with Andrew. Also got to catch up with a few local friends and family before classes began yesterday. After organizing my calendar and planner for this next module, MSK (musculoskeletal), I am both excited and terrified to hit the books again.

Here we go again.

Medical School: Round 1

It’s official: I completed my first exam of medical school today (terrifying). I finally have a chance to write a brief update. Now I know what real academic volume is. I especially sympathize with my classmates who have children because I can barely manage myself these days. Graduating from William and Mary, I feel adequately prepared in terms of my undergraduate education, but being two years out of the classroom came with challenges. Bright side: I don’t find it horribly difficult to sit eight straight hours studying on a Saturday. I have averaged about 11 hours a day of school/study time in the past three weeks (weekends included). Granted, I am a slow reader, but I feel like my schedule is probably reflective for most of my classmates as well.

Our first module, Fundamentals, highlights biochemistry, histology, pathology, epidemiology/biostatistics, microbiology, and immunology. It is a good introductory review of science as well as getting the basics of histology and pathology down (we have computer-based labs for these courses too). It’s a nice way to level the playing field in terms of everybody’s background education in science.

In terms of patient experience, we are already learning how to conduct medical interviews and how to perform a full-body physical examination. These take up our Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. I was incredibly anxious at first, but all of our preceptors are amazing and approachable. These sessions are opportunities to begin developing specific skill sets in physician-patient communication and the ins and outs of performing an examination. Medical interviews are done with standardized patients (actors) or real patients at Walter Reed. We practice the physical exam with other classmates in small groups.

Thus far, I am excited about the USU medical school curriculum. They instituted a recent change that bumped up Step 1 scores remarkably, and the layout seems well-thought out and organized. Each module usually lasting 7-8 weeks has a major theme: Fundamentals, Musculoskeletal (MSK), Cardiopulmonary-Renal (CPR), Neuroscience, GI/Hepat/Nutrition/Metabolism, Reproduction/Endocrinology, and Multi-System/Complex Disease. Between Fundamentals and MSK, we’ll be heading out to Fort Indiantown Gap in Pennsylvania for 10 days of leadership/teamwork training and some patient role-playing for the fourth years.

All in all, I am enjoying medical school despite not seeing my friends/family in the area very much. I definitely have my moments where I feel like I am riding the struggle bus to downtown struggle city. But don’t we all?

Stay tuned. I might be changing the blog up a little bit because med school talk cannot stay interesting on its own.

From Montgomery to Nashville to USU Orientation

As a COT-graduate, I had been entirely too sleep deprived. Right after the graduation festivities on Friday, everything still felt rushed with the campus bustling and people all over Morehouse Hall exchanging goodbyes and luggage. Andrew and my dad helped me pack my belongings into my dad’s car (well, the car that said “Distinguished Visitor” on the license plate – I learned from one of the administrators that the Air Force views SES as equivalent to 3-Star Generals and the Army generally views them as the civilian equivalent to 2-Star Generals. Makes me proud!). 

I had the opportunity to show my dad and Andrew downtown Montgomery when we grabbed lunch in The Alley near the Riverwalk. I scarfed down a bacon cheeseburger like nobody’s business. My dad bought wine, and we celebrated my accomplishments/survival. I mostly celebrated the ability to see my family and go home and sleep (you’ll notice this theme of SLEEP will come up frequently). After lunch, we picked up Charlie (my 2006 Honda Accord) from the shop with her new battery. McGriff’s Auto Shop proved to be a great spot right next to Maxwell AFB (suggestions for future COT-goers who have their batteries die…I heard of a number of individuals with this problem, probably because we had to leave our cars unattended for a few weeks). Beware of politics if you mention you’re in the Air Force though. The guy working at the auto shop certainly had his opinions about “Barack Obama negotiating with terrorists” and I prefer to steer clear of such conversations with strangers, namely to avoid political affiliations with the military. Remember: whoever the President is, he/she is your Commander in Chief!

Once we got back to base (I’m beginning to rock the car salute), we all decided to take a power nap in the Fairchild suite my dad and Andrew were staying at. Originally, Andrew and I planned on driving to Nashville after dinner as a pit-stop on the way home – we both have friends in Nashville and have never been to Tennessee. However, this power nap turned into a 4+ hour affair. Neither my dad nor Andrew wanted to wake me up, and I am grateful they didn’t! After waking up, showering, and having a cup of coffee, I was finally ready for dinner. At this point, it was sometime after 9pm, and we set out back to The Alley. My dad and Andrew were both very impressed by Montgomery, and I attribute that to my tour guide skills of downtown. Enjoyed some Mexican food, some margaritas, and some good old-fashioned conversation.

Blurry photo of Andrew at El Barrio in Birmingham, Alabama

Blurry photo of Andrew at El Barrio in Birmingham, Alabama

My dad’s flight went out Saturday morning, and Andrew and I headed for Nashville a couple hours after. Because of traffic, our 4-hour drive turned into an 8-hour drive (somehow there were 4 accidents on the one highway we were taking). We managed a pit-stop in Birmingham, Alabama, and to the suggestion of my Alabammer flight mate, we went to El Barrio, a fantastic Mexican food place in the downtown area that had A+ breakfast burritos. Very cool ambiance. Several hours later, we made it to Nashville! Andrew treated me to the Marriott with a view of Vanderbilt Stadium. 

View from our hotel room

View from our hotel room

Soon after, Ben – a William and Mary friend who I knew through Project Phoenix (a tutoring/mentoring organization), APO (a community service organization), and math/science classes, currently getting his education degree at Vanderbilt – picked us up for a driving tour of Nashville and dinner at Five Points Pizza. If I was a Yelper, I would have given fabulous ratings. I never realized what a small city Nashville was, and it has so much Southern character. After dinner, the three of us went to Andrew’s friend’s place. His friend is managing a band in Nashville, a great city to kick start a music career. His friend, also named Andrew, took us bar hopping and gave us a variety of scenes – from underground bars to Broadway street. Music was everywhere. The streets were absolutely packed. I have never seen so many bachelorette parties in one location! 

Broadway Street in Nashville, Tennessee

Broadway Street in Nashville, Tennessee

After our half-day in Nashville, Andrew and I had to make the drive back home Sunday morning, which was really painful due to traffic and poor pit-stop experiences, including a gas pump in Knoxville that kept going after my tank was full, resulting in gas spilling over onto my feet. Eating at Cracker Barrel eased our hanger – don’t judge, I’m a huge Cracker Barrel fan.

Once we made it back to Northern Virginia, I had this brief existential moment when I realized I had changed. COT definitely had a greater impact on me than I expected. I have this huge appreciation for being home as well as being with the individuals I care about. I also appreciate time to sleep (which I should hold dear to my heart before medical school really picks up). It’s time to prioritize what I value most in life. Spend less time on the things that don’t matter and more time on the things that do. I’ll try to maintain the school-life balance to the best of my ability, but I want to be a qualified physician and will do what it takes to get there. Wish me luck 🙂

I have been attending USU orientation for the past three weeks, the first two designated for Military/Brigade Orientation and the latter week for Academic Orientation. Military Orientation was a little like COT 2.0 with more direction and without the screaming. We had some lectures relevant to the military and mostly filled out paperwork and completed online training programs. Orientation provided ample free time to get life in order. It was a fabulous time to catch up on my social quota with friends and family in the area and to catch up on much-needed sleep. Academic Orientation this past week introduced us to the USUHS curriculum, mostly focusing on the pre-clerkship period in the next year and a half. We had a lecture for our first module, Fundamentals, which basically provides a foundation for the rest of the modules and is Pass/Fail (no honors, unlike the other modules).

I’ve been spending lots of time with my fellow USUHS Bravos and the one amazing USUHS Alpha (I’m clearly still in COT-speak. We have been staying in touch with our fellow Bravos – a few of us went out to U Street when a Bravo from Philly visited last weekend. And our flight commander sent us a final Bravo Bombers morale memo to motivate us for the next stage of our careers). All in all, my classmates seem awesome. Everybody is friendly and always willing to help each other out. Faculty members thus far seem fabulous, both engaging and caring for their students. I am a balance between excited and terrified to embark on the next stage of the journey. Somehow I am already swamped with readings, an essay, online quizzes, and a massive to-do list. First day of medical school is tomorrow! Although I feel quite unqualified, I see my first patient this week and am doing a home visit with a classmate on Wednesday. And so it begins. Ready, set, gooooo!

The COT Finale: Weeks 4-5

It’s been three weeks since my last post, and oh my, a lot has certainly happened. I had been so chronically sleep deprived that I never managed to set enough time aside to write a coherent post of what had been going on. So let’s give this a try.

The fourth week of COT was a jumble of events and emotions. We all anxiously awaited graduation, which was the Friday of Week 5. I have no idea how the BOT, ROTC, or BMT trainees do it because 5 weeks for COT already felt like eternity. I have the utmost respect for everybody who successfully completes these intense training programs.

WEEK FOUR
Monday
The day was quite busy, beginning with our final PT exam and the CWT #2, followed by lectures galore (not gonna lie, it was the first time I straight up passed out in the big red pillows. I am quite grateful I was sly and not caught by any instructors. You’re supposed to stand up in the back of the room if you’re falling asleep.) In other news, I finally got my ranks sewn onto my uniform and it feels GOOD. Now I see what OTS staff members mean by having pride in your uniform. My name and rank are looking pretty beautiful.

Some happy times in Boyd Auditorium

Some happy times in Boyd Auditorium

PT test: earned a 98.4 of 100 on the test. I have never run so quickly, smashed so many push-ups, or whipped out that many sit-ups. For the first mile of my 1.5mi, I ran a 7:28 (if you know me, this is a miracle). Ran the full deal in 11:34. Did 43 push-ups in a minute and 57 sit-ups in a minute. KILLING IT. Did not think it was possible to improve on my original score, but I did. Everybody in my flight improved across the board for all three elements of the PT exam. In retrospect, it’s funny that I stressed so much about PT before COT when it turned out to be my strongest aspect.

CWT #2 (our final academic test): solid score, felt good to be done with the academic portion of COT. Done done done done done and time to celebrate!

Tuesday-Wednesday
LRC: Leadership Reaction Course (not to be confused with the Learning Resource Center at USU)

The LRC was a continuation of Project X from the previous week where staff members graded us on leadership skills in a series of (mildly dangerous) obstacles. Playing out Navy Seal-type missions with zero prior outdoor leadership experience, we dealt with heights, climbing walls, building tripods (oh hey, that’s my claim to fame), maneuvering in water, utilizing given resources, relying on the leader, planning the mission before execution, etc. LRC was a great learning experience because it was one of the first opportunities everybody could get leadership training. I might have preferred a crash course beforehand in field activities and outdoor safety though (I was never a girl scout and have never been privy to climbing things). Bravo Bombers beat the record for one of the obstacles when we happened to have only athletic guys grouped for one of the teams.

After the LRC events, we were phased up! Ironic timing too because we were granted phase 3 privileges before our mock deployment began (called Blue Thunder), meaning we could only truly exercise phase 3 status over the weekend. It was nice in theory, but man you have no idea what it meant to be given phase 3 privileges. No more tight meals and we could leave the base outside of duty hours. Sweet sweet freedom was in grasp. Freedom tastes so good.

Anyway, we were phased up before heading to our overnight mock deployment. The tents were air conditioned even though the bunks hurt my back. Awesome Air Force planes were taking off like they were right in front of us (same with on OTS campus but the view was much better here). Luckily we were so ravenous during the events that eating MREs weren’t so bad. [[In case I didn’t mention it before, MREs are almost space-type meals with way too much sodium and interesting methods of chemistry to heat food. I am bringing a few of these meals home that I didn’t finish so Andrew can have an MRE-picnic with me.]]

Our mock deployment base

Our mock deployment base

Inside the girls' tent for Alpha and Bravo

Inside the girls’ tent for Alpha and Bravo

Thursday
Beware of the trains that you hear passing in the middle of the night and the 4:30am wake-up call to rock music. Didn’t get too much sleep at Blue Thunder before beginning our long day of the Ropes Course and Litter Carry during Black Flag weather.

Ready to embark on the day

Ready to embark on the day

The ropes course consisted of a 40 ft rock wall, the tooth pick (the second worst), a repel wall, and an actual ropes course (which was the worst). I have this massive fear of heights; despite lots of crying, I got through it. I received endless support from my Bravos and the Alphas who came after us as well as OTS staff (the OTS staff members helping on the ropes course were fantastic). I was grateful to have the most adventurous Bravo female in our group come behind me to help out emotionally along the way. Completing the ropes course events in its entirety was a big accomplishment for me but I cannot say I will ever do it again voluntarily. It was pure torture. Good to know I can accept a challenge and see it through.

Featuring the wall and the toothpick

Featuring the wall and the toothpick

I assure you, that was not a real smile

I assure you, that was not a real smile. Also, the picture is misleading; I am not walking on ground.

Who knew there were so many things involved in carrying stretchers (ie litters) in the military? So many commands. I was pretty unhappy to discover that carrying a 113 lb flight mate on the litter was painful although most of the guys didn’t have a problem. Here I thought I was a strong, capable woman, but I guess I should hit the gym some more. Luckily, black flag conditions meant we didn’t have to do the litter carry course with an actual person on the litter. A highlight of the course was when OTS staff threw sand on us (“blood and guts”) as we crawled underneath wire that got progressively narrow as we proceeded. Fun times at COT.

Sleepy during litter carry break

Sleepy during litter carry break

Friday
As part of the Blue Thunder mock deployment experience, MRIC (Medical Readiness Indoctrination Course) consisted of two portions with a massive tent set up as a combat field hospital, the first part testing response to patients with minor injuries and the second part testing response to a mass casualty event due to a bombing. Trainees had a variety of positions, including hospital administration, security, manpower, ICU, OR, patients, moulage, etc.

The Bravo moulage crew

The Bravo moulage crew

I signed up for mental health originally, but only 1-2 individuals got the slot. I was assigned the role of a patient, which ended up being ridiculously fun. First scenario, I was a marine who got hit by an IED while chasing car bomb suspects. Despite my minor injury (which was never treated), I was sedated for being so belligerent (I was trying to stick with my devil dog, aka my chaplain roommate, who was severely burned. Also security took my rifle away. You don’t take a marine’s rifle away.) I was almost sent to the morgue due to confusion about my sedation records. That was exciting. Second scenario, I had shell shock, and the team had a much more appropriate response to my clinical condition than the first round. Very interesting experience from a learning standpoint of what should be done in a mass casualty scenario.

Coming back from MRIC, we had our usual Hall Call to end the week, which is basically one big pep rally. Bravos won flight of the week within our squadron and our overall class. Within Bravo, I won the award for flight member of the week, which was exciting recognition for building flight morale and challenging myself during all the field events. In other news, my Falcon squadron rocked the drill competition (with Bravos leading the way as element leaders, guidon bearer, and flight leader for the superflight and made it #1). As per usual, Bravos REPRESENT.
FORWARD HARCH.

Getting our flight of the week award

Getting our flight of the week award

OUR GUIDON

OUR GUIDON

Falcon Superflight

Falcon Superflight

Saturday
The morning was short but eventful. We wore dress blues for the commandant inspection, consisting of open ranks (basically a fancy drill/uniform/military inspection) and room inspection. Only thing the Bravos needed to learn was folding hospital corners in our beds, which was something we had not been taught before so we were pretty proud of ourselves.

As for the rest of the day, we got to feel like normal people again, wear civvies, watch a movie (got a military discount for the first time!), eat out, and go shopping. I was a little bit of a chauffeur but I missed my Charlie baby so that was alright. One day to almost feel like a real person, despite our imposed squadron curfew at 2230 (aka 10:30pm).

Sunday
A little back to the COT world – errands galore for dining centerpieces, plus a summer camp feel when we were doing art for it, plus the ultimate Frisbee tournament. One of our Bravo’s dorm rooms had electrical issues that caused a fire alarm to go off, which added extra spice to our weekend because we weren’t allowed to go to Morehouse dorms for a solid chunk of Sunday.

WEEK FIVE
Monday
Our day mostly consisted of random lectures galore. They were actually pretty useful topics for the future. However, I had still been struggling with sleep debt and thus paying full attention was not the easiest. We spent the evening at Mellow Mushroom (deliciousness) for our flight commander dinner, where we invited Capt Warren, his wife, niece, and seven children out for a meal. They were such a lovely, happy family. His wife and kids decorated rollos to look like dynamites in honor of the Bravo “Bombers”. Adorbs.

Dinner crew at Mellow Mushroom

Dinner crew at Mellow Mushroom

Tuesday
The highlight of Tuesday was the Dining In, which was a formal event (despite wearing our ABUs, not blues) at the Officer’s Club. The military traditions were a-plenty and oh so odd. If you broke any rules, you could be sent to the grog, which was a hodgepodge of mixed drinks that apparently tasted really good (with both alcoholic and nonalcoholic options). There was a certain way of doing everything. So many rules to remember, which they cover pretty extensively and include in the red packet they leave on your table. So many little quirks about the meal; for example, instead of clapping, you tap the table with the round part of your spoon. The best part was the comedy skit coordinated by our class – absolutely hilarious and pointed out all the silly idiosyncrasies of COT. The night ended with a DJ event in the basement bar area of the Officer’s Club.

At the Officer's Club

At the Officer’s Club

The beautiful centerpieces!

The beautiful centerpieces!

Wednesday
We did our last PT with a fun run around campus, learning about the history of Maxwell AFB. At the conclusion, we got our wings! It was quite ceremonial.

Family started pouring in (so we were phased up to phase 4 privileges) and made me wish I could fast forward to Friday when my dad and Andrew were coming into town. We had the USAA dinner that evening, which included a delicious buffet. It turned out to be a huge advertisement event with bankers and USAA insurance agents at the ready while speakers were giving out random prizes and presenting certain aspects of financial opportunities with USAA. Congrats to me: USAA approved me for a career starter loan (at 2.99% interest!) so I can pay off my credit cards and my higher interest student loans. Afterwards, some of us hit the town near the Riverwalk area in the Alley (basically the only place to go out in Montgomery, Alabama).

Thursday
The last full day of COT. Falcons won Honor Squadron at the awards ceremony, and unfortunately, Bravo came in 2nd place for Honor Flight (we lost by 0.2%). In my heart, Bravo will always be #1. Even though my car battery died and needed replacing, I absolutely enjoyed my last day and night with these fabulous officers.

Friday
Thanks to an active duty meeting first thing in the morning, a few of us were late to our graduation ceremony – whoops – in the COT conference room (it was actually supposed to be in our flight room but we had too many guests to fit). When I walked in, the very first faces I saw were my dad’s and Andrew’s. So much happiness in the world when your home comes to you! Our flight commander shared funny tales about each of us while giving out certificates and coins. Great success! As per usual, we rushed to get to the graduation parade after. Because my dad was one of the few distinguished visitors (as an SES in the Army), I knew exactly where he and Andrew would be sitting and watched them with my peripheral vision during the entire parade – you’d be surprised how much you can see using peripheral vision by the end of COT. After graduation was over, I exchanged hugs and photos with my Bravos as we said our goodbyes.

Graduation

As a conclusion to this post, I have to put the cherry on top of my Bravo-loving. We’re a bunch of goofballs. I wish I could list all the things I love about each and every individual in my flight if I had the time and could dish out details of their private lives. I am grateful that I contributed to this group, with zero drama and 100% support. I am grateful we didn’t crack the whip on each other and could courteously make corrections when necessary. I am grateful we kept up good spirits while getting through such a challenging training experience together. Finally, I am grateful to have 3 Bravos in USUHS with me, 1 Alpha, and a Bravo dentist close by at Andrews AFB. I love being surrounded by good people, and COT encouraged me that we are recruiting some amazing people as officers of the U.S. Air Force.

As always,
Peace, Love, and Bravo

Phase Two at COT: Week 3

Alas, I made it to Week 4. I feel like we are about to hit the promised land because graduation is in sight!

Because I have my final PT exam in the morning, as well as my final academic test, as well as open ranks where they inspect uniforms and ask military questions, as well as room inspections in the afternoon, I am going to keep this short. Highlights:

– We got phased up last Monday. This means we are allowed to talk quietly at dinners and go around the base on the weekend. The first meal we ate outside the DFAC was fantastic (sub and FRIES). Also got to go grocery shopping and feel like a real person again. Did my squadron photographic officer duties at the UPS Store and BOOM, errands accomplished outside the OTS complex. The power of printing and shopping is something we should all appreciate.

– On Wednesday, my 5k time was under 24 minutes, major improvement of about 5 minutes from my last timed 5k. We also had picture day (yay for getting my photo officer duties in) and presented our briefs. My brief on human rights in Iran was not as coherent as I wanted it to be. I was rushed with the time limit and skipped over a lot of information (I was also interrupted by an “active shooter” exercise where we had to barricade ourselves inside the flight room). Everything is a learning experience. All in all, I enjoyed listening to the briefs and learning about cultural/regional differences and the US military.

– We went through a series of obstacles last week for field leadership training. We’ll be doing a LOT more leadership training this coming week (deep breaths thinking about the ropes course. I’ll channel the progressive relaxation techniques my flight did earlier today in anticipation for our busy day tomorrow).

Drilling and marching

Drilling and marching

– Standardization: we have to keep everything standardized (the same as everything else and everybody else), including but not limited to our dorm rooms, uniforms, name tags, how we organize books, etc.

– Had a field trip to a military museum about enlisted heritage and history. Twas interesting and a nice getaway to Gunter on a rainy day.

Museum time with my flight mates

Museum time with my flight mates

– The Bravo Bombers are continuing to rock it. I believe we currently rank in the top 3 flights. We got one of the highest flight averages on our big academic test Monday (with the smallest standard deviation of all 21 flights). This past week we won flight of the week in our squadron, as well as academic flight of the week and social butterflies (we like to smile and be nice to other people, go figure).

Bravo Bombers slash the Bravo Bunch with our spoils :) #winning

Bravo Bombers slash “the Bravo Bunch” with our spoils #winning

Peace, Love, and Bravo.