The Life of an MS3: Good Times and Good Riddance

USUHS fourth-years are officially done with classes/hospital rotations and have graduated this past weekend. So concludes the third year of my medical school career. Cheers to that!

My existential crisis [see last post], though ongoing, has abated in intensity. I have accepted my fate as a physician despite the occasional fantasies of retiring to a small town by the water, becoming a fiction novelist, and traveling countryside in an RV with Andrew. I signed up as the newsletter writer in Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA), so I will consider that my attempt to bridge between the worlds of medicine and humanities. It’s the little things, my friends, that keep you going.

I have lots of updates for the past year, and I will try to keep them brief. Last post, I talked about how pediatrics restored my faith in my career in medicine. That was a wonderful rotation (shout-out to Walter Reed’s pediatrics department and their fantastic program!). The entirety of the rotation, I reevaluated my life and thought, “Man, I should be a pediatrician.” Then followed Family Medicine in Offutt Air Force Base. Yes, folks. That is in Omaha, Nebraska. I have finally ventured to the real Midwest. I was lucky to go during the summertime with a lovely classmate and had the best rotation of medical school – a much-needed escape from life’s obligations at home. I learned that I love primary care and appreciate the family medicine physician mentality. For the first time on rotations, I truly felt like I fit in.

As the five weeks in Omaha continued, I saw the perks of family medicine – especially in the military. The options are endless. I can do primary care in adults AND children. My experience in pediatrics helped facilitate more positive experiences with children. Fun fact: I had never picked up a baby prior to my pediatrics rotation at Walter Reed. Now I am a diaper-changing professional. Anywho, the physicians I worked with in Omaha were fantastic. I fell in love with the field. I felt at home. Considering I always intended to be a psychiatrist, I also became very confused.

Next up, my elective! I chose addiction/substance abuse at Fort Belvoir, VA working in both inpatient rehabilitation of active duty members and in outpatient psychiatry with a methadone clinic. What a great experience where I felt involved in understanding the epidemic of addition in our nation. I worked with fantastic psychiatrists that made me feel at home in their field, despite the fact I hadn’t even rotated in my core psychiatry clerkship yet. One resident made it his mission to reaffirm my decision to pursue psychiatry considering my recent interest in family medicine. During the rotation, I definitely felt like I wanted to be a psychiatrist again (ie positive experience).

The theme of wanting to do the field I was rotating in continued (which I hear is common for those interested in family medicine). I really enjoyed my internal medicine rotation, especially the inpatient experience where I had the opportunity to work with residents and attendings who were dedicated to my betterment as a student. So much knowledge to be had. I was nerding out. Internists are definitely the Ravenclaws of medicine [Side tangent: that would make Surgery the Slytherins, Family Medicine the Gryffindors, and Pediatricians the Hufflepuffs… I need to figure out how to fit in the other specialties].

My last rotation of 2016 was psychiatry. Naturally, I was doing exactly what I wanted to be doing for my life but at a medical student level. I felt challenged and never experienced the “psych-ation” hours some students enjoy on their core clerkship. I had hoped that it would help clarify psychiatry vs. family medicine for me, but it actually made me more confused. I love psychiatry, but maybe I also love family medicine. How can I do both? I have been looking into joint residencies – there used to be an Air Force option to do family medicine/psychiatry at Andrews AFB way back. There is currently an internal medicine/psychiatry residency (5 years as opposed to the 3 years in medicine and 4 years in psychiatry) offered to Army, Navy, and Public Health Service. Unfortunately, a double-boarded position is not currently in the needs of the Air Force right now, but I am trying to sell it [wish me luck, folks]. 

So that is how I concluded my 2016 year of core clerkships (typically done during third-year for other medical schools). I am still unsure about what I want to do for my specialty, and I approached my schedule so that both psychiatry and family medicine remain on the table. 

Over winter break, I got engaged (hollaaaa) to the love of my life while on vacation in Dominican Republic. It was a beautiful trip with us and a childhood friend of mine (the one who I credit with our relationship because Andrew was originally her friend from college). We met some great people while we were there and are developing an international friend pool, which is a good deal for future travels. 

Winter break went straight into Step 1 study time. We take it later than other medical schools to make up for the fact we start in the hospital 6 months earlier. Not much to say there because not much happened. My score was pretty awesome, and I think it is because I chose to CHILL OUT for once, minus the occasional panics about how I was behind schedule and felt like I was going to fail. In case there are pre-step 1ers reading this, I’ll lay out my study plan in another post.

After Step 1, it was back to the classroom after over a year. We had 6 weeks of trainings and additional education on certain clinical topics. We got certified in BLS (basic life support), ACLS (advanced cardiac life support), and ATLS (advanced trauma life support), when only BLS is required for medical students. We had a fun military event called Gunpowder that’s a prelude to Bushmaster in September where we do military medicine scenarios like making a rope bridge to get a patient across the river, running codes, and climbing walls (or in my case, having someone help push you over a wall). My team consisted of a group of classmates I had never spoken with before, and we worked great together – made it in third place among 16 teams!

Despite the training, I felt rusty on my hospital skills and was anxious to go back. Day 1 back in the hospital was on my birthday at Madigan Army Medical Center at Fort Lewis-McChord in Washington state. Neurology was a great transition rotation because we acted as the inpatient consultation service, so I felt like I was relearning all of medicine despite our focus on neurology. I also felt like so many things were finally clicking from basic science neuroscience to clinical practice. Neurologists are definitely friendly, love what they do, and have a good lifestyle. The brain is cool, friends. I don’t understand how neurology isn’t a more competitive field!

Washington was good to me. The lodging was comfortable. My residents were awesome. My USUHS classmates were fantastic, and I met some friendly HPSPers. A couple USU folks and I traveled on weekends – to Seattle, Portland, Crystal Mountain, and Tacoma. What a beautiful state! Despite all the rain, the sun managed to shine bright on weekends.

Although I had a great time on neurology, it was nice to come home, reunite with friends and family, and NOT have homework anymore. FYI to non-USUHS folks, neurology entails 10 papers, 1 take-home quiz, and a final exam. Fun stuff.

I am currently on ophthalmology where the surgeons are happy, and I am trying to get used to a new routine. I became re-engaged in group organizations after being welcomed into Alphi Omega Alpha and the Gold Humanism Honor Societies. I am working on a curriculum project with school and have two research projects going at the same time. I am also trying to get in shape for the wedding. So it has been pretty busy since I’ve come back home. Andrew and I had an epic engagement party with local friends/family this past weekend where his family was exposed to the beautiful wonders of Persian dining. With those wonderful memories and my social quota reached, it’s time to get busy. I have a book chapter due on June 1 and my step 2 CK on June 7. Cannot say I have been studying too much for this one…so I’ll let you know what my study plan is after I figure it out myself!

Surprised you’re still reading. It’s been quite the year, so I appreciate your time as I share my experiences 🙂

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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).

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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.