Category Archives: Miscellaneous Musings

These blog posts include my random reflections about illness narratives, literature, and medicine.

[Pulse] On Earth As It Is in Heaven

I don’t know what prompted me to take this picture. In retrospect, I imagine this is what death looks like, or feels like. On death’s door, the vast promise of something more (perhaps heaven) lies ahead–pure and natural, mysterious in its perfection. But there are things that hold us back, stopping us like a red light. Eventually, something’s got to give.

on earth as it is in heaven

This photograph was featured in Pulse–Voices from the Heart of Medicine.

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[ACP IMpact] Medical Student Perspective: 10 Tips for Making the Most of Medical School

Since starting medical school a year ago, this website has become relatively silent. I’ve struggled with finding enough time to write for myself and for this blog. I’ve intentionally avoided reflecting on what it’s like to be a medical student here, because there’s just so much to say and so much that I’m still trying to figure out for myself. The American College of Physicians’ Internal Medicine Newsletter for Medical Students (ACP’s IMpact) asked current medical students “What’s Your Top Ten?,” which prompted me to take a step back and distill all that I’ve learned into a list with words of advice for incoming medical students. Although I’ll admit I wrote this list largely for myself, I hoped that it may also be of use to others going through this journey into medicine.

Here it is! I’d love to hear your thoughts.

After my last examination as a first-year medical student, I couldn’t resist this opportunity to write about all that I’ve learned beyond the science and clinical practice of medicine. Medical school is a learning experience unlike any other—and I know that I’m just beginning to scrape the surface—but the first year really is an adjustment for everyone. I’ve thought a lot throughout the past 10 months about how much I have changed as a person, for better and for worse. Although this list is specifically for first-year medical students, I believe many of these tips will sustain me throughout the rest of medical school. My hope is that they may do the same for you.

1. Learn from those around you. 
In medical school, you find yourself surrounded by people you can learn from: your classmates, who have all done extraordinary things and pursued unique passions to be here by your side; your professors, who have a wealth of information that they want to share with you and not enough time to do so; and your mentors, who are eager to impart their wisdom and support you personally and professionally in your journey into medicine.

2. Practice what you preach. 
This isn’t easy, not in medical school nor in a lifelong practice of medicine. Physicians have alarmingly high rates of depression and one of the highest rates of suicide (1). Only 50% exercise weekly, and many physicians struggle with being overweight (2). If we expect it of our patients, it is only fair that we make an effort to embrace the healthy lifestyles that we encourage.

3. Minimize multitasking. 
This may seem counterintuitive to the fast-paced world in which we live, but I believe it’s more efficient to focus entirely on one thing at a time. Try turning off your phone while studying or closing your laptop in class. Make an effort to be mindful and to stay focused on the task at hand despite all the other thoughts that may be running through your mind. Experiment with studying in silence.

4. Be fully present. 
Our patients will come to us to share personal and intimate details about their bodies and their lives—the very least that we can do for them is to be fully present in each moment of our time with them. The art of immersing oneself in a moment comes from being attentive and listening with both your mind and your body; it’s something we should strive to practice as a physician, a student, and a human being.

5. Understand that time is of the essence. 
I’ve found that in medical school, I’ve become acutely aware of time like never before. You learn what it really means to make the most of every minute of the day: flipping through flashcards in the few minutes before class, squeezing in a workout just before the gym closes, or talking on the telephone with friends on your walk home. When you are flooded by information in medical school you may feel pressure to rush through all aspects of your life. Instead of caving to this pressure to rush through everything; try to identify ways to work more efficiently and use your newly found time to slow down and recharge your batteries.

6. Feel.
Whether it be journaling, meditating, or talking to a close friend about the whirlwind of emotions that you feel throughout medical school, take time to reflect on your experiences. One study found that 53% of medical students had burnout (3); just as a career in medicine can be emotionally draining, so, too, can its training. Reflection in some form will help you put these experiences in perspective and come to terms with the sometimes-exhausting nature of medicine.

7. Hold on to what you know.  
Everyone comes to medical school with some idea of who they are and the kind of person they want to be in their career, whether or not you know what kind of physician that may be. Take the time to hold on to what you know, pursue what you are already passionate about, and do the things that you enjoy. Maintain and even strengthen the support system that you already have of family, friends, and loved ones.

8. Explore what you don’t. 
Nevertheless, medical school will no doubt change you. Make the most of this inevitable transformation—embrace it. While holding on to what you know, make space for trying new activities, for learning about what you may never have heard about. Be open to new relationships with the people around you, who are all facing somewhat similar experiences. Let yourself be malleable.

9. Have faith in the system. 
There’s no doubt that medical school is stressful. There is an infinite amount of knowledge to acquire, and medicine is an ever-growing field that never ceases to challenge our thinking minds. Sometimes, it can be overwhelming. It can be a daunting task to think about the sheer amount of knowledge that there is to remember. But, in the end, rest assured that this is all part of the journey.

10. Remember, practicing medicine is a privilege. 
Amidst all that happens in medical school, it can sometimes be easy to forget just what a privilege it is to be a physician. The opportunity to gain this wealth of knowledge about the human body and to study medicine, to devote a lifetime to its practice, is an honor. Being there for people at their most vulnerable is a humbling experience; medicine is gratifying to those who strive to make it so.

The first year of medical school is a time to grow not only in your knowledge but also in your own identity. I know that I’ve taken only the first steps into the field and that there is so much more for me to learn, but, for now, these realizations are enough. I look forward to carrying them forward with me throughout the rest of my journey.

References 
1. Hays LR, Cheever T, Patel P. Medical student suicide, 1989-1994. Am J Psychiatry. 1996;153:553-5. [PMID: 8599405]
2. Medscape Physician Lifestyle Report 2012. Medscape. 2012. Accessed at http://www.medscape.com/features/slideshow/lifestyle/2012/public on July 17, 2015
3. Dyrbye LN, Massie FS Jr, Eacker A, Harper W, Power D, Durning SJ, et al.Relationship between burnout and professional conduct and attitudes among US medical students. JAMA. 2010;304:1173-80. [PMID: 20841530] doi:10.1001/jama.2010.1318

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a haiku

I’m not much of a poet, but I wrote a haiku!

Check it out in Pulse–voices from the heart of medicine.
Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 5.29.41 PM

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Filed under Literary Narratives, Miscellaneous Musings

Helping: A podcast interview

About a year ago, I had the opportunity to share my journey into medicine through Inside Stories. Now, after finishing my first year of medical school, it was a pleasure to chat with  J.J. Bouchard, a Certified Child Life Specialist and Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, about my experiences helping others.

Helping: Conversations with Child Life Specialists and Other Helper Professionals is a podcast that features people who have dedicated their lives to helping others. I was truly honored to participate in this podcast project and to have a chance to reflect on my experiences as a helper and what being a helper means to me. In this podcast, I shared some of my experiences with the Chronicling Childhood Cancer narrative project and the book, as well as the current volunteer work that I’ve become involved in as a medical student.

J.J. was instrumental in helping me with my research project (as you’ll hear about if you listen to the podcast!), and his podcasts provide great insight into the stories of people who devote themselves to helping others. It is incredible to me the variety of ways that people choose to make a difference in the lives of others, and listening to these podcasts has reminded me that there is so much that we can learn from each other.

Check out the podcast here, and subscribe to hear more from other helper professionals!

http://www.helpingpodcast.com/?page_id=10

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Thinking about the Chronicling Childhood Cancer book reading/signing event… Still

I have to apologize for the blog silence. Sometimes life gets in the way of things, no matter how important they may be to me.

Three weeks ago, it was my pleasure to hold a book reading/signing event for the recently published book Chronicling Childhood Cancer: A Collection of Personal Stories by Children and Teens with Cancer. I had approached Literati Bookstore in downtown Ann Arbor on a whim, thinking that if there was any bookstore who may support this local book publication of stories by youth with childhood cancer, it was them.

Before I had even finished telling them the whole story, they had said “of course.” They kindly invited me to host an event to launch the book, to get the word out about it and raise more awareness about the cause of childhood cancer. They were so supportive about this project that they even wanted to donate 100% of the book sales from the event: as with the book, 50% of the donations would go to the Block Out Cancer campaign for pediatric cancer research at the University of Michigan and 50% to the Child and Family Life Program at the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.

I tossed around a number of ideas about what to do for the event, ultimately deciding that it would be best to let the children share their stories themselves. After I contacted all the young authors, we were fortunate enough to have three join us at the event (one other author realized that he had too much math homework that day, but I reassured him that was entirely valid and it made me smile to hear that school was his excuse).

It’s hard for me to summarize what happened that night. So hard that it’s taken me weeks to find the words to write about it (somewhat) coherently. The event as a whole moved me more than I had ever anticipated.

I had certainly been nervous about the event because of how sensitive this topic of childhood cancer is. I think that in the back of my mind I feared what could happen all along and how emotional the experience of sharing their stories could be for the authors of this collection. But in reality, I hadn’t mentally prepared for it.

By its very nature, the book reading was an emotional experience for the young authors as well as the audience. It was not easy for me to watch as these teens stood under bright lights in front of a room full of people, overcome by emotion as they shared their personal and very intimate experiences with cancer. I was struck by their determination and persistence to tell their tales- it was just one example of what courage in the face of cancer looks like.

After the event, each of the authors thoroughly enjoyed signing copies of the book. Even though the event had clearly not been easy for anyone, they were all eager and excited about the prospects of doing another book reading/singing event and maybe even meeting some of the other authors.

As far as this project has come, I’ve realized that I’m not done with it now, and I probably won’t ever be. There’s just so much more that I want to do to share what these children and teens have shared with me, and I’m as determined as ever to make the most of all that this project has taught me. But I also know that I need time, and that’s ok.

To this day, I am struck by just how much this event moved me. The standing-room-only audience of friends and family, health practitioners and local strangers. The kind words of appreciation expressed by these young authors and their parents. The knowledge that all that I have put in to this research, this book, and this event has touched these teens more than I had ever realized. It was overwhelming, in the best way possible.

Literati book reading signing event- Event Plan

Literati book reading signing event- Research Overview

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Filed under Chronicling Childhood Cancer: Illuminating the Illness Experience through Narrative, Miscellaneous Musings, Narrative Medicine Research

[From Mott Children’s Hospital blog] Sharing the voices of children with cancer

With excerpts from the Chronicling Childhood Cancer book, this blog post was included in the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital Hail to the Little Victors blog. I’m honored to be a part of such an important initiative; I truly believe that “everyone has a role to play to block out cancer.”

Sharing the voices of children with cancer

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Kicking Off Childhood Cancer Awareness Month by Answering the Question: Why?

The long-anticipated month of September has finally arrived: it’s National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

President Obama issued a proclamation in honor of this occasion, recognizing that this is the time to “remember all those whose lives were cut short by pediatric cancer, to recognize the loved ones who know too well the pain it causes, and to support every child and every family battling cancer each day.”

Moreover, the proclamation acknowledges the multidimensional approach needed for childhood cancer awareness: “We join with their loved ones and the researchers, health care providers, and advocates who support them as we work toward a tomorrow where all children are able to pursue their full measure of happiness without the burden of cancer.”

As I have become more involved in the cause of childhood cancer, people have asked me why. And I think it’s important for me to be upfront about my background. No, I am not a childhood cancer survivor, nor do I have any close friends or family that have gone through the experience. But I believe that you don’t have to be personally touched by childhood cancer to care.

Volunteering with pediatric oncology patients at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital was all it took to expose me to this different world. For me, getting to know these children and their families and witnessing how cancer permeated their lives made me determined to do something.

While I currently aspire to be a pediatric oncologist and to dedicate my career to these children, I also realize that a lot can change throughout the course of my medical education. Nevertheless, I know that childhood cancer will always be a cause that I hold dear to my heart– I know that I will continue to support these children and their families in whatever capacity that I can.

That’s why I am a firm believer in the Childhood Cancer Awareness Month campaign motto at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital:

boc web page banner image

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