Sunday, August 28, 2011

Things I learned in my first year of med school

Tomorrow classes will start again and I will be a second year medical student. My first year of medical school was really difficult. During that time, I feel that I learned a little about myself.

The most productive place to study is a desk in a silent place. 
It's not the most pleasant place. I'm depressed and angry when I'm studying here but I actually get studying done. I still sometimes study at coffee shops but I'm ultimately doing a disservice to myself because I'm less efficient when the environment is noisy so I end up spending more time studying.

I enjoy seeing patients even when I can barely remember questions to ask or the components of a physical exam. 
Most of my patient interactions have come from volunteering at a weekend clinic for uninsured and underinsured people. Medical students are responsible for taking vitals, interviewing patients to find out the reason why they're in the clinic, their health history, and conduct a physical exam.

I can learn an enormous amount of material when I have to.
I listened to an NPR segment about children competing in a Koran memorization competition. I'm impressed by their abilities but more so by their dedication. I don't believe it requires a prodigy to memorize the Koran or to be a doctor. It requires a lot of work and time. I could memorize Robbins and Cotran's The Pathologic Basis of Disease by heart if I needed to.

I can make sacrifices for medical school.
I don't find it enjoyable to study on Friday and Saturday night but I do because that is the only way I will pass my exams. I look back on my old blog entries on my undergraduate days and at my flickr photos from when I traveled throughout Europe. That seems like a different life.

I can make time to spend time with the people who are important to me.
One of my greatest fears about medical school is that I would not have any friendships or relationships with non-medical students because I had to study all the time. This was proven by the fact that during my first semester I spent almost every night studying until about 11pm or midnight and I still found exams difficult and the material overwhelming. I didn't spend time with friends I had made during undergrad who were still in the area even though I missed their company.

But second semester showed me that it is possible to sustain meaningful relationships with people outside med school! I felt less isolated and more hopeful that I wouldn't be stuck in the medical world forever. I sometimes quit studying at 9pm so that I could spend time a couple hours with my boyfriend. That was a big decision for me even though it doesn't seem like much. I thought I was so close to failing exams during first semester that the only option was to study more during second semester.

But somehow during the second semester I had more exams -- one almost every Monday -- but spent more time with and got better grades than I did first semester. It's was very strange. I still can't figure out why but I hope that I can do that again.

Medical school is really hard but not impossible. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

med student pickup lines

An incoming freshman asked me what the nerd cave was. I didn't tell him because he'll find out soon enough. 

Heard this from my fellow student. It's a nerd cave pickup line: "The cubicle next to mine is empty. Wanna study there?"

Saturday, August 13, 2011

"Research" or Glorified Microsoft Office suite operator

I'm doing research this summer. It's not any research. It's cancer research, which automatically makes people think it's important research. This means I'm getting paid by my medical school to work with a faculty mentor full time for seven weeks.

It's actually epidemiology research that's sort of related to cancer but not really. To most people, that sounds a lot less impressive than cancer research because they don't know what the hell epidemiology is about. (Wait, I don't know what epidemiology is...) It actually means that I wait around for my mentor to give me some numbers that I can make into a diagram, textbox, or table and put it in a powerpoint slide. My chief job responsibility is formatting a powerpoint slide that's to be a poster and writing the manuscript for a paper that I really don't understand.

I'll be getting a W-2 this year! This is the first paying job I've had since ... summer 2009? I had forgotten about the magic that is direct deposit.

Does anyone have experience carrying a large poster tube on the airplane? Please get in touch with me. I will have to do this in about a month's time.

The good news is that I felt a little less incompetent during my weekly meeting with my research mentor and Skype call with her collaborator, an epidemiologist at the University of South Carolina). Usually It was not because I contributed meaningfully to the discussion between my mentor and her collaborator because another (soon-to-be) second year student was there who seemed just as clueless as I was.

I've been reading a somewhat famous blogger on the med student blog circuit, Action Potential (, who wrote about her summer research frustrations here. She's funny.

Monday, August 8, 2011

You might not believe it but I did learn how to do a complete physical exam

There's an order to conducting a physical exam. I took a class on it and passed the exam, which consisted of doing a physical exam on a classmate including memorizing the steps and performing them in the correct order.

You wouldn't know this if you had seem me at the weekend clinic where I volunteer.

What goes on in my head:
Me to patient: I'm going to conduct a physical exam on you.
Me: I'm going to look into your eyes now.

This went on until I went through the motions of enough components of the physical exam in no particular order until I thought maybe  the patient was fooled into thinking I gathered any useful information. (I didn't.)
When I left the exam room to report to the attending physician, I realized that I forgot to palpate lymph nodes. Oops.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Ridiculous mnemonics

Hey everyone! It's my revamped blog! I figured since medical school consumes my entire life now, I'll make this blog about medical school.

There are a lot of things to memorize in medical school so students and doctors come up with mnemonics to help remember them. However in my experience, some of them don't actually help you remember whatever it is you're supposed to remember. Furthermore, clinicians tend to publish papers introducing their mnemonic as if it's the greatest thing ever. This I find ridiculous.

HEADSSS is supposed to help pediatricians remember important questions to ask adolescents. However, all I could remember was that it was sort of like the word "head" but with some extra letters but I couldn't remember which letters, let alone what each stood for. I had to Google it when writing up this post.

H: home
E: education/employment
A: activities
D: drugs
S: sexuality
S: suicide/depression
S: safety

PPQRST has the honor of being the first ridiculous mnemonic I learned back when we were all bright-eyed first semester students. It's purpose is to help clinicians thorough assess a medical complaint. The problem is that we can't phrase the question to the patient the way the mnemonic is. We are supposed to ask questions simply and directly. Words like "palliative" and "provocative" are out so we have to remember to ask what makes the pain better and what makes it worse.

P: palliative factors
P: provocative factors
Q: quality of the pain
R: radiation
S: severity
T: temporal course
T: treatment

An internal medicine resident told me that for Step 2, PPQRST doesn't cut it because the student has to elicit a lot more specific information about the complaint. He has many more mnemonics for that. Yikes.