With Thanksgiving

The holiday season always puts me in a state of reflection. Maybe it’s a result of my annual ten slices of pumpkin pie. Since Thanksgiving is still a recent memory, I wanted to write about a few things for which I am grateful:

A controllable thermostat in the Alumni Hall classroom. When nearly everyone has vacated our lecture hall, and the faithful few remain, I am so thankful that we can turn the temperature up to the 70s and be nice and toasty while we study for eight hours or until our eyelids become too heavy to lift (whichever comes later).

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I’m dreaming of a sunny Christmas…

Wednesday/Thursday $3 burritos. I find it hard to prepare meals for myself throughout the week. There are some weeks when I survive on free food given at events and kind friends who love to cook. But when all my containers are empty and nothing in the community fridge has my name on it, LLU Church UReach $3 burritos save the day.

California sunshine. After experiencing seven Midwest/East winters and enjoying the “winters” here in SoCal, I would be reluctant to go back to a white Christmas, no matter how romantic and song-worthy it sounds.

Tutors and big sibs. At every session, material that would normally take me five hours to digest is compacted into two glorious hours of epiphanies. My tutors are brilliant and funny, and they deserve a lot of credit for helping me succeed in medical school. Meanwhile, my big sib (student mentor) gives me hugs and food, and who wouldn’t be grateful for that?!

friendsgivingFriends. They help make the med school life worth living. In just a few short years, these amazing people will be changing the world, one patient at a time.

Jesus. The author and finisher of my faith. When the world seems to be crumbling from within and more eyes grow cataracts of anxiety and fear, I continually look forward to His promise of a perfect world, where there will be no need for doctors (Revelation 21:1-4).

After three more tests and two mock board subject exams in less than three weeks, we’ll be home for Christmas! I can’t wait!

Why Loma Linda? – Spirituality in Wholeness

We just finished our 2nd round of exams (praise God!). As usual, leading up to the test week, I felt bogged down by my studies. I was definitely out of balance; it often felt like I had to choose between spending time with God or spending time with my lecture notes.

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Textbooks vs. Bible…which will win?!

But the struggle made me all the more grateful to be where I am now. Countless people have asked me, “Why Loma Linda?” especially after finding out I attended a public university in Michigan and a grad institution in Pennsylvania. Aside from the fact that Loma Linda University (LLU) is the school of my dreams, its location in the city of my upbringing, and the opportunities to serve locally and abroad, one reason stands out: LLU makes man whole. I felt that my experiences during this test cycle can attest to that. I’d particularly like to point out how LLU addressed the spiritual aspect of my wholeness:

1. Week of Prayer and Chapelimg_4602

Every Wednesday, students gather in the University Church for 50 minutes to sing praises, share testimonies, and hear from the Word of God. After three hours of packed-to-the brim lectures prior to chapel, it’s uplifting to listen to words of encouragement and be challenged to live better lives for Christ. Having weekly worship with the whole school like this is such a privilege. I would not be able to have this kind of experience at many other institutions.

LLU has a Week of Prayer once a semester. The theme of the most recent one was “togetherness.” Every day for one week, I was reminded to see others through Jesus’s eyes and was given practical ways to show love to people who are different from me. At the end of the week, we all stood close, held hands, and prayed together. That sense of unity among everyone regardless of religious and cultural background felt like a piece of heaven on earth.

2. Religion Classes

Every Tuesday and Thursday, I attend a class called Art and Science of Whole Person Care. In this class, I learn how to meet the needs of patients at the bedside — how to see them as people with dynamic stories instead of living textbook examples. The class consistently reminds me that there is so much more to medicine than just cramming tons of information into my already-saturated brain. In addition to sharing this information, I have the opportunity to show genuine care and treat a patient as a whole person.

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Animal vespers at LLU Church!

3. Vesper and Church Services

On weekends, it always feels like a million things are going on at the same time. But that just means more options for students to gather with other believers, eat, enjoy nature, or just relax. Throughout the weekend, students can attend various worship services at school, at people’s homes, or in different churches. On Saturdays, I can finally see people who aren’t in my class and have my attention fixed on something other than pathophysiology. This valuable time of rest is like a breath of fresh air in the smog of the week and helps me to re-energize for the next week.

4. Dedicated Alumni

Right after exams, some of my img_4638-2classmates and I spent the golden weekend in Indian Wells, CA, for the annual Adventist Medical Evangelism Network (AMEN) Conference (free of charge for med students!). There I met other LLU students and alumni who were eager to learn how to be better medical missionaries in their practice. Several physicians shared stories of talking about Jesus with their patients. I was inspired by the physicians’ dedication to their work, community, the next generation of physicians, and God.

No place is perfect, but there is definitely something special about this place. On to test cycle 3!

Sights and Sounds of Second Year

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For many of us students, the key to coping with the load of medical school is by following a highly predictable schedule that gets repeated day in and day out. It took a few weeks for me to establish the routine as I adjusted to second year, but quickly, I found myself in the rhythm – waking up at the same time, eating the same food for lunch, wearing the same flip flops, studying in the same desk, and walking the same route on study breaks. In some ways, I find myself getting desensitized to the little joys and unique experiences of each day because I get so caught up in my same routine. However, I’ve recently been trying to let me eyes and ears perk up to the little things that make each day of second year special, and I thought I would share six of those little sights and sounds with you.

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  1. Outside of Alumni Hall is a nice loop of sidewalk that is often inhabited by MS2s like me who like to get some fresh air, increased venous return, sunlight, and exercise as we review over notes.

2. The other day as I sat in my study carrel, getting in the last few minutes of studying before Sabbath, through the walls I could hear someone singing with great fervor, “Deliver Us,” from the Prince of Egypt sound track. I found myself laughing hysterically as I saw the similarities between us, the second year medical students and the children of Israel held captive in Egypt.
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3. You can learn just about anything on YouTube, including how to draw blood. So that’s exactly what we did 🙂 Thankfully, my partner and I both got the “flash of blood” on our first try. We received a complete blood count and looked at our blood smears under the microscope.

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4. How do you spend your Saturday night? I spent mine listening to music as I made a super sized table to organize the details of lymphomas and leukemias. If you must study on a Saturday night because you’re a little behind in classes, good music always makes the process much more enjoyable!

5. The study carrels are indeed as they are named, used for studying. They are a cozy little place that provide the quietness needed for focus, but also the company of others that you need in order to keep from feeling too isolated. The carrel that I am in is often pretty quiet, but every few hours someone will say something and before you know it, everyone has abandoned whatever they were doing to join in on the conversation. It’s in these conversations where we have shared great laughs, told stories, and bonded with each other. These are moments and sounds that I savor. After a few minutes of chatting, there will be a collective sigh, and everyone quietly makes their way back to whatever task it was that they were working on before.

6. One of my favorite sights of second year has been the amount of sunrises and sunsets that I have been able to watch. Following in the footsteps of some of the other MS2 bloggers, I also have shifted my sleeping schedule to fit in study time early in the morning where I am more efficient and focused, allowing me to see the sunrise every single day. Each evening, I often walk home around sunset or I get to watch it from the window of my study carrel as the day draws to a close. There is something really special about truly seeing the day from start to finish in the unique and beautiful ways that the Creator paints the sky. It helps remind me of His new mercies that begin afresh each morning, and of His faithfulness that gets me through each day.

It might not be the most exciting life that we live, but these are a few of the little wonderful moments in each day that provide just enough joy to the routine that keep us happily moving forward from one day to the next.

That Extra Half-hour

A lot has been said for how difficult medical school is. While the analogy of “drinking out of a fire hose” is probably more correctly stated as “drinking out of a water spigot that never turns off,” medical school still takes a lot of time and energy just to even get through the program. That said, a lot of things we took for granted when we were younger such as a good nights sleep, free time, and enjoying time with family often become back-burnered during medical school.

Throughout college, I was NEVER a late-night study owl. I simply cannot stay up late and study, as my tired brain simply shuts down and refuses to memorize another sentence. That said, I must get between 7-8 hours of sleep to function throughout the day. Any less and I’ll be nodding off by early afternoon; any more and I feel no more rested than if I had simply gotten 8 hours. So it is possible to get through medical school sleeping 7-8 hours a night (woohoo!) Obviously, I can vary my sleep between 7-8 hours. If I need extra study time, I simply sleep closer to 7 hours. If things are going well (which is rare in second year), I can set my alarm clock closer to 8 hours of sleep.

The problem I found especially with second year is that it takes a ridiculous amount of brain power to memorize and learn all the things we need to know.  As well, there is simply not enough time to learn all the pages of info we seem to cover in no time at all. So naturally, I have been sleeping closer to 7 hours and trying to power my brain all day to get through the material. The problem I found is that this is simply unsustainable long term. I tried doing that last week, and by the end of the week I was mentally exhausted. The weekend is usually a premium study time with no new lectures, but I was so mentally tired I was studying nowhere near efficiency.

Two things I have discovered. Number 1: if it is past 9 pm and I am totally exhausted – GO TO BED AND CALL IT A DAY. There is no point in trying to study if you are mentally checked out. My tendency is to try to study but take breaks that gradually get longer and longer until I am taking more break time than study time. At this point, you may as well take a complete break – you’re almost there anyway. Number 2: an extra half hour of sleep is worth the investment. After getting closer to 8 hours of sleep a couple days in a row, I can notice a definite improvement. I am much more energized and can last longer in the afternoon going through the monotony of read and memorize lecture after lecture. A half hour invested in the sleep bank can mean the difference between efficient study and inefficient study. It is way better to have 2 efficient hours than 2.5 inefficient hours. Not to mention the fact I feel way better about life when I get my sleep 🙂

As student physicians, we are learning how to care for people’s medical needs. However, we also need to remember that part of taking care of our patients is taking care of ourselves. Whether it is eating right, exercise, or even that extra half hour of sleep to feel rested and energized, we need to be taking care of ourselves before we can expect to take care of others. So during medical school, do what you need to do to keep yourself sane and healthy – your studying and learning will be much better for it, as will be your overall health and happiness.

Beginning Round 2

Hey guys, I’m writing after the first week of tests of the second medical school year. The first two years of medical school are centered around six “test cycles,” 4-5 week intervals with a week of tests at the end. After five weeks of hard work, tests came and went. As I looked around at my classmates every morning as we walked out of exams, I could see my feelings of surprise and anxiety reflected in their faces. These exams are so much more difficult than last year. I’m realizing that, for us MS2s, this is the new normal. We’re going to be stressed and working hard for eight more months until Step 1 boards, then for third year rotations, and then residency!

With this epiphany, I need motivation because I will inevitably become discouraged and tired as the journey progresses. I’m tired already, after only one test cycle. At our orientation this year Dr. Werner, our dean of medical education, challenged us to remember one specific line from our Physician’s Oath:

“The wholeness of my patient will be my first consideration.”

His argument was that patient care does not begin with our third year of medical school. What we are learning now in our second year of medical school is foundational for all of our patient interactions. It can be so easy to lose the big picture when considering the journey of medical school. It’s so easy to lose sight of the patients I will one day help when we have lecture notes the size of two reams of paper.

Dr. Werner’s advice is helpful because, when I’m tempted to cut corners and learn just enough to get by for boards and in-house exams, I will be challenged to refocus my energies to better serve my future patients.

To shift gears, I’d like to emphasize the importance of finding encouragement in a spiritual sense in medical school. Regardless of your faith tradition, finding a group that can build you up and help you connect with God is so helpful. I try to do this by going to church with friends, attending Friday night group discussions, and seeking community service opportunities. I know many of my classmates are involved with the Christian Medical and Dental Association, which has several small groups organized around the Loma Linda area. These type of events help connect me with friends who listen to my concerns, encourage me, and just help me laugh.

It’s also important to be a disciple in your personal spiritual discipline. Finding time to read and think about a biblical passage or to make a little progress in a religiously themed book helps me focus for the day. Overall, cultivating spiritual growth brings me peace and allows me to engage in the world outside of medicine.

Finally, some organizational/academic advice. During first year, I would go to sleep at around 11 and wake up at 7. This gave me an hour to eat, shower and gather my things before rushing off to class. This year I’ve been doing my best to get to bed earlier. This allows me to get up at 6 and spend some time doing devotions and studying. This morning time is so useful. I can use the time to get ahead on the day’s lectures by pre-reading or, more often than I’d like, I use the time to catch up on material I didn’t quite finish the day before.

Another strategy I’m trying is using my pre-reading time to create the skeleton for a study guide. I take this skeleton to class and fill it in as the professor lectures. In medical school most lecturers are organized enough that they follow the objectives provided in their study materials as they present. Filling in these sheets saves me time as I now have a quality summary of the lecture by the time class is over. I can then spend time reviewing and tweaking this summary during my study time in the afternoon. Credit goes to Dr. Ingrid Wahjudi and Dr. Werner for their advice about this study method (Dr. Wahjudi also wrote for this blog a few years ago).

So there’s a glimpse into my mind 6 weeks into the second year of medical school. I hope all goes well for you and thanks for reading!