I get to be a sorta-kinda-almost doctor now!

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Well, it’s here, that moment we’ve all been waiting for when we are unleashed up onto the hospital wards and allowed to actually take care of patients. No, we’re not doctors yet…but we are 3rd years and with that new title comes the time to close (most of) our books, leave the lecture halls and learn, quite literally, on the job.

This week I began my 6 week rotation on OB/GYN. With my crisp, clean, new white coat with personalized embroidery and blast-from-the-past beeper in hand, I looked like a doctor but sure didn’t feel like one! I would be lying if I didn’t say that I am quite literally terrified of what this year has in store.

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In my past 18 years of education I have mastered the art of having teachers present material to me and then regurgitating it back to them on exams. Classrooms, books, and tests have defined my entire life. But now I have a new set of teachers, my patients, and the final exam is no longer a set of multiple-choice questions, but instead involves the health, well-being, and wholeness of a person.

Today I scrubbed into my first surgery, a vaginal hysterectomy/cystocele & rectocele repair/sling placement, and it was awesome!!! I felt completely incompetent wandering around the halls of the OR suites and mostly just tried to do my best to stay out of everyone’s way. It’s terrifying to feel like I have no clue what I’m doing, but at the same time I know that I’m doing my best to learn fast.

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Despite my best efforts, I know that I will make mistakes. My hope for this year is that I will not lose sight of the fact that each decision I make and the effort that I put into learning during the next 2 years of clinical training will have an impact on countless people either for the good or for the bad. I hope and pray that I will be able to honor the patients that put their lives in my care by learning absolutely everything that they have to teach. I also desire to learn from my residents and attending physicians who have an infinitely more advanced depth of knowledge and experience. I hope that I will not take one moment of this next year for granted for the formative power that it has on my training to be a caring, compassionate, and knowledgeable physician. Despite the apprehension and uncertainty that I feel when thinking about beginning this new year, I am also excited for the new experiences that will come my way!

Saying Goodbye to 2nd Year

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Many people have said that the second year of medical school is the hardest and most grueling year of all.  I’ve heard countless people tell stories of how busy, exhausting, and completely consuming 3rd year is, but it is always followed up by the statement, “But I’d take just about anything, including getting hit by bus, over 2nd year.”

To be completely honest, this was in fact one of the most challenging years of my life for reasons that extended far beyond the rigorous course work that we were faced with each and every day and the ever-looming presence of Step 1 (the exam that makes even other medical licensing exams cry themselves to sleep out of fear).

HOWEVER, I can honestly say that despite the challenges that we faced this year, I will look back on 2nd year with fond memories and a never stronger sense of the presence of God’s guiding hand in my life.  Let me take you through a quick whirlwind tour of what the end of this year was like and what made it so challenging, but I promise there’s a light at the end of the tunnel so keep reading!

From January on, the only thing that 2nd year medical students across America have on their minds is Step 1. This is the mother of all exams; it is 8 hours long and covers all of the content that we have learned in the first 2 years of medical school – anatomy, physiology, cell & molecular biology, immunology, behavioral science, biostatistics, preventive medicine, biochemistry, pharmacology, pathology, pathophysiology, psychiatry, and neurology.  Now this test wouldn’t be such a big deal if it didn’t have so much weight toward which field of medicine we will ultimately be able to enter.  It’s basically the MCAT of residencies and our scores will either make us eligible for competitive specialties like surgery, ophthalmology, radiology, or not.  The saddest part, in my opinion, is that students who may excel in those fields because of their clinical skills and passions may not have the chance to experience those professions because this exam holds so much weight in residency applications.  This was one of the things that I struggled with the most near the end of the year.  I watched countless classmates, who I know will be incredible healers struggle beneath the weight of the pressure that this exam places on students.  The tensions were certainly high and at times the morale was low, however, I can say that the silver lining through it all was learning to trust more in the fact that God has called us to this place to serve in a profession that he will placed us in.  If he has gotten us all this far, then surely he will see us through to the end.

Despite the challenges that we faced during 2nd year, I promised that there would be a light at the end of the tunnel.  Medical school is a process that is so much more than simply learning how to be a doctor; it is a process that challenges people at the very core of who they are and I can honestly say that I have enjoyed that challenge.  I’ve been stretched and forced to grow in ways that I could have never imagined.  I have been required to search for the true reasons why I chose to enter this profession.  I have made the best friends of my life because of the common struggles that we have faced together.  I have been inspired to grow in my walk with God.  I have learned more than I ever thought was possible.  And I have been humbled by the realization that I will never be able to learn everything there is to know about the workings of the human body.  Although the process has been challenging, frustrating, and seemingly impossible at times, I now stand on the other side of the first two years of medical school and can say with confidence that I wouldn’t change anything and would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

 

I would be remiss if I did not take a moment to thank the incredible people who helped make this year both meaningful and enjoyable!:

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My study buddies, Scott and Justin.  We met both years for 2 hours almost every night, 6 hours every Sunday, and ran through at least 45,000 flashcards – about 15,000 cards times a minimum of 3 repetitions. I couldn’t be more blessed or more thankful to have had them by my side through this journey.

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My fellow “Carrelers,” Keri, Krisalyn, Melissa, Stephen, James, David, Linden, Casey (not all of whom are in this picture). I spent my afternoons studying with these wonderful friends in the Study Carrels of Alumni Hall throughout 2nd year.  I have been continuously inspired by each and every one of them and have been spiritually and emotionally uplifted by each of their friendships.

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Dr. Werner, our famed professor of Pathophysiology and the Dean for Medical Student Education to whom we owe our gratitude for continuously inspiring us to never stop learning and to be the absolute best physicians we can possibly be.

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And my classmates, who I love with all my heart!  Coming to Loma Linda and joining these incredible, talented, brilliant, God-fearing, and all-around absolutely wonderful people was the best decision of my life!

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Carried

Paige, Second Year Medical Student

There are few things in this life that are more valuable than the love and support of friends and family.  I have once again been blessed by this reality in the first few weeks of this New Year.

I am not good at letting people help me.  I like to be in control of every situation, this need comes from a deep-seeded belief that everything that I do must always be perfect.  The fear is that if I let someone do something for me, they won’t do it the way I would and thus it wouldn’t meet my perfectionistic criteria (however skewed those criteria may be).  Fear of failure and the lack of ability to control a situation are in fact my biggest fears in life.  This is why I don’t like swimming in the ocean; the power of the uncontrollable waves literally terrifies me.  This is why I work so hard to get good grades and feel so horrible when things don’t always work out according to plans.  This is why I seldom ask for help, even when I know that it would make my life a million times easier.  And this is also why I struggle in my walk with God, because I am constantly resisting complete submission to His will in my life.

Over the past several years, there have been several situations that I have not been able to control: illness strikes a family member, school becomes overwhelming, relationships go awry.  Each time one of these uncontrollable waves crashes, I am flooded with my deepest fear…that I can’t handle the situation.  It has been times like these when I am thankfully reminded by the loved ones around me that I don’t have to do everything alone, that they can be there to help shoulder the burden and get me through even the toughest situations.

Last week was Week of Renewal on our campus.  It is a week when we have daily chapel services that serve to re-invigorate our spiritual journeys with Christ.  Randy Roberts, senior pastor of the Loma Linda University Church, spoke and shared the story in Mark 2 of the paralytic man that was brought to Jesus by 4 of his friends.  He shared the story to illustrate the importance of having friends who would be willing to go to any length to support you in your times of greatest need.  I resonated with this story and thought about the people in my life who have recently “lowered me through the roof to Jesus.”  Phone calls came from my sister, my Aunt, and my cousins, loving hugs and wise words came from my parents and my grandpa, and I have had several encouraging, spiritually uplifting conversations with friends.  All of these incredible people have shown me that sometimes it takes having a wave knock us off our feet to help us learn that we can let others carry us to Jesus so that He can then say, “take up your mat and walk.”

2nd Year…A Pause to Remember a Sacred Oath

Paige, Second Year Medical StudentAs is evident by the fact that this is my first blog post since the summer before year 2 of medical school commenced, 2nd year is BUSY!  Last year, we heard the 2nd year students grumble about how much they missed 1st year and how busy and completely consuming the ominous 2nd year was.  However, as a 1st year student, it was hard to believe that things could really be that much more difficult.  Little did I know, all the grumblings about 2nd year being one of the most difficult years of my academic life would indeed be indeed prove to be true.  In addition to a heavy academic load that includes: Pathophysiology, Pathology, Microbiology, Pharmacology, Neurology, Psychopathology, Preventive Medicine, and Biochemistry there are the additional requirements of labs, self-study lectures, continuity clinics, medical simulation labs, clinical skills OSCEs, and the ever-looming Step 1 test that will basically determine which residency programs we will be eligible for upon completing medical school.  Throw in extracurricular service activities, time to eat (cooking optional), exercise, spending time with loved ones, and devoting time to building a relationship with God and needless to say, there are never enough hours in the day to accomplish everything with the type of perfectionistic approach that we medical students desire.

If you have read my blog posts prior to this, you must be thinking, “Wow, this girl has suddenly become quite the Debbie Downer!”  I hope that you will continue to read however, because it has been this process of fully realizing the difficulty and challenges of medicine that has shown me even more of the immense value of this profession that I have chosen to pursue.  Moreover, it has shown me that even when things get tough—which they do—if you have the right support system, priorities, and determination, it can be done!

As I sit here on my last weekend of Christmas break and reflect over the past few months since beginning this year, I can honestly say that there have been many times, in fact, the majority of times when I have not had my priorities straight.  Relationships with family, friends, and God have all been stretched to the limit as I have put school again and again at the top of my priority list.  I have always had to work hard in school, but I have always been up for the challenge and have always truly enjoyed the process of learning.  Yet, at the beginning of this Christmas break I was exhausted, burnt out, and dreading the thought of once again immersing myself in the firehose of information that never gets turned off.  As far as I was concerned, the challenge was starting to look like it was a bit more than I could handle.

However, God showed me once again in a most unsuspecting way that He was the one guiding and sustaining me down this career path.  On New Year’s Eve my family had the opportunity to visit the Reagan National Library near my sister’s house in Ventura, California.  There are thousands of quotes scattered throughout this exhibition of President Reagan’s life story and accomplishments, and it would take days to read all of the information provided about the life of this incredible man.  We only had a few hours to walk the museum so we casually perused the information, taking note of just the main highlights.  One quote, tucked away in the volumes of information, stood out to me immediately.  It was spoken by President Reagan on his inauguration day and read, “I consider the trust that you have placed in me sacred, and I give you my sacred oath that I will do my utmost to justify your faith.”

Upon reading this quote, I was immediately struck with awe at the relevance it had in my own life.  It reminded me of that day a year and half ago when I recited a sacred oath “To Make Man Whole” and received a white coat that would signify the sacred trust of many patients that I would soon encounter.  I have no doubt that God used this quote to remind me of the reasons why I am currently working so diligently to conquer this difficult 2nd year of medical school.  As I look to begin this last 6 months of year 2, I am reinvigorated by this reminder of the sacred trust that has been placed in us as healthcare providers, and our sacred oath to be the best physicians that we can be in order to justify the faith that our future patients will have in us.

Lessons Learned Abroad

Paige, Second Year Medical StudentThe summer between the first and second years of medical school is really and truly the last summer break of our lives.  We have 2 months to soak up all the sun and fun we can before we begin the arduous process of tackling second year and USMLE Step 1, which is then followed promptly by beginning our clinical rotations of third year.  Medical students choose to spend this last glorious summer break in a variety of ways; those interested in competitive residency programs pursue summer research programs, others choose to take the summer to travel and spend time with family before allowing medical school to once again take over every aspect of their lives, and others choose to spend time as student missionaries in one of the many locations that Loma Linda sponsors.

Spending my summer as a student missionary was at the top of my list of things to do this summer and has been for quite some time.  I had never been on a mission trip before because I had been waiting until this summer between my first and second years of medical with the hope that I would be able to utilize some of the minimal medical knowledge that I have accumulated in the last year to do some tangible good in the community that I would be serving.  This summer I was privileged to have the opportunity to travel to Honduras, Central America to work in the Hospital Adventista Valle de Angeles.  I was able to serve alongside three of my classmates and a pre-medical student from Union College for four weeks in this beautiful country, and the lessons I learned while on this mission trip will undoubtedly shape my personal and professional life for many years to come.  Below is one of the lessons I learned about short-term mission trips.  I hope that by reading this experience you will think about the impact that short-term mission trips have on the lives of those we serve and on our own lives.

I had my first doubts about the benefits of short-term mission trips while I was boarding my plane from Houston to Tegucigalpa.  The vast majority of travelers boarding the plane with us were Americans wearing bright colored matching t-shirts with “Honduras Mission Trip 2013” printed across their backs.  Most people visiting Honduras were not doing so to enjoy the vast natural beauty of its tropical rainforests, or to explore the rich history of the Mayan ruins, or to immerse themselves in the loving and hospitable culture of the Honduran people.  Instead, nearly everyone on that plane was venturing to Honduras with the hope that they would be able to serve the Honduran people in some way, whether that was through building a church or a school or offering medical or teaching services.  Although this is without question a noble motive, it made me wonder if we had pigeonholed this country into being a place that needs “our generosity.”  I refused to believe that I would be serving the people of Honduras more than they would be serving me because I knew that I would likely learn more from this trip than I would ever be able to repay in service to my teachers.  I knew that I would gain many insights during my time in Honduras and I prayed that God would use me in even the smallest of ways to at least make a small impact on the people that I would encounter.

As the trip progressed, I realized how much I was changing as a result of seeing the things that this country had to offer and how little I felt that I was contributing.  Not being able to speak the language meant that I could not communicate well with those around me; this made it difficult for me to feel like I had made any impact on anyone’s life.  That all changed when Miss Marjorie, a retired teacher from the local Adventist school came into our lives.  We had requested the opportunity to go into the local school and teach the children about healthy living; Miss Marjorie was the person who made this request a reality.  One week, Miss Marjorie was presenting a special English Sabbath School lesson about prayer to our group.  She talked about times that prayers had been answered and shared a personal testimony about how a recent prayer of hers had been answered.  To our amazement, she actually told us that we were the answer to her prayer.  Earlier in the year, she had left her position at the school and never had a chance to say goodbye to her students.  Ever since, she had been praying that she would find a way to get back into the school to see her kids and explain to them why she had to leave.  She said that when the hospital had contacted her about 4 students from Loma Linda who only spoke English and who wanted to work with the kids in the school, she knew that God had worked to answer her prayer to get her back into contact with her kids.  Miss Marjorie showed us that God was using us in ways that we couldn’t have even imagined.

I still believe that the vast majority of short-term mission trips benefit those who go on the trips more than those who are being served.  I also believe that this is rightfully so.  It is important for people going on short-term mission trips to realize that they will likely learn more from their experiences and change more as a result than those who they go to serve.  Having an open mind about choosing to learn and grow from these experiences does not imply selfish motives, in fact, I believe that it is selfish to think that we can go on short-term mission trips and always make a life-changing impact on the communities we serve.  That being said, there is no doubt that God can use us to touch the lives of others on short-term mission trips in ways that we cannot foresee and blesses us immensely through the process.

I am so grateful for the experiences that I had while in Honduras, I grew immensely spiritually, emotionally, and professionally, and I am assured that God was able to use us in ways that we may never even know.  I would argue that there is no better way to spend the summer between the first and second years of medical school.

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