Secrets to Preserving One’s Sanity in Med School

Victoria-headerWow! It’s been a LONG time since I last posted anything. My excuse? Medical school got in the way!

I feel as though I need to recap everything that has happened since, but I’ll try to be somewhat concise. Two of the most important were my first two exam sets of medical school. Now, for all you out there who have not yet had the distinct pleasure of enduring a LLUSM exam, let me set the scene.

You have been taught a plethora of information from your different classes over the course of about six weeks.

Below are the core classes you are currently taking:

  • Gross Anatomy
  • Embryology
  • Medical Physiology
  • Cell Structure & Function
  • Physical Diagnosis
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Medical Biochemistry
  • Genetics

The various questions, from each lecture (of each subject), are mixed up and compiled into a single test. This test is then broken up into three separate exams to be administered over a course of three consecutive days. This format forces each student to really integrate the information from each class. In addition, one must be able to quickly switch his/her mindset from one subject (or class) to another. To top it off, the last day of the week is dedicated to lab practicums, usually anatomy and cell.

Needless to say, test week causes some anxiety! By the end of the week, students are relieved to be finished. In fact, the weekend following a test week has been dubbed, and will forever be called, a “golden weekend”! Golden weekends are the few times during the school year where LLU medical students can relax without worrying about studying or falling behind. That being said, one has to make the most out of them! My favorite golden weekend activities include sleeping, hanging out with friends, shopping, watching movies – basically, doing whatever makes me happy! After all, when Monday rolls back around, it is time to get serious again!

Anyway, now that you have some background, let’s get back to my actual experience. I was very nervous when the first test week arrived because I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. To my surprise, I survived and actually did just fine! It was hard (especially due to the volume of information), but definitely doable. That golden weekend was our School of Medicine retreat at Pine Springs Ranch. Overall, it was a fun experience getting to know fellow classmates (and faculty) outside of lectures and labs. My favorite part was probably Saturday night’s talent show. It was a blast and everyone who participated was so talented!

Six weeks later, we had our second test week. I was anxious all over again, but in the end I didn’t do too bad!

Lessons I have learned while in medical school:

  • Cling to God because He is the only One who can get you through this!
  • Relearn how to study and then study hard!
  • Previewing lectures before class is incredibly helpful.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
  • Learn from your mistakes, and don’t repeat them.
  • Take breaks as necessary, but not too many!
  • Collaborate and share with your classmates. (Besides, they’re the only ones who know your struggle!)
  • Preserve your sanity!

That last nugget of wisdom is essential to EVERY medical student! Medical school can be very stressful, but each person must find a way to stay sane. This may involve taking a day of rest, listening to music, exercising, finding a hobby, or even going home for Thanksgiving. Sometimes, you just need to escape for a little while. For me, I knew I had to take a break and get away. When I found out that two of my friends from college were getting married, I decided that I had to go! About a month in advance, I bought my plane ticket so that I could attend their wedding in Alabama. It was one of the best decisions that I could have made!

I flew to Alabama that Friday and attended church on Saturday. Since my family only lived a few hours away, they were able to drive down and visit me. It was such a blessing to spend quality time with my family, and it didn’t hurt that they had cooked! The following day, I attended the wedding with my three best friends (who had also flown down). We were able to witness two of our friends committing themselves to each other for life. It was such a beautiful ceremony and reception. Needless to say, it was a rejuvenating experience to take a weekend off from school and go out of town. When I got back to LLU, I went right back to studying with a renewed mindset and refreshed spirit.

Bottom line: Take care of yourself!

Anyway, here a few pictures from my weekend off!

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My family!!! Aren’t they just gorgeous! 🙂

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Sabbath – REUNITED with my best friends!

Post-wedding shenanigans!

Post-wedding shenanigans!

Picture with the bride!

Picture with the bride!

Thanks for reading!

Until next time…

VM

This Brave New World and the Meaning of Life

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It took about a week of classes before I came to an inconvenient realization: I actually have no idea how to study. I feel like the big-shot college quarterback that finally makes it to the NFL, only to get completely pummeled and humiliated in his first game against a professional defense. We all might have had great grades in college, but med school is on a completely different level. I think the intensive time commitment required for these classes is the most difficult thing for me.

Back in college, I lived the eclectic life of a typical small-liberal-arts-college hipster. Sure I would study, but that happened sporadically between tutoring, jazz piano, RAing, teaching labs, listening to music that nobody’s heard of, and sipping fair-trade coffee while debating english majors over the lingering effects of Portuguese colonialism on the migratory patterns of the European Gold Finch. Med school is different. In med school, you don’t do anything except med school. When med students encounter free time, we don’t know what to do with our lives. My classmates and I collectively had an existential crisis after we finished our first set of exams because we forgot that there was life beyond the books.

Christian wishes he had gone to dent school instead.

Christian wishes he had gone to dent school instead.

This lifestyle has taken a toll on my emotions as well. A few weeks ago I accidentally deleted two days worth of electronic flash cards and found myself crying harder than when I read “The Fault in Our Stars” this summer.

Fortunately, the medical school administration understands this syndrome well and plans an annual weekend retreat for students and professors following the first set of exams. I think they started doing this when the city of Loma Linda began to receive complaints of half-conscious first-years wondering aimlessly around the streets because they didn’t have the brain function left to find their way home.

Jonathan utilizes the sacred art of the 10 minute power nap during Cell lab.

Jonathan utilizes the sacred art of the 10 minute power nap during cell lab.

The retreat was wonderful. We drove several hours to the east, up into the hills and away from the Inland Empire’s smog. No cell service. No wi-fi. Just human fellowship, and it was beautiful. The most meaningful experience I had happened on Saturday afternoon when I joined about 10 of my friends around a piano and we just starting singing. Soon we had a cello and a guitar and we just sang random hymns for close to an hour. I’ve honestly never even liked hymns that much, but in that window of time, all my concerns about worship style melted away, right along with the stress of the previous weeks. When everything else is pushed aside and relationships become the focus of our lives- I think that is happiness.

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Later that evening was the legendary medical school talent show. I discovered a thriving subculture of musical talent in the form of medical school-themed parodies of popular songs (the genre is a cult favorite on YouTube). Indeed, at least half of the performances that night were popular songs with their lyrics adapted to fit the struggles of med school life. I realized that one of the best parts about being in med school is being able to complain about being in med school. I had the privilege to beat-box with an acapela group that sang a med-school adapted version of Pentatonix’s “Daft Punk Medly.”

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PSR SM Retreat

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Just over an hour away, we rounded the mountain curve to find Pine Springs Ranch before us with teepees, covered wagons, cabins, and a cozy lodge. It was time for the School of Medicine annual retreat.

It was a time for celebration. First and second year students had just conquered their first rounds of tests.

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It was a time for fellowship. Third and fourth year students were able to see friends from different tracks.

It was a time for relaxation. Students, faculty, and family took a break from the books or wards or both to play Frisbee, go on nature hikes, or take much-needed naps.

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It was a time of fun, laughter, and amazement. The talent show consisted of medicalish comedy, a Capella Pentatonics, and acrobatics that-although they didn’t need it-made you glad there were so many doctors in the room.

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And, it was a time to rejuvenate spiritually and remember why we chose medicine. In Sabbath school, students recapped their summer trips of healing ministry in Chad, Thailand, Nigeria, and other areas of the world.

Overall, the weekend was a time of memorable moments.

PSR – “Perfect Spiritual Rejuvenation”

Last weekend, the entire medical school was invited to put down the books, take a trip up a winding mountain road, and fellowship together at the Pine Springs Ranch Retreat.  Pine Springs Ranch is a little mountain oasis tucked away about an hour from our school.  We first years had heard about how fun this retreat weekend would be, but I don’t think any of us were prepared for the incredible experience we were about to have as we packed into our carpools and headed up the mountain.

My carpool group, which happened to be my main study group, decided to leave around 3 on Friday afternoon, foregoing the notion that we could stay at the school and study until sundown and then leave.  We thought, “We can study in the car and then once we get there, we can find a nice spot and study amidst the nature.”  We faithfully studied physiology and mastered the types of adrenergic receptors during the car ride, but as soon as we reached our destination, the clean, crisp mountain air whisked away any further thoughts of anatomy, biochemistry, or physiology.  We therefore finished the afternoon off with a self-guided hike and proceeded to share some of our favorite stories of past adventures with each other.  This was the first blessing that came from the weekend, a chance to spend normal quality time with a group of friends that I usually only get to study with.

That evening began the first of several very spiritually rejuvenating worship services as the school gathered together to sing, praise, pray, and hear God’s word through our speaker Barbara Hernandez.  She shared the message that the Bible is like one big storybook and that our lives are similarly full of many stories.  She encouraged us to mark the important stories and landmarks in our lives and share them with others.  Stories like the first moment we knew we wanted to become physicians, how God provided to get us into medical school, and stories about the people we encounter along our healthcare journey.  I couldn’t help but think about this opportunity that I have to blog and share some of my stories with those of you who choose to skim through these words.  I feel blessed to have an opportunity to share my story and I can only hope that it will have some sort of positive impact on you.

Saturday brought more opportunities to worship and play together.  After Sabbath school and church a group of us decided to try out the White Pass Mountain Trail that we had heard people talking about.  I thought, “I’m in decent shape, I can do this no problem!”  However, little did I know just how much work this hike would actually be.  After a large portion of our group decided to head back to camp and forego the rest of the adventure, I became the only girl amidst a group of very athletic boys.  Luckily they were kind and allowed me to stop and catch my breath every once and while and put up with my obnoxious questioning of,  “Are we there yet???”  In the end, it was so worth the effort when we reached the peak and could look over both the mountain valley from which we had just ascended and the desert valley on the other side of the mountain range.   It’s amazing how caught up in our own little world we can be sometimes and it is experiences like this that make you realize that God’s creation is so much more expansive, intricate, and beautiful than we can ever begin to comprehend.

On Saturday night we finished off the retreat with the annual med school talent show where our deans and our students strutted their stuff and impressed us all with their comedy and musical talent.  Things like this make you realize that medical students aren’t always the type-A “let’s study all the time and have no fun” group that society makes us out to be.  While there was no shortage of nerdy med school puns throughout the evening, we spent the entire night laughing, singing along to silly to songs, and just plain having a good time.

PSR Retreat turned out to be one of the most memorable experiences thus far in my medical school journey and I am so thankful for the amazing friends that made it unforgettable, the dedicated faculty and staff that made it possible, and the God that showed me once again how beneficial it is to take time away from the drudgery of studying to worship him and gain spiritual rest and rejuvenation.

No Romance in Medicine

I have been documenting a novel syndrome. It’s not rare, yet has not been thoroughly described in medical literature. How exciting to be pioneering this! I shall call it Primary Medicine Exposure Romantic Block Syndrome. When exposed to a new environment and cognitive concept that leaves their fundamental confidences shaken, patients find themselves with an inability to manage their romantic faculties. I have seen it with my own eyes as one relationship after the other falls apart amongst my fellow classmates. An anonymous poll for prevalence rates is tempting. I’m still working on more marketable nomenclature for this syndrome if you have suggestions (whoever coined Restless Leg Syndrome, feel free to comment this post, I respect your opinion).

After the first week of tests, this weekend has served as the very cure to my constant, controlled, yet gnawing fear of both the medical knowledge and romantic abysses that seem somehow anastamosed.

This weekend was the Pine Springs Ranch retreat for the School of Medicine, where newly relieved first year students, still shaken second years, rebellious third and fourth years (sneaking away from their rotations or setting aside their review books), got together for some good ol’ campfire tunes. While there was no actual campfire, the stars were scintillating and the bugs were chittering along our harmonies.

Muita calma pra pensar, e ter tempo pra sonhar. Calmness to think, time to dream. We all stopped to think and dream on Friday night. Paige, Ben, Linden, Chris, Morgan, Justin, and I plopped down on an inclining rock clearing and watched the quiet stars as Mike played quiet chords on his guitar. We sang, we laughed out our fears and thus renewed our courage.

It was an especially exciting weekend for me, because I was finally going to sing one of my favorite tunes at the talent show, Corcovado (Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars), by Joao Gilberto and Stan Getz, a song that has stayed in my mixed CDs since I was 11. Did I mention it was to an acoustic guitar, alto sax, and electric bass? I felt like the luckiest immigrated Brazilian who misses the raw and relaxed sounds of a typical Saturday night in a bustling musical neighborhood back home. Thanks for the opportunity Drew, Daniel, and Mike (see his take on this weekend, at Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars)! Whether it was rushing through my books to get to practice on Friday afternoon, ditching the hike up to the mountain ridge in order to refine my egg shaker skills, finally singing that song on Saturday night was my cure for Primary Exposure Romantic Block Syndrome.

Medical school is not the bitter, tragic joke, some fall into believing. Did I hear this weekend of a 70% divorce rate amongst physicians? Maybe these bitter folk haven’t taken quiet walks by quiet streams, or looked out the window that looks out on Corcovado, where the Redeemer stands. Now that I have taken a step back from my past month of academic agony and romantic fear, I realize that this is possible and I could even thrive. You see, the art of medicine illustrates Joao Gilberto’s fundamental mistake of claiming the meaning of existence in romantic love. Romantic love is a little selfish in its expectations of returned affections. Love practiced in medicine reaches out to miserable humanity, giving it a hand in the ugliest, dirtiest, most ungrateful and tragic of circumstances, giving one more chance before the final flicker of life’s ember. So learn how to wisely yet unconditionally love first, medicine being a good teacher, and discerning a wise lover will be a skill that translationally follows.