Tuesday, November 29, 2011


I've done it.  I've discovered the perfect metaphor (simile?) for how you learn information in medical school.  Med school's like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get.  Just kidding, that's wrong (who came up with that line? what an idiot.  I'm kidding, I obviously know it was Ferris Bueller, right?) - we know exactly what we're gonna get because we get all the power point slides for each lecture ahead of time.

Trying to learn information in medical school is just like playing a game of darts, whose rules I've completely changed to fit neatly into my metaphor.

Let me explain.  Your brain is the dart board.  You have a bucket of darts (that's right, a bucket - I told you I tweaked the rules a bit), and each dart represents a piece of information that you are trying to get stuck in your brain, aka the dart board.  But it's timed - so you have very little time to throw all those darts onto the board.  You can try and throw them one at a time so that you'll have a good chance of those darts actually sticking to the board really well, but you'll be left with most of the bucket still full of darts at the end that you didn't have time to even TRY and throw at the board.

your brain
Your other option is to pick up the bucket and just heave all the darts in the general direction of the  board, and hope that some of them stick (that's analagous to listening to lecture - a few facts may stick in your mind after hearing all the information once).  Then you quickly gather up all the darts on the floor, toss 'em back in the bucket, and throw them all at the board again (that is analagous to studying - you get through the lectures again and hope that maybe a few more facts stick in your mind).  Unfortunately, sometimes as a new dart reaches the board, it accidentally knocks another dart off.  And that's really all you have time for.  Maybe one more quick bucket toss, or maybe you'll have time to pick up one or two darts individually and throw those carefully at the board so that they stick, but that's about it.

And then test day comes, and the professors come and count how many darts you have on your dart board, but only certain darts are counted - so you better hope the darts that you got to stick (aka the facts you were actually able to memorize) are the ones the professor cares about (aka are the ones the professor cares about ... oh. wait.).

your brain on drugs

And that's why med school is so fun.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Mini-Med Outreach (PUMA)

At this stage in my medical career, I really know very little.  Which is a tough fact to swallow considering I've spent most of my waking minutes for the past year or so studying non-stop.  It's frustrating to be in this situation, and not feel like you can do much to help people.  If someone went into cardiac arrest in front of me today, a teenage lifeguard would probably be better prepared than me to give CPR.

One of the electives at school is through the Mini-Med program and is called PUMA - I don't remember what the acronym stands for, but every Wednesday groups of medical students go either to the Kintock Group, a correctional facility, or Renaissance House, a place for women and mothers struggling with substance abuse.  Each week we teach them about a different health topic - Diabetes, heart health, STDs, domestic violence, how to get access to health care, and others.

We were provided with powerpoints on each topic, but there were still some facts we were unsure of while teaching.  The women were quick to point out when we made mistakes, and there was one woman with a nursing background who ended up explaining some of the topics that she knew more about than we did.  One week, a woman raised her hand as if to ask a question, and when she was called on she said, "I don't think you should say um so much." 

We wore our white coats every week, but made sure to explain that we were still just students.  That didn't stop them from asking us any type of question about their health: "I'm experiencing this, what do I have?"  We usually just told them to see their doctor, because no one wants to give wrong advice, and what do we know?  It was frustrating sometimes to feel like we knew less than some of the people we were supposed to be teaching, but at the same time I felt like they appreciated us being there each week anyway.  It took a couple weeks for everyone to get totally comfortable, but we really formed a strong bond with our group of women.

This past Wednesday was the last session, and I was surprised by how sad I was to leave.  We asked if the home did anything to celebrate Thanksgiving, and one of the women was very quick to admit how depressing the holiday season was going to be this year.  A few people are allowed to have family visit for Thanksgiving dinner, and another woman quietly said how she didn't have any family anyway, and immediately all of the other women jumped in to say, "I'll be your family."  It was so heart-warming, but at the same time, made me very sad.

Participating in this elective I think was one of the best things I could have done this year.  We become so lost in the bubble of studying that it's easy to forget what's happening in the outside world.  One of the benefits to studying medicine in Newark is that there are so many people who need our help, and there is so much opportunity to make a difference.  Part of me wants to say, "What difference can I make before I know anything?  Once I'm a doctor I can help people."  But if I wait until I feel like I know "enough," that might be never.

So while I continue to spend most of my waking moments studying, PUMA was an amazing opportunity to break through the bubble, and really form a strong connection with people in the community, and hopefully make some small difference to some people.  So this Thanksgiving I was not only thankful to be able to spend time with my family, which I really take for granted as so many people don't have family or cannot be with them for whatever reason, but I am also thankful to be in training for a career where I can be helping people right from the get-go.

Newark Renaissance House
Kintock Group

Mini-Med at NJMS

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Extreme Eponyms

Here's your cake, Tissue Factor.  I hope you enjoy it.
There is only one thing in this whole world that is worse than eponyms (seriously only one thing - and it's not genocide or natural disasters, that stuff is mere child's play).  The worst thing in the world is things with more than one name.  You should never have to use "aka" more than once in reference to a single substance.  As if the coagulation cascade (all the many many steps that lead to the formation of a blood clot) isn't complicated enough, all the involved factors have at least two names.  The one that really takes the cake, though, is tissue factor aka thromboplastin aka factor III.  Why oh why must we fill the precious real estate in our brains with so many teeny tiny details?  [You also know it's bad when before a professor introduces a new molecule, such as Gp2b-3a, he prefaces it by saying, "Don't shoot the messenger, I didn't do the naming."]

More curious about where "take the cake" comes from than about the coagulation cascade?  Me too.  Read all about it's origins here.  One clue:

It's a cakewalk...  it's a cakewalk.

Listen to your friend, Billy Zane. He's a cool dude.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Quotes From A Pharmacology Professor

"You can see chemically that this is an interesting molecule... well, maybe you don't think it's interesting but I do."

nope, not interesting

There are people out there nerdier than us!  We call them phds and they teach us most of our science lectures.  Say what you will about me and my fellow med students, but I can honestly say that there is no chemical structure that I will ever look at and say, "Ooooh now THAT is an interesting molecule."

Some other great quotes from professors last year: here and here

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Post-Exam Slump

It's a real thing.  And apparently impossible to avoid.  Even when it's the most beautiful fall weather all week.  And even though I still get at least 7 hours of sleep the weekend before the exam because otherwise I am an incoherent zombie for 2 weeks.  It's just mental exhaustion.

When tests were every 3 weeks (like for our last class, IHR), it was no big deal to slack off the week after the exam.  You sleep in Tuesday, run all your errands on Wednesday, stress about how behind you are on Thursday, actually see your friends and family over the weekend.  And then you feel refreshed for the next week and spend it catching up, and then you still have ANOTHER whole week after you catch up to enter serious-I-mean-business study mode.

fall is so pretty, why am i so grumpy?
Now that tests are every other week, we don't have that buffer week, and you really can't afford to take a whole week off from the serious studying.  Or really more than a day.  I tried so hard not to let myself get in a downer mood this past week - I went to the gym the day after the exam, watched the lectures, went grocery shopping... and then the next day I just gave up.  I stayed on top of school work for the week, but everything else sort of fell by the wayside.  I don't think I've responded to an email since the last exam.  I don't know about everyone else, but I seriously need mental breaks after exams, and I'm going to have to figure out how to work those into my schedule because otherwise this is unsustainable for the next 5 months.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Around the World in 80 Minutes

The Global Health Alliance, a club which has only been around for two years, put on a great event this week!  The event was called Around the World in 80 Minutes.  Members of the Global Health Alliance chose a country and presented a poster on that country's healthcare system, and bought or cooked food that was representative of the country.

The event was open to everyone (and over 100 people came, most likely because of the free food!) and we asked for donations at the door.  People could mingle, taste food from all over the world, and learn a little about the healthcare systems and issues from other countries (I hope that at least someone learned at least something and didn't just eat and run).

Each country prepared 3 multiple choice questions from the information on the poster, and the guest who answered the most correct questions got a $50 gift card to Amazon!  That's either half a textbook or a whole review book - an excellent prize.  The event was co-sponsored by lots of other student groups (which is how everyone could pay for their country's food) which allows ALL the donations to go to Partners In Health.

Here are pictures from some of the tables.  Of course, the pictures were taken towards the end of the night, so there's not much food left, but you'll just have to trust me when I say everything was delicious.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Gift That Just Keeps Giving

Does the Henderson-Hasselbach equation EVER go away? 

I think I have learned it almost once a year starting with freshman year of high school in Biology - and then again in AP Biology senior year, and then in both Intro to Biology and Intro to Chemistry in college, probably in Physics, again for the MCATs, again in Biochem in med school, definitely again in Physiology, again to teach the MCATs, and now again in Pathology.

I think I actually understood it for real for the first time last year in Biochemistry.  The seventh time's the charm, that's what they* say!

Even though I get it now, pKa still gives me nightmares sometimes.

*by they, I mean me, when it takes me seven times to learn something