Wednesday, June 19, 2013


It’s been awhile since I have written anything.  My brief hiatus can be attributed to a minor obstacle known as the USMLE step 1.  Essentially, it’s a final exam that encompasses the first two years of medical school.  An exam that is necessary to pass to become a physician.  An exam that it is necessary to do exceedingly well on if you have hopes of being a plastic surgeon or a dermatologist.  Luckily, I have no such hopes. 

Nonetheless, I did my best to pour myself completely into my studies for the month leading up to the exam, thus the break from blogging.  It probably worked out in everyone’s best interest that I was not writing anything during that period because it would have probably turned out in one of two ways:  composed of shorthand and enough misspelled words to make it illegible, or a vent of my stress that would read as a repetitive oscillation between depression and rage.  It’s been a tough time in our household. 

Given the cacophony of emotions I experienced in the weeks leading up to this exam (terror, apathy, depression, anger, hunger, more anger, etc.), I was surprised by the emotion that won out as I was driving to the testing center.  It was gratitude.  It is strange that with the prospect of an 8 hour exam on the horizon that I was feeling grateful, but in those moments it became incredibly real to me just how significant this exam was… Not for my future, but from my past. 

I got to this point by a whole series of events that relied on hard work, good luck, answered prayers and a whole community of people supporting me, encouraging me, and helping me.

Let’s rewind back to my senior year of high school.  Obviously, there were contributory events that preceded this point, including my parents making a conscious effort to move to one of the best school districts in the area, teaching me how to read, how to love reading, and how to work hard.  In fact, everything that my parents taught me in my childhood warrants its own post. To be continued…

Anyways.  Senior year, I went on my first international mission trip.  My parents, along with four other adults and several teenagers (including me) spent a week in El Salvador serving food, teaching VBS, doing manual labor and mostly just coming to understand that we were getting far more out of it than the people we were theoretically serving.  Not that the local people didn’t benefit from our work, but the experience was life-changing for all of us.  I don’t think any of us suspected at the time just how significant the repercussions would be. 

The book I had selected for the trip was one I’d borrowed from my brother: Tracy Kidder’s Mountains beyond Mountains. (In fact, I still have it… one look at the dog-eared, spine broken, stained and dusty wreck of a book I brought home  and my brother generously gave it to me…. and said I could buy him a new one).  The book tells the story of Paul Farmer’s labor of love in Haiti.  You can read more about Paul Farmer here, or about the organization he founded here. Of course, I recommend the book as well.  In it, a picture is painted of a man who genuinely cares for his patients.  He cares for them more than his own salary, his own life and possibly even his own family.  The multitude of sacrifices he makes in order to prioritize his patient care is astonishing.  It is also infectious.  You get the feeling that Paul Farmer is a man who has never believed it when someone told him he couldn’t do something.  He wanted to treat the sick, and it didn’t matter that they were poor, underserved or remote – he did it anyways. 

Being in a place as destitute as Nejapa, El Salvador while reading this book was quite the combination punch to my impressionable psyche.  I think on that trip was when I figured out the kind of doctor I wanted to be.  Not what specialty, but what I wanted to do with myself, once I’d learned to be a doctor. 

So, that trip established my trajectory toward medical school.  Which college was still undecided but that fell into place shortly thereafter. 

I had dreams of going to Case like my brother.  An impressive school like that seemed like where I needed to be to get into medical school.  However,  the amount of scholarship money I was offered made that dream seem impossible. 

Instead I ended up at the University of Akron. 

The first time I toured Akron, I hated it.  Small piece of advice, if you’re trying to convince someone to move to Akron, a 23 degree Monday in February is not the best day to do it. 

I applied anyways, at the urging of my parents, etc.  I was accepted.  I was invited for an honors interview, then another interview. I was offered a scholarship that no other school could possibly match… and off to Akron I went. 

Going to Akron was a crucial part of getting into medical school, although I didn’t know it at the time.  The small community of the Honors college put me in close contact with other pre-med students and the Dean, Dr. Mugler, went out of his way to help me on numerous occasions.  He made sure that any class I needed was open to me, wrote multiple recommendation letters on my behalf, and always networked me with other students that he thought could help me.

In my sophomore year, I first heard about PhiDE, a pre-med fraternity starting on campus. I only noticed the flyer because  I was walking alone through the Union because my cell phone had died, so my friend had not come to meet me.  I only paid attention to the flyer because it had the name of one of the deans on it and I thought it would be interesting to hear her speak.  (Turns out, not the dean… just someone with the same name!)

It was a long-shot… getting chosen for that scholarship, happening to notice a flyer that advertised a pre-med fraternity, happening to go to an event where two of the Seniors talked about their experiences with a program known as Med Start at the University of Toledo College of Medicine.  

The program sounded incredible, and with two weeks left before applications closed, I began to apply.  One of the two who presented about the program helped me with my personal statement and practiced with me for interviews.  Without his help, there is no way I would be where I am today…

Nine months later, we were engaged.  Less than a year after that, we were married. 

Not only did Nick help me get into medical school, but he helped me survive the first two years.  He could always give me a heads up for what was important, help me focus, and remind me that it is okay to take time off for sanity.

My whole life has been on a path it seems, to put me in the right place at the right time. People I’ve met, opportunities I’ve gained, experiences I’ve had, all coming together to get me to that testing center on June 7th.  With everything working out just as it needed to so far, it’s hard to be as scared of a little test. 

It also really puts things in perspective – even getting to take this test is a huge victory.  It represents years of success and hard work that have gotten me to this point.  Not only my own, but every one around me.  Every prayer, every cramming session, every proofreading, every hug.  My parents, my husband, my family, my friends, my church… I owe the people in my life a huge debt of gratitude.  We made it to this point. 

And now that it is almost 2 weeks since I took that exam, and had these revelations, I can genuinely say I’m happy it’s over and despite the clarity of perspective it gave me, I’m looking forward to receiving my score, which will hopefully inform me that I will never have to take it again.

Friday, April 26, 2013

More than useless

It seems like I write this same post at least once every year. 

It comes upon me suddenly: no triggering event, no life changing moment, no existential crisis…  Out of nowhere, it just hits me that I have not done nearly enough. 

We all have met those people whose list of good deeds is a mile long.  They make you feel that if the world had a few more people like them, then it would be such a better place.  Or, if you’re at all like me, they cause you to criticize yourself. What have I done that matters? 

I have big dreams.  I want to open a clinic in Africa.  I want to treat sick people and make them better, happier and healthier. 

Africa isn’t a requirement.  I have always loved El Salvador.  Then again, everything I have ever read from Paul Farmer gives me a passion for Haiti.  I’ve seen some pretty desolate faces in The Philippines.  I have read about the horrors in the Congo.  There could always be more doctors in India.  

I don’t know where I want to go… but I know I want to go somewhere and make things better. 

Whenever this comes up in conversation, as it tends to (surprisingly often!), people like to point out that I could stay here, in the U.S. and still achieve my dream.  There are certainly people here who could benefit from free healthcare. Wouldn’t I rather do that?

In a word, no. 

My vision is unconventional, I have been told.  It’s not proper and it is certainly not the American dream.  I'm not expecting to find a nice house or early retirement.  One of its many draws is that it would be a challenge.  It would be a step outside of my comfort zone.  It would be an adventure. 

It would also be a sacrifice.  If I were to have kids, would I bring them? Wherever  I end up, I don’t expect the school system to be a high selling point for the area.  That doesn’t seem fair… to deprive my potential children of the same opportunities I was given. 

Whenever I fall in love with a new place, it is usually because I’m reading a horribly sad book or news story about it.  While reading The Fear, (by Peter Godwin) in the middle of a fit of tears, I informed my husband that we were going to someday live in Zimbabwe.  I was crying with disgust for the violence that the world at large has turned its back on.  I was crying with sadness for the people forced to live in such a place simply because they had the bad luck to be born there and the inability to get out.  My husband politely informed me that we would not be going to such a place.  I suppose we will just have to see how that plays out…

Zimbabwe has a special place in my heart because it broke my heart.  It also shattered my apathy.  I want to do something.  I’m not a politician, economist, or foreign correspondent who can enact change on a global level, but that certainly doesn’t mean that I can’t do something.

Except, I feel like I can’t.  Not right now.  Sure, I look forward to living out my dream… someday.  What about now?  How am I making the world a better place right now?   How can I fit that into studying…?

To be honest, I really haven’t.  I wish I felt better about it; that it is okay to be fully focused on school right now, because that’s what I need to do.  Most days, my lengthy to-do list is enough to keep me fully distracted from the things I should be doing.  But, on nights like tonight… I know I would rather be somewhere else, doing something that matters. 

I will someday do good for others and hopefully make the world a better place in some small way… Until then, I guess I’m just waiting and hoping that I’ve cast my lot in the correct path, that will one day allow me to do good enough. Enough good. 

Earlier, I mentioned those people who make you feel like you haven’t really made any impact with your life.  The person who inspired that feeling tonight isn’t that much older than me, but already she has touched the lives of thousands of people through her orphanage. 

She went on a mission trip as a young teenager and fell in love with the country she visited.  She returned multiple times and ultimately moved there to open a children’s home: Amor y Esperanza. (For the Spanish challenged, that’s “Love and Hope”).

Anyways, her story is not mine to tell.  You can find out more about it at this website

What I admire most about that children’s home, was that it was a family more than an institution.  In my two short visits there, it was obvious that every child was loved immensely.  Each one knew that they were special and that they mattered.  Even the staff, the visitors… every one in that place felt loved, welcomed and understood. 

I am afraid that I am not very good at that.

Another one of my eventual goals is to adopt.  (This one, I have no issues with postponing until school is over though!). There are so many children in the world who haven’t felt what it is like to have a solid family who loves them.  What I am afraid of with adoption is that I won’t be good at it… That I won’t be able to make that child feel like they mean the whole world to me, even though they do.  

To be honest, I don’t know if I do a good job of that with anyone in my life.  There are so many people whom I treasure dearly, and I don’t know if I adequately show that.  I make it a point to tell people that I love them… (My husband, family and friends that is, not just random people.) But, do I show them?

A pattern among my blog posts seems to be posing questions for which I don’t have an answer.  Writing this didn’t gain me any ground in that regard, but it did serve as a reminder: this is how I intend to make the world a better place.

I have a broken heart and passion to fix things.  I want to make sick people healthy.  I want to make broken hearts whole.   I so easily get bogged down in the rigors of daily life, depressed with the seemingly endless nature of my chosen path, and distracted by a countless number of things.  When those things darken my outlook, its refreshing to pause and reflect on where I someday hope to be.

For a blog that mentions medical school in the title, I talk about it very little… So for those of you who are wondering, this is why I chose to go to medical school. 

I feel like, I would like 
To be somewhere else doing something that matters 
And I'll admit here, while I sit here 
My mind wastes away and my doubts start to gather  
Whats the purpose? 
It feels worthless 
So unwanted like I've lost all my value 
I can't find it, not in the least bit,  
and I'm just scared, so scared that I'll fail you  

And sometimes I think that I'm not any good at all 
And sometimes I wonder why, why I'm even here at all 
But then you assure me I'm a little more than useless 

And when I think that I can't do this 
You promise me that I'll get through this 
And do something right 
Do something right for once
- Relient  K, "Something That Matters"

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Today was my last day of school... kind of

I have decided to jump on the bandwagon with a cliché post about the last day of school.  If it doesn’t seem cliché to you, then you must be fairly well removed from the University of Toledo College of Medicine class of 2015.  Otherwise, you would have seen the plethora of blog posts, status updates, tweets and pictures on Instagram.  Today marks the end of an era for us – can you tell we’re excited?

For me personally, this is a mile marker in a 21 year journey.  As I was quite advanced as a child, my mother started me in preschool at the age of 2.  (She might not use the words “quite advanced”… perhaps she would say something along the lines of “highly energetic” or “shy to the point of a social disorder” or “she and her brother painted the kitchen floor green”….) For whatever reason, I was forced out of my “comforting” home environment into the world to obtain knowledge. 

It didn’t seem like a big deal then.  I didn’t know I was embarking on such a long journey. It was a minor occurrence. One day, my parents took me shopping bought be a fancy bag that I could wear on my back, some crayons and started talking about all the fun I was going to have.  In my opinion, it’s a trick - your parents make it seem exciting: “A bus full of other kids is going to come, and carry you off to this awesome land where your time will be filled by coloring, naps and snack time.  It’s going to be great, promise.” 

Perhaps it’s because they are just trying to keep it together themselves...  They don’t explain the gravity of the situation, because they are struggling to face it on their own.  After all, they are adults – they have seen how this story ends.  They know that upon boarding that yellow bus (with 38 other screaming children and a sole, outnumbered adult whom they pity deeply), you are embarking on a journey that will ultimately change who you are, how you think, where you live, what you do.  It must be a pretty emotional moment… That’s why they don’t tell you that it won’t always be crayons and graham crackers. They don’t tell you that the courses get harder, the teachers get more demanding, and that eventually, even nap time is taken away!  

It’s a one-way road.  You can’t exactly avoid it.  So, as a kid, you accept blindly and hop on.  Even though the whole idea seems a bit absurd at the time. 

Have you ever been on a long car trip where you get onto a new road and your GPS announces “Continue for 243 miles.”.  You can almost hear her heaving a sigh of relief… “Well, I got this girl on track, time for a coffee break”.

My point is that as children, we missed the beginning.  There was no momentous moment where we realized that our path would be pretty stable for the next 20-some years.  That’s why we are so excited about the ending! For my entire life up to this point, my time has been relatively centered around a schedule of classes, list of requirements and pending exams.  Suddenly, I’m in a post class-schedule world… full of freedom, hope and possibility!

Well, no.  That’s inaccurate… it’s full of studying, more studying, and preparing for school to resume after I take my boards exam in June. 

All in all, I haven’t accomplished much with my words here… I hoped to convey the feeling that my whole life is about to change, that I’m excited, that it’s surreal, that I’m a little nostalgic. Of all these mixed emotions I feel, the most unlikely one is bubbling to the surface… I’m going to miss shopping for school supplies each fall.

When I was two, I was scared.  I held my mom’s hand and I looked back at her, just to make sure she was really positive this was where I was supposed to be.  I am twenty-three now, and I’m still scared.  My parents support me so much, but they’re not close enough to hold my hands.  It’s okay though, cause at least now, I am positive that this is where I am supposed to be.