Author: Derin A.

Hi I'm Derin! Here you'll find tidbits about my life and my exciting and (I'll admit) stressful journey to and through medical school. Come join my fun ;-)

Goodbye 2nd Year, Hello Step 1!

I am officially done with my 2nd year of medical school! Surreal! We had our last exam on Thursday and as soon as I clicked submit, it was like, “Whoaaa, this is really it!” Blessings!

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And now it’s time for Step 1 studying.

We have exploration week this week (i.e. exploring/ shadowing different specialties) so my dedicated study schedule doesn’t start until Monday, Feb 19. As I mentioned in my last post though, I’ve been doing UWorld questions throughout 2nd year. I’m not quite done with my first pass yet, but I’m aiming to be done by this Sunday. I’m so close!

The main resources I’ll be using for Step studying are:

  • USMLE World (UWorld) question bank
  • First Aid 2018
  • Pathoma
  • Sketchy Pharm + Micro (to brush up/ as needed)
  • Goljan pathology audio (while doing cardio at the gym)

I also have the following resources as well but I’m not sure if I’ll use them during this study period (aka I don’t want to overwhelm myself with too many resources): BRS Physiology, USMLE Secrets, Boards & Beyond, and Kaplan question bank (already subscribed, so if time permits).

We had a Step 1 Q&A session today with 3rd and 4th year medical students and hearing about their experiences definitely reinforced that these next couple of weeks are going be REAL! Prayers definitely needed. My goal is to stay consistent with my schedule, continue working out during this period, and reach my highest scoring potential for this board exam. It IS possible!

I also have some things going on during this study period as well – I’ll be presenting my research at a national conference, and going to my significant other’s residency MATCH week, so definitely tons to look forward to. So soooo excited and ready to THRIVE during this period!

12 hour days?!

This week has been a BLURRRR. As I mentioned in my last post, it’s exam season, and this week I’ll have my last exam of 2nd year (woot woot!). It has been the LONGEST block – 13 weeks! It’s also been the block with the most material – Immunology, Dermatology, Rheumatology, Microbiology/ Clinical infectious diseases, and Hematology/Oncology. A LOT! We were told it prepares us for Step 1 and according to the data my school has been collecting on our curriculum, there’s a strong correlation with how well you do on this block and how high you score on Step 1 – yea, no pressure. 

So alas, this week was buckle down and tunnel vision on these books. We were still learning new material up till Wednesday (#BecauseMedSchool) but I’ve been reviewing past material like crazy. Some stuff I learned back in November, I lowkey had forgotten (strugglessss). On the plus side, I developed a routine that I think I’m going to continue with during my dedicated Step 1 study time.

Everyday this week, I left my house at 6:30am, found decent parking on campus and was at my study desk by 7am, at the latest 7:15am. And then I would begin studying. Yes, it’s been that real. I made a daily To-do-list the day before, and would start the day tackling the items on the list. I typically work in 50-55 minute increments with a 5-10 minute break to stand up, stretch or walk around. Lunch time has been 30 – 45 minute breaks. Y’all it’s been so real that I’ve made my cubicle my second home. As in my little locker on top is stocked up with a large container of oatmeal for breakfast and cans of soup! Ps. I will gladly accept any food donations haha

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Where the magic happens – in the quiet study room

But yea the countdown is real, the days have been long – usually 12+ hours day spent in school, but I’m balancing the stress by working out during the evenings. In the same school – I did mention it’s like my second home right? Haha. There’s a workout room with all the weights and cardio I need so, my routine is pretty much the same: study, eat, workout. Go home. 

Part of the reason my days have been super long is studying for my block exam but also working through UWORLD questions for Step 1/ relevant material for this block. The grind is real, but I’m trusting God that it’ll all pay off. And even though I missed a reaaaaally dope Super Bowl Party tonight (Yaaaaaasss Eagles!!!!), I take comfort in knowing I’ld rather have this exam behind me than live in regret – shoulda, woulda, coulda. Nah bro. 

Pray for your girl y’all! Looking forward to being D-O-N-E!

T-Minus 11 days Till Half MD!

Man oh man, long time no hear from uh? Yes, it certainly been a while since I’ve written on here. And as much as it’s been on mind, I have a great gift of finding excuses not to write (gifted I tell ya haha). Well A LOT has certainly happened. Like man, a whole lot, and I as I sit here writing, I literally have just 11 days till my LAST exam of second year. Yep! LAST one. Second year flew by FAST! Granted my school’s curriculum is different and we end second year much earlier than other schools, February to be exact. So after I submit that exam, I’ll be HALF MD. Man, that’s wild! Blessings all the way!!!

With the blessings of course, is the realization of USMLE Step 1 right around the corner. The big exam – my first medical licensing exam. I could go on and hype up Step 1 – how some folks consider it the most important exam of medical school, how it can determine what specialty you can go into, and all that jazz, but I’ll save that for next time. Right now, it feels good to take a break from studying, sit back like “wow, I’m almost done with all of this,” dust off the cobwebs on this blog and write again.

Man it feels good!

And if you’re reading this, and have been following my blog since I started it in 2013 or maybe started following during my med school application process or postbac year, can you believe it??? This journey has been quite a ride, and continues to be so. I look forward to filling you all in on some of the excitement of this past year, as well as joys of Step 1 studying (Yep, we’re gona call it “joys” because I rebuke all negativity in my life haha).

Quick post but I’m gona drop a tune below to describe how I’m feeling – I’m baaaaaack!

 

My 5 Takeaways From M1 Year

I’ve had several people ask me what I enjoyed most about my first year of medical school and the lessons I learned. Reflecting on this past year, it’s amazing how FAST it all went. At the same time, when I think about my white coat ceremony on August 1st, that memory seems like ages ago. My white coat is certainly not as clean, and all the excitement that came with it has slowly faded (it’s lazily drapped in my car as we speak!). I remember how excited I was for Musculoskeletal (MSK) block and anatomy, dreading my 26th birthday and feeling like time was slipping past me, and even my first suture clinic! So much has happened this year: moments of celebration, and of course, some lows as well. So here are 5 takeaways!

  1. Shadowing is BAE: This has honestly been one of my favorite parts of this year thus far. I shadowed in ophthalmology, radiation oncology, OBGYN – labor and delivery twice, emergency medicine, general surgery, and urology (twice!). I even got to scrub in! And of course, there’s also my family medicine clinic (longitudinal practice) that I went to every 2 weeks as part of our curriculum. Besides my longitudinal practice, all those shadowing experiences were things I sought out on my own. It’s certainly been an outstanding amount of clinical exposure and it’s helped me in clarifying my interests and what specialty I’ld like to go into. Perhaps I’ll write a separate post about that, but I will say that I started med school saying “No way I’m doing a surgical specialty. I LOVE my life too much, plus that’s 5 years of residency! I’m already a nontraditional student!” and now I’m actually strongly considering a surgical specialty. I realized I’ld rather love what I do than be in a specialty I have no passion for, but went into because of lifestyle. Funny how that works doesn’t it?
  2. I learned you have to adapt QUICKLY: I learned this lesson during the first block (foundations one) and it was very present in each and every block thereafter. If a method isn’t working, and you’ve waited long enough to see that, change it ASAP. This included study methods, study groups, resources/ books, time management (i.e. finding time to talk to my significant other) and so on.
  3. It’s okay to say NO: man oh man, as the year went on, I started saying no, more often. No, to hanging out, and no, to committing to things I would have said yes to in the past. Why? Because I realized there was a value on my time. Other students didn’t have the same commitments I did. And it occurred to me that even though I said no, there would be someone else who would say yes. I knew my limits and I have historically been one of those people that stretch themselves THIN. I was trying to avoid that this year. Although, from my neuro block, I definitely did do the most there, but you know, everything is a lesson.
  4. Work hard, but also PLAY hard: Remember how I said cardiopulm broke my heart? Well during that block, I felt miserable and I think it was partially because I was all work and little to no play. It affected my mental state and eventually my physical (eating badly, gained a few pounds). Your mind needs a BREAK! And I learned there needs to be some sort of balance. Neuro, as crazy as it was, had a ton of happy moments. It was a lot of work, but coming out of cardiopulm, I was like, there has to be some PLAY in my life. And I honestly think that’s what helped me get through that block. Even with all the craziness and how busy it was, I ended up doing better on my block exam for neuro than I did for cardiopulm!
  5. Know your LIMITS: This is similar to my “saying no” bullet above but it mostly relates to wedding planning. Did I mention how happy I am that we moved the date? I’m not superwoman y’all, and I perfectly okay with that.

So those are 5 takeaways from this past year. And here’s the overall recap:

  • I turned 26 and celebrated it with friends in Washington D.C.
  • I got engaged in December – WHOOHOO!
  • I spent Christmas in Jamaica (first time!) and got to meet my fiance’s extended family
  • I traveled to San Diego, California for Spring Break
  • I traveled to Atlanta for SNMA national conference – had a BLAST!
  • I had a mini breakdown and cried over Neuro (I told y’all it had me shook right?)
  • I was awarded a research grant to conduct my independent summer project
  • I realized urology MAY be my dream specialty
  • I gained new mentors

And I confirmed there’s nothing else I’ld rather do than medicine. This year was AMAZING! Cheers to a year of growth!

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Pictured: Mine and my fiance’s stethoscope. Married to medicine! Photographed by Tonjanika Smith photography. Do not use without permission. Thanks!

Neuro: I love the eyes, but the brain? Not so much

As you can tell, I’m slowly but surely recapping these past few months. This brings me up to the FINAL block of my first year of medical school – Neuro! The neuro block for us was 8 weeks (March 20th – May 19th) and included neurology, psychiatry, and ophthalmology, and of course, all the physiology, pathology, histology, and anatomy associated with it all. Basically, it was A LOT.

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After my cardiopulm experience, I was determined to make this a better block – to get back on my self-care and start exercising regularly again, to get back to cooking, and basically reestablish balance. Earlier in the year, I signed up for a half marathon, so I had no choice but to train or get injured. This was some motivation because my race was during this block! At the same time, I had a lot of things going on. I was still planning my wedding, had an engagement shoot scheduled in Philadelphia, had a national conference I was going to in Atlanta (SNMA Annual Medical Education Conference) and would be missing 3 days of lectures, and again, neuro was A LOT of material.

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On top of all that, I discovered (perhaps partially due to all the craziness I had going on), I wasn’t overly moved by what I was learning. Alas, as fascinating as some of my classmates found the brain to be, I was like mmm, I’m just tryna learn this material and move ON. There were several neural pathways/ tracts to know and a myriad of neurological disorders to differentiate from. I was like bruhhh! But then we got to the ophthalmology material, and something clicked. I could actually SEE the pathology and say yes, that’s glaucoma, or that’s a retinal detachment etc. It also helped that I felt a personal connection to what we were learning (The biographical film “Ray” on Ray Charles life is one of my favorites! And also disparities in health care, as can be seen in ophthalmology, always peak my interest). That’s when it dawned on me. I liked being able to diagnose by imagery. I wanted to be able to SEE the pathology. The whole guessing game and having to piece together a puzzle was absolutely thrilling to some of my classmates, for me, I was like nahh, neurology isn’t my calling. Ophthalmology was fascinating to me and turned out to be my favorite part of the block. In my opinion, it was also well taught by the professors, so of course that adds to the positive experience.

Due to all the things I had going on, this block turned out to be mentally, one of the most challenging. To summarize:

  1. We decided to post-pone our wedding from next year to my 4th year of med school. Planning as a medical student is hard. Trying to coordinate schedules when you’re both in medicine is difficult. And having a multicultural wedding involving family members in different countries is so sooo hard. In addition, having a wedding date that requires you to plan during your Step 1 study period is such a HORRIBLE idea. In summary, I’m glad we changed the date. It allowed me to also focus more on neuro and I needed that!
  2. We still did the engagement shoot in Philly. And the pictures were amazing! I had a whole situation trying to find a dress, and ended up deciding on Rent The Runway last minute. The dress turned out to be perfect!
  3. I ran the half marathon although I didn’t train as well as I would have liked. To top it off, on race day there was a huge rain storm with thunder, lightning, the works! The half marathon ended up being cancelled while I was racing due to safety reasons. I made it though 9.5 miles though!
  4. The SNMA Annual Medical Education Conference was LIT! I learned a lot, met some of my social media friends, got to spend time with my fiance (we attended the conference together), and Atlanta is such a FUN city. I can certainly see myself settling there in the future.
  5. I eventually caught up on the lectures I missed because of the conference, but maaaan, it was STRESSFUL. Shout out to my fiance for encouraging me and tryna keep me sane, Lord knows I was in panic mode for a bit.
  6. I made it through Neuro and finished my first year of medical school! Officially a 2nd year med student! Thanks to God for the strength through it all. There was a lot of craziness in that block!

Resources used:

And here’s a sneak picture of our engagement shoot! It was a great experience thanks to Tonjanika Smith Photography.

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Spring break in San Diego!

So I wasn’t completely honest in my last post. Another reason I was eagerly looking forward to the end of cardiopulm was…SPRING BREEEEAK! I could see freedom in sight, and the only thing standing in the way was that darn block exam. I also realized I wouldn’t get a “spring break” in March next year, because of Step 1 boards, so I was definitely pumped to do something fun this year. I decided to travel to San Diego, California. It was my weekend to visit my fiance (we’re long distance and typically alternate who’s flying down each month), but it turned out he had medical conferences he was presenting at in San Diego that week. Perfect timing because I FINALLY get to visit the West coast, have a real spring break, AND also see him – winning!

I took a bus down from Columbus to Chicago and then a flight from there to San Diego (because flights were waaaay cheaper from Chicago). Now because every story is never complete without some mishap, I had my share of unfortunate events. My phone got stolen on my way to Chicago, so alas, for the entire spring break, I had no phone. I did have my ipad though (thank God!), so as along as I had wifi (i.e. at a coffee shop) I could communicate. Quite an interesting experience. Liberating not to be tied to my phone but also kinda scary when you’re in a new city and need to use GPS. Fun times haha.

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San Diego itself was fun! I loved the architecture of the homes and did some sightseeing on my own. I hung out in Balboa park, walked around the museum and zoo area, and soaked in a lot of sun. Of course the weather was GORGEOUS! And I can see why West coasters never want to leave. We also decided to rent a car and drive down to Los Angeles. The rental company ended up giving us a convertible! Say whaaaaaat?! It felt like we won the lottery haha. We drove down to see the Hollywood sign, went to Venice beach, but unfortunately didn’t get to explore a lot more of the city. It was a short visit, so definitely looking forward to visiting Cali again in the future and having a proper tour of L.A. All in all, however, it was a GREAT spring break!

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Cardiopulm Broke My Heart

At my medical school, cardio disorders and pulmonary disorders are combined into one system block lasting 9 weeks. From January 4 till March 10, just straight cardiopulm material – the physiology, pathology, histology, anatomy, pharmacology – literally EVERYTHING cardiopulm squeezed into 9 weeks. To pass the block, you need to pass the block exam, which is everything you’ve learned in the past 9 weeks. My upperclassmen friends gave me advice on this block:

  • “It can be easy to fall behind, DON’T FALL BEHIND!”
  • “Most of USMLE Step 1 is cardiopulm material, you really want to do WELL on this block.”
  • “Treat these 9 weeks like Step 1 prep, if you can manage your time and the material well, you can handle Step.”
  • “You definitely want to read Lilly’s
  • “This is the block some people had to retake. If you can get through this, it gets better”

And the advice went on. Starting this block, I was like, Okay, they said Step 1 is cardiopulm HEAVY, so I absolutely have to know this material well. I immediately borrowed the recommended book, “Lilly’s” and began doing assigned readings for each lecture. I reviewed anatomy with Acland, used the UMichigan site to quiz myself. Read and re-read sections on EKG in the Lilly’s book – eventually figured out how to diagnose via EKG readings. Read First Aid cardio section and pulmonary section, as well as their respective sections in Pathoma. Tried to relate the different pharmaceutical drugs I learned during lectures, with what my preceptor prescribed her patients on days I went to my longitudinal clinic. I mean I even read cardio and pulmonary sections in BRS Physiology! I did all these things and realized,

I don’t like Cardiopulm. 

Nope, I don’t like it.

Which is actually kinda funny, because once upon a time, I was curious about cardiology and even reached out to a cardiologist for mentorship (Ha!). But y’all cardiopulm broke my heart. It was one of those blocks where you feel like you’re doing everything you can, and you’re staying on top of things, but STILL, falling short. Things weren’t sinking as fast as I wanted, I realized I didn’t find a lot of it interesting (well except congenital heart defects and heart attacks), and it was the first time we had some serious drugs to memorize and know inside and out.

And then there was the ordeal with our block exam (our final exam), when the fire alarm went off and we lost time from our exam – awful. When I finally walked out of that exam hall, I was more than HAPPY to be done with this block. See you never cardiopulm! Sikeeee, see you in Step prep *Cries* My portfolio coach/ advisor, advised me that yea, it’s okay to have those systems that you’re just not vibing with. There will be some things you won’t find interesting and you just want to be done with, and that’s okay. 

And that’s real. Because throughout those 9 weeks, I was counting down till freedom and reminiscing on the fun times I had during MSK block (I realized then, how much MSK truly is bae – I loved that block!). Cardiopulm was a block I neglected my hobbies (working out/ going to the gym), started eating more junk food (had Burger King for the first time in years...several times, hit up Chick-Fil-A one too many times), and had little to no Netflix/ TV time. It felt like I was studying aaaall the time.

All in all, thank you to cardiopulm for crossing out some specialties for me, and my time spent in my longitudinal clinic for also helping with that decision (Post coming soon). Cardiopulm broke my heart, but didn’t break me…because, you know, I’m a G like that haha.

Resources used:

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Coming out the Bushes

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Honestly, in the past few months I’ve wondered whether or not to continue blogging – partially because I’ve been very busy, partially because of laziness, and partially because I’ve been wondering what my “why?” is. I was having this conversation with my fiancé the other day, when literally a few minutes later, I received an email from a reader asking for advice. It had me reflecting – that right there is my WHY. It’s crazy to think it’s been almost 4 years since I started this blog. It was created out of my love for writing and documenting experiences (I’ve been writing in journals for over 15 years) and also out of a need I saw. During my pre-med years, I searched high and low for inspirational blogs – individuals who documented their journey to med school, who maybe had a similar story to mine, a story that wasn’t so straightforward and included the challenges of being a minority in this field (only 2% of physicians in America are black women). Back then, I could barely find any. And most of the few I found, had stopped blogging. So I created Curve Balls and Med School. Today, it’s amazing how many med student blogs, Instagram pages, and YouTube channels exist. It’s awesome and at the same time, lowkey overwhelming. Should I be curating my photos on Instagram, having these perfectly laid out pictures? Should I be aiming for over 10K followers? Should I be looking for sponsors? Should I be finding ways to monetize my passion? I am inspired by fellow social media savvy med students, at the same time, I question the authenticity of some. When I study, my desk isn’t so neat like some portray; learning some topics are very frustrating when my interest is low (truth is, you don’t have to LIKE everything you learn in med school); and life isn’t all jolly jolly *rolls eyes*. All that to say, at this point, I could care less about the aesthetics haha (or I guess I should say that’s not my strength right now Lol). BUT I do notice those that do, get companies asking them to try out a product, give a promo code, advertise etc. And bruuhh, this loan life! I could use some extra coins myself! *Looks sadly at empty wallet*

Ultimately, I’ve decided to keep blogging. I see my blog stats (almost 100,000 views!) and I know some of my content has made a difference in people’s lives. I know my “why”, and that’s really what matters. Hopefully, you all will keep on reading as well. I plan to incorporate more about my personal life and not just school. And my oh my, there’s been a lot of updates!! Peep the fiancé hint 😀

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Just Keep Swimming…

It’s crazy how fast this musculoskeletal (MSK) block has gone. It wasn’t that long ago that I was making my first cut into my cadaver and then trying to reflect gluteus maximus to see piriformis, gluteus medius and the other underlying structures. Now fast forward 6 weeks later, and here I am:

  • 1 day away from my MSK OSCE (an assessment of my patient interaction/ communication skills using a standardized patient, as well as my ability to give  a shoulder and knee exam)
  • 3 days away from my anatomy practical
  • 8 days away from my block exam

It’s definitely GRIND time. There’s a lot of material in this block and because it’s also different from the others, it feels a bit overwhelming. I’ve been making to do lists everyday and trying to accomplish as much as I can..”Just keep swimming, just keep swimming” as my homie Dory would say.

This block was also a lot of fun. I serve on my school’s Student National Medical Association (SNMA) executive board and we had our regional conference on my campus. It was a blast! A lot of work when it came to planning, but the conference was a GREAT turn out and ultimately a success.

During this block, I also went to my first suturing workshop. Check out my handiwork below. Now I know my stitches aren’t good BUUUUT there’s a first time for everything. It was a pretty cool experience!

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Anyhoo, I just want to encourage others who are also studying for exams right now, WE GON’ BE ALRIGHT! We’re so soooo close to the end of this semester. Stay encouraged and power through. And if you need to recharge, listen to some Salt-N-Pepa, and PUSH IT! Push it reaaaaal good all the way to the finish line 🙂

Looking into the eye!

The scrub life continued this week. More and more anatomy, but this week’s focus being upper limb. I’ll be honest, I reeaaaally like anatomy. When I went to the gym this week, before I would use a weight lifting machine or use the dumbbell to work a specific muscle, I would think about the muscles I’ld be working, its different actions and innervation. Geeky I know, but it makes it so much more fun and interesting. Right now, my trapezius and levator scapulae muscles are killing me from an intense lifting session I had 2 days ago. I blame all the dumbbell shrugs, barbell rows, and lateral raises I did. It was a GREAT back day.

On a different note, my quest to explore different specialities also continued this week. Since school’s started, I’ve shadowed once in the labor & delivery unit (ObGyn), and radiation oncology. This Thursday, I shadowed an ophthalmologist (an eye surgeon). Why ophthalmology? Well it’s one of those specialties medical students don’t get exposed to until like 4th year when you request it as an elective. So legit very little exposure. Also, it’s one of the few specialties that has a nice balance of surgery AND medicine – which is something I’ve been on the hunt for. Basically, a significant number of your patients you’ll see for several years and form relationships with (longitudinal care), and at the same time, you also get to do surgery. Another major plus: the hours aren’t as crazy as other surgical specialties. Dope right?! Anyhoo, the ophthalmology department here at OSU is pretty open on letting medical students shadow and actually encourage us to reach out if we have an interest. So I took the opportunity and shadowed in the clinic.

Let me just say right now that I was surprised by how busy it was. I guess it’s just never occurred to me how common eye problems actually are. The ophthalmologist I shadowed is a cornea specialist so she does cornea transplants and deals with a lot of cataracts among other things. She allowed me look through the device they use and examine patients’ eyes – their cornea specifically (with permission of course). I could see stitches from cornea transplants she’d done on them, some mild cataracts in some patients, I was just like whooaaa! Her patient interaction was also phenomenal. That’s actually one of the things that impressed me the most. She knew her patients really well, their family life etc and always engaged in some conversation about that before beginning the exam. All in all, I enjoyed the experience and it further confirmed that I do like an aspect of longitudinal care. Also worth noting is that her patients were really diverse and also really thankful. It makes sense though, I would be really thankful too if I had problems seeing and all of a sudden could see clear as day. I was told to reach out if I would also like to shadow in the O.R. and see some surgeries. I’m definitely planning to. Ophthalmology is known for being advanced compared to other surgical specialities when it comes to the technology they use, so looking forward to seeing this.

Below are pics from google on some things I saw. Stitches in the eye from cornea transplant and some cataracts. Cool stuff! I hope you all have a good rest of the week! Stay positive. Always forward 🙂

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