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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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Thanks for reading! And don’t forget to subscribe!

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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And So Begins MSK

Week one of musculoskeletal block is officially in the books! I’ve pretty much lived in scrubs all week since we’ve had anatomy lab every single day. We’ve covered the entire lower limb, some MSK embryology and some radiology as well. This whole week I kept thinking, thank God I took anatomy over the summer! It’s certainly made learning a lot easier. I don’t remember everything and honestly, origins and insertions can kick rocks, but still, familiarity has definitely helped.

My anatomy lab group has been cool. It’s so interesting finding out who wants to go into surgery and is of course eager to cut. I like cutting, but do I want to go into surgery? I don’t know. I just know I’m tryna learn this material REALLY WELL and the faster our cadaver gets cleaned up, the better.

On a different note, I had clinic this week. I mentioned this in a previous post but as part of our curriculum, we’re assigned to a longitudinal practice (LP) – mine is a family medicine practice – in which we go every 2 weeks and practice our clinical skills. This was my second time going and I basically helped check patients in and took all their vitals signs – blood pressure, pulse, respiratory, temperature etc as well as helped do an EKG. We have different objectives for our LP depending on the block we’re on. Since we’re now on MSK, in addition to other tasks, I’ll have to take a history of present illness on someone with a MSK condition during one of my visits. LP has certainly been a learning experience. Big plus is, I’m no longer nervous about taking an accurate blood pressure using my stethoscope. Initially, I struggled with this because I would sometimes miss the first sound, but having done it so many times now, I’m much better.

Also, I voted yesterday! Since I’m in Ohio, a swing state, and considering how crazy this election is, I decided to do early voting and get it off my checklist. I voted early Friday morning. There were no lines, it was awesome! If you haven’t voted, please please vote!!! I’m hoping that when Tuesday rolls around, I’ll be able to breathe a sigh of relief that the right candidate to lead this country and represent the United States, actually won 🙂

On that note, back to books I go. We have a quiz on Monday, so its study mode. Hope you all have a nice and relaxing weekend!

On Turning 26 and Why I Kinda Dreaded It

My birthday was a little over a week ago. I crossed over the 25 marker and stared 26 in its face. Twenty-six. How in the world I’m I 26?! As my birthday drew closer, my excitement grew at the thought of all the birthday festivities I had planned. At the same time, I tried to suppress any reflective thoughts on what it meant to me to reach this age. As the day slowly approached, I became consumed with studying. My block exam was just 5 days after my birthday, I figured any and all celebration should be postponed till after. Even though my birthday was on a Saturday, I planned to do nothing but study. Thankfully, a friend and classmate of mine convinced me otherwise and I decided on a last minute brunch.

I am thankful for twenty-six, I truly am. On my birthday, I decided to confront those reflective thoughts. Twenty-six. A reminder that I am getting older, a reminder that the year I graduate medical school, I’ll be turning 30, a reminder that I still have residency and probably won’t be done till I’m either close to 34 or 37 years old depending on my chosen specialty/ sub-specialty. Twenty-six, a reminder that time keeps slipping past. Sigh. I am thankful for twenty-six, I really am. I am in medical school, I have accomplished a LOT, had different experiences, traveled, had a paper published in a journal, I am truly blessed. I suppose just the thought of knowing I’m losing my twenties to school is disheartening. Comparison is the thief of joy, so I try not to think about fellow classmates starting their residency at 25 or 26 years old, while I’m over here a first year medical student. Curve balls and med school right?

Last year when I turned 25, it was relatively uneventful. I had an exam I was studying for and didn’t celebrate much (although my awesome classmates did surprise me with cupcakes and cookies. My boyfriend also later took me to a Thai restaurant). I remember feeling unexcited about my birthday and joking on snapchat that though 25 was wack, 30 would be AMAZING. 30 would be truly something to celebrate. 30 I would really begin to live and enjoy life.

I realize now how wrong that thinking was. Life happens now. Life is literally happening right now and yea med school is hard, yea it feels like I have no life besides studying at times, but I can’t let this prevent me from celebrating life. That said, I was able to celebrate my birthday this past weekend and it was SO. MUCH. FUN. To the point that I actually lost my voice haha. It was a whole weekend celebration of mine and my boyfriend’s birthdays (He’s also an October baby). We celebrated in Washington D.C., had a few of my closest college friends come – one of which flew in from Chicago right after her Surgery shelf exam. I truly felt the love and it was one of the BEST birthdays I had celebrated in a while. The time spent with friends, the surprise flowers and gifts from my boyfriend, everything was perfect. Twenty-six, I am thankful for you. Oh so very thankful.

The Fun Begins: My White Coat Ceremony!

“But they that wait upon the Lord will renew their strength; they will mount up with wings as eagles; they will run and NOT be weary; and they will walk, and NOT faint.” – Isaiah 40:31

Monday was my white coat ceremony and it was GLORIOUS. As I walked on stage after my name was called, I kept thinking this is really it – a major and symbolic step in my journey. I was overwhelmed with so much joy!

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Shout out to all the curve balls that made my journey to this point a bit more interesting and most importantly, to God who gave me the strength to tackle them all. All those challenges made this moment so much sweeter.

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A big thank you to my friends and family who have supported me throughout, also to you all, who read my blog, who provide encouraging words and put a smile on my face with your thank you emails – you’re appreciated!

Cheers to this next chapter, the curve balls that will be handled with grace (hopefully!), and the opportunity to share my experience through this blog. Looking forward to it all!

Meet Jessica – A 1st Year Med Student at The Ohio State University

A first-generation high school graduate, college graduate, and now medical student, Jessica certainly has an inspiring story! Born to Mexican immigrants, she serves as a role model not only to her family members but to people in her community. She’s a good friend and classmate of mine who recently started Inspire Hope, a YouTube channel targeting high school and college students interested in the premed track. I’m very excited to share her story on my blog and hope you will be as inspired as I am!

A few key points from the interview:

  • It wasn’t until her senior year of high school that she decided to pursue medicine
  • She went through the medical school application cycle twice
  • The MCAT was a challenge for her, but after a couple of retakes, she beat it
  • She created her YouTube channel to inspire high school students

Free MCAT prep courses mentioned in the video:

Check out our video interview to learn more about her story!

Happy New Year + Goal Setting

Happy New Year! I realize this is a bit late considering we’re already 8 days in – let’s just ignore that tidbit. First semester flew by fast! I’ll be writing a reflection post on that shortly. The post will include details on the classes I took, the challenges along the way, how I studied for each class, and my overall advice on having a successful semester – particularly for those considering the OSU MEDPATH Program. So look out for that post soon!

A lot happened in 2015 and some of you were able to share with me in those moments of celebration, as well as challenges. At the end of every year, I take time to reflect, purposefully writing down the highlights from each month, both the events that make me smile and cringe in memory. I posted an abridged version of 2014’s reflection on my blog last year (Click Here). I typically do my reflection in the last week of December. It’s good practice as it allows me to remember those times when I didn’t know how God would do it, but He did. He surely did. It reminds me how much can happen in a year, how a year can seem so short and yet so long. It allows me to see GROWTH. As I read through my past journal entries for this exercise, I see how thoughts can become actions, and how time, truly is a valuable thing. I write it all, so I can look back and always remember. It’s a practice I’ll definitely encourage. 

Coupled with this, I take time out to set some goals. These are just a list of things I’ld like to accomplish before the end of the year – they are short term. A few of the items on last year’s list included:

  • Buying my first car
  • Doing another Spartan Race in July 2015
  • Traveling to South Africa for my cousin’s wedding
  • Recording another Afrobeat workout video in January 2015
  • Consistently blogging once a week

Now I’ll be honest, I usually don’t meet ALL my goals for the year (case and point, the last two goals above didn’t happen), but I do come pretty darn close. Throughout the year, I periodically look at my list to remind myself what my goals are, to motivate me, and keep me focused. And yes, I periodically check things off during the year as well. I’m a big subscriber to the phrase:

Plan-to-Fail

I believe in doing things with intentionality. You can find a lot of articles on the importance of not only goal setting, but writing down those goals. There is power to writing them down. At the same time I also like to keep my yearly goals S.M.A.R.T.Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant & recorded, and Time bound.

smartgoals.jpgFor example, one of my 2014 goals was to turn in my med school application on the first day. The key point here is that I noted the first day. I didn’t say early (because early is relative), I gave myself a specific timeline, and in the end I was able to turn it in on the very first day (see post here). I can certainly say that what kept me focused, determined, and motivated to get my application materials ready to go, was this personal goal I had set for myself, written down, and referred to from time to time.

A popular practice is making a vision board and placing it in a location you see/ pass through everyday. I personally created a folder in my Google Drive labeled, “New Year and Reflections” where I store both my reflections for the past year as well as my goals for the new year. So far I have reflections and goals as far back as 2012 stored in there. As you may have guessed, I’m a BIG fan of Google Drive – it enables me to access my documents anywhere, anytime, from my phone, my laptop, a public computer. I LOVE the accessibility of it, and it’s the reason why I used it during my application process (see post here).

This year, I decided to make different categories for my goals. They are:

  • Fitness goals
  • Health goals
  • Spiritual goals
  • Academic goals
  • Relationship goals
  • Financial goals

Each category has about 2-3 specific goals. I’m excited at the thought of accomplishing even just a few of these goals by the end of the year. So if you haven’t already, take some time out to reflect on the previous year, thinking about each month, the things that happened, the celebrations, as well as the challenges. Then think about this new year and some goals you’d like to accomplish in 2016 – they could be new goals, goals rolled over from the previous year, whatever it may be, make sure they are S.M.AR.T.

Reflect on!

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