It was inevitable. I crashed. Not as in vehicle accident, but as in burned out emotionally and physically.
A human can only do so much until they hit the wall. It is difficult for me to slow down and relax for more than an hour or two.
There, I admitted it. I need to slow down.
I figured I was burned out so just to make sure I took an “are you burned out test” online and scored a 65 out of 75.
I told Mrs. Medman that I just couldn’t go on anymore. She knew I needed a vacation. Something where I could just stop and chill.
Then, the next day I started not feeling so well. Fatigue, headache, sore throat, fever, inflamed posterior lymph nodes…sounded like either strep or mono. The thing is I am never sick. Like hardly ever. My wife and kids will get sick and re-sick but I don’t. It just doesn’t happen.
But, this time I did. My body and mind were yelling “stop!” So I spent several days in bed and out of work. I needed it.
It is times like these where you are forced to slow down and face the reality that you can’t conquer the world in 24 hours. My goals and dreams would have to take a back seat for a while so I could recover.
Here is what I am focusing on:
- Learning to say “no”
- Not over committing
- Re-focusing on my priorities
- Finding healthy ways to unload
- Spending quality time having fun with my family
- Working on enjoying every moment
Fortunately I don’t have any classes this summer so no harm there.
Now that I am feeling better I am able to assess what went wrong and pinpoint specifically why I burned out. So, if you’re like me and want your long term goals achieved by mañana, choose to stop and enjoy reality before reality stops you.
Today I have the honor of interviewing a recent premed graduate who is currently in the application process in her journey to medical school. Before pursuing medicine Mandy taught music for several years. She also has traveled around the world doing mission work to countries including the Philippines and Russia. You can read more about her at her blog Music 2 Medicine.
Let’s start off with what subject you liked the most?
I definitely liked Biology the most. The biological sections were more practical than the others, and many applied the concepts to real medical situations. This is part of the reason why Physics was hard for me because it had little relevance to everyday situations (at least to me!).
Completely understand about Physics. So much of it is conceptual which can difficult. And on the topic of difficulty, give us your thoughts on the MCAT and what was your biggest fear going into it?
The MCAT is definitely something that strikes a little fear in the hearts of all premeds. Even though med schools admissions look at a lot more than MCAT scores and GPAs, a lot rides on this test.
Going into the MCAT, my biggest fear was just forgetting simple things that I know could give me easy points. There’s so much content on the MCAT but if you know it well, you can get easy points.
You’ll have to share more with us about those tips at another time. But during this whole premed process, which subject was your strongest and which was your weakest?
Physics was by far my weakest area; verbal reasoning, my strongest. Out of the sciences, I would have to say O-chem was my strongest. O-chem was a difficult course for me, but I learned a lot and was able to apply it to the MCAT.
Of the ones you mentioned, which one did you have to prepare for more?
Definitely the physical sciences section, physics in particular. Some people just have a knack for physics problems and understanding how to apply all the equations, but it was a struggle for me.
Yeah, I think Physics is definitely a tough subject; one that is difficult to wrap your brain around. I also had to duke it out with Physics.
And considering it was difficult and your need to prepare more for the MCAT, which prep material did you use? And did you like it?
I researched MCAT materials a long time before I decided to go with Kaplan. There’s a reason they are one of the best test preparation companies in the nation! After watching a free MCAT session from Kaplan, I saw that their test strategy made sense. The MCAT is all about strategy and Kaplan has a great approach with proven results. So, I decided to take a prep course with Kaplan because I wanted to give this test my best shot, and they offer a higher score guarantee with their courses. Taking a prep course is not for everyone, but it helped me a lot. The Kaplan instructors were great and the amount of study materials made available to me was tremendous! It is definitely possible to study on your own if you have a solid foundation in the sciences and are very disciplined in your preparation.
I’ve read about how important it is to use test strategies for the MCAT. That is definitely something I am going to look into further.
What can your recommend to those reading this about preparing for the MCAT?
The biggest thing I can recommend with MCAT prep is to take a lot of practice tests, review them, and figure out why you missed each question. If you don’t have access to practice tests, you can purchase full-lengths off of the AAMC’s website. I also recommend, The MCAT Physics Book, by Garrett Biehle. You can purchase it as an e-book and is a great tool for mastering the physics section of the MCAT.
Now that the MCAT is over, which medical schools are you aiming for? And which one is on the top of your list?
I would love to get into Mount Sinai School of Medicine, but that is definitely on my “dream list” of schools. I haven’t fully decided on all the schools I’ll be applying to, but I’m looking for schools that focus on community, rural medicine, and have international electives. I am interested in global health, particularly in underserved areas, so schools with that kind of focus will be my preference.
That is neat. I hope you get in.
At this point in your journey, do you have any regrets or advice for other premed students? Perhaps something you learned by experience, something you wish you’d done, or something you think you did right.
I learned by experience that the only way to do well in organic chemistry is to do practice problems over and over again. It is very time-consuming, but that is the only way to ensure you learn the material. I went from failing my first exam of 2nd semester to getting A’s and B’s on the rest of my exams by changing the way I studied.
My premed journey has been different than most, but regardless of when you decide that you want to become a doctor, start getting medical exposure right away. Volunteer, shadow doctors, and if at all possible find a health-care job. It is easy to get bogged down with studies and lose sight of the end goal. My weekly shadowing experiences during the school year reminded me of why I was working so hard. You need those reminders during your difficult pre-med years. You can read about some of my interesting shadowing experiences on my blog.
Definitely! Thank you Mandy for taking time out of your schedule to answer my questions. I am sure they will be of encouragement to other premed students.
Please visit Mandy’s blog and give her a shout out at Music 2 Medicine.
Another semester is “in the books” and I have already begun studying some courses for the summer. Physics II and Chemistry II have both consumed neurons from my brain that I am not sure I’ll ever get back. But, it was worth it to get an A in both.
Here is what helped. Back in March I made a goal of being more organized. With working 40 hrs / week, studying four nights out of the same week, raising 2 kids, living harmoniously with my wife, and activities at church, things were bound to get hairy. So, I figured organizing myself would help keep my mind clear, lessen stress and give me time to be with my family and do the things I enjoy.
I am not a genius, so “studying smart” was going to be important. This was the “code of organization” I lived by this past semester:
1. Study every day – Some days I studied 30 minutes while other days I spent 2 hours reviewing concepts and notes. My brain was able to soak in little by little and not have to deal with the “mental overload” I experienced in the past with Chemistry I and Physics I (don’t remind me!).
2. Don’t cram – There is no way that I can cram weeks of complex information into my hippocampus while running on high doses of caffeine. No way! Not me!
3. Review and study specifics – I spent time focusing and mastering concepts I previously didn’t grasp completely. At one point after not doing so well on a lab quiz, a friend brought to my attention sections of the online homework assignments that I hadn’t completed. Ironically, these homework sections covered the exact material on the lab quiz. Doh!
4. Focus – Early on I learned that a key to my success was having my mind completely focused on what I was studying at the same time I was studying. This meant I needed to get rid of all distractions and actually pay attention to what I was doing. Distractions = nada in the brain-o.
After my last final I had a weird feeling. I wasn’t tired or exhausted or “ready for the semester to be over”. It was almost as if I didn’t have “closure” for the end of the semester.
I don’t possess a photographic memory so it took a lot of hard work for me to understand most of what was taught. But I believe that my success was due, in part, to having a plan and sticking to it.
This is completely amazing. I hadn’t shared this story because I wanted to make sure everything was going to pan out.
A while back I had an article that was published in an online premed magazine. About two weeks later I was contacted by a physician who is on the board of John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, MD. He asked me a lot of questions and seemed very interested in my story and in my goals for medical school, as well as post-medical school.
He asked if I had heard of John Hopkins University School of Medicine and if I was interested in his help and recommendation in getting into that school. I was dumbfounded but of course accepted his offer.
To find out what happened next please highlight between the asterisks.
* April Fools! *
I realize that goals are not only important so I can get something accomplished, but also because my life needs structure and purpose. With goals, my outlook is much more positive and my mind is clearer.
With that said, here are my three short term goals:
1.) Learn Brazilian Portuguese:
How am I going to learn it? Read some easy to read material in Portuguese. Make notes of the words I am not familiar with. Make notes of words I know. Ask Brazilian friend to correct my pronunciation.
Why learn it? Besides enjoying the challenge, the population of Brazil is almost 200 million. Many Brazilians also live in the US. Since it is part of South America their culture is very similar to the Hispanic culture. Also, since I am fluent in Spanish and since there are several thousand similar words with Brazilian Portuguese, it seems as a quick attainable goal. In addition, someday I hope to participate in a medical missions trip to Brazil – to the Amazon!
In short, I am learning it to reach more people.
How am I measuring that I have learned it? When I can hold a simple conversation, being able to speak and understand most of what is spoken to me.
2.) Learn Math Tricks:
How am I going to learn it? Finding math tricks online (Google University). Today, I started by learning how to do double digit multiples of 11 in my head. This afternoon I taught my 8 year old son the trick. After a few practice equations he was able to multiply 22 and 11 in his head. He said, “It is 242. Let’s do this again!” This is so cool!
Why learn shortcuts? I have always enjoyed math – though I never took advanced calculus! But there are so many everyday things we do with simple math that knowing how to multiple or divide 2 or 3 digit numbers in my head would be beneficial.
How am I measuring that I have learned it? This is a hard one to measure. How smart is smart? For me, it will be when I am able to learn enough shortcuts (calculated in my head) that will keep me from running for my calculator. This is going to be fun!
3.) Be more organized:
How am I going to learn it? I acquired a free calendar (Dave Ramsey would be proud!) and began keeping track of my activities (work and church) and also my homework, quizzes, and tests. So far it has only required a little bit of effort; things are looking good.
Why be more organized? I believe it will help keep my mind clear.
How am I measuring that I am organized? At the end of the semester if I am able to look back over the past 4 months and have finished my homework before its due, not allow school work or study time to pile up, not have to cram for a test, and also be able to spend quality time with my family then I believe I will have achieved success.
Seeing as I have a full schedule already, adding something else to my life could complicate it. But, this is not something to complicate my existence. It is simply something I can do in those short intervals of time when I don’t have something planned or as I go about my day to day duties. And along the way, I can learn a few more (fun) skills.
I’ll keep you updated on my progress.
Seven years ago while living in the western part of Mexico I helped organize a medical missions clinic in a village about an hour outside of Tepic, Nayarit. This village is one of thousands in rural Mexico full of indigenous people who lack adequate medical attention.
This particular village was populated with Huichol indians.
For weeks prior to the clinic my team and I canvassed the neighboring villages and pueblos advertising the free treatment to be provided. We were excited to be able to help give the people the medical care they desperately needed.
For the most part it was an exciting time. People were traveling up to three hours in to see a doctor – for some, their first time. We were helping them get help. It was a great feeling.
During the week, the clinic treated hundred of patients, most with basic medical needs. But on the last day of the clinic a lady arrived with an emaciated toddler who looked pathetic and tired. She was quickly escorted to one of the physicians. The toddler’s dark brown eyes stared emotionless at the physician as he examined her.
Her mother stared as well; emotionless.
After listening attentively to her heart the physician told the mother that her daughter needed surgery to repair a valve in her heart. Unless she could get her child to a surgeon in town she would not live to see her third birthday.
I tried to explain the words of the doctor to the mother.
My words caught in my throat as I glanced at my own child who played nearby – a happy 15-month old - already bigger than this slight frame before me.
The mother seemed indifferent to the news. I phrased and rephrased, searching for a response from her. My Spanish was impeccable – but my Huichol was not. I could not tell if she spoke any Spanish at all. The few words of Huichol I could speak did not help me to explain her little daughter’s condition.
“You must return to town to bring Xitlali to the surgeon in two weeks,” I urged. “She is very sick.”
I hoped that the tone of my voice would somehow translate the meaning of my empty words to her.
“Sí,” she placidly responded, looking off in the distance at the looming mountains, “Sí.”
“She is sick. Xitlali’s heart is very sick.” I tapped my chest to illustrate. “You must come back for the appointment.”
“I will help you. You be here at this street, and I will drive you and Xitlali to the doctor.”
I looked helplessly at the frail child.
Could her mother not understand the urgency?
She began to gather her few belongings and her little child to herself.
“Come back in two weeks,” I again urged, holding up two fingers. “Xitlali is very sick!”
Expressionlessly she turned and headed slowly up the trail, carrying Xitlali.
“Sí,” her voiced now barely audible. “Sí.”
I watched as the Huichol woman disappeared up the trail.
I had not tried to tell the Huichol mother the entire situation. I could not.
I think she already knew.
Here was the problem.
Her race dictated her treatment. Mexican doctors would not see Huichol Indians. Mexicans consider themselves superior to the indigenous people. The Huichol were considered second class. Medical care would not be offered to them: they were expected to get better naturally or just die.
Little Xitlali was given an “appointment,” but that was all. If she were to show up at that time, she would merely be offered another appointment, and another, and another…until she died.
I did what I could. I wasn’t a doctor and my Huichol language skills weren’t even enough to sufficiently communicate.
I watched the outline of little gasping Xitlali being carried up the trail, knowing in my heart that I would never see her again.
There was nothing I could do to change life for Xitlali. But that day I vowed to be a voice.
That day I chose to be a voice for those who were defenseless. I vowed to educate myself in medicine to help those in remote areas.
I cannot change the world. But I can do something. And I will.