purpose statement

This blog records the experience of a Catholic medical student.

Monday, October 20, 2014

For Reference: People Never to Become

The Workaholic
On internal medicine I worked with a resident who terrified me. I don't mean that she was malignant. She terrified me because when I looked at her I saw a possible future self, a self that I could all too easily become. She had just gone through a family death and had obviously thrown herself into her work. She worked almost constantly: at five in the morning she was checking her interns' patients' charts from home, and at nine or ten she finally left the night team alone in the resident lounge.

How could I possibly be attracted to that, you ask? She was incredible! She was constantly energized, she seemed to know everything, and she managed complex patients with ease. She was chic, funny, friendly, and beautiful. 

The first time I encountered her was actually on my OB/GYN rotation. Gyn was consulted on an ICU patient of hers. The patient had widely metastatic cancer, was comatose, and was intubated. The patient looked agonized and the family members looked weary. This resident strode into the room, looked at the people in front of her, and (with grace, directness, and ease) began a conversation about withdrawing from the ventilator. Two minutes later the patient was extubated. Wow, I thought. That's a doctor who gets things done. That's someone who cares about people. 

I was incredulous to find out that this was my upper-level resident on wards. I was so excited. But I soon slipped from hero-worship into terror. Ever since that wards month, I've been careful not to become the Workaholic. It's hard! I have been getting up in the four- and five-o'clocks for all three of my audition rotations. My odd jobs keep me busy, and mealtime and prayer time are constantly threatened. But I've seen the danger at the end of the workaholic road, and it's awful. So I'll fight to make time for deep relationships, character development, and personal enrichment.

The Malignant Attending
Someone please remind me when I'm an attending to build people up. There are two forms of mechanical air exchange and there are two forms of medical education: high pressure and gentle encouragement.

The first model, which we'll call the "Sergeant" method, is horrible. In this model, every mistake is loudly called out and the student is made to feel small. "What are you doing? Use your brain!" my attending on my second away rotation has told me. "That's stupid," and "How many times do I have to tell you?" are commonly heard in his OR. He swats hands instead of using words to say "[give me the] suction," or "off [with the retractor you're holding]." This behavior extends to the OR staff, residents, other physicians, and basically anyone other than the attending. I've seen several very childish displays. My current attending openly champions this form of teaching, stating that it's the sergeant who saves his men's lives by laying instincts into them. But habits don't have to be formed by negative conditioning.

I have always thought that the most effective way to teach is the Socratic method. Applied to clinical education, this would look like a gentle person asking, "Tell me what you read last night," and letting the student talk. This would say, after a student conducted a history or physical or did some procedure: "Tell me what you did right and what you'll do differently next time."

In the OR, the residents and I exchange many looks when we work with this attending. "Never throw your subordinates under the bus," one whispered to me one day when the attending was out of earshot. Mentally, I vowed never to do so. It's horrible. Not only does it make your students feel like dirt and resent you, it leads to passive-aggressive behavior in staff, it makes residents believe you're a senile joke, it makes everyone eager for your retirement, and it makes you habituated to treating people like slaves and objects.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Odd Jobs for an M4

I had no idea M4 would be like this. I am doing several weird jobs that I don't think most fourth-years do. I'm pretending as much as I was third year!

I'm a hiring manager and a travel agent.
This is something all fourth years do, but I'm adding it in just because it's so different from M3. For this job, I compiled a fancy-looking resume for a US senior medical student and packaged it with a nice personal statement. I scheduled some travel for her so that she has a broader experience to draw from as she interviews, and I tried to sublet her apartment as much as possible so that she doesn't break the bank. I managed her travel and get people to rescue her when she makes mistakes. (And boy is she a mess. She is constantly forgetting stuff at home, forgetting that when you don't change your address your new debit card gets mailed to the subleaser, forgetting that driving halfway across the country takes two days and you need sleep).

I am constantly checking my email for her, because interview invites come in fast and if you don't respond in a few hours, you don't get a spot. This chick's schedule is a mess. She's in Omaha for some NFP training thing for a whole week of primo interview time! And I had to schedule like seven interviews during her ER rotation. Hope she's okay with pulling nights and weekends. Hope she can pay for all the flights she's going to have to take. This residency nonsense isn't cheap.

I'm a biomedical engineer.
A weird twist of events led me to an engineering competition, which led me to a research project in which I am somehow the principle designer for a three-dimensional printed medical device. This is an amazing experience and I'd love to have a patent, but I burst out laughing every time I realize what I'm doing.

The engineering competition was an amazing experience. I didn't even know these things existed, but when I asked my brother (a senior engineering undergrad), he said, "Oh yeah, my roommate walked into one of those for the food. He almost won."

Here's what happened. An email was sent out from the College of Engineering (COE...boy that looks wierd after typing COM for years) with an application to a medically-themed engineering contest. It was sent to all the engineering undergrads and to all the med students. Forty engineering undergrads (out of almost 90 who applied) and as many med students as applied (four) were invited to attend. "Sponsors" (companies who fund the event, and you'll see why it takes so much funding in a second) provide the students with "needs statements" (things they want designed). In our contest, the needs statements were all related to rural and elderly health. In 48 hours, the students have to form teams, pick a needs statement, design and build a product (hardware, software, web or cloud components, prototype), and create a presentation to market it. The students get a chance to be engineers while being fed; the sponsors get free labor. At our contest, there was also a cash prize.

They sent out the needs statements the day before the contest. As I was driving there, I noticed that one had to do with gynecology. "Oh no," I said to myself. "I'm going to end up doing that one, I just know it." It didn't sound terribly interesting, and it also sounded impossible do without a pelvic exam on the person using the device. (Sorry if that was too much information.) I would rather have done one of the flashier projects and I had two favorites picked out.

Long story short: when the competition was only a few minutes underway, three teams had already seized my pet projects and there wasn't room for me on the team except as a consultant. And there were four people hanging around, teamless and needs-statementless. So I pitched the gynecology idea. And they shrugged and went with it.

We had ups and downs. Severe ups and downs. We oscillated between "this is the coolest invention since sliced bread" and "all we have is a smoking heap of circuitry." I wasn't extremely helpful. I can't write code, I can't build circuits, I can't sauder, and I have no experience with CAD software.


But I know how to sell stuff. I made the prezi and I sewed the fabric part of the invention. I sought out a nice mannequin to place our product on. This meant that I called half a dozen department stores and asked them the (probably) strangest question they'd been asked that day. "Hi, my name is mmatins and I'd like to ask your manager about female body forms or legs." Stranger still, I was successful. I carried a male torso model--completely unclothed--out of the back entrance of one store and stowed it in my trunk. I tried hard to remind myself I wasn't doing anything illegal. I then went back for a female torso on a stand, which I carried like some enormous, inappropriate lollipop through the food court and a parking lot.

At the end of the weekend, the COE announced that everyone would take home a small prize of $5-10. I thought, "well, that's nice. It covers part of my gas getting here." Then they announced second prize. "If we're going to get anything," I thought, "it'd be this," even though I pegged the two flashiest projects for first and second. Still, maybe.... Second prize wasn't us, so I internally shrugged. "It was a good experience," I began to tell myself. Then they announced first prize.

We won.

And because I later mentioned that I was at this contest when someone happened to be discussing 3D printing, I ended up giving a presentation on my first away rotation about bioprinting, during which I sounded like I knew something about it. And because I used to foodle around with Google Sketchup (now Sketchup Make), I could throw out a design for the product they wanted pretty easily. Sketchup + Google search + Wikipedia = makeshift engineering degree.

I'm a novice mistress.
Because there is no established curriculum for consecrated virginity in my Diocese, I am sort of making it all up as I go. This used to cause me slight distress, because there is such an emphasis on giving over one's will to another in the works of the Doctors of the Church and other authorities on the religious life. I shared this distress with my spiritual director and he smiled and shrugged. "What else could you do?" he asked.

I'm cobbling together a bunch of online classes and my weekly meetings with the other consecrated women. During these meetings, we cover what they think would help me and what I ask for. Recently, we finished a ten-point curriculum for living in intimacy with Jesus daily. (The love of God for the soul, the will of God, Scripture, love of neighbor, mutual love, Jesus in the midst of "two or three," the Eucharist, Love in community, Jesus forsaken, Mary, the Church, and the Holy Spirit.) We're moving on to forming a rule and leading a balanced earthly life. I asked that we do more on affective maturity and the evangelical counsels next. But I feel sort of like I do when I pretend to be an engineer.

My formal application for consecration is complete and submitted. My bishops are right now deliberating and discerning whether to admit me to the order of virgins. If they do (praypraypray), I will add another odd job: wedding planner.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Med School Cultural Immersion

First of all, the ultimate reference for med school memes is Sorry that some of the references are crude. Some also take the Lord's name in vain. Some of my personal favorite references are to gunners and the strange way third-year med students learn.

When the gunner on your team promises
not to take on a lot of patients so that no one
has to work hard and you know it's gonna end like...
A gunner is a med student with too much ambition. There are stories about gunners tearing pages out of textbooks to lower the maximum score of the rest of the class. My classmates joke about people gunning, but I don't know that anyone's really so enthralled and exclusive at my school. Gangnam style and #Selfie parodies exist. The wink at 6:38 in this parody is a gunner move.

For third year, two Let It Go parodies (this one and this one) are brilliant. The second one is part of a whole series. Most of What Should We Call Med School is about third year and it's all true. All of it. I remember when I was really upset by the combination of continuous evaluation, helpless incompetence, and ridiculous expectations created by third year. I went to WSWCM and read memes for two hours. And I felt amazing, because I realized I wasn't alone.