Saturday, May 31, 2014

Post Block Weekend...woohoo!

This is the first weekend after the first set of block exams, sigh of relief!

This is what many of us want to be doing...

However in actuality, this is what many of us are doing instead...
The days leading up to block exams are probably some of the most stressful, sleep deprived times most of us experience during the semester.  It's the time when you KNOW you have to review all of the material and get it to a place in your brain that you can accurately recall it, integrate it, and answer the questions correctly on test day.  The days are long, the nights are short, and the intake of caffeine increases exponentially.  I think I did pretty good only drinking 2 cups of coffee the entire week.  

Now that blocks are over for most of us, the adrenaline rush you get on exam day is gone and the lack of sleep and and proper diet is catching up to us.  The 5th semester students get to experience this next week! I think it takes me a good 5 days to recover from exams but new information is being shoveled down our throats starting the day after exams...except this past Thursday.  Thank you Jesus, for Ascending into Heaven 40 days after Easter, to be seated at the right hand of the Father--and giving us a day off! Amen!  Ascension Day here in St. Maarten is a major holiday where most people have the day off.  For us, it turned out to be a day to complete the non-exam related readings and view the presentations that we'd be "quizzed" on the next day.  "Quiz" really translates to "major deal" because only 2 "quizzes" determine if you pass or fail the class. 

The weekend after blocks is usually my guilt-free beach time or stock up on real food and new toilet paper time (after just a few hours of studying vs the entire day) but instead I'm playing catch up to try to really absorb the material we got in class this week.  I was there everyday and gave my best effort at paying attention but I think I was glazed over for quite a few lectures.  

So today, I shall sit until my gluteus maximus is numb and I plow through the lectures from the week...then maybe there will be some time to play in the sun!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Job well done

As is the tradition with every entering Medical School class, we had the Summer 2014 White Coat Ceremony.  This time around was different than when I received my white coat back in September 2013.  This time I was in the audience with the friends and family of the new matriculants watching through a completely different set of lenses.  New students being welcomed as Physicians-in-Training and fifth semester students who have demonstrated academic excellence were inducted into the Alpha Omega Phi Honor and Service Society.  To be eligible for this honor, students must have obtained a cumulative GPA of at least 85 and participated in service learning at AUC and/or in the local community!  

Some friends were being inducted into the Honor & Service Society and a group of us went to cheer them on.  Seeing my friends and fellow colleagues being recognized for a job well done motivated me to dig deeper and push myself harder.  I am so proud of them and their accomplishments.  Not only are they great students, they are all around good people who will make caring, compassionate physicians.  They inspire me to continue to shoot for the moon because even if I fall short I will land amongst the stars.

Congrats guys, you rock!

In true student fashion, we are always looking for an excuse to get away from the books for an impromptu celebration and this was a great occasion to do so.  We finished our first week of school and our friends were recognized for being at the top of their class, win-win.

After the White Coat ceremony, we skipped the school sponsored dinner & party and headed out to a restaurant called Rancho, a steakhouse with live entertainment.  They are next door to a Mexican restaurant called Tequilla and you have the option to order food and drinks from either menu.  Between two restaurants' menus everyone was able to find something they liked.  Rancho was open air style like many here in St. Maarten but still felt cozy.  It was the perfect spot for a night out!  The fresh baked bread, drinks and appetizers were so delicious that after the starters and drinks almost everyone needed a to-go bag.  This was my first time there but I would definitely go back again. 
Good food + Good company=Good combination.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

2nd Semester here and gone in a flash

Wow, 2nd semester came so quickly! It feels like we just started but then when you look back you realize how much you have accomplished in just a few months.  The semester started in January with a move to our new place, an ocean front condo about 2 blocks from school.  I love it!  I don't know how I'm going to go back to living in a city after waking up to amazing ocean views every morning.  I'll think about that when the time comes, there's so much more to worry about in the nearer future.

Second semester classes are MCB 2, Physiology 1, Immunology,  Biostats, and ICM 2.   I didn't think it was possible but the pace seems to have picked up even more since first semester.  The material is more dense and detailed.  The never ending pathways in Biochem made me want to pull my hair out.  Physiology was interesting because we were starting to really get into the medical and physiological aspects of how the body works.  Immunology presented it's own challenges of countless interleukins and cytokines, transcription factors and helper T cells.  It was a toss up between Immunology and Physiology as to which class was more interesting.  No matter what, they were both highly relevant and the foundation they provided will surely take us far.  My favorite part of the semester is getting to play doctor...more on that in a few.

Some of the highlights from 2nd Semester:

>My computer crashed, again! It happened 1st semester the week before blocks and it happened again.  Luckily I found a computer genius at Office World who worked a miracle and got me up and running again.

>A visit from my parents!
My parents came to visit for a week and it was so nice to see them in person.  FaceTime and Google Hangouts are great but being able to actually touch them was priceless.   My mom did my laundry and ran errands for me that I didn't have the time to take care of an my dad walked me to school in the mornings; with all of life's responsibilities, I actually felt like I was a kid again and for those few days it was great!  Can't wait for them to come back =)  When they weren't taking care of my honey-do list they explored the island and weren't in any hurry to go home.  The visit was nice, but the amount of work I had to catch up on when they left was mind boggling.  I don't recommend having family or friends visit if you don't have enough will power to let them be on vacation while you are still a student.  I 100% failed at that but I learned what works and what doesn't.

>I bought a car.  It makes those monthly trips to Cost-U-Less and other errands so much more manageable.  The reduction in my stress level just from knowing I can get around when necessary made it worth it.

>ICM- Beginning Social History, History of Present Illness and HEENT (Head, Ears, Eyes, Nose and Throat) exams were the focus this semester.  Learning to ask open ended questions so that the patients can tell you what's wrong is challenging but we had tons of practice with both peers and more Standardized Patients (SP's).  The SP's are so good you would think they are professional actors.  There was even an evaluation when we were recorded and then given feedback on how well we obtained the Social History.  Super weird watching yourself on video being the doctor but hey, these are the first few interviews of thousands to come in our careers and the experience was worthwhile.

>The Clinical Studies Fair was held this semester.  It's a once a year expo where reps from most of the Clinical Sites (US and UK) come to campus to interact and engage students to promote their location for rotations.  The fair was a huge hit with students from all semesters interested in seeing what our next steps would be.  We have 72 weeks of clinical rotations after leaving the island when Basic Sciences is over and getting to interface with the program reps was helpful and opened my eyes to many of the options for rotations.  I am sure I will view next year's fair with a totally different mindset since it will be right before it's time for me to leave the island.  Having the exposure early will allow me to be better prepared and more focused with questions next time the fair is held.  I'm looking forward to at least one or two UK rotations!

>We had a small earthquake!  I didn't even know there were earthquakes in the Caribbean.  As a non-coffee drinker, I had a few cups and thought I had the shakes from caffeine overload until my roommate and I locked eyes and she felt the movement too.  She's from the West Coast where earthquakes are normal.  She was calm and I was a bit more freaked out.  My first thought was to go outside and see if anyone else felt the earth moving.  She had to tell me that's exactly what you're NOT supposed to do during an earthquake!  Well, now I know.  Turns out the epicenter was near Anguilla which is pretty close to St. Maarten.  Hopefully this was my first and only Caribbean earthquake.

Saying goodbye

Friends that we made when we first got to the island are leaving to go and prepare for Step 1 of their USMLE (the first part of the medical licensing exam).  It's a bittersweet goodbye.  We're happy that they are advancing in their pursuit of the MD degree but we're sad to see them leave.  So, the only thing we could do was send them off with the best party ever!  We have to make sure they remember the good times and good friends they met on the island. 
Not only did we say goodbye to a few 5th semester friends, we also said goodbye to our 2nd semester! We're almost at the half way point of being on the island. The half way point of Basic Sciences being finished...

Friday, May 2, 2014

This is it

Have you ever packed up your entire life, left all of your friends and family, and moved to a totally different country????  Yeah, me either until I decided to head to American University of the Caribbean (AUC) in St. Maarten.  There were a number of times in the months leading up to the big move that I thought "have you completely lost your mind?" And then the day to get on the plane came.  My mom, grandmother and I headed to St. Maarten to scope out my new town and to work on my tan before starting a program that is sure to be one of the most intense experiences of my life. 

The week of vacation before school was amazing.  I learned the lay of the land and where all of the important things were: the bank, grocery store, the best restaurants, Cost-U-Less (the island version of BJ's/Costco/Sam's Club)and ACE--the one stop shop for decor, pots and pans, laundry baskets, and more.  I elected to live on campus in a dorm, with a roommate.  Stark contrast to go from living alone in your own house to being back in campus housing with a roommate.  I was instantly transported back to my days of on campus apartment living at UMBC; they even had the same furniture!  As apprehensive as I was about having a roommate the same age as my younger brother, it was nice to share the experience with someone else who had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. 

The Orientation weekend consisted of ice breakers, study skills and professionalism workshops, tours of the campus and the island, and the chance to get to know our new classmates.  It wrapped up with registration and then it was time for classes to begin.  We registered for MCB 1, Anatomy, Histology, Embryology, and ICM 1.  An exciting thing about AUC is they provide students with Clinical Skills exposure beginning in our first semester.  We got the opportunity to learn how to take vital signs and actually practiced on Standardized Patients.  I couldn't believe that people agreed to let the most naive students on campus practice on them but it was good because we all have to start somewhere.  Most of our classes were in the morning from 8am-1120am Monday thru Friday then Anatomy Lab was in the afternoons...yes, Anatomy Lab.

Anatomy Lab
I had no idea what to expect. The room was eerily silent and there were rows of bags sitting on top of dissection tables.  I knew what was inside.  I had this overwhelming fear that I would be the one person to pass out when the body bags were unzipped.  I gave myself a pep talk and prayed that I would be ok with lab, because after all you can't be a doctor without making it through Gross Anatomy.  I can't imagine the decision involved when someone decides to donate their body to science but these kind individuals believed in advancing our careers enough for them and their families to make that sacrifice.  I will be forever grateful--for their donations and for the fact that I didn't pass out when we first met.  

One of the things you quickly learn in anatomy and medicine in general is that your right and left now has to be switched in your mind.  Think about it, as a physician most times we will be looking at a patient from a forward facing view. Our right is now their left and our left is now their right.  That still takes some getting used to.  Anatomy was all consuming.  There are so many body parts I never knew I had.  Muscles, bones, tenons and nerves, oh my!  I couldn't even pronounce half of the structures and yet I had to memorize them.  Anatomy class involves learning a new language.  No small feat, but we got through it.  One thing I won't miss about Anatomy Lab is the distinct smell that clings to your clothes and hair when you leave.  One day after lab my friend is walking beside me and all of a sudden she got this funny look on her face.  I asked what was wrong and she emphatically stated: "It's you! You smell!" Great...the weird part was the very next thing we talked about is what's for dinner.  Go figure.  

White Coat Ceremony
This is the ceremony that brands medical students as official Physicians in Training here at AUC.  Some students families were in attendance while others were able to stream the ceremony live.  I had to inch myself a few times after my White Coat was presented.  I was really doing this!!  The 5th semester Honor Society students were also recognized and we sat in awe of their achievements.  We were encouraged and uplifted at seeing the 5th semester students being congratulated for jobs well done. Talk about motivation.  Seeing them gave us the drive to know that we could also be successful.  One idea that kept resonating was the fact that our time on the island would go by in a flash so we should study hard but try to enjoy this beautiful place whenever possible. It seems like White Coat was just a few weeks ago when in fact almost a year has already gone by.

A Rare Trip to the Beach
The beach is literally a few minutes walk from the school.  If you stand on the second floor of the main Academic/Administration building you can see the beach from campus.  And while it's so close, it seems so far away.  The first few weeks of school required constant adjustment.  Many of us had grand ideas of eating well, exercising regularly at the on campus gym, and getting a good nights rest, all while keeping up with our workload from the day, studying, and pre-reading for the next day.  That saying about medical school being like drinking from a fire hydrant with a straw can't be more true.  I got to a point of doing whatever I could to keep up with the deluge of information all those other plans went out the window.  After a few weeks of classes the Medical Fraternity-Phi Chi, held a BBQ at the beach that we can see but yet feels unattainable.  The BBQ, music, sun, sand, and waves were a welcomed break.  The weather on the island is between 82-86 degrees every single day of the year! Life is good!

The Brain is Amazing

I don't know how it possible for the brain to learn and retain so many new things.  The sheer volume of information that we have been exposed to is mind boggling.  Your brain isn't a muscle but you can exercise it enough through repetition and the brain will amaze you.  Just when you think you can't learn another thing, you're surprised that you can recall random diseases and strange syndromes.  Things so rare that you wonder if you will ever see them in your career or if they will just earn you a correct answer on Jeopardy making you seem smart around your family and friends.

Thanksgiving Celebration
Thanksgiving is not a Caribbean Holiday but the administration at helped us remember we all have something to be thankful for.  The faculty and staff served the students a Turkey lunch with all of the trimmings.  It was a nice gesture especially since Thanksgiving is a time when many people celebrate by getting together with loved ones.  The staff made sure that although we were away from our families, the AUC family embraced us.  After the school sponsored lunch, many different campus groups or groups of friends got together to share meals and laughs as well. The first Thanksgiving away was just as special as if I was at home sitting around the dinner table with my family.  The best part was that it was my first Thanksgiving wearing a sundress and shades instead of a scarf and boots.  I could get used to this!

Academic Evaluations
We have block exams every few weeks.  Every 3 weeks for the first two blocks, every 4 weeks for the next two blocks, then final exams. Classes are packed with information, the workload is insane, the schedule is intense and takes some getting used to but looking back it's not impossible although while you're in the thick of it, sometimes it feels impossible.  The material gets progressively more difficult as blocks go on.  Sometimes we don't know how we're going to make it another day but we continue putting one foot in front of the other; that and a lot of prayer.

New Friends

The thing I think I'm most appreciative of is the friendships we've developed so far.  There are students here from all walks of life and all corners of the globe.  Different backgrounds, experiences, religious & cultural beliefs, ages, birth order and any other descriptor you can think of are represented and while we are all different we have a common goal that unites us.  If it wasn't for the friends, who have become surrogate family, some days would seem endless.  Ok, wait, they all seem endless but having a circle of people who you care about, who help you maintain your sanity, who push you when you can't push yourself--that is priceless. 

Over already
The first semester really flew by!  The speed at which the days, weeks, and months go by is unimaginable.  You get swept up into the vortex of school and before you know it, one semester turns into two, which turns into three...which is where we're getting ready to begin in less than a week. Time flies when you're having "fun"! 

Thanks for reading and check back soon for the 2nd Semester recap.