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.


  1. Hey niece, I also am in awe of your life's journey. When I think of all that you have donein your adult life. I'm proud to be your aunt and can't wait to see where life's journey takes you next. I know you'll go far and achieve great feats. It's your destiny embrace it. Love you much, Aunteeee

  2. Thank you so much! Just taking it one step at a time but I'm looking forward to what the future holds as well.