Donors

When I learned that I would be involved in a dissection-based course at my local community college, I was both nervous and ecstatic. Prior to this, I had taken a lower-level Anatomy course at the same school where we were exposed to donors a handful of times during the muscle and organ units. However, with this course, I would spend all year dissecting the same donor from beginning until end. I was anxious about such an intimate hands-on experience – not because of the smell or the sight – but because this donor was, in all aspects, a human. Before the start of class, I spoke to my mother, a religious woman who respected the field of science. She was just as excited for me, but also warned me to not step foot into our house until I had changed out of my scrubs. She believed that any piece of tissue that I brought in could be carrying the spirit of the donor. While the sentiment sounded absurd, I didn’t dismiss the idea that this donor could very much still be around in spirit and thus, he or she deserves all the respect that I would give to any individual alive.

On the first day of this two-part course, we all walked into our tiny cadaver lab filled with previous years’ donors and separated into two groups. There were two new donors labeled ‘male’ and ‘female’ and half of us were assigned to the female donor. We were instructed to open up the body bags and simply examine the donor thoroughly, keeping surface anatomy in mind. We were to pinpoint any irregularities in our notebooks including freckles, wrinkles, and hair. That exercise allowed me to really appreciate my donor, before I ever laid a scalpel against her skin. As I walked around the gurney, I noted the laugh lines around her eyes, the mole on her back, and her small frame overall. At the end of that first class, my instructors provided some background information on the two donors and we learned that my donor had passed away in her late 80s from complications of dementia. We were also allowed to assign names to our donors. We were to work as a group to come up with a name that seemed to fit best with our donor given our recent exercise. While in retrospect, I understand why that would be considered dehumanizing as these donors had names prior to death, by allotting them names, they were not simply “cadavers” anymore. These cadavers, or donors, were now real people. Even to this day, when someone asks about my donor or when I speak to other members of my group, I immediately speak about my experience with “Charlotte”.

After that first day, every time I walked into the cadaver lab, I felt as if I was greeting an old friend. I spent more hours by the side of my donor than I did in other classes. One day, I was working on the posterior aspect of her forearm, and in order to get a good angle, I clasped her hand. I paused for a second, gazing at my fingers intertwined with hers, not out of fear or disgust, but more so out of a sense of camaraderie. This donor had just as much of a stake in our dissection project and acted as both a teacher and an additional group member. As I would work on her arm or abdomen, I would wonder what her life was like and how she ended up making that decision to donate her body. Back home, I would speak to my family or friends about the progress we made on my donor’s body, such as holding her heart or taking out a kidney. But I would also share learned tidbits such as how “Charlotte” was not a smoker given the state of her lungs and how she opted to have a hysterectomy. There was never a moment during that semester where I felt like I was being forced to come into lab. Instead, every day felt like another day where I was able to learn a little more about my donor.

At the end of this two-course series, my class had the opportunity to visit BODIES: The Exhibition. As a scientist, I was excited to see the various displays and further my knowledge about the human body. When I walked into the exhibit, I was immediately greeted by models of humans, muscles exposed, performing acts such as running, riding a bike, and singing. At first glance, I did not think much of these models, believing them to be gimmicks to entertain the younger crowd. I was later informed, however, that these models were actual plastinated donors and upon learning this, my opinion of the exhibit quickly soured. There are many ethical concerns behind displaying human tissue and bodies in a public setting such as with the BODIES exhibition. Yet, placing actual donors in various positions and having them perform acts seemed rude and childish. I do believe that if I had walked into this exhibit, prior to taking a dissection-based Anatomy course, I would not have had such a strong, adverse reaction as I did then.

Having spent two years in that cadaver lab, I felt extremely comfortable approaching my donor in Medical Gross Anatomy. For my fellow group members, however, this was their first time seeing a donor and facing the idea of death. Respecting this, I tried to give them as much space and time possible to allow them to acclimate to the idea of our donor. It is a different experience entirely, watching others handle donors and how they grow as both individuals and future healthcare providers by the end of the semester. I watched one of my group members confidently remove the skin from the face of our donor when on that first day, she struggled to even pierce the donor’s skin with her scalpel blade.

Spending two and a half years working on donors has allowed me to grow both professionally and personally. Working with a group of three or four other individuals always promotes teamwork, but when your point of focus is a donor, it just forces each and every member to communicate more and practice more caution in his or her actions. I cannot imagine a program where donors are not an intricate part of the curriculum for where would one learn these valuable and necessary traits?

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Daydream Thoughts

It’s almost 2PM this rainy, Sunday afternoon and I still haven’t found the motivation to watch these last three lectures. Finding motivation has been hard this weekend. On one hand, I could journey to MANS and get myself into ‘school mode’, but I know I won’t retain the information. I think it’s the latter that’s keeping me from starting these lectures on the pelvis. I need to be in the right mindset to tackle such an intricate concept.

Among my bouts of daydreaming, I think about my life before and can’t help thinking that that “A” was an entirely different person. I enjoyed my life where I made money, but at the same time, I am more satisfied where I am right now, actively working towards my future. I guess every step I made was a step forward in a sense, but here I am – hundreds of miles away from home – taking medical school courses! I’m interacting with future physicians, current physicians, and academics who blow my mind by their passion. I think that’s why this past week has been so dull – without anything to do, I’m left daydreaming, or bingewatching TV, or eating my weight in snacks. So unlike my peers, I’m very excited that classes are back in session tomorrow. Yes, six MGA lectures taught by a meticulous professor sounds daunting, but it’ll give me the drive necessary to keep going and not just sit here and think.

Memorizing Muscle Facts (Again)

Although I planned to take a break from school this year and instead, work more hours to pay for the ridiculous amount of debt I have accrued from applications thus far, my three-month summer break left me craving for some educational stimulation. So, I signed up for a Human Prosection class series that will begin this Fall and finish up at the end of Spring semester next year. It’s actually a pretty awesome class so far – and it’s amazing that a class like this is offered through a community college. What is Prosection, you ask? It is a class where a cadaver is dissected with the intent of using it to teach and demonstrate anatomical structures. In short, this cadaver will be a teaching tool for years to come and cannot be dissected without regard. But yes, that means that I, a pre-medical student, have the opportunity to dissect a full cadaver from beginning to the end with four other students. There are medical schools in the US that offer fewer opportunities for their students as they move forward towards “Virtual Anatomy”.

But I digress. While the experience has been enriching so far, one item that I am not looking forward to, is teaching muscle facts to students in the lower level Anatomy classes in two weeks. When I was in their position, I went for a straight memorization method and was able to muddle through the muscle unit of Anatomy. However, teaching is an entirely different game as students will be asking me questions that will challenge my understanding of the entire body. So this week, I will not only have to memorize the muscles, insertions, origins, and actions again, but I will have to do it in a way where I can verbally recall them without faltering in front of my students.

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This linked post from Action Potential has some great tips that I am going to attempt this week. However, if anyone else has any other tricks up their sleeves – or any teaching pointers to seem more confident in front of your fellow peers – please send them my way!

— A.

Source: How to memorize origins and insertions

What Now

It’s been a while since I have updated this blog. Or at least, it feels like a while – although in my defense, I’ve been sick for a good two weeks now! Being an aspiring physician, I know it is sinful to admit that I usually avoid getting the flu vaccine. But when you’re hit with a strong bout of the flu for the first time in years shortly after agreeing to take the flu shot, you do begin to wonder. Anyway, enough of that tangent. My first round of midterms are coming up and I figured that as long as I am procrastinating memorizing all those bone diagrams for my anatomy exam tomorrow, I might as well churn out another post!

Where can I begin? To be honest, as soon as the MCAT was over, weeks began to blend together and before I knew it, we were in mid-March. It’s all one big blur of laughter, tears, and food. I did get my score back and initially, I wasn’t too happy with it given that I had a goal score in mind. However, after a few days of processing, as well as a few emails from medical schools encouraging me to apply, I have come to appreciate my score. Will I take the MCAT again? Maybe? It’s all up in the air right now, but since a new format of the MCAT is taking over next year, there are PLENTY of dates (like three in August!) left, if I decide to commit to an endless hour study marathon again. For now, I am content.

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As you might be able to tell from above, I also started/finished watching Happy Endings. I totally recommend it if you’re looking for a 30-minute “pick me up/study break” sort of TV show. Sadly, it only lasted for three seasons – more of a reason to check out this cult favorite!

Recently on Twitter, I’ve noticed numerous schools trending as high school students have been getting their acceptance letters (and I guess for the NCAA bracket). This past Friday, #UCLAbound began trending, putting me in a major flashback friday. It was just five years ago that I was in a similar position. I was a nervous wreck, but not because I was awaiting to hear from my “dream school” – more so because I just wanted to get into the schools I applied to. There was no real reasoning behind why I applied to the schools that I ended up applying to – some were from recommendations from others, some were from some internet browsing, and some were simply television-influenced (like Yale and Gilmore Girls). And when I decided to ultimately submit my ‘SIR’ to UCLA it was more for my family than anything else. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it is an amazing school; but I certainly didn’t decide to go there because of the athletics, or the Psychology department, or the food …. well, maybe a little bit because of the food, haha.

although we never had anything as fancy as this
although we never had anything as fancy as this

This is all coming back to me now, not only because it has been half a decade since, but come this summer, I’ll be going through another major application cycle once more. Sure, I sort of went through that process last year with graduate schools, but I had no idea what I was doing and my plan was haphazardly thrown together – sort of like when I was applying to undergraduate schools come to think of it. This time though, I know what I want, but even more so, I know what kind of environment I can thrive in.

I am currently taking classes at a community college for the first time. And not to offend anyone who has attended community college, but I was a little hesitant diving in given some of the horror stories I had heard. However, not only was it easier to sign up for classes than it was at a university, but these classes are SMALL. Compared to my Life Science courses ranging from 300 to 400 students, there are about 30-35 students in one of my biology classes. Amazing. My professors knew my name by week two and there was not a moment when I felt lost in a crowd.

As I begin to narrow down my MD/DO options for this upcoming cycle, I realize that the schools that I decide on must provide me the same sort of feeling that I have been relishing in community college. Regardless of school status or “fame”, the schools I choose must be on the smaller end when it comes to class sizes. Now I know that might be more harmful than helpful given that there are less spots to compete for – but at the end of the day, if I know I’ll end up drowning in a 500-person class setting, why place myself in one? Along with small class sizes, I also want to consider affordability and residency placement. Though I am a Southern California-bred gal, I don’t think temperature should keep me from applying – I think that’s more of a consideration when I (hopefully) am accepted and (possibly) narrowing down schools.

So what now? Well, at this point, I would love to hear if any of you have any pieces of wisdom regarding school selection or recommendations. All of the blogs that I am following have been incredibly helpful already and I am sincerely grateful, but if you find that you have anything to add, I would love to hear it. Until then, I’ll continue to work on my personal statement and relish this in-between year!

<3 A.

“What Now” – Rihanna

Inspire and Expire

“Breathe in, and breathe out”. That’s what I told myself 40 hours, 20 hours, 10 hours leading up to the MCAT and all throughout it. And now (at least for the time being), I’m done.

Done. Done. Done. I’m done. I just can’t wrap my head around the fact that it’s over. In fact, it took about two days for the thought to settle in before I decided to blog about it.

On one hand, I physically felt a weight lift off my shoulders as I walked out of the testing center. On the other hand though, it’s strange to have this singular mission that completely consumed your entire being for six straight months, be extinguished so quickly – dare I say, rather unceremoniously.

Not to say that I would want to go through the studying, signing up process, and entire MCAT circus again. But I did learn a lot more than I expected to throughout the process. For example,  you really learn who your true friends are when you have such an enormous exam looming over your head. You have those who respect your wishes and hold no hard feelings for the missed social gatherings. You have those who send you emails and texts of support and love. And then you have the latter who simply do not understand that the MCAT is symbolic of what you want to achieve in life. Yes, it’s just an exam, but it’s also part of that ticket to launch your life’s dream and profession.

Last Thursday, two days before the MCAT, marked the end of my fourteen-week Princeton Review MCAT Prep course. Surprisingly, I felt a twinge in my heart when I left, and proceeded to draft this up:

An Ode to the End of MCAT Class

Today marks the final day of MCAT classes. At such a declaration, one would expect a response full of jubilation and relief. However, I find myself oddly saddened that the end is here. Who would have expected that when I signed up for these classes three months ago, I would come out with a greater appreciation for learning and science? Given the horrible experience I had with my SAT classes six years ago, I predicted the same, if not worse, from this experience.

And yet, as the days turned into weeks, I found myself looking forward to the next class. My instructors were genuine, good-natured people, full of humor and advice. They enjoyed what they taught and likewise, instilled a thrill in learning that I had long forgotten about. Subjects such as physics and chemistry that made me cringe in college, were relayed in such a fashion, that I felt as if I was just being introduced. Every day, I am not ashamed to say, I learned something NEW. And I realized, that I actually have the capability to learn and love science. Gone were the days of believing I was unworthy or unintelligent because transcription and translation were unappealing subjects.

Along with these amazing instructors, my fellow students were not the cut-throat sort of pre-medical students that I had the misfortune of meeting my freshman year in college. Though they were voracious when it came to recalling concepts and studying, they were just as helpful and sweet. In fact, students would bring in little treats from time to time, for no other reason, but to relay the notion that we really were all in this together.

Having gone through this course, I now believe that I have what it takes to thrive in medical school. However, I understand that in order to have the best experience, I need an environment just as fruitful. If medical school turns out to be this – a small group of students who help each other and instructors who are passionate about what they teach, I think I could find some happiness in medical school.

So what now? I’ll wait (somewhat on edge) until I get my results before planning those next steps. I’ve signed up to take a few science classes at the local community college, and now that I know what I’m capable of, I’m a little more excited to go “back to school”. I should also try to take a whack at some of those resolutions I made twenty-seven days ago.

Nothing more to say, but I will leave you with this song that not only got me through some late-night studying, but was my personal anthem as I walked into the prometric testing center last Saturday. Who says EDM can’t be just as rejuvenating as classical music?

Best,

A.

High 5

My blog turns five today! Yay!

I feel like this elicits a celebration of some sorts. Or even a well-worded speech. Unfortunately (or rather fortunately), I have to cut this post short as the MCAT is – not four, not three, but – TWO weeks aways. That’s fourteen days. That’s like, winter break in high school – and we all know how that flew by ever so quickly. I should stop now – I’m starting to hyperventilate.

My head
My head

In all seriousness though, it feels surreal. The MCAT has forever been a huge daunting tale that I never imagined I would one day actually meet in person. I know that there are still a lot more hoops to jump through before I become a doctor, let alone actually getting into medical school. But taking the MCAT is a huge first step in my books. So prayers, positive thoughts, all and everything are appreciated as I go into this for the first, and hopefully, last time. You will have my eternal gratitude and if I ever meet you in person, I’ll be sure to give you a high five.

<3 A.