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Embroidering Gingerbread

One of my favorite parts of UMMS is the plethora of opportunities to pursue and develop your passions. For example, last year, I was one of several artists who were invited to submit artwork to decorate the new Taubman Health Sciences Library (THSL) student lounge space.

I have always enjoyed a variety of creative pursuits, including graphic design, music, drawing and, more recently, embroidery. At that time, I had finished a tote bag embroidery kit and was looking for my next project. The opportunity to design for THSL came at the perfect time, and I designed and embroidered my project in a matter of weeks.

That project fueled others, starting small with bookmarks, a snowglobe pillow, and then, finally, the embroidery project that consumed the vast majority of my free time since June. Everyone always told me how the residency interview process involved a lot of available time to pursue hobbies, and so I decided to embroider a gingerbread house quilt as a Christmas present. It was the perfect project, in that each block/gingerbread house was portable enough to work on during innumerable flights but could be assembled into something special.

As time went on, I grew increasingly concerned about whether I would finish in time. I had visions of presenting my grandmother with scraps of fabric, a sort of IOU and a promise that the quilt would soon be finished. Thankfully, by working flat out during the month of December, the quilt was finished, on Christmas Eve. Whew, I cut it close.

I love the finished project. It’s even more fun to look at the blocks and say, “this is the block I did on NICU nights” or “this one I did during lunch periods on Dermatology”. For the last several weeks, I’ve been so happy to no longer need to work on the quilt and getting caught up on my reading/other life activities. I’m starting to feel restless again, though, so it may soon be time to start working on my next project. What that will be, I don’t know, but Michigan will give me the time and space to figure it out.

What I learned from watching a tiny vacuum cleaner

In the last two months, I have been to six surgeries. I have felt warm, viscous, blood course over my gloved hand as I held a retractor during a Cesarean section. I have seen the inside of a man’s abdominal cavity as I held a laparoscopic camera. I have watched as boogers were pulled out of a man’s sinus by a tiny vacuum cleaner. And I don’t even want to be a surgeon.

As a social worker, I often encouraged the teens I worked with to step outside their comfort zone in order to learn more about themselves (and I practiced what I preached, like zip lining!). Medical school shouldn’t be any different.

My journey to medicine began in social work school in Chicago. There, I focused on health disparities and working with teenagers, thinking I would spend my career as a community organizer and health educator. And thus, I was shocked when my advisor connected me with a watchdog group conducting citizen oversight of the Illinois prison system for my social work field placement (a residency, of sorts, conducted in your final year of school). “You should try new things,” she said as I left her office that day, deeply disappointed. She was, of course, correct. My time working on prison reform gave me tremendous exposure. Not only did I collaborate with an interdisciplinary team of lawyers, I also learned that I could connect with people very much unlike myself by being open and honest. I learned that changes in bureaucracy happens both at a policy level but also in hundreds of individual decisions by the hundreds of employees carrying it out. I learned to elicit information not from asking questions but by staying silent, and I learned how to cope with moral ambiguity. But in the end, after graduating, I did not go into prison advocacy, or health education for that matter. Because truly, that wasn’t the point. Instead, I took a job running youth leadership training programs at a synagogue. Go figure.

Which brings me to my first time in the operating room. It was by a chance invitation that I found myself standing there at 7:00 a.m. one morning, the patient confirming his identity one last time before being put under anesthesia. I looked around, at the sterile instruments laid out on the table expectantly, at the phalanx of monitors beeping indecipherably, at the resident typing furiously, at the nurses conducting a stream of seemingly endless tasks. I wasn’t just out of my comfort zone, I was out of my league.

As an older student, and a career changer, I feel that I have some sense of my skills and interests. I like building partnerships for change, synthesizing information and prioritizing goals, working with children and teenagers – all of which have been pushing me towards medical, not surgical, disciplines. “Why am I even here,” I asked myself, intimidated by the charge nurse who kept eyeballing me as I tried to blend in with the tiled walls. And yet, slowly at first, but then all of a sudden, I started to become comfortable and fall into the choreography of the surgery.

With the arrival of the attending, I was invited into the small community of health professionals who would, over the course of the next three hours, become a self-contained universe focused on the removal of a tumor growing in the patient’s sinus. I marveled at the surgeons’ knowledge of anatomy, at the technology employed, at the teamwork exhibited, and at the fact that I didn’t contaminate the sterile field. Near the end of the surgery, peering deep down into the patient’s sinus through a pencil sized hole through his gums, I didn’t know what to make of it all. It had been a tremendously exciting morning, not at all what I had expected, but I also didn’t feel like it was my calling.

Again, by chance, five other surgeries followed in two different ORs. While I didn’t seek out these opportunities, I also didn’t say no to them when they appeared. There is something magical and disquieting about being inside of a body, seeing an artery pulsate or a uterus be pulled outside the abdomen. I still do not think I am interested in surgery, too technical and goal oriented, but I am grateful for the chance to be able to have decided this through experience not bias.

Like my time working in prisons, I have learned a tremendous amount from being in an unexpected environment. I learned that hierarchy is not the same as devaluing other’s contributions. That trust is shared not just between surgeon and patient, but also between surgeon and nurse and tech. That honesty about one’s capabilities is respected by the right kind of leader. And that there is such a thing as a very tiny booger vacuum cleaner.

Making Music in Medical School

At Michigan Medical School, we are constantly reminded to carve out time for ourselves to maintain self-wellness in whatever shape or form that may be for each individual. To me, that means playing ultimate frisbee, hanging out with friends, jamming in my car, and taking plentiful power naps. For others it means journaling, creating and performing music, or crafting various mediums of art.

I never thought I could tap into these more artistic forms of wellness until I received an e-mail toward the beginning of my M1 year advertising a beginners’ medical arts piano class. It was a class designed specifically for medical students who had zero or minimal background in playing piano. I lit up upon reading this – it was like the class had been crafted specifically for my tone-deaf, minimal-background-in-middle-school-flute self! The class was sponsored by the School’s Medical Arts Program, which is directed by Dr. Joel Howell. The Medical Arts Program hosts a multitude of events throughout the year, including trips to museums and concerts, dinners with notable composers and artists, and hands-on workshops.

So, each Friday evening for 12 weeks throughout the fall semester, I made the short trip to the School of Music, Theatre & Dance for the group piano lesson. The class was taught by Annie Jeng, a PhD piano student at U of M. The pupils consisted of medical students representing all four classes, and even a GI fellow who made time for the class! Each week we took a few more steps (and leaps) towards learning how to read a grand staff, keep rhythm, and play scales and chords. Annie would also throw in some lessons on the history of the piano and samplings of contemporary composers. At the end of the class, we each picked a solo piece and hosted a mini recital for ourselves. After this beginners’ piano boot camp, I was proudly able to perform a version of Für Elise by Beethoven (with foot pedal, might I add).

This class offered me the opportunity to step away each week for a scheduled one and a half hours from the mayhem that is medical school. At first, I was thankful for the opportunity to immerse myself in a world that seemed so completely distinct from what I was learning in lecture. However, throughout the class we made connections between the medical and musical worlds that made me realize these two realms of my life did not have to be so separate. After each lesson, I felt rejuvenated and ready to tackle the hours of studying ahead of me.

I am still blown away by the dedication of the Medical School and the Medical Arts Program to provide students with means of balancing their academic and extracurricular pursuits, and allowing students to improve ourselves not only as physicians but as human beings throughout our years in medical school.

Lessons from Across the Pond: Part 1

What is this, a scene from Harry Potter? No, this is just a Thursday evening dinner. Rooted in tradition, the University of Cambridge continues to require gowns to be worn for formal dinners – and honestly, no one is complaining. Between the gowns, candlelit cathedrals, and well-manicured gardens, this surreal experience is like a scene from a movie.

Gowned-up and ready to matriculate

Sprinkled into accounting ledgers and bond valuation are weekend trains to London and potlucks with the national dishes of my classmates. The best part of this whirlwind experience, you may ask? That’s easy: my classmates. This international network of diverse humans that I have the privilege to study with has taught me about culture, geography, and the secret shopping page of Bloomberg. The opportunity to take a step back from medicine and see the world through the eyes of an entrepreneur, an investor, an accountant, etc. – has given me the chance to expand the lenses through which I see this world.

London calling

No, I did not forget about medicine and impacting society during this time. This year alone, my class has raised nearly £4,000 for charities including Movember and Aiducation, and had a little fun doing it. I even had the chance to walk the runway in a fashion show directed by a professional (yes, one of my classmates)! Did I mention our business school is inside of an old hospital?! Of course, I didn’t forget about Michigan either, and you may not be surprised to hear that there is another Wolverine in my class. To hear more about how the MBA will be applied to my medical career, watch this.

My attempt at punting down the River Cam

As I reflect on this year, I’m grateful for the opportunities that have come my way. Through our program we’ve gotten the chance to participate in business projects with real clients, applying what we’ve learned in our coursework. Opportunities to take on extracurricular health care projects are countless, and I look forward to beginning to work with a company introducing augmented and virtual reality into Orthopaedic surgical training in London. No matter how filled my schedule becomes, I always ensure that I have enough time to walk the grounds, go punting on the river (see picture above), and try not to get lost (true story: I actually got lost walking in Trinity College).

King’s College in all its glory

While I’m enjoying my time back in Michigan for the holidays seeing friends and family, I will gladly step back on the plane to start the second term and second part of this adventure. Stay tuned for more updates on adventures in Harry Potter Land! Oh and don’t worry – I’ll be back for The Smoker!

Doing a startup in medical school

When I started Medical School, I was a little worried that I would have to put my entrepreneurial goals on hold. I came into medical school while working on a health app called “Diets Suck” (yep, that’s its real name). It’s an app that helps you eat healthier by building healthy eating habits, one habit at a time. I care a lot about preventive health, and I built the app because I am really passionate about helping people live a healthier life so we can prevent illness. I’ve made a lot of progress with the app, and I wanted to keep working on it as I started medical school.

I immediately found support for my entrepreneurship goals upon coming to Michigan. I found a few other student entrepreneurs who were able to point me to various resources across campus. There is a department devoted to promoting entrepreneurship and innovation at the medical school, and they were very interested in my startup. They helped connect me with the entrepreneurship faculty at the Ross School of Business, which has been a huge blessing.

The Ross School of Business found an amazing Ross MBA student who could work on the app and has helped out tremendously with our marketing and growth strategies. I worked on the app by myself without a team, and that was very challenging because a startup requires so much work. I was trying to find a good team member to work with for a while, so I was overjoyed when Ross helped me with this.

Ross also gave me a small amount of grant funding to work on my startup, and provided guidance as well— I was able to quickly talk with many of the faculty in the entrepreneurship department. They gave me some good advice and helped me think more critically about my business model.

In addition, the University of Michigan helped me find an intern who could help with various marketing projects. I was able to recruit an intern on the University of Michigan jobs website. That was invaluable because there were so many tasks that I didn’t really have time to accomplish as a medical student, so having my intern’s support was crucial.

Overall, I think attending the University of Michigan has remarkably helped my entrepreneurial efforts. They’ve helped me build my team, and they’ve given me some funding and some guidance to get my startup to the next level. It’s been a great experience, and I’m looking forward to using more University resources to help me achieve my startup goals.

There’s No Place like Home for the Holidays

It’s hard to believe that Christmas is so close. The last few months (really, all of M4 thus far) has been such a blur; it seems like the fall term should be barely starting and yet everyone has already finished their final exams.

I finished my last interview last week, and I have to admit that I’m thrilled to be home for a while. (I was starting to get a bit motion sick from all the flights, believe it or not). Interview season has been a blast – meeting all these other students, residents, and faculty who are passionate about family medicine while exploring new cities and beautiful scenic landscapes. But I’m happy to be home for now and experience all that holidays with family encompass.

And also recover from the cold I developed during my last trip. All things considered, I’m impressed that my immune system made it this long without succumbing to the germs spread by the throngs of people I encountered in every airport. It’s the unfortunate consequence of traveling, wacky sleep schedules, and, well, winter.

I sadly did not achieve my one goal during interview season of not running in the airport – it became necessary during my last trip to catch a connecting flight. My flight out of Detroit was delayed for almost an hour in order to de-ice the plane, which made an already tight connection just a smidge tighter. Thankfully, I was able to make my next flight even if I had to cross that goal off the list of possibilities.

One good part of all the flight time was that I finished the embroidery portion of the gingerbread house quilt I’m making as a Christmas present. The quilting part of the process is still in progress, so fingers crossed I finish in time, but the end is in sight.

I do love Ann Arbor around the holidays. Everything looks so festive, and the spirit of giving is ever-present. Also, basketball season is ramping up, with its concomitant fun – when we played UCLA, it was Star Wars day, with stormtroopers and even Darth Vader himself roaming Crisler Arena.

Fans also brought toys to donate to the patients in C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital – my brother and I are sure that this cute bear will go to a good home!

And don’t forget the Christmas cookies (these awesome ones were distributed after a women’s basketball game).

Happy Holidays everyone!