On This the Last Day of My Medical Education…

2 04 2014

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…I wanted to share a letter that I wrote to myself just less than two years ago, on the day before my third year of medical school began.  The day before I officially started working in the hospitals for the first time.

I was terrified.

Honestly, I did not think I was capable.  The two years in front of me felt daunting and impossible.  I did not think I have the strength of character to go down such a difficult road.  I seriously questioned whether this path was right for me.  I seriously questioned whether I was right for this path.

I am a person who invests in multiple interests in order to protect myself.  It seemed to me, however, that medicine demands that you invest in it wholeheartedly as a career, or you will not make it through the process.  I wasn’t sure I could do that.  I wasn’t sure I would make it.

I was telling all of this to a pretty incredible friend, and she inspired me to capture all of my fears and self-doubt in a letter to address to myself, to read two years later, on my 27th birthday.

Today, April 2nd, 2014 was my last day working in the hospitals as a medical student.  In a few months, I will be a first-year resident.

I have so many feelings and words I want to say that I don’t know where to begin right now.  But today, as it was my last day, all I could think about was this letter that I wrote to myself two years ago.  I really hadn’t read it since I wrote it.  But today, for some reason, I really wanted to read it.

So I read it, and now I share it with you here today, for anyone who may question whether medicine is for you, or for anyone who was/is ever terrified that a career might demand your undivided focus for a lengthy period of time.  I just hope you know that you are not alone in your fears, doubts, and hesitations.  And even though I ended up sticking with medicine, it doesn’t mean I would have been unhappy had I ended up figuring out that medicine was not for me.  For me, the important thing was to give myself a break, and let myself truly try medicine before I made a decision one way or another.

It really isn’t the destination.  It really is the journey.

And so today, as I’m nearing the end of this leg of my journey, I find myself reflecting back on my last few years here, and that is where my super cheesy letter to myself finds its start…

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Dear June,

Happy birthday!  Hope you are enjoying the Sunshine or rain or whatever weather it is today.  Remember to travel slow enough through life to appreciate what is around you.

When you read this, you may have decided that medicine is not for you.  And if that is the case, I hope you realize that this is more than ohkay.  I write this not as a prediction, but as emancipation.  I know that you are scared of giving 100% because you are scared to fall short.  You’ve always tried to do a million different things at the same time, and all of those eggs in all of those baskets gave you security to know that even if you fail, you have all of those other baskets to hold you.  It was the courage to not care about failure that allowed you to be successful in different domains.  It was spending 40 hours a week for 4 months working on a project because it made you happy, and not because it would look good on your CV.

Somewhere along the way you forgot how to enjoy whatever it is that you’re doing.  You became so afraid of what the next moment holds that you forgot to love the present one you inhabit.  You are about to enter core clerkship tomorrow, and looking back in 2014, I hope you look back realizing that you squeezed every moment for what it was worth.  You can worry about being wrong, looking stupid, acting a certain way to please patients or staff, but what did it do for you in 2011 and the first half of 2012?  Nothing, except create a mask of fear that you used to protect yourself, which only ended up consuming you.

When you look back from 2014, I hope you realized every day that each rotation is 4 weeks long.  That means that each rotation is 20 to 24 days long.  Each day you spend in the ward, in the clinic, or in the OR is one less day there.  You are going to end up choosing just one specialty, or maybe you will decide to drop out of medicine altogether.  Either way, it means that each day you spend in internal medicine, in trauma surgery, even in obstetrics and gynecology, is 5% of your entire time in that field.  You may never scrub into another surgery.  You may never deliver another baby.  You may never see or treat that illness again.  And for sure, there will be many patients who you will never see again.  And they deserve your full attention.  They deserve the you who laughs and loves with all your heart and all your soul.  They deserve a person who cares just as much about their comfort as their treatment.  They deserve a person who sees them.  And that requires you not burdening yourself with fears and worries and concerns about the future that you have absolutely no control over.  It requires you to be authentically you and present in the face of fear.

But if I know you like I know me, then by the time you read this letter, you will have made it through intact and complete.  You will have opened yourself to learning without self-judgment.  You will have made it through knowing yourself fiercely and having the determination to be yourself unapologetically.  You will have set yourself free from not only others’ expectations, but your own, which are infinitely harsher.  You will have treated each day in the rotations like it was your last one there, because it very well could have been.  You will always remember that what makes you you isn’t your technical prowess or limitless knowledge, but how you use all of that to listen to patients, colleagues, friends, family, people; and leave every person that you interact with a happier, healthier individual than before you met, whether you decide to do that using medicine, or not.

Congratulations, June =).  Happy 27th!

With love (and I write this because I think you often forget to love yourself),

June
July 29th, 2012 (the day before clerkship begins)





Ten Things I Love About Australia

8 06 2013

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1) Security at the airport takes 1 minute (especially for domestic flights and is quick even for international).  No taking off shoes, no cleaning out pockets, no taking off my jacket, and you are allowed to bring food, as many fluids as you want (shampoos and conditioners can be carried on!), and the officers are super nice.

2) Marsupials!  Everywhere!  Apparently locals find them nuisances because they sleep in backyards and front lawns.

From kangaroos…

Kangaroo

…to kangaroo rats…=P

Kangaroo Rat

3) There is a nickname for everything (and it’s the same nickname): Brisbane = Brissy, Gladstone = Gladdy, Rockhampton = Rocky, and football = footy.

4) People are relaxed here.  Nobody takes themselves too seriously.  Doctors are addressed by their first names, and the Australians make fun of everyone, especially themselves.  Australians I have met have been incredibly generous and hospitable.

5) Medical specialties do not seem as rigidly defined.  For example, ENT surgeons can remove molluscum contagiosum from toes, fingers, etc; and general surgeons can do C-scopes and remove potentially cancerous skin lesions without fuss or the need to refer to someone else.

6) There are fun, beautiful towns and cities all along the east coast, each of them incredibly unique, so a whole different world is just a roadtrip or a quick plane ride away!  The diversity of each of the places I have been to is breathtaking.

7) Tanned, athletic, beautiful people everywhere in warm weather clothing.  Full stop.

8) “Cold” is 10 degrees in the middle of Winter……..but it does flood up to 10 meters here in certain areas occasionally.

9) People here tell me I have an accent =P.  Actually, I love the accents and the slang here.  People actually sound like they do in tv shows and movies.  I enjoy being called mate.  Green peppers are actually capsicum.

10) Postcard-worthy pictures… everywhere.

Tannum Sands Beach

Tannum Sands Beach

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Great Barrier Reef

Part of the Great Barrier Reef

1770

1770, Queensland

Manly Beach

Manly Beach

In Australia, what I learned the most is the importance of adjusting your schedule to achieve maximum Sun exposure on a daily basis.  I learned to be flexible and prioritize what is truly important, which is to enjoy life as much as possible.  That is the true reason for existence, and I cannot be more grateful for my great Australian lesson.

And finally…Bonus #11) All the beds are on wheels…what is up with that?!





The Confidence to Drive on the Other Side of the Road

28 05 2013

Time has flown by, and I am now at the end of my third year of medicine.  I am currently doing my rural family medicine rotation in a small town in Australia, and I have been loving my time here.

Because it is a small town, the only way to get around is to drive, and, of course, in Australia, they drive on the left side of the road, which is the opposite of what it is like in Canada.

Now if you had asked me whether I could drive on the other side of the road a year ago, I would have told you NO WAY, especially not in a big, crazy busy city like Sydney (which I did just last weekend), because I hadn’t driven at all for three years, much less on the other side of the road.

Now I’m sure there are readers who will be thinking that I am silly for thinking that driving on the other side of the road is a big deal, but you should know that I am so anxious and hesitant, getting myself so lost in the potential consequences of my actions that I can too often become paralyzed and fail to end up taking a step at all.

So then how was I able to be bold and brave (as a couple of my colleagues put it) and drive on the other side of the road in a new country in a busy, chaotic city with massive traffic and poorly designed roads (Sydney) when I haven’t driven in three years?

Well, it’s all thanks to trauma surgery.

The short answer is that when you learn how to deal with patients coming in with gunshot wounds, stabbings, massively broken bones, and injuries from being hit as a pedestrian by a car; you become less stressed about the littler things.

The long answer is that I absolutely loved my trauma surgery rotation, and found it an incredible privilege to be there.

Watching the surgery residents deal with incoming trauma, I noticed how calm they were.  The patient could be unconscious with massive wounds and completely fractured bones, but it was as if the more serious the situation, the calmer the residents were.  Patients would sometimes have massive hemorrhages, be deteriorating quickly, and require immediate intubation/chest tubes/etc; but unless you were experienced, you wouldn’t be able to tell how serious the situation is from watching the staff calmly at work.

Wanting to be effective, efficient, and optimally care for my patients; there were a couple of times when my voice started speeding up and increasing in pitch, my walking pace became more rapid, and my shoulders tensed themselves up reaching towards my ears.  I felt like I needed to quicken my pace to take care of the patient this second, but twice I remember two different residents telling me to chill out.  I remember then recognizing how stressed/anxious/frustrated/impatient I was at the time, and I deliberately took deeper breathes, relaxed my shoulders, and smiled gently.  It was as if I was doing a heavily simplified form of mindfulness therapy on myself.

But hey, it worked.

The biggest lesson I took away from trauma surgery was why I needed to be calm.  I will be always grateful to the residents who made me realize that when my shoulders tensed up, my brain also tensed up.  I would lose my ability to think coherently, I would become extremely absentminded, and I would lose (most importantly) my sense of humour.  Essentially, in times of stress I lose who I am, and that, beyond turning me into a mindless automaton, has the side effect of rendering me useless as a clinician, to the detriment of my patients.

Sometimes it feels like if I am too relaxed at work, I am not doing my job right.  I worry that if I am too calm, I am forgetting something important.  But actually the opposite is true.

I worry that making jokes and allowing too much of your personality to show through is arrogant or unprofessional or a hindrance to my performance as a future doctor.

Well, now, I think that it still is a very delicate line, but I know now that if I become so stressed that I lose my sense of humor or I worry so much about doing the right thing perfectly that I become paralyzed, not only do my patients suffer, but it is not sustainable for my career.  If I lose my ability to enjoy the work that I do, why am I going into work at all?

So thanks to the month with my incredible trauma surgery team, I learned how to be calm in the craziest of situations.  I try to remember that joking and laughing at the right moments is not unprofessional or arrogant, but necessary and important for patient care.  Whenever I feel my shoulders tense up and my voice quicken, I take a deep breath and I remind myself that if I can handle patients with gunshot wounds, perforated appendices, and ischemic bowel in a calm, logical manner; what’s a little bit of driving on the other side of the road on the other side of the world?





My Year In Review

30 12 2011

As the year is coming to a close, it would be great to be able to say that this blog post is meant to provide closure and a space for reflection for both myself and anyone who may be inspired from reading this post.

However, the truth is that I have a pretty poor episodic memory, for which I usually say that it’s just because I am focused on the future and not fixated on the past.  Having said that, I am super thankful for the invention of photographs and videos, because I would not remember much without their prompting.  And this is why, inspired by my dear friend, here is one personal highlight from each month in 2011, complete with photos and videos!  Creating this post is more for my benefit than anyone else’s, as I otherwise would not remember what happened this year =P.  I actually had to look at my Google Calendar to remember what I did each month (thank goodness for that invention as well!).

January

January was the first time I was back on the stage acting and singing in five years, and it was more than I could have asked for.  Amazing cast and crew, a phenomenal and thought-provoking production of Kiss of the Spider Woman, and I learned more about acting and the art of being part of an ensemble than I ever had the privilege of learning before.

A photo from rehearsal! =)

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February

February was a busy month with med-related gatherings of great friends, including parties (the biggest one of which was the annual Internos with all four med years attending), the first of many meetings planning the annual Med/Dent talent show, and the start of rehearsals with my amazing bandmates in our med school rock band: the Superior Retention Band.

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March

March was mostly Unit 5, which was the musculoskeletal system, so it was anatomy-intensive in a very short amount of time (along with more extra-unit assignments than usual), so I think I was actually studying and working on school for most of it…but I made it through, so I’m going to say it was worth it! =)

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April

In April, four of my Pennsylvania family members traveled quite a bit, leaving their lives behind momentarily just so we could all spend a weekend together.  Great news was shared and I think we had a pretty awesome time together, but that’s pretty standard fare =).

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May

The 2011 McGill Med/Dent Talent Show happened and I believe we raised $10,000 for Starlight.  It was so much fun organizing this event with incredibly talented and dedicated human beings who I have the added privilege of calling my friends, and the result was that we had fun making skits, singing songs, and creating a pretty spectacular event together while raising money for a good cause.

Below is our band performing for the talent show, as well as one of the skits in full!

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June

The first year of med school ended with June, and it was personally the most significant month of the year for me for a variety of reasons.  I think the beginning of summer, the end of school, and my birth month meant that great changes and personal growth were inevitable, not to mention I saw quite a few out-of-town friends! =)

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July

This was the month that two of my favourite people came to town and showed me the beauty of my own city, and I’m so thankful to have been included in their awesome adventure.

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August

In August, I started a new job promoting mental health awareness at McGill, and the staff and volunteers that I’ve had the honour of working with are passionate, intelligent, and people that I could spend hours talking to on any given day, because we are driven by similar interests and passions in health promotion and prevention.  Creating the Zenity Squad this year for mental health promotions with this team of stellar individuals was, to me, the first step in realizing the career that I hope to carve out for myself.

September

We had our white coat ceremony in September, so we can be official med students in the hospitals starting in January.  I didn’t think it was a big deal at first, but eventually I realized the symbolism of the coat: the fact that many patients may not know the difference between our white coats and those of residents and attendings, and more importantly, the coat is about accepting the responsibility of taking the health of others into our hands.  The trust that others place on us and thus, the power that we have and need to respect.  Turns out it is kind of a big deal.

October

My October was all about a little musical production called Into the Woods, and oh, the stories I could tell you about this show!  It was indeed a magical production, full of drama in the creative process itself, but coming to a fairytale conclusion.  I learned so much from this team, and I think the experience will shape my performances as an actor and singer forever.

I also have to mention how much I appreciate all of my colleagues and friends in and out of med school who came to see the show.  It means the world to me and I hope/think they enjoyed it!

Below is our cast photo, along with one of the promo videos we did for the show.  Nothing but fond memories =).

November

TEDxMcGill happened in November, and organizing this event connected me with such inspirational and passionate human beings, and I’m proud of the event we created together.

Here’s one of my favourite talks, where he redefined success in the course of his own talk that afternoon, when he pulled himself out of what he thought was a bad start, and managed to bring the event home in the end.

December

My big December trip is now ending, and this month, I have been blessed with the company of beautiful friends and family (inside and out), as well as time for personal reflection in places that I got to explore.  I feel loved and ready for the next step in my medical education, and there is nothing more that I could ask for from a vacation.

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2012

I think reflecting on the past, at least for me, helps me realize that I have been actively living this year.  That as someone who focuses so much on the future, I need to stop and appreciate all of the amazing things I had the privilege of being part of and I had the power of making happen this year.

It’s not always about bigger and better things, moving onwards and upwards, but looking down every once in a while and admiring the fact that we’ve climbed up pretty high; we’ve come quite a ways up, and we’re exactly where we’re meant to be at this moment.

Here’s to 2012 – to looking back with fondness and without regret, to the excitement and anxiousness of the yet unseen, and to the present, oh, the present.





Things I Didn’t Appreciate – the 2011 Version

30 12 2011

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I’ve had sinusitis/phlegm/hoarseness for three months since my musical ended.  I thought the symptoms just needed to run their course, but since I came to Hong Kong and took steps that have been finally leading to my recovery, these are the things I realize that I didn’t appreciate before now (first of an annual series, perhaps =P):

  1. Thermal undergarments: Who knew a thermal undershirt can mean that you no longer need to wear a jacket, when before I was feeling cold even with the Canada Goose jacket?
  2. Chinese herbs in…
  3. Chinese soup: delicious and nutritious =).  I shall be regularly making my own soup from now on (hahah this sounds remarkably like a New Year’s Resolution – let’s see whether this actually happens)…

  4. Waterproof shoes (top photo): warm, weather-proof, and slip-ons to boot!  Woohoo: no more cold, wet feet in the snow, or ruining your shoes after six months (what was I thinking wearing those shoes in that weather?  I am way too lazy with these types of things!)!
  5. Hot meals: So I guess I kind of knew that hot meals are infinitely better than cold meals but I didn’t realize how much better they make me feel, physically and mentally. Mmm.
  6. Bathroom exhaust fans: I don’t have one at home and I didn’t realize how much steam build-up can hurt my eyes.  This one’s just good sense.

So yes, some simple things I never thought were important now will be adopted into my regular routine.  Maybe it’ll help prevent and reduce the amount of time I spend with sinusitis…

I will let you know if it works out!





What It Really Means to Be “Busy”

16 12 2011

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So I thought my life was busy, but I only became recently acquainted with Busy when I watched one of my best friends balance her life with her new two-month-old baby (the cutest in the world, I might add).

One day I tagged along and on top of feeding her baby every three hours, changing him at least that often, and trying to keep him preoccupied and happy so he doesn’t cry when he’s awake, she also spent the morning at work, picked up her seven-year-old son after school, went to visit a daycare centre for both of her kids, dropped her partner off at work, got dinner for us, and somehow still remained as cheerful as ever and managed to keep me entertained all day long.  I think she often forgets to eat, but she makes sure that her family eats.  While I was there, she slept at the same time as me, but she woke up hours before I did, while also waking up periodically to feed the beautiful baby.

Supermom: I guess the word “busy” is reserved only for them (and Superdads).

Perspective. Gotta love it. It’s a beautiful thing. =).





Traveling Time Capsules

16 12 2011

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As of December 5th, 2011, the Basis of Medicine ended, which means the 1.5 years of lectures are now over forever.  In January, we go into the hospitals as second-year medical students: naive, wide-eyed, eager.  Ready to be unready for the experiences that will shape our lifelong careers.

Although we still pay tuition, we no longer have summer vacation as we once knew, as we are thrown into work at the bottom of the hospital food chain.  I am genuinely thrilled.

However, January has not yet arrived.  As such, all of the colleagues in my class are taking full advantage of this last month off, each in our own way, before we essentially start our careers.

For me, this month is a month of traveling, and this is the first time I’ve traveled to multiple destinations in one trip, visiting friends and family literally all over the world.  I figured, when am I going to get this guilt-free month-long opportunity again?  Probably not for years.

Thus, I am now on the third leg of a little December journey, and I am having an amazing time.

The brilliance of traveling to multiple locations like this is that I realized that each place I go to ends up reminding me of my past – a specific time in my life and the specific person I was at that time; engaging different, specific parts of my being.

In New York City, for example, I stayed with a friend I admire tremendously, and we share a strong interest in theatre, so some might say we were in the right city, and my theatre side was entirely fulfilled by seeing three shows, critiquing them with him, singing theatre tune after theatre tune with him as we walked home down the streets of Manhattan, and meeting many of his wonderful friends who are passionate about (and in many cases working in) theatre as well.

In Pennsylvania, I spent some quality time in the suburbs with my family of friends there, and it was like I warped back in time to when I spent a year with them, picking up exactly where we left off and having those simultaneously intense and silly conversations and experiences that characterize our family.  The pancake-toast man captured in the photo above is characteristic of our silliness =P.

Now I’m in LA with one of my best friends, and, of course, the focus is on going to the theatre and owning Hollywood, but in truth, it doesn’t really matter what we do, because he ends up dragging me on adventures anyway – just like old times.

And when I get to Southeast Asia and I’m with my family, I know that I’ll revert back to being a child: being told what to do, but ultimately, loving being taken care of (as long as it’s for a short period of time).

And it’s just funny that when most people think of travel, they seem to mean traveling to new destinations in order to open up their eyes to new worlds and things they’ve never seen.

For me, traveling seems to let me do the opposite: to go back in time to relive the best parts of my past.  How awesome is that?








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