…The end

Hey, so I know it’s been a while, and I know I only posted my journey through Junior year of college or something like that, but it’s time for me to bring this blog to a close. It was a way for me to kind of sort things out in my own mind, and I think a lot of that has happened in the year since I started this thing. I may still post from time to time with reminiscences, but I’m done “living in the past.” This post will rush through the basics of where I left off last time, to now – and will conclude with a little explanation about what the title – “(Confessions of a) Recovering Med Student” means.

Ok, so I decided not to apply to med school at the “normal” time (end of Junior year) because my GPA really needed some time to recuperate. Even though I was (mostly) done with biochem stuff, Quantum Mechanics, and Differential Equations, really threw me for a loop (DiffEQ shouldn’t have been bad – but our prof expected us to remember random trig identities for our exams, which I hadn’t had since 9th-10th grade – so my grade wasn’t really a great reflection of my actual DiffEQ skills).

Summer after Junior year, I had 2 months of shadowing: June was Internal Med at the clinic in my college town. It was awesome. I saw a LOT of diabetes patients because that’s what the doc really liked dealing with. We had some interesting conversations about medicine and even just life in general. I came out of that thinking, “well, if I end up as internal/family med, that wouldn’t be so bad after all.” July was AMAZING. It was at a vascular surgery clinic in the northern suburbs of my home city. Monday-Thursday was in the clinic, with the docs giving consultations, generally for varicose veins – but occasionally there were follow ups from aneurysm repairs, atherectomies, etc. And then on Friday, I was in the OR observation room freaking watching these surgeries!!! It was absolutely incredible – and Vascular Surgery made it to my short list of specialties that I would want to do.

Senior year, academically, was awesome. Straight A’s except for like, maybe, 2 A-‘s. Maybe I got one B+? Regardless, it brought my GPA back into the good graces of society, and by the end of the year I was ready to start those applications! One of the classes I had was Comparative Anatomy, which absolutely sucked because the teacher was a visiting professor from elsewhere, who had been retired for 2 years before this gig – and really just should have stayed retired. But one thing he said was that he saw how well my lab partner and I worked together, and said he knew that would make me a great doctor. So, cool.

While senior year was great academically, socially… well, let’s just say I was ready to be done with that school.

Ok. So I finished undergrad with a decent GPA. I got on those applications like it was my job. Which, it basically was for the first part of the summer. In July, I think it was, I got a job interview to become an ER scribe! I was freaking excited! I did pretty well in the classroom portion of the training but then the practical training came around and… that was way worse. For one thing, I can’t type fast. For another thing, I’m just… not great at processing speech when it’s coming at me fast, and there are a ton of extraneous noises around me, and most importantly I am not in control of the pace or direction of conversation. I think given enough time I could have gotten the hang of it, but we were limited to 5 practical training sessions – and I was fired in the middle of my 4th due to lack of sufficient progress. Also, I think my trainer – who was an uber-extrovert – didn’t like the fact that I didn’t ooze confidence. The way I see it, when I’m learning a new skill, I’m not going to be like “YES, MY TRANSCRIPTION IS GREAT AND EXACTLY WHAT YOU/THE DOCTOR ARE LOOKING FOR!” because, well, I’m learning, y’know? But I guess she wanted me to be more assertive or something. It was a bummer, but hey, at least it meant I had more time to work on my med school secondary apps!

So I finished up my secondaries, and then the pre-interview holds and rejections started coming in. Then, within a matter of 3 days of one another, I got 2 interview invites! Both from Missouri DO schools. So I interviewed there in October – one on Monday, the other on Wednesday. The first one was sad and lonely (and rainy) and I was nervous AF. It went poorly. The second one I felt went a lot better – and I had met a guy named Jacob at the hotel the morning of, and learned that he was also interviewing that day, and the two of us were pretty much attached at the hip the entire day ❤ until the actual literal interviews tore us apart </3 We haven’t kept in touch, but every now and then I wonder whatever became of him. I wish I could remember his last name, because I’d totally look him up on facebook… (No romance or anything like that – he had/has? a bf – I was just really pleased to have an interview buddy!) THEN, on my way back home, I got an email from ANOTHER DO SCHOOL! Way more local to me, and had that interview 3 weeks later! Within a week after that 3rd interview, I had 2 waitlists (from the Missouri schools) and 1 ACCEPT!!!!!! When I got the email, I literally did a double take, started crying, and ran down to my dad, SOBBING, and gave him a huge hug. He asked me what was up, and I said, “Daddy, I’m gonna be a doctor!”

A couple days later, I applied to Target so I could make some money. Got the job, hated it, stuck it out for 6 months, quit so that I could spend some time visiting friends/family around the country before starting med school. During this time, I got 3 more interview invites. Only went to one of them – that school proceeded to toy at my emotions (putting me on post-interview wait list, then telling me what quartile of the wait list I was on, then finally accepting me off that waitlist. But after agonizing for the entire weekend (which was how long I had to get back to them) I decided to go with the guys who had accepted me right off the bat.

So, I got to my first year of medical school. It started out pretty rough. I had no idea what I was doing, and while most of my friends/comrades had a pretty strong bio background, I had a pretty weak one. The only stuff that I did relatively well at was anything that was directly clinically relevant. That stuff I actually did pretty well at! But all of the “basic science” stuff… was crap. I constantly felt like I was dying because I never got enough sleep – and no matter how many hours I studied – I NEVER got through everything I needed to get through. I tried various different study techniques and though some of them made things slightly less hellish, nothing ever helped enough. (And ironically, the study technique recommended to me by the “professional” was the one that killed me the most. Thanks, Assistant Dean. Just because that worked for you while you were getting your PhD does NOT mean it’s going to work for me, on a different degree. Also, I told you that I already tried it. There’s really no need to make me “promise” to try THAT SAME TECHNIQUE again! Ugh.) Anyway, after a year of pain and suffering and dying, and my dermatillomania/excoriation disorder getting worse and worse and worse, I finally failed enough exams to the point where they were going to kick me out of school unless I withdrew first. This revelation came precisely one week before the end of the school year. The Wednesday immediately before finals week was a physio exam that was the point of no return. When I got home, I literally threw up because as much as I hated the stress of med school, I didn’t want it to be over. I still wanted to be a doctor. But my only choice was withdrawal vs expulsion. So I took the one that would look slightly better on my transcript. But while the lovely school administrator in charge of the withdrawal process recommended I distance myself as much as possible, and that I should maybe even just skip my finals, and “definitely skip the social events with my friends/classmates” I knew I would regret it. So I still gave all I had to my finals. I made sure that I passed as many classes as I possibly could, even though I knew it wouldn’t be enough to save me. And I’m so, so, so, SO proud of myself for that. And I went to the events with my friends because they had done nothing wrong, and I still cared (and care) about them, so I’m not going to cut myself off. That would just make things worse.

My parents were actually relieved that I was forced out. They saw the toll med school had taken on me, and were legitimately worried about my well-being. Which, at the time I thought they were overreacting. The thing about med school is, you just do what you’re supposed to – no questions asked. It’s like autopilot. But looking back, I can see that I really was on a path of self destruction. Still, weirdly, up until that last week of MS1, I felt worse during my Sophomore year of college – probably because I was questioning my purpose in life, which is never fun. That questioning started back up because I knew I’d never be able to get into medical school again, after withdrawing while on academic probation (but again, I had no other option except expulsion, so withdrawal was still the less-awful thing). But after 2 weeks off, I started C++ (computer programming) classes at the community college, and in fall semester I started taking Statistics classes at one of the state schools near my parents’ house. I’m starting my Masters Degree in Statistics this Fall.

As you can probably tell, my new direction in life is to become a statistician. Preferably a biostatistician. I’d like to be “the stats guy” for clinical research, though any bio/medical research would be fine. I’d even be ok with being an actuary o.O. In an ideal ideal (yes, 2 “ideal”s were intended) world, I’d work on vaccine development… but that’s, not exactly a pipe dream, but just such a small fraction of the possible biostats jobs out there, that it’s not terribly likely to happen. So basically, while I won’t actually be “practicing” medicine, I’ll still (hopefully) be an important part of the extended team. Because medicine is what matters to me.

I still see my med school friends from time to time, and I definitely keep up with them. Over the past year, I visited campus (and even attended lecture!) probably 4 or 5 times. I went to their “bridging ceremony,” which is the transition between their classroom years and their rotations years. I still am part of the **** Class of 2019 facebook group. I moved away from home a month ago, and now I live about 6 subway stops away from one of my closest guy friend’s new apartment. Yesterday, I grabbed dinner with my closest girl friend from med school. I go to a few parties each year hosted by one of my now-doctor friends (he graduated from “my” school in May). My dad, especially, thinks that I’m just torturing myself whenever I see my med school friends… and while sometimes it brings up a few emotions, I’m largely at peace with everything that happened, now.

So why Confessions of a “Recovering” Med Student? Clearly I’m not a med student anymore. Or… am I? The way I see it, medicine is in my blood. Just like an alcoholic is never “recovered” but remains “in recovery” for the rest of their life (as long as they are dedicated to sobriety), I will never be fully recovered from my time as a med student. Yes, I’m at peace. But there are still anxieties that creep up, still times that I have to remind myself that I am NOT a failure – I am a product of my brain’s “wiring” that handles math a gajillion and ten times better than it handles memorization (which, memorization is an absolutely essential tool  – at least in the med school I attended). Obviously I can’t go to an “MSA” meeting and say “Hi, my name is Lee and I’m a med student.” But with med school (or the goal of becoming a doctor) playing such a huge role in my life, it isn’t something I think I will ever “be over.” And that’s totally ok.

The College Years, Part 6: Winter-Spring 2013 (The rest of Junior Year)

Believe it or not, for the most part I actually really enjoyed my winter break of MCAT studying for 8 hours a day, 6 days a week, for 5 weeks. Full disclosure: I get SAD pretty badly so after a couple of weeks holed up in the home office I did start feeling, I don’t know, kind of bummed? overwhelmed? something somewhat unpleasant. And my mom asked me, as she did on occasion when I was visibly fatigued: “Are you sure you want to do this?”

I always resented that question because it felt like she didn’t believe in me, or that she thought I should do something else. I know she meant well – by reminding me that this long journey was my own choice and not to feel like others expected it of me – but at the same time, even as it strengthened my resolve, it also increased my self-doubt. But in this instance, I had a nice cathartic sob session and she encouraged me to give it everything I had. So that’s exactly what I did.

But as I got back to school for Winter Term, things were feeling pretty good. I was geared up for comparative physio, thermodynamics/statistical mechanics, and human origins. Nice balance of bio, physics, and non-science. But I continued to be a craptastic test taker so I only got my Bs in my science classes. No big deal. At least there weren’t any Cs!

The one thing that really got my goat, though, was my Organic Chem teacher, during her session for the MCAT class. See, each week we were allowed to write in questions for topics we wanted covered. I was under the impression that our questions were anonymous, but Dr. C somehow knew that they were my questions – and she called me out on them, and basically called me stupid because she said “such and such is really easy.” You might be thinking, “oh, she was just trying to be reassuring.” But this teacher had a very low opinion of me left over from the previous year. I don’t know if she thought I was stupid, or just a bad student, or what, but in addition to calling me out for my “easy” questions, she also made a remark, in front of the entire MCAT prep group, that “a 23 is NOT going to get you into medical school. They don’t care about you, they just care about your numbers.” Which, that 23 she was referencing (because she had seen all our scores on our first practice exam) was my practice score. My VERY FIRST practice score. Ever. So it’s not like I wouldn’t have a chance to improve before the real exam or anything./s And apart from doing everything except naming my name to throw me under the bus, her comment about “they only care about your numbers” is completely the opposite of everything my ACTUAL pre-health advisors, and even med school admissions deans, had told us. Obviously scores are important. Obviously if I got a 23 on my actual exam I would want to retake the exam and/or strongly reconsider my life goals. But her out of line and uncalled for comments just made me want to prove her WRONG. I don’t swear much, and I’m generally very forgiving, and tend to see the best in people, but God DAMN she made me mad.

Spring break: DISNEY WORLD!!! Me, my friends Jess & Emily, and their bfs – both named Ryan. Ryan #2 was a last minute addition to the group and I wasn’t necessarily thrilled with the idea of being a 5th wheel (this was before I had a lot of practice with that!) but it ended up being loads of fun!!!

Spring term: Differential Equations, Proteins & Enzymes, Microeconomics, and more piano!!! DiffEq was for my physics major, and it sucked. It wasn’t that bad really, except my teacher expected us to remember derivatives for stuff like inverse tangent and crazy nonsense like that. And taking the antiderivative was generally a fairly early step in solving test questions, so if we couldn’t remember that the integral of such and such was Arctan, well then we were SoL and we didn’t even get the chance to show whether we knew the actual material we were supposed to have been learning. Sooooo I ended up with another C. Bummer. Only a B in Proteins, and only an A- in econ – because my final wasn’t as amazing as my first two exams. With that set of grades, I decided that I was for sure going to wait an extra year before applying to medical school – meaning for sure I would be taking a gap year.

In April – I think it was April 30 – I took my MCAT.

On May 29, 2013 – my 21st birthday – I got my MCAT scores.

That night I drank.

In celebration!!!

It wasn’t a FANTASTIC score – it was a 30 – but it was high enough that I didn’t have to – and probably shouldn’t – retake the exam. And that was reason enough to celebrate.

The College Years, Part 5: Summer-Fall 2012 (Start of Junior Year)

We left off with me feeling pretty dejected at the end of my sophomore year – awful grades, no summer plans, demolished self-esteem, and way too much adipose tissue. Although I was pretty sure I’d accomplish SOMETHING of worth in life, I had reached the conclusion that – though I was sure I would be a great doctor someday, there was no way in heck I would ever possibly get into med school. And with med school being 4 years and residency being 3+ years after that, and me being as exhausted as I was, I just couldn’t see myself going through all of that. Whereas medical physics: I was actually good at physics, unlike orgo and biochem, and I could get a Masters Degree in 2 years, and then a 2 year “residency” before going into practice, if I wanted to give myself an extra edge. Less expensive, earlier independence, all that good stuff. And when my dad lost his job that summer, I got even more panicky and desperate to make good financial decisions (med school debt can be pretty crippling, I hear).

Anyway, that summer was basically just me chillaxing, volunteering at the therapeutic riding barn, and visiting various friends and relatives around the country. And exercising. A lot. I lost 20+ lbs that summer, and went back to college in the Fall with a new-found confidence. I wasn’t back to my high school weight (yeah, I gained a LOT of weight during my first 2 years of college) but I sure felt good about my accomplishment.

But then Quantum hit me. Omfg, quantum physics. I now have the Schrodinger equation tattooed down my left side to commemorate the stage in my life that I devoted to physics, but not because I actually enjoyed the class in which Schrodinger was key. Because I was cocky about my math abilities, I was certain I would be a-ok with skipping the Differential Equations prerequisite class, but here’s the thing: even though the math itself wasn’t necessarily hard, the fact that Quantum is just so freaking weird meant that the unfamiliar math didn’t make things any easier for me. Yes, my other two classes were “Intro to Literature” and “Evolution, Ecology, and Biodiversity” (both 100-level classes), specifically to give myself more time to devote to Quantum but, well, I still tanked Quantum anyway. And with that point I figured, “well, I’ve finally had major struggles with a physics class. Medical physics would probably still be easier, but it probably won’t end up being a slam dunk.”

Pre-Health Club was great! I don’t really remember what speakers I brought in during Fall Term, but I do remember that Robyn & Josh & I were establishing ourselves as an exec board “dream team” of sorts. Robyn was President and Josh was Treasurer/VP (and Robyn’s bf), so they were obviously running the meetings – but as I eased my way into sitting up front with the “big dogs” they offered zero resistance and welcomed me into the fold, so to speak.

Chamber was less and less fun, Colorguard was just bogus by this point, and Physics Club really didn’t do much. But Pre-Health Club made up for it all. As I continued learning and mingling with my pre-healthers, I knew I was back on the pre-med train. So what if I had failed my EMT certification exam in October? It’s not like I wanted to be an EMT anyway! And my failure really just came down to the fact that I knew nothing about babies or vaginas, which didn’t bother me in the slightest. And now that I was learning more about DOs, I liked the idea more and more – and since the entrance stats (ie gpa) tended to be slightly lower, I thought I might actually have a shot of making it in somewhere (My sister was disappointed that I was considering becoming a “glorified chiropractor” – she had apparently done her research on DOs through the British lens, where DO means “Diploma of Osteopathy,” which is a lot like a chiropractor – unlike the American Doctor of Osteopathy, which is a full-fledged physician with a slightly different philosophy, and an extra tool in their bag. Spoiler Alert: It took a couple years, and me actually attending a DO school for her to come around.)

I was terrified of the freshmen I lived with. (My very first roommate was an RA during Fall Term and had worked out an arrangement with the dean of housing to get me in a single in her suite). They were wayyyy more social than me, and liked to throw parties in the suite.

That was the first time I saw Roman.

Finishing with Fall term, I had done awesome in Lit and Bio, and I had survived Quantum (which had really been all I was hoping for with that one.) And I was so excited to sit down to 6 weeks of intensive MCAT studying, in preparation for Winter Term’s MCAT prep class!

The College Years, Part 4: Winter-Spring 2012 (The rest of Sophomore year)

So, it’s been a  while. Life’s been crazy, you know?

Anyway, Winter break was much needed. I don’t think I did much of anything. I probably looked into internships, and I probably attempted to review Orgo I stuff in preparation for Orgo II. The only thing I know for sure is that I registered for the Women in Physics conference. I felt ready to go for Winter Term.

Butttt winter term sucked. Intro to (Physics) Research was wonderful – I started becoming closer to Selyna’s (my best friend’s) roommate, as well as my buddy Bobby. Dance was nice – it was completely out of my comfort zone and stretched me in many ways, literally and figuratively! But Orgo II was pure torture. I struggled so much that by the end of the term I actually broke down and cried HAPPY tears that I ended up with a C instead of a D. Again, all thanks to lab. And a final exam that was a retired ACS (American Chemical Society) exam, therefore meaning standardized (and as a general rule, I do decently well on standardized exams as long as I have some idea of what’s going on.)

About 2 weeks into term, I attended the Midwest Women in Physics Conference at Case Western and it was, quite honestly, such a relief. It was when I was really introduced to the concept of “medical physics.” Considering I was dedicated to medicine but chem never ceased to eat my soul, I decided that medical physics would be a great backup plan, and in a way, having this new “backup” re-invigorated (at least for a while) my drive to become a physician.

On top of my crazy course schedule, I was also taking a 6-hour/week EMT class, in Chamber Ensemble with my oboe, active in Pre-Health club, and starting to go to physics club meetings. And in KolorWorx (our colorguard.) I was seriously overextending myself, but I refused to cut back. In the years following, I thought that if I had cut back maybe I would have done better in chem… but at this point, knowing what I know now about my learning style, intellectual strengths, etc, that’s actually pretty unlikely.

I also (finally) got notification from Rush that they were not going to be accepting me to their early admittance program. Yay for my first med school rejection! And while I was on a roll with my whole handling rejection thing, I decided to spill my feelings to my Senior physics friend, Mark. He, of course, was not interested in me like that, but we continued being buds. I’m really good about that – becoming interested in guys who are legitimately good people, and good friend material. In some ways it’s a strength (ie I choose good human beings) but also a curse (because it means I don’t really get a chance to distance myself after a rejection.) Anyway, this was just fuel for my downward spiral.

Said spiral continued gaining momentum in Spring Term. I continued all my activities – EMT (now with ride-alongs in addition to the classroom portion), KolorWorx, Chamber, Pre-Health, the whole 9 yards – and my class load did not get any easier: 2 biochem classes (one theoretical, the other lab-based), and Intro to Linguistics. The lab class and Linguistics, both pieces of cake. Lab=my jam, and linguistics=ridiculously cool. But the theoretical biochem class… murdered me. I ended up with a freaking C-. Which really made me question my med school goals, and pushed me more and more towards medical physics as a result. Clearly, I was good at physics, and bad at everything that is actually relevant to the human body.

Like seriously, here’s how bad biochem messed with me. First two stories are amusing: on one quiz (4 questions, 15 points each), I had no freaking idea what the first question was about, so I literally just drew a moose which, unfortunately, got me zero points. Second story: one night I literally dreamed a slideshow of amino acid structures. Third story: much, much worse. One night, I came back from EMT class and I had yet to study for my second biochem exam, which was to be the following day. I studied in the Physics Lounge, using the chalkboard, until 2 AM at which time I just couldn’t bear to stay awake any longer. I was at the point where I erased the chalkboard and literally saw rainbows as I did so. Even though I had been using white chalk. On a black chalkboard. It was a tad bit frightening, tbh. The next day, as I was taking the exam, I saw a pink x-acto knife on the table of the physics lounge (Honor Code allowed us to take exams anywhere within the building, and the Lounge was my comfortable zone) and for the first and only time in my life, I thought about harming myself. Yeah. I feel a lot of feelings, but my coping mechanisms have never included intentional self-harm. My dermatillomania (excoriation/”skin picking” disorder) has def resulted in blood and scars over the years, but that’s more akin to addiction or OCD than it is to self-harm. These days, I thank my lucky stars that I had enough personal insight to realize “if I start, I won’t be able to stop,” and that I took action by hiding the knife in the other room before continuing with my exam. I got off really easy that day. (Not on the exam, because I ended up getting something like 40%, but “easy” on the mental health front.) Following that exam was the one and only time I skipped a class in my entire college career. Instead of going to Linguistics, I went hid in an outside corner of our oddly-shaped science building, sobbing uncontrollably.

For SOME reason, I still didn’t consider dropping that biochem class. I just continued doing too much of everything, and I came to my breaking point at the end of the year when my KolorWorx coaches took me off the rifle line. I broke down and cried for at least 45 minutes, probably longer, and was given the task of setting up an appointment with the counselor, Dan. I’m not proud to admit this, but until that moment I always had the modus operandi of just “powering through” everything and that I could solve my own problems without the help of professionals. But in that moment I was so despondent that I was willing to try anything. My meeting with Dan convinced me that therapy can be helpful even for me and got me in the “when feeling too many feelings, at least give the therapist a shot!” camp. That was probably my most important lesson my sophomore year: don’t be afraid to ask for help.

I ended the year feeling almost entirely like crap, and I was going into the summer with zero internship plans (nowhere had accepted me 😦 ). The two good things were being elected as Speaker Coordinator for Pre-Health Club and VP for Physics Club for the coming year.

Sorry to end on such a downer there, but that was the end of sophomore year for ya. It made me question literally everything about myself, about the future, EVERYTHING! It was without a doubt the pre-med year that posed the most trials and tribulations, but that also made it the pre-med year that I grew the most.

The College Years, Part 3: Summer and Fall 2011 (Start of Sophomore year)

Sorry it’s been such a long time since my last installment. Stuff was going on. You know, life happens. But I’m back now! So enjoy!

Ok, so my first summer as a college student (second? It really depends on whether you’re a “college student” as soon as you graduate high school. Assuming you’re college-bound, that is) was pretty exhausting. Every day I drove a good 40 minutes to an hour (I don’t remember) to get to a medical center immunology lab, where I “helped” my PI (“principal investigator;” mentor), a PhD candidate, with her thesis project. I learned a lot about immunology – especially Clostridium difficile (C. diff), and came home most days pretty stinky (because C. diff toxin is RANK!!!). After a good 7-9 hours in the lab (usually pretty repetitive stuff), reading papers, or working on presentations, I would then drive the same 40-60 minute drive home, grab some food, and flop down on the couch to watch Scrubs. This was the first time I had ever seen Scrubs, and it made doctoring look almost as exciting as House had – and sure a heck of a lot more fun. I was convinced that I was destined to be Elliott (even though I’m not nearly as much of a gunner. I’m a fan of cooperation over competition.) All in all it was a good, fun, educational summer.

Then came Fall quarter of my Sophomore year. Boy, was I in for a ride.

In order to keep on track with my physics major, I needed to take Modern Physics. In order to keep on track with being pre-med, I needed to start the Organic Chemistry sequence. Boy, oh boy, oh boy. I figured, you know, I should probably get an easy social sciences class in there to balance things out a little bit (and I also took piano lessons again, because my first quarter taking those had been quite fun!) My easy social science course of choice was Psych 101 because it would undoubtedly be something that would look good on med school applications. As a matter of fact, my in-state public med school (University of Illinois) required at least 3 classes of behavioral sciences, so this would count as one of them. This term. Was. BRUTAL. Everything, Psych included, was about 5 times harder than I had expected it would be. Orgo was lots and lots of memorization with the lab portion literally being the only thing keeping me from failing (thank goodness I’m awesome at lab and consistently got 48-49/50!); Modern Physics was lots and lots of just… weird… conceptual stuff that was hard and confusing to put math to; and Psych was just so much reading (and I’m a slow reader so that didn’t help!) I spent the trimester kind of spiraling downwards and had several, just, sob sessions.

It was during one of these mini freak-out sessions that I went in to talk to Prof M.S. and just… vent. He started by being like, “yeah, people are often caught off guard by Psych 101. And Modern is a complete shift from the type of physics you’re all used to. And Organic, I’ve heard, is a big weed-out class. Just hang in there.” He then proceeded to tell me of a quite amusing dream he once had about his own Psych 101 professor back in the day, to relay how crazy it had made HIM. And I believe this little meeting of ours was the same day that good ol’ Prof M.S. gave me this sage piece of advice. “Now I’m not telling you to get drunk or smoke weed all the time, but you need to learn to RELAX. You need to do things that YOU want to do, and stop making decisions and doing things just to make other people happy.”

Easier said than done. I more or less followed his advice by ignoring his advice (read: he told me to make the decisions that made *me* happy, and making other people happy makes me happy, so continued with my people-pleasing ways, but with taking the occasional night off.) Now, I wish I had heeded that advice of his advice more, and these days I take more of a concerted effort to do so.

I ended that term pretty beat, and with a pretty abysmal term GPA. C in Orgo, B in Modern, B+ in Psych, and even only an A- in piano. I was pretty discouraged, but at least I had my 5-6 week winter break, full of food and boredom, to help me recoup for Orgo II, Intro to Physics Research, and Dance Theory & Improv the following term. And the almighty 2-term EMT class.

The College Years, Chapter Two: The rest of first year

For the remainder of my college career, I’m going to try to go through it a bit faster – one or two posts per year as opposed to one per quarter. I’ll hit on the particularly important stuff, and if there’s ever anything you want me to elaborate on, let me know in the comments.

Alrighty, winter break: six (yes six! Thanksgiving to New Year) weeks during which to do my heart’s desire. Since my friends did not have the same awesome break schedule that I had, I had plenty of time to myself.

First was my cousin’s wedding in Pennsylvania: she was a 4th year medical student marrying her  classmate, who she had met in med school. She was pretty much my hero because she  was going to be a doctor (surgeon, more specifically!) and she’s really just all-around awesome. She knew of my own dreams and was nothing but supportive. After we (my dad and I) got back home, I resumed my volunteering gig at the local hospital as a transporter, and also resumed my volunteering gig at an equine therapeutic riding facility. The former continually reinforced that I really like hospitals, for some crazy unknown reason, and the latter confirmed that I really take pleasure in helping out people with chronic medical issues. Both activities were things I had started the previous summer, as ways to start working on my pre-med resume.

Other than that, my winter break consisted of a lot of food, and looking for summer internships to get some research experience – again to pad my pre-med resume. I think I actually only applied to one – at a Chicago-area university immunology lab where my high school genetics teacher had managed to get me a short-term 2-week gig the previous summer (before starting college), so I figured I’d be a shoo-in there. After submitting my application, I got it, and hearing that news was one of the best things I had ever heard! (Although that news didn’t actually come until sometime in March) I also started working ferociously on my Rush Medical College early admission program application and essays, and pretty much finished that except for getting my letters of recommendation.

I’m sure my friends and I had a Christmas party when they finally got home for their winter breaks, and I’m sure I had the time of my life. But when they had been home for one week, my six weeks were up and it was back to middle of nowhere college town.

Winter quarter was general chemistry  2, intro to waves and thermodynamics, and intro to culture and society. It was a pretty non-descript term academically. I gathered my letters of recommendation for Rush and for my internship, and unfortunately only got a B+ in my anthropology class (“but it’s not a science class, so it doesn’t matter quite so much that I didn’t get an A, right?”) I bonded more with Dr. M.S. and kind of generally just eased my way into the physics department socially. The physics lounge was where all the physics majors could hang out pretty much whenever, for whatever reason they pleased. They were a tight-knit community, and I wanted to be part of that – especially after the sorority thing didn’t work out the way I wanted, and after many of my Shneifert buddies decided to start experimenting with drugs and alcohol (fortunately not Nick or his girlfriend Jenna, and Mike only to a very small extent). I also started bonding a bit more with Robyn and her new boyfriend Josh (who was also a pre-healther). After a dream of a first quarter, this is the quarter that I started becoming disenchanted by my undergraduate institution. But there was still the potential to be accepted into the program at Rush, so transferring never even crossed my mind.

Spring quarter was much the same as Fall quarter. I continued working my way into the physics department and I became pretty close with Jon and Mark (the latter of which I had a huge crush on. I had basically decided by this point in time that physics was for SURE way cooler than chemistry, but I was so incredibly excited to finally be taking a college biology class! (Classes this term were E&M, Genetics/Microbio, and Intermediate Spanish. And piano lessons for credit.) But even with my genetics background in high school I still only pulled a B out of the class. I kept my chin up because that’s what I do, and kept on dutifully marching onward in my pre-med journey, but that’s when I started to question if med school was going to be the right path for me. Once I (spoiler alert!) eventually did get into medical school, I decided that B (and a whole host of other crap grades in later years) must not have mattered that much after all! But at the time it was a big deal.

And with that, my freshman year was done. Next time: Summer and Fall 2011.

The College Years, Chapter 1: First term, first year.

So, I was a first-quarter freshman in a college with a great student:teacher ratio, an awesome science program, a focus on forming well-rounded citizens of the world, and a good reputation in the medical school admissions community, excited to be at this next stepping stone on my path to being a doctor. Except, I didn’t really want to do college. I just wanted to be in med school already. So I didn’t exactly have the best attitude about college, but I knew I had to do it, so I was determined to make the best of it. Not in terms of “make ALL the friends and go to all the parties!” Not at all! More like, “be the perfect applicant.”

I was a super-planner. It seemed like every week, I would re-examine my 4-year schedule, taking a look at exactly what classes I should take which terms in order to get exactly the academic experience I wanted. (I called my dad a lot and my constant fine-tuning annoyed the crap out of him, to be quite honest.) Despite all the schedule adjustments, The Plan was to major in biochemistry, with a double minor in math and anthropology. I was going to be the ultimate Well Rounded Med School Applicant – unique in a pool of applicants who “all” had a bio major and chem minor.

During orientation, our advisor groups (~10 people per advisor) went out to dinner together. That’s where I “met” my first college friend, Nick. (Actually, we had communicated via facebook and skype since May, and had become pretty close via the interwebz.) Also in my group were Chris, Shelly, and Sarah (the latter two – and Nick – were also pre-med). My advisor, Dr. J.K. seemed very cool. She just “got” us, and was willing to pretty much do whatever we wanted with our academic plans, as long as we were making satisfactory process. I also attended the pre-med talk, where people interested in pre-med got to ask questions of the pre-med advisors: Dr. Judy, and MJS.

The first snafu crept into the equation when I decided to take physics as a freshman, because (based on my high school experiences) I HATED physics and just wanted to get it OUT OF THE WAY for my med school pre-requisites. Now, this isn’t the typical “I just couldn’t hack physics and it made me question if I had what it took to become a doctor” story. This is an “OMG PHYSICS IS AWESOME AND SO MUCH COOLER THAN CHEMISTRY” (which I was also taking at the time, and also accomplished at) story. My 3rd class was the mandatory freshman diversity credit which literally everyone hated for one reason or another (my college worked on a 3×3 system – 3 classes each quarter, but short quarters, wherein you literally learned 16 weeks’ worth of material in 9 weeks).

Dr. M.S. quickly became my favorite professor. He was young, passionate, and impressive – which made him somewhat intimidating – and he was one hell of a physics teacher. (He also happened to be married to MJS, the pre-med advisor, so his approval was extra important to me!) I got 97% on our first exam, which was the highest score in the class – which consisted mostly of juniors and seniors. Without ever speaking to him, other than being randomly called on in class, I decided I wanted to make my math minor a physics minor instead. The second exam, I only got a high B, which was totally unacceptable to me. So I went in to Dr. M.S.’s office to ask him what I should do. He is not exactly the warm and fuzzy type, but he immediately said he had noticed my homework scores and my work at the blackboard, and gave me some test-taking strategies (ie if I get stuck, just move onto the next thing.) He asked me if I was a sophomore (“no, I’m a first-year”), and then leaned back in his chair, put his hands into steeple fingers, and asked: “So, have you thought about what you’re going to major in?” My sheepish response (and it’s really too bad you can’t hear how I said it) was “well, I came here for biochemistry… but I’m thinking of minoring in physics!” And he immediately got out a legal pad and started charting out a plan for me to double major in physics and biochemistry, and be an awesome med school applicant. I was elated that my favorite professor seemed to like me too. And for the better part of two years, that double major was the new route to med school.

One of the girls in my physics class was Robyn – a sophomore officer in the pre-health professions club, and sister of the Tri-Delta sorority. She was pretty much who I aimed to be. Except she was a bio major. Let’s be real: it was largely because of Robyn that I went to all the pre-health club meetings. She was inspiring, and she knew so much, and I owe so much to her, for keeping me in the game.

Socially, Nick and his dormmates were my best friends. I was over there so frequently that there were people who literally thought I lived in Shneifert instead of Post – and an even higher percentage of people (including my own dormmates, Nick, most of his dormmates, and even random people who would see us hanging out) who thought Mike (Nick’s next-door neighbor) and I either were “a thing” or should be “a thing.” Mike and I went on a lot of walks together around campus and on more than one occasion he remarked that I was too good of a student, and worked too hard. He only meant that I should enjoy myself more, but I posed a question to him: if he were to ever need surgery (I wanted to be a surgeon, at that point – which, I’m a 5-foot-small bubbly girly girl, so it surprised most people) would he want a doctor who was just going to go with the flow, or would he want a doctor who was hard-working and going to do everything in his/her power to fix the problem? That seemed to register with him, and he relented.

Anyway, straight A’s during my first term of my first year of College, regular attendee of pre-health club meetings and activities, and an amazing support system of both peers and professors. I was off to a good start, even if I was more enamored of Physics than I had ever thought possible. What was in store for the second term?

In the beginning…

Some 3-year-old girls want to be princesses. Others want to be ballerinas. Me? I just wanted to be a doctor then a judge and then the president.

I was always interested in family – making sense out of who fit where – finding connections between people. One of the things that particularly confused toddler me was why I had a dad, and my mom had a dad (who was my grandpa), and my dad had a grandpa… but my dad didn’t have a dad.

My dad explained to me what cancer is. He told me my Grandpa Bill had malignant melanoma, which moved (metastasized, in medical lingo) to his brain, and it ended up killing him when my big sister was only 2 weeks old.

My parents always pushed math and science on me, because I was good at them, and they would be my best route to getting a job to support myself when I grew up. (Yes, even as a young child, my parents were actively encouraging me to pursue a life where I could make my own way and never have to worry about finances or men.) Fortunately I liked all that stuff, so I didn’t fight it. Plus, I thought the human body was fascinating – how it worked, how it broke, everything about it. And because I was the social butterfly of the family, my mom thought I’d make an excellent family practice doctor.

Elementary school: pretty uneventful. I continued to love math and science – especially health science – classes. In 5th grade I briefly wanted to be a lawyer because apparently I had gone temporarily crazy… but decided I couldn’t defend the guilty or prosecute the innocent. So, back to doctor.

Middle school: fell in love with playing the oboe. Music became my life. Band, honor band, marching band, naming my instruments… (starter oboe = Frederick, “grown-up” oboe = Frederika – Freddy for short). Yeah, I was a huge nerd and decided I wanted to be a middle school band teacher. But although music continues to be a huge part of my life to this day, math and science and medicine won out before too long.

High school: My whole life was school and music and colorguard. I had my first real biology class. I was introduced to genetics & molecular bio. I was my group’s leader for fetal pig dissections. We had to “diagnose” an illness that our bio teacher had faked. It was all just the coolest. Chemistry was a breeze. I hated physics because we didn’t actually learn any physics… Senior year, I doubled up on science – AP Biology, and Genetics – and I also doubled up on math – Calculus 3 (literally a college class, as a high schooler), and AP Statistics (I came to believe that being a statistician might be cool). Plus I was in the most advanced audition-only band in school with a Grammy-awarded music program, and I got to be in the pit orchestra for our school’s production of Les Miserables. High school. Was. Awesome.

In my college search, the whole time it was all about, where can I go that will be my best route into medical school? Where has a good science education, with opportunities for research, and a consistently high rate of alums getting into medical school? Apart from being interested in the science, and having little “baby” Lee’s mission still stuck in my head, I had a few church work/mission trips under my belt which had shown me multiple instances of medically underserved communities; as I abandoned roofing in favor of sitting and talking with clients, to learn their stories and heal their loneliness with my company and attentive ears, I fell in love with service, and the idea of becoming a doctor took on a whole extra, powerful, significance.  Searching for colleges, I was all about medical school, every step of the way.

In the end, I chose a small liberal arts college in middle-of-nowhere Illinois which had a track record over the past few years of 100% of its med school applicants getting accepted into a medical school. Plus, at the time they had an early acceptance partnership with Rush Medical College in Chicago, in which we could apply to Rush as college freshmen and, IF accepted, be guaranteed a spot at Rush the fall after we graduated college. It was an exciting prospect. And as a now-college student, I was officially pre-med!

But that is a story for another day.