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Learning Outside the Classroom – The Doctoring Curriculum

There are many great medical schools out there, but there is one thing that distinguishes the University of Michigan Medical School from all of the rest. It is the reason I chose to attend and the reason I continue to fall in love with it day after day. It is the people that make this place the best place.

During our first year, we are assigned to a small group of 10-12 students and two faculty members in a course called “Doctoring.” We meet every week for four hours to learn about the things you can’t learn in lecture or from a textbook—we learn about the things that will make us great physicians one day. We are taught about how to do different aspects of the physical exam, how to deliver bad news, how to listen effectively to our patients, how to combat bias, and so much more. We are given time to work with standardized patients, which are people from the community who volunteer to serve as our “patients” in order to allow us more opportunities to practice our skills. Not only has the course made me feel much more prepared to engage with patients during clerkships next year, but I was fortunate enough to be assigned to the best doctoring group with the most supportive classmates and the most incredible faculty members.

We have the youngest person in our class and the oldest person in our class with a total age gap of 21 years. Each person has a unique background and incredible experiences. We have a wide variety of religious beliefs, races, ethnicities, and more. Despite all of these differences, when we come together for our weekly sessions, we mold quickly and easily to the little family that we have become. We catch up for several minutes about how everyone has been doing and then we proceed through our session. We usually laugh so hard we cry, Dr. Klein tells a funny joke, Dr. Fine amazes us with his eloquent words, and we chow down on the snacks that everyone brings. Not only do we get to enjoy spending time with each other in the classroom, but Dr. Klein often has us over to her home to enjoy dinner. Their previous doctoring students are invited so that we can get the chance to meet more M2, M3s, and M4s. The four hours we all get to spend together are always the best four hours of my week.

The greatest group of people you will ever meet, right before performing our cardiac physical exam!

Dr. Fine and Dr. Klein (and the rhyme is fun, too!) always go above and beyond to teach us everything they can to make us better future doctors. For example, they held an extra session last week to review heart sounds with us so we could feel more confident about identifying them. They both seem to have a way of explaining things that just “clicks.” Somehow, we always end up having hundreds of questions for them and they are always so patient and willing to answer anything we ask them. They always offer the best advice and recommendations on how to communicate with patients. I hope one day I can be half as good of a doctor as they are. I often think about how fortunate I am to be learning from some of the greatest doctors out there.

Furthermore, one of our faculty members serves as our evaluator and the other serves as our coach. Our coach has no impact on our grade, which allows us to have someone we can go to with any concerns we have and to serve as another way for us to seek support should we need it. Dr. Klein has become more than a coach to me, she has become the best mentor I ever could have asked for. No matter what I need, she will drop anything to support me. She listens with the truest concern and empathy, and always knows just the right things to say. She creates a space where I feel like I can tell her anything that’s on my mind. The last time we had a 30-minute meeting scheduled, we ended up meeting for over an hour just to catch up on everything going on in my life. The best feeling is knowing there is someone there for you providing unwavering support in anything you need.

I am so thankful for all of my classmates, advisors, staff, faculty, and instructors at the University of Michigan Medical School, but I am even more thankful for my doctoring group who has taught me so much more than what I could learn in the classroom.

Dual Degree MD: Pursuing an MBA in the UK

Dual Degree MD: Pursuing an MBA in the UK

In between my M3 and M4 years, I pursued an MBA at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. While obtaining a dual degree at the University of Michigan Medical School is relatively common, running halfway around the world to do so is not. I went through a mix of emotions as I left Ann Arbor to travel to Cambridge, including excitement, fear, and curiosity. I was excited to open up this brand-new chapter of my life in a totally different country at one of the world’s most famous universities. I understood that I would be attending the same institution where individuals such as Newton, Darwin, Hawking, and Mandela (only to name a few) made their mark on humanity. Yet, I was afraid to leave everything and everyone that I knew back in the USA. Suddenly, I would be in a long-distance relationship, six time zones apart from my family, and immersed in a professional and cultural world completely foreign to me. Fortunately, a medical student in the year above me (Steph DeBolle) trailblazed the path for me at Cambridge, but nevertheless, I knew that it would be me and me alone out there for a full year.

On my first day of school, I felt like a Kindergartner starting fifth grade. Prior to business school, I hadn’t even opened up a corporate finance book, and now, I would be in the same classroom as people who oversaw eight-figure transactions at organizations such as Apple, LVMH, and Alibaba. Moreover, as the second youngest person in my class, I felt as if my experience (or lack thereof) could not possibly contribute to the overall diversity of the class. I mean, one of my classmates was an Emmy Award-winning director—come on!!! Nevertheless, I knew that by the program’s completion, I wanted to obtain the strategic toolkit necessary to streamline adequate health care delivery for low-income individuals.

After getting into the stream of things, I began to realize that the business school at Cambridge was a ton of fun. I mean a TON of fun. Cambridge is a unique place. Not only is the city itself breathtakingly beautiful with over a thousand years of heritage, but it also sits just 48 minutes away from the heartbeat of Central London. Therefore, I not only lived in a picturesque city surrounded by the glorious English countryside, but I also had easy access to one of the world’s most buzzing and sought-after cities. My classmates quickly became my friends, and through working alongside them on projects as diverse as innovation benchmarking to pharmaceutical market expansion, they taught me a wide range of skill sets that I would have most likely never learned while in medical school. Additionally, since over 90% of my class was from outside of the UK, my friendship circle became rich in both national and professional diversity.

Crowd surfing at a Coachella themed party in Paris, France.

One of my favorite parts about the University of Cambridge is the college system. The university itself is made up of 31 different colleges that are sort of like Houses in Harry Potter. Each college has a campus, where conference rooms, bars, and boathouses can be found. I was part of St. Catharine’s College, a historic college housed in the center of the city. While at Catz, I played on the football team, where I was continuously ridiculed for calling the game soccer.

However, my sports involvement was not just limited to Catz football. One of the highlights of the MBA was MBAT, a European athletic competition held each year in Paris, France. Imagine something like this: what if all of the universities in the Midwest, such as Michigan State, Northwestern, OSU, and others, each participated in a giant three-day sports tournament that capped every night a massive themed party. Now imagine that this tournament was full of super fun with athletic individuals from all over the world and housed in Paris. That was MBAT. There, I played soccer, basketball, dodgeball, and touch rugby. To say it was a blast is a massive understatement.

With my Global Consulting Team in Beijing, China.

Throughout the course of my MBA, I participated in projects that took me as far as Bangkok and Beijing and as near as East London and Ipswich. I helped organize a conference that featured the former President of South Africa and I met the former CEO of ICBC. I skied in the Swiss Alps and swam in the Albanian Mediterranean. My friends are currently working for Amazon, Google, and Shell, and they live in cities like Tokyo, São Paulo, and Singapore.

Out at the main Souk in Doha, Qatar.

For me, pursuing an MBA at Cambridge was nothing short of remarkable and as a future physician, I plan to translate my business background into equitable health care delivery for low-income patients. Moreover, if I ever choose to partake in global medicine, the world will now be much easier to access due to my personal connections. For me, going to Cambridge made the most sense. Even though I had to temporarily leave everything behind, I certainly gained more than I could have ever imagined. I believe that no matter what you want to do while you are a medical student, a path for you exists. Whether it was pre-formed by someone else or completely off the beaten path, where there is a will, there is a way. Therefore, I say go for it!

Apprenticeship in the Branches – a day in the life

My Thursday morning that week offered quite a different pace than my research rotation. I was in a bustling Pediatric Cardiology clinic, reading EKGs and staring at the black and white images of echocardiograms with my attending. We came back to the workroom and I prepared for our next patient, a pre-operative visit. I went in first, asked pertinent questions, conducted a physical exam, and stepped outside the room to review the patient’s case with my attending. We then both went in together to discuss the procedure and answer the multitude of questions of the appropriately nervous parents of an infant with a cardiac defect.

The next week, as I practiced inflating the catheter balloon after the procedure was over, I reflected on how crazy the past few hours were. They were almost seamless with the team working together as one unit. I recalled the numbers signifying chamber pressures mumbled through the headset, the precision of the interventionalist’s hands guiding the wire into the heart using only 2D images to guide her, and the immense gratitude of the baby’s parents at the success of the procedure. Dr. Whiteside and I went through the procedure in more detail afterwards, she had just completed closing an atrial septal defect, a hole between two of the chambers (atria) of the heart. I was able to conduct a pre-operative clinic visit, shadow Dr. Whiteside (a pediatric interventional cardiologist), and learn more about the field of Pediatric Cardiology through the apprenticeship in the Branches, the last phase of our curriculum.

An apprenticeship allows for students to work with a faculty member once a week. Depending on your field of interest, this can be in a clinic, which allows for the opportunity of following patients longitudinally, or in the OR if procedures are more of your interest. The flexibility of the Branches allowed me to do both. I was able to work with Dr. Whiteside in her clinic, see patients independently, and establish longitudinal relationships with patients and their families. I was also able to shadow her and her colleagues in the catheterization lab, which furthered my passion for pediatric cardiology.

The apprenticeships also give you a closer look into the life of an attending physician. It allows you to build a closer, longitudinal relationship with a faculty member and develops into a mentorship role as well. I was able to work with Dr. Whiteside and learn from a clinical perspective, but our conversations spanned from tips for applying into residency to her experience as a fellow and attending in Pediatric Cardiology to our favorite episodes of House Hunters. This kind of relationship and coaching would not have been possible without a program like the apprenticeship, or the Branches.

Med school is making me a better runner, and here’s why

One of the most frequent questions I’ve received is: medical school and competitive running, how do you do them both? Along those same lines, many people have asked me if I plan on continuing to run at a high level as a medical student or if I even will continue to keep up the sport at all.

I had deferred from answering these questions on this blog given that when they began pouring in, I had spent mere days enrolled as a student. Honestly, I feared answering how I did both before I was confident that I could do both. After years of hearing people say that medical students could not pursue anything outside of their studies, I certainly harbored a few doubts.

I am now five weeks, three quizzes, and well over three thousand slides into medical school, and I am excited to report: running and medical school, I am doing them both.

Not only am I doing them both, but I am actually getting the most consistent and solid training I have had in years. A cursory look back in my log shows that I have run more weeks in a row since I started training in April than I have in over three years. I am investing money in the bank each week with two workouts, a long run, and two lifts, the same framework that led me to success in earlier parts of my career. In other words, my training is as good as or better than it has ever been.

Logistically, I believe I am able to find this balance for a few reasons:

  • Running on teams in high school and college was one of the most formative and important parts of my life. It taught me countless lessons about life and the sport, and I am beyond thankful for it and the relationships I made as a member of those teams. However, as Ecclesiastes 3 mentions, there is a time and place for everything, a season for everything under the sun. Right now, I am in a season of life where time is a little bit more in demand than during high school or as an undergraduate, so official membership on a team with daily meetings adds a time-consuming element that I cannot afford. Rather, as a post-collegiate, I am able to pick and choose when I am able to invest time in running and working out with others, but also run or work out between classes and adapt to my schedule on the busier days.
  • UMMS’ exam system is called “flextime quizzing,” where exams open on Friday afternoons and close on Sunday evenings. We are able to take the exam whenever is most convenient for us during this timeframe. This makes it possible for students to have different study habits during the week because we aren’t all forced to take an exam on Friday evenings. Some students grind to the nth degree (you go, Glen Coco) during the week, take their quizzes at 3:00pm on Fridays, and are free until Monday at 8:00am. I take a little more relaxed approach, mixing studying and training during the week and quizzing on Saturday afternoon or evening. This flexibility in exams dispels the idea that medical students can’t pursue anything outside of their studies, and it shows that Michigan believes that its students are at their best when they have the opportunity to continue to pursue what made them special in the first place.
  • I am a pre-clinical student, which means that for the most part, I am not yet on the wards. A majority of our learning right now occurs in a classroom or small group setting; we are even able to stream most lectures. This means that I have a fair bit of control over my time and learning style. Next year, when I become a clinical student on rotations, I am going to have to change my approach to running again. I hope that I have another one of these posts to explain how I am doing it!  
  • Anatomy lab showers. Gotta make do with what you’ve got.

Furthermore, for me personally, I think there are actually benefits to pursuing medical school and running simultaneously! Medical school is actually making me a better runner right now, and here’s why:

  • First of all, running in medical school has given me vastly more flexibility in my training schedule, allowing me to more closely match my body’s needs. Instead of having a strict schedule to adhere to based on the availability of my teammates, I am able to assess where my own body is at any given time on any given day, and then work relative to that level of physical and mental readiness. This means that for the first time potentially ever, I think I am truly running easy runs easily, choosing four miles instead of six when needed, and ripping off some faster splits when my body is primed and ready.
  • Since running is not my only high-level pursuit, it means that I stress far less over it. This leads to a much more stable, measured day-to-day effort, and hence the ability to rack up training long-term. This long-term training is key to building up an aerobic base for performance later in the season, and it’s also something I have not been able to do well in years.
  • The challenges of medical school have helped me, to use a cliche, see the forest for the trees. I now more than ever see running as a gift and a break, something to look forward to after a long day of studying. Workouts, rather than a big red X in the calendar to be feared, are again a highlight of my week. Performance in these workouts means little compared to the freedom and joy that time outside and pushing my body give me, so there is no need to panic over a slower interval. Furthermore, after spending so much time studying and achieving intangible things, it is comforting to log miles and write them in my running log, markers of accomplishing little somethings in a long day of lots of work, but with not much to show for it.
  • Thus far, school is unimaginably unmanageable. There is just too much information to know it all, and to know it all perfectly. Recognizing this is helping me to shed my perfectionist tendencies and focus on the process of learning and being a human being. I think being an adherent to “the process” (-Mike McGuire) instead of living or dying by the outcome is only going to help my running, too.

In whatever career field you’re in, I believe that it’s essential to continue to do the things that make you you. It keeps you grateful for life and your career, and it makes you resilient when your career (or life) gets hard. Running and faith are two important things that keep me grounded and grateful, so it’s essential that I keep pursuing them in addition to my studies.

For those of you interested in my upcoming running-related goals… (1) qualify during a spring race for the US Olympic Trials 10,000m in June 2020, and (2) get fit and race a bit along the way!

This post originally featured on Erin’s personal blog, which you can follow here.

Finding Mentorship Through Surgery Olympics

One of the best parts about being a fourth year medical student, in my opinion, is being able to pay forward all of the help I got from older students when I was an M1/2/3. This can be done both formally – in the role of a leader of a student org, or informally – over coffee (I’ve heard this. I don’t drink coffee), or simply over email/phone/text.

Alongside fellow fourth year students Kristen Kolberg and Jesse Kelley (and M2 Yoonhee and M3s Caleb and Jessica), I help run SCRUBS – the surgery interest group. Our primary goal is to get students excited about the possibility of a career in a surgical field by providing opportunities to interact with surgical faculty and residents in both professional and social settings. One way we are doing so is through Surgery Olympics, which Kristen wrote an awesome post about a few months back. Briefly, Surgery Olympics is a totally voluntary program that connects teams of three to four M1 students with an M4 coach and a surgical faculty member to learn surgical skills and complete a research project.

We were blown away by the amount of student interest in Surgery Olympics this year, with 84 M1 students (about 1/2 the class!) applying for the program. To put this in perspective, when I participated in Surgery Olympics as an M1, there were about 30 participants. To achieve teams of only four students, this meant we would need to recruit 21 faculty members. Within days, we had recruited all 21 faculty from a wide variety of surgical sub-specialties (trauma, colorectal, transplant, thoracic, endocrine, cardiac, surgical oncology, minimally-invasive, ENT, urology, and plastics). The fact that we were able to do so speaks volumes to the level of commitment from surgical faculty to medical student education and mentorship here at Michigan. We also could not run this program without 21 M4 students who agreed to coach a team, and a number of surgical residents who have volunteered their time to help teach surgical skills throughout the summer. Mentorship from all levels is truly accessible at UMMS.

Two teams go head-to-head in a suturing relay at the Surgery Olympics Championship. Dr. David Hughes (one of the SCRUBS faculty mentors) officiates the race.

After running skills training sessions all summer, we just wrapped up the skills competition portion of Surgery Olympics. Teams competed in knot-tying, suturing, and laparoscopic surgery skills. Dr. Reddy’s (thoracic) team won, followed by Dr. Kwakye’s (colorectal) and Dr. Kraft’s (urology). The points that each team earned will carry forward to the research competition, which will take place at Surgery Grand Rounds in April.

Some teams have already submitted abstracts to national surgery conferences and are working to prepare manuscripts. Others have taken on larger projects that they will continue as time allows throughout the clinical year. The great thing about getting involved in a research project early on in medical school is that it allows for longitudinal mentorship throughout the curriculum. These mentors are invaluable as you try to figure out what specialty to apply to regardless of whether or not it is surgical.

It has been a ton of fun for me to help teach surgical skills to the (now) M2 students, a number of whom will be starting their core surgical rotations within weeks. I know that the other M4s who have been coming to teach surgical skills all summer have really enjoyed it as well. Throughout medical school, I have reached out a number of times to the M4 coach and faculty member I had when I was an M1 in Surgery Olympics for advice. I still consider them to be mentors and role models. I hope our current Surgery Olympians find similar value in this experience and that this program continues long after I have left UMMS.


Follow SCRUBS on Twitter to see which team takes home this awesome Surgery Olympics trophy (designed and built by Kristen)

Finding a Familia in Medical School

Among the many unexpected surprises I’ve encountered in medical school has been the profound impact of one particular organization on my experience here — the Latin American Native American Medical Association (LANAMA), the University of Michigan’s chapter of the national Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA). 

As an M1, this organization served as a way to meet and learn from peers at different stages in medical school who either consider themselves Latinx or who care deeply about Latinx health. Every year, we host a variety of events to foster community and mentorship between students, residents, and faculty; we coordinate a model Medical Spanish program that includes both intermediate and advanced levels; and we serve the local Latinx community through an annual health fair and as volunteers at mobile clinics for migrant farm workers during the spring and summer months.

Through my involvement at the local level, I became interested in learning more about the larger LMSA outside of UMMS. Since attending my first LMSA Midwest conference, I have been continually impressed by the passion and impact that students bring to their respective medical schools. Needless to say, I have jumped at every opportunity to become more involved in this organization that has not only supported me in my medical school journey, but which has also helped me bring that impact to Michigan.

This year, I have the privilege of serving for the first of two years as co-director of the Latino Medical Students Association Midwest (LMSA MW). The position performs various roles, including leading the organization in achieving its mission, directing and supporting the regional board members in their various roles, and representing the region as members of the national Board of Directors. When I ran for the position, I articulated that my main goal for the organization would be to strengthen the leadership team by supporting various leadership education opportunities, such that we would be better able to serve medical students across the region and function as a more cohesive community.

To that end, I organized the first annual LMSA MW board retreat, hosted by the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, during which our leadership team engaged in visioning and strategic planning for the year. While each board member made objectives for their respective position, our collective goals could be summarized in creating an infrastructure and resources to help Latino pre-medical and medical students to feel supported with mentors and opportunities to learn, lead, and serve their local Latino community through medical care and advocacy.

The annual House of Delegates conference over the weekend was therefore tailored to achieve those goals – it was an opportunity an opportunity to gather >60 student leaders from across the Midwest region to cultivate our leadership skills, plan out our organizational objectives for the year, and strengthen our network among Latino medical students, residents, and faculty. Our morning consisted of speaker panels covering topics including “What makes a good leader?”, “Advocacy and Caring for Underserved Populations,” and “Imposter Syndrome.” Our panelists were physicians and residents who were either immigrants themselves, or children of immigrants, and could speak to the unique challenges they have faced in pursuing their careers, as well as the special motivations they have to serve the community they come from. 

A particular highlight of the morning for me was the session on “Imposter Syndrome,” during which Dr. Denise Martinez, Associate Dean for Cultural Affairs and Diversity Initiatives at UICOM, spoke first about her experience, then had us break into small groups to discuss different questions. When the group reconvened from the first break-out question, one student poignantly asked what to do when a failure seems to affirm all of the doubts one carries with “Imposter Syndrome.” I felt compelled to address her question in front of the full group with my own personal experience, and was so touched and impressed that it led many other students to share their own experiences and advice in front of such a large group of their peers. While this session was one of many on our agenda, I think the vulnerability and honesty that took over the room created an environment ripe for all of us to support each other not only on an organizational level – for example, one school’s chapter collaborating with another for a service event – but perhaps more importantly on a personal level, such that in the future we will be able to confide in each other and support each other from afar.

The afternoon of the conference consisted of the business meeting, during which my co-director and I presented our plans for the year, and our board presented their specific initiatives for their respective positions. In particular, we led a session to educate the conference attendees about the importance of policy and advocacy in anticipation of our annual LMSA Policy Summit in Washington, D.C. We also updated the group on our progress in organizing the annual LMSA National Conference, to be hosted by the University of Washington in St. Louis this March, and for which we have chosen the theme of “Unidos en Medicina y Mas: A Holistic Approach to Latinx Health.” Finally, we ended the day hosting a raffle fundraiser for a children’s clinic at the US-Mexico border in El Paso, TX; it was an opportunity to connect with the Latino community in Iowa, and to get a little salsa dancing in as well.

Overall, the LMSA MW House of Delegates conference was as successful as I could have hoped for, and I am grateful for the opportunity I had to participate in person in this event which I spent so much time helping to plan. Over the years, the Latino Medical Students Association has truly become a family and source of support for me in my medical school experience, and I look forward to continuing to give back to that community by helping to improve the organization as it provides that type of support to future students. 

Hopefully you’ll consider joining us at LANAMA events here at Michigan throughout the year, and at the national LMSA conference at Washington University in St. Louis from March 6-8. We would love to have you! Thanks for reading, hasta pronto, y ¡vamos azúl!