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A Med Student Discovers Scrunchie Power

Some days, even a third cup of coffee won’t do. Despite the intrinsic joys of being a member of a team providing life-altering medical care, medicine is hard. It can leave you tired and stuck in a pattern where days run together and routines become bland. Perhaps coupled with a few too few hours of sleep, not even the glorified stimulant caffeine can do much to add an extra pep in your step.

When I began my core clerkship rotations last year, I found myself in this mind numbing pattern after a few weeks of 5:00 am pre-rounding. I truly was loving being involved in patient care and learning ever-growing amounts of information daily, but something was missing. A newness, a joie de vivre, seemed to have been replaced by the early rounds and the frenetic scramble to pre-op between rounds, a quick breakfast, and the first surgical case of the day.

Stuck spinning my tires yet moving nowhere in this monotony, I realized it was time for change.

Enter scrunchies. On a rare day-off trip to Target with my mom, a pack of bright scrunchies stole my attention. The allure drew me in, despite having arrived at Target with intentions to purchase only a few household items (who hasn’t had this happen at Target, though…), and my money was spent before I even had a chance to consider it.

Early the next morning, pre-pre-rounding, I pulled my hair up into a ponytail and looked over my pack of bright, beaming, joyful, exciting, new scrunchies. I chose a hot pink one, looped it twice around my hair and sensed myself grow a few inches taller. I felt just like my scrunchie looked: bright, beaming, joyful, exciting, and new. No longer was today another day of the ordinary; it was hot pink scrunchie day.

Days of the clerkship continued to roll by, each punctuated by a scrunchie. Some days, perhaps days that I was on call and knew would last for many hours or days with feedback from attendings, called for even bolder scrunchies. A friend had sent me cheetah- and zebra-print scrunchies, perfect for when I needed to believe in my own ferocity. A bridesmaid gift from my cousin featured a yellow scrunchie that could be tied into a bow, perfect for when I needed a little more self-confidence. A black scrunchie helped me feel chic and ready to tackle a day in clinic.

Now having completed my core clinical clerkships, I am reflecting back on how my scrunchies have been with me through some of my greatest triumphs, most important lessons, and hardest days of medical school. They’ve been part of relationships with patients and friendships with peers. They’ve added a pep in my step that even a third cup of coffee couldn’t (although perhaps there is some synergy between that third cup and a scrunchie). They’ve helped me re-find my joie de vivre and learn that early morning rounds will never be able to take it away again.

As I approach my upcoming ICU rotation, I look forward to introducing a new pack of scrunchies into the rotation – these ones multicolored and composed of a variety of fabrics, as well as a purple one with a bow – to help mark each new day, accompany me as I learn and grow, support me through the challenging times, and add just a hint more pep with my coffee.

Starting to Think Like a Surgeon

Learning how to be a doctor is a lot like learning how to bake. You read the book, learn the steps, try it out, and then you end up with cookies. But the best bakers (aka my grandma) will tell you that the real learning comes when the cookbook is taken away. It forces you to think about the individual ingredients and steps in a new way. And you start to appreciate how each individual step can make an impact on the final product. It can be frustrating, but once you grasp this new way of thinking you can make more than just cookies. 

In medical school we spend our first year learning the basics: anatomy, physiology, pathophysiology, and numerous treatments for countless diseases. We also learn to apply this knowledge to clinical vignettes through our doctoring and chief-concern courses with the help of faculty members. All of this learning and practice is in preparation for the clinical clerkships when our book is taken away and replaced with a pair of scrubs.

Once we took our first steps into the clerkship year, we quickly learned that patients almost never present exactly how the book teaches us. This is especially true in surgery. While we were primed to recognize standard surgical pathology during our M1 year, decision-making in surgery remained a mystery to us. We have learned how to diagnose a patient with acute cholecystitis, but how can we determine if he is a safe and appropriate surgical candidate?

We thought it would have been helpful to begin learning these critical thinking skills earlier in our medical training. This is how the idea of ‘Think Like a Surgeon’ came to be. Our goal is to provide students with early exposure to surgery and give them tools for success when they are on their surgery clerkships. We wanted to create an interactive learning experience to help students build a mental framework for surgical decision making. 

At Michigan Medical School you do not have to go further than an email to get connected with leadership to start making your idea a reality. We were connected to Maia Anderson, a PGY-4 Surgery Resident, who not only wanted to make our idea happen, but supported it with her time and knowledge to help improve it. We created the sessions together with Maia and Ryan Eton, another PGY-4 Surgery Resident, who selflessly offered their time to moderate the sessions. They also made sure we, Allyse and Quintin, ran the majority of the session while they provided the group with higher level knowledge as the session progressed. 

We hold monthly sessions that are split into two groups: Pre-Clinical (M1) and Clinical (M2/3/4/MSTP) students. We split the sessions into pre-clinical and clinical because trainees are at different parts of the curriculum and therefore have different needs. Pre-clinical trainees take a deeper dive into the pathophysiology, while Clinical trainees go deeper into the decision-making and treatment process. In each session we include relevant anatomy, physiology, and imaging. 

‘Think Like a Surgeon’ offers an informal, educational environment to interact and gain exposure to the field of surgery through discussion between surgery residents and interested medical students. We hope for trainees to feel inspired to consider surgery early on and, even if students are not planning for a career in surgery, we hope for them to gain useful skills and knowledge they can apply to their interests. For future sessions, we are looking for student volunteers who can design and lead the sessions with the support of our residents. Our first few sessions have received positive feedback from students and we look forward to many more! 



Life Beyond Surgery

Despite Surgery being over for me for a few weeks now, I still can’t quite believe it. I enjoyed the experience greatly, but it was all a bit surreal. I wake up now at 6am (which is fairly early when you realize that clinic starts at 8am), and I’m still shocked when it’s light outside. But also quite happy about that fact, as you might imagine.

Now I’m partway through my Family Medicine rotation at Domino’s Farms, and I’m really enjoying it too. All of a sudden, I went from discussing one very specific aspect of a person’s health to taking all-comers. I’m so thankful to have the opportunity to complete these clinical rotations before haring off to the lab – it provides the context and a reminder of why I wanted to do this in the first place. It’s the reason why you study so hard during the first two years of medical school: because that knowledge helps you make an actual difference in the quality of people’s lives.

And as I’m realizing this, my time in Family Medicine is more than halfway over, and it will soon be time to rejoin my lab and begin my PhD in Bioinformatics. I’m looking forward having schedule flexibility again and I’m excited to start coding again (although less so for the inevitable debugging). But I’m also sad to be leaving behind the patient interactions and to be left behind by my classmates. Well, at least I’ll be getting more sleep in the near future 🙂

Last Sunday marked the 11th Annual Dean’s Cup golf outing, and it was a blast. The forecast scared me all week (“Afternoon thunderstorms. Some may be severe.”), but the weather turned out great. It was definitely hot but there was a breeze, so it was lovely. I already can’t wait for next year!