Sunday, November 30, 2008

Gratitude


The Thanksgiving holiday was a much needed break from the rigor of constant studying. Now it is time to buckle up and hold on tight as the last couple weeks before our final block exams of the semester arrive. Playing 'catch up' and trying to absorb the upcoming information will be quite the task, but the winter interim provides enough days off to be an encouragement for focused studies now.

Thanksgiving

You would think that after months of dissection techniques have been explored and a variety of human tissues cut that some skill would be honed. As I attempted to carve my first turkey this year, I learned that human dissection and fowl carving are two completely different activities. As such, I had to censor my dinner table commentary to avoid unsettling the stomach contents of those in attendance. Despite holding in my joy for anatomical discovery, the feast could not have tasted better or come at a more appropriate time.

The opportunity to visit with family and reflect upon everything I have has left me truly grateful. It is often a simple thing to look at all the stress in life and wish it was lessened. I feel that the hard work we put into our goals and ambitions will often pay off with a greater sense of achievement when stress is overcome.

Medically Speaking

We are all indebted to those who have spent countless hours researching medicine throughout history. It is from their dedication that we have today's medical knowledge. More importantly are those who suffer from illness and seek care. Their trust in the medical system allows the practice to become better and gives a purpose for the continual research.

These patients will ultimately make us the physicians we are trying so hard to become. Whether difficult cases or unstable personalities, they have the power to shape our medical experience for good or bad. I often think back to the feelings I had while working in the Emergency Room with patients. With my limited knowledge and experience I was still able to make a difference in the lives of others through medicine. The smallest of compliments or gestures of appreciation often had a significant impact on my opinion of healthcare. Although needless to say, I am looking forward to working with the patients again in the clinical setting. In the meantime, my family and friends seem to appreciate what I bring to the table, and for that I am grateful.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Manipulative Treatment

Biped creatures such as ourselves put a lot of force on our feet plaguing us with unnecessary pain and discomfort. Fortunately, there are ways to provide a needed respite for sore, worn out feet. When massage leaves you aching, osteopathic manipulative treatments (OMT) may be an easy solution.



Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment

As osteopathic medical students, we routinely learn the manipulations of our practice. Various techniques allow us to fill our toolbox with multiple solutions to common structural problems. Most recently we have been working with the lower extremities including the feet.

After getting over the initial distaste of handling the feet of our colleagues, we set out to learn the principles that would heal our future patients. These treatments focus primarily on the muscles, bones, and connective tissues in an effort to relieve pain or discomfort.

As my best friend is commonly involved in activities that put great amounts of stress on her feet, it came as no surprise that she had started developing pain one morning. Before running off to class, I was able to employ some of the skills I had learned previously to 'reset' her foot and relieve the pain she was experiencing. Amazed, she let me know the pain was gone, which I initially thought was her way of making me feel better about myself. She assured me that this was not her intention and that the techniques had actually improved her level of comfort.

Little by little we are gaining the pieces of knowledge that will make us better professionals and physicians in the work place. I was fortunate enough to be able to use those skills at home and witness first hand, the positive effects of OMT.

Anatomy

Sticking to the lower extremity, I thought I would discuss the latest news in the anatomy department. With the thorax and gastrointestinal contents of the abdomen behind us, we have started our examination of the spinal cord and perineum. In order to get a better look at the structures involved, some intense dissections had to be performed.

The first was a laminectomy where the outer coverings of the vertebrae were cut away to reveal the underlying spinal cord. It is amazing to think that this well protected and delicate structure carries impulses that permit control of most of our body.

The second dissection required the removal of a leg as high up as the belly button, which included part of the lower spine . This exposed the contents of the groin for inspection while being able to observe the organic proximity of reproductive, urinary and gastrointestinal structures. I never imagined having to remove an entire limb for that purpose, but it gives us a better appreciation for the anatomy we are studying.

In only a month's time, we will have completed our first semester of medical school. It is exciting to think that we have made it this far and are slowly seeing goals become a reality.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Balance

It seems that every day is another drain on the energy built up during the few hours of sleep the night before. Do I still have a life outside of school?

Balance

When final exams are done or in my case the week of block exams, it becomes much easier to slow down the pace as far as studies go. Unfortunately, the material continues to come unrelentingly. Finding balance in student life can be a difficult task and some days I find myself deep in an anatomy book, where other days I am ready to sit back and watch a good movie.

There is no right way to do it, and every student has to learn what works for them. Let's face it, studying until 11pm or later is definitely possible with all the information available, but is it the best thing to do, or will it lead to burnout. I have actually found both to be true. Constant stress with little relaxation or time to get away is similar to the "all-nighter" mistake many of us have made. On the other hand, not studying enough when quizzes, exams or boards are approaching could be costly.

Personally, I have found that a dedicated time allocated to sufficient review of materials on a constant basis will actually reinforce important principles and topics. Leaving enough time for meals, sleep, and exercise is crucial to balancing the mentally heavy load of medical school. It may be wise to set up specific hours each day for study, sleep, exercise etc so that your body gets into a rhythm. This will make study time more effective while ensuring you get the most out of your free time.

Loose Ends

Now almost four months into the curriculum, I am starting to feel a little more at ease with the whole medical school experience. With time I have become more organized and oriented as to what is expected of me. There are still a lot of questions to be answered down the road, but for now the stress associated with the 'unknown' is being whittled away.

TUNCOM is making progress in their ongoing accreditation process. As one of the newer medical schools, it has to show the accreditation board that the curriculum is sufficient and that students are getting the education they seek. Policies and programs continue to change, developing the already well structured programs. The rapidly growing student body compounds this process, however, as we were able to meet with the board and discuss the matters that concerned us most. Even as a new student it is nice to be heard.

I am continually amazed at how much we learn in such little time. Trying to absorb anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, histology and everything else has definitely kept me busy. If we keep learning at this rate, I will have more information than room to store it.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Exercise

I have come to a depressing realization. Being a medical student definitely has its financial drawbacks and sitting at a desk all day taking notes does not come close to the lifestyle physicians encourage.

Move

After spending the last two weeks studying late into the night preparing for exams, I rarely found time to get up and use all the pent up energy I consumed at meal times. Stress levels remained high, lethargy dragged me down, and jiggly body parts just drove home an important message...I need to get up and move a little more. Certainly, this is easier said than done, but if I will be instructing others to change their habits, why not change my own?

Exercise has been researched and studied for years. It is one of the few things we do besides eating that actually affects all of our body systems. Current recommendations suggest at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise most days of the week. This could be anything from walking, swimming, or even the latest craze, Nintendo Wii Fit. Moving regularly will enhance mental and physical performance in addition to changing how we react to everyday stress.

Healthy Living

When it comes to living healthy, there are more resources available to us than we could possibly imagine. You don't have to be a member of a local gym or spend large amounts of money to reap the benefits of good health, but it does take dedication and a desire to experience true fitness. During my undergraduate studies, my professor Dr. Zimmerman said, "the best thing you can do for your body is train a marathon...the worst thing you can do for your body is run a marathon." I would love to run a marathon someday, however, I am not quite in a position or mindset to do so now. For the time being, I plan to concentrate my efforts in three areas: nutrition, strength, and cardiovascular.

Nutrition has changed significantly with restaurants offering large portioned meals at reasonable prices. This does not guarantee that what you are eating is any healthier than the alternative of cooking for yourself. The government sponsored food pyramid helps us balance our diet to ensure we are getting the right nutrients. When it comes to cooking, AllRecipes.com helps you put together meals with the ingredients you have on hand. I will be honest in saying I like to eat, therefore I will be focusing on proper portion sizes as well as caloric content when satiating my hunger.

Strength exercises are vital to maintaining bone strength and muscle tone, something I have been lacking as of late. I am planning to start out each day with at least 10 minutes of strength training. With very little time and less to do in the mornings, I feel this is a reasonable goal for starters.

The part I miss most in my healthy habits is a good dose of cardiovascular stress. With just enough I can keep my metabolic pathways in check, maintain a healthy blood pressure, and rid my body of toxins simply by getting the fluids moving. There are some great tools on the market to help measure your success. A pedometer is an inexpensive way to measure how far you move and a heart rate monitor is ideal for determining how your body responds to your workout. Both are reasonable for the novice as well as the pro.

DVDs make at home training simple, unless you prefer detailed books, nevertheless, the most important part is that you make it a habit to move. I would love to hear if you have any other suggestions. And to all the plastic surgeons, I am sorry, but you will likely not be seeing me soon.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Exam Week Two

Highlighting the culmination of the last six weeks, this picture does not give justice to the vast amounts of knowledge one can obtain from studying the actual anatomy.

Anatomy

Our anatomy course has most recently led us into the depths of the human thorax and abdomen to explore the respiratory, cardiovascular, nervous, and digestive systems located in these cavities. At first the information never seemed to end until I realized it was likely there would be no end. With our second week of exams already here, I continue to find things I did not learn the first time around.

It is for this reason there are medical specialists who know everything there is to know. Obviously, medical school is the learning grounds for medical knowledge and is meant to be the foundation for a successful career in the field.

Complexity arises where every individual is different. Slight variations in anatomy, surgeries, and body mechanics make the anatomical studies unique with every cadaver. Despite the hours of time spent with one, the next may have alterations that tell a different story. Physicians learn what occurs most frequently and divergent findings become the abnormalities to be treated. Although anatomy may be a difficult subject, if we do not learn it now, we will have to do it later. Learning it now while I have the time seems to be the better choice.

Exam Preparation

Exam block week 2 is here and I am starting to wear thin. Long days of lecture and late nights of reviewing past material is exhausting work. I am realizing that my first exam week was a training period for study habits. Rather than starting early, I started late, causing excessive unneeded stress. This time around, my study group made a concerted effort to dedicate more time to our review of materials early on. It sure has made a considerable difference in the stress levels since cramming is not an issue and I actually get to sleep at night.

Here's to a good week of exams, remembering all the important points, and getting enough sleep each night to be able to function properly the next day. And if Friday can hear me, please get here quick.

Subscribe to Life as a Medical Student