29 January 2007

Why I went to medical school at a later age.

Back in 1995 when I was a busy graduate student, I was happily contemplating my future career as a college professor. Even as a child, I knew that I wanted to be a research scientist. I had excelled in math and science in the English school that my Mum had so carefully chosen for my education. My Mum was very pro-active when it came to the education and enrichment of her children. She was my first and best teacher. She had taught me the value of an education and the value of observation. While directing the growth of her children on a self-sustaining farm, she made our 90-acre horse farm, a living laboratory for our education. Armed with this background, we were expected to excell at all things academic. The "buzz" around our evening meal was not about sports but about Einstein's Theory of Relativity and higher mathmatics in addition to the fine reasoning of Immanel Kant.

Later, after I graduated from secondary school and entered university, I realized that I could trust my own observations and conclusions under the conditions of study. I approached every class with the vigor and demand for knowledge that my Mum had instilled in me (fostered with a healthy dose of curiosity on my part). I loved every second of my General Biology course and challenged myself to master every factoid that my professor presented. I never attended lab without careful preparation and continued with careful evaluation of every thing that I had observed. I was also very organized when it came to my coursework.

The first semester of my undergraduate freshman year, I took General Biology, General Chemistry and Differential Equations in addition to an English class on Critical Writing and review. I also played on the tennis team which required a fairly high demand on my time. Thus, I had to carefully set a study schedule and keep to my study schedule. When I started college, I knew that I was going to major in chemistry with an emphasis in the chemistry of the living.

I sailed through General Biology and General Chemistry with gleeful passion. I also loved my Differential Equations class as I explored the theories of solving these mathmatical equations. In addition, I honed my heavy flat serve and backhand volley that usually intimidated my opponents into submission. I had learned to play serve and volley with the boys so I generally dominated females who never came into the net. Most of the tennis games that I won were won on my fast, flat first service.

During my sophomore year, I took University Physics, Organic Chemistry and Histology. Again, my humanities courses consisted of a course on Early Puritain writers and History of American Thought. I had tested out of both classical and modern foreign languages haven taken classical Greek, Latin and Modern French while in secondary school. I also took a course in Applied Differential Equations (with the engineers). Physics became my favorite class and I loved Histology too. Histology provided a nice contrast from figuring out physics problems and mastering concepts.

During my junior year, I studied Analytical Chemistry, Advanced Inorganic Chemistry, Physical Chemistry, Advanced Analytical Chemistry (graduate-level mass spectromety and electro chemistry), Nuclear Physics and Atomic Physics. I spent most of my days in the laboratory and loved the precision of my coursework. I also began working on my honors project as an undergraduate researcher in the laboratory of one of the analytical chemists. Working in his lab honed my love of developing hypotheses and design of experiments. Most of all, I started to see the dawn of the use of mass spectrometry in the analysis of large biomolecules.

My senior year brought decision-making for me. I was torn between the graduate study of Analytical Chemistry and Biochemistry/Molecular Biology. My senior honors thesis had been on determining the detection limits and analysis of Snake Venoms by Matrix Assisted Laser Desorption Time of Flight Mass Spectrometry. By doing this project, I had learned much about biomolecules and the analysis of large biomolecules (proteins).

I decided to apply for graduate school in Biochemistry/Molecular Biology. I was accepted and received departmental funding to teach both undergraduates and perform my laboratory experiments. I was placed in the lab of a cardiologist who was working on oxidation-perfusion and low magnesium states. This lab was multi-disciplinary with immunologists, biochemists, biophysicists and chemists present. I thrived in this atmosphere. Here, I found a constant exchange of ideas and constant challenge to ask questions and research to find the answers to those questions.

My principal investigator requred his graduate students and reseach scientists to attend Cardiology grand rounds. It was during these sessions that my interest in the clinical applications of my research came to the forefront. I read as much as I could on cardiology, physiology and pharmacology. My PI loved my questions and one day suggested that I apply to medical school. "The worst thing that can happen is that you don't get in", he said. " If that happens, you continue your work here". He presented this as a "no-loss" proposition. This seemed reasonable to me at this point in my career. I could already see where the knowledge to be obtained in medical school would be useful for my research.

I took my comprehensive exams for my Ph.D in June, filled out my AMCAS and promptly took the MCAT that August. My MCAT study strategy was to study for my comprehensives (read, I didn't have much of a strategy). On MCAT day, I hopped on my bike and rode the six miles to my test site. I got in line for check in and listened to Aerosmith and Toni Braxton on my Walkman. I was seated in a room next to a window where I could look up and see a lovely blooming cherry tree with loads of fluffy pink blossoms.

The first exam section was Verbal Reasoning. I scanned all of the passages and chose to do the ones that didn't interest me first. I had little interest in psychology, history and sociology but loved science fiction and science. I scanned the questions and then read the passages underlining the key points that I needed for each question. I finished this section with time to spare so I just looked out of the window and enjoyed the view. I could totally let my mind wander far from this exam room and relax completely.

My next section was the Physical Sciences section. It was long but I had always worked these types of problems by using order of magnitude. I enjoyed the challenge of figuring out the hook for each question and supplying the answer. I found that I didn't need to do very many calculations as I could clearly figure what was being asked by underlying key words and working the problems using order of magnitude. This section was my favorite and I worked each problem as they came. About ten minutes into this section, three young men got up, turned in their test materials and left the room. My next question was, "Am I missing something here?" "This is really not THAT bad". Again, it was nice to be able to look outside for a mental break from the work.

The next phase was lunch time. I checked my bike and headed over to a small cafe where I knew the owners. After a light lunch of soup and tomato sandwich washed down with my favorite Diet Coke, I settled in the hallway ourside of the testing room with my Walkman and some Moody Blues. There is nothing like "A Question of Balance" to keep your head clear. I had chosen my music very carefully and made the right choices.

The afternoon session consisted of the Writing samples and Biological Sciences. I finished the tests, hopped on my bike and headed back home for a nap. Later that evening, I went to a disco with a couple of my mates and lost myself in the pounding music and Guiness stout. It had been a long day but it was over. No matter what, I was locked into whatever score I received and my application would be complete that October 15th.

My first interview invitation came on October 20th and my first interview was the last week in October. My last interview was in February. By my final interview, I was holding three acceptances and went on to acquire six out of six acceptances. To my astonishment, I had been hugely successful in application to medical school.

I don't know why I was accepted and two of my friends did not make it in that year. One of my friends was the president of the Pre-med honor society (I wasn't even a member) and the other had more publications that I and what I considered a better application. Both were also much younger that I. The only thing that I had beaten them in was MCAT score. Of the three of us, I had the highest MCAT score by far. My undergraduate GPA was strong (it had to be for graduate school) and I had held some interesting jobs (TV news producer, political campaign manager, environmental speech writer) in addition to my scientific work. I was also a pediatric, perinatal respiratory therapist (something that was hugely interesting to me at the time and easily obtained).

With that first acceptance letter, it hit me that my life was going to take a turn that I had not planned. I was going to add research physician-scientist to my career. I would teach, perform my clinical duties and research. To the delight of my uncle, I would follow in his footsteps.

I was never a "Pre-Med" student as an undergraduate. I certainly remember my classmates anguishing over receiving "Bs" in their science classes and grumbling about my performance since I really didn't care that much about the letter grade. I was in the class for the information. It was funny how my focus on mastery of course material (because I had to KNOW this material to be a good scientist) made getting the grade more easily than calculating what my score had to be to get an "A". My tests were my challenge to do better and better. If I destroyed a few curves along the way, it didn't matter much to me.

In the end, I carried a large body of knowledge and a solid background into medical school where I could build upon that background. Little did I know, until the second week of lectures, that I would be baraged with more information and a short time to assimulate it. My absolute curiosity about all things human would be satisfied many times over and continues to be satisfied to this day. For me, medical school was the ultimate mental exercise with a limitless supply of interesting experiencs and facts. I had the time of my life and learned to love the craft of medicine, not to mention, that I have met some of the most interesting people along the way.


Fredrick Schwartz said...

We would like to invite you to the Digital Press Club to blog on any issues that will not jeopardize your career! ;)

Qu'ul cuda praedex nihil!


Drnjbmd said...

I happily accept your offer to join the Digital Press Club.

Jacqueline said...

6 out of 6? wow! How did you decide which school to attend? What was your decision making process?