Why do we fall? Lessons Learned on my Way to Becoming a Physician

This was an unexpectedly long post. I have included pictures of my cats being adorable as a reward for completing the whole thing…or for at least scrolling to the bottom.  Achievement Unlocked I guess?

One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn…and re-learn…and then re-learn again, is that failure is okay.  Failure is a part of learning.  In today’s internet culture we rarely if ever hear about someone failing.  Someone sets out on a quest, be it to seek the grail or get into medical school, and then all of a sudden they succeeded.  We see that successful result and instantly assume that that success is inevitable and if we don’t get straight A’s, pass our boards with high marks, or have gorgeous Instagram photos, that we just are not good enough.  What we don’t notice is that the person who instantly succeeded at getting their entry into medical school didn’t do so instantly.  We see the perfect Instagram post, but don’t notice the corporate sponsorship behind it. But here’s the thing … This is not new or unique. 

For all of the “Okay Boomer’s” out there there are an equal number of “Damned Millennial’s killing my (insert newest company unable to adapt to the changing economy).”  I am one of those who has grown up and with the internet. Both living and learning when it didn’t exist, to now where it is pretty much essential to our lives.  One of the many things that has not changed in that time is the treatment and perception of failure.  So here you go, this Millennial-X’er-Boomer is going to do something people both on and off the internet rarely do….talk about failing.

Last July I left my “comfortable” public servant job in order to pursue a life-long dream of being a doctor.  Specifically, I want to be a forensic pathologist who splits her time between a Medical Examiner’s office and with an international organization that works with the International Criminal Court to investigate and prosecute war crimes.  I have a goal.  It is a set goal.  A solid goal.  And one that, after only one semester often seems unattainable.

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I decided this was preferable to working in a cubicle.

I went through a significant amount of self-reflection while I was at that last job. I had everything I should have wanted but I was absolutely miserable. By the standards of where I came from I was a success. Eventually, I realized that wasn’t my success, but theirs.  I left that job, got rid of the vast majority of my possessions, loaded up the remainder in a van, cats in my car and moved to a new state to buckle down and become a doctor.

I figured I would probably stumble a bit, but I would eventually get things straightened out and finish up with straight A’s. Maybe some B’s, but that’s fine. I believed then, and to this day, that grades are not the most important thing. But, when you are in a program that bases your guaranteed admission on maintaining a certain GPA, then they do kind of matter.  And here come the point where I admit that no, I did not meet the benchmark required for guaranteed admission. It’s a long shot that I will meet it next semester; mathematically speaking anyway.  My first semester is complete, and I won’t be getting that guaranteed admission.

By unwritten internet protocol, I should gracefully fade away from the world.  I failed! I wasn’t instantly perfect and now I should just go become a barista who sidelines as an Uber driver and cat sitter (all occupations that I, coffee addicted, paranoid driver in new cities, and avowed Crazy Cat Lady, value greatly).  But remember what I said earlier? This is not a unique thing to today’s internet world. This idea that I didn’t do well right out the gate must be a sign of inadequacy or that I am ultimately not up to the task is one I was taught from an early age.  Not so much from my family – though that was there – but definitely from my educational institutions and peers.  It took me a while to move passed that, a very long while, but I did.  And I will get passed it again.

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Do not go gentle into that good shrubbery.

When I began the semester I had sort-of planned a post-semester review of life lessons. However, I assumed it would be purely positive, uplifting and built around the premise of instant success. Instead, it is coming from a place of frustration, fear, struggle, and determination to stay the course.

Life Lessons According to Someone Who Isn’t Perfect:

1) You need to be willing to destroy the parts of you that are holding you back if you want to have any chance of success.

Something I have definitely found myself struggling with is holding onto ideas about studying and learning that “used to work just fine.”  I reevaluated a lot of my study strategies and tossed most away before beginning this program. The few that remained were ones I realized were not working in this environment.  Those have to go. My mindset has to go. It needs to be stripped away so I can build up something that works.

This isn’t reserved to study habits. If there is something that you do that is holding you back from achieving your goal, destroy it. Rip it away and build up something that will take you where you want to be.  Humble yourself before those who are doing what you want to be doing. If you do not let go of what is holding you back then you will never truly go forward.

2) Demand of yourself and demand of others when you need to.

I made repeat visits and listened to all of the resources I could find in attempts to better my techniques and exam performance.  I did everything that I was told, tried every Anki deck that was repeatedly referenced and I continued to have mediocre exam performance.  Why?  I couldn’t figure it out.  I know one professor has essentially given up on me in this regard (based on conversations with him).  This didn’t do me any favors for my mental health. But, in the last weeks of classes, when I had reached another breaking point and I found myself unable to rationalize why I couldn’t do any better, despite hours and hours of doing what  I was “supposed” to do.

That’s when I took a detour to the main campus and walked into the office of the academic advisor who had been trying to help me all semester.  In between tears I forced myself to essentially say something like this: “I don’t care if you have to go one by one through each slide and tell me what I am doing wrong.  I don’t care if you have to treat me like a five year old.  I have done everything, as I understand it, that you and other have said. Tell me what is wrong. Tell me how to stop doing it. This is unacceptable to me.

I’m tearing up again as I type this.  It was humbling, and terrifying, and exactly what I should have done months ago, but didn’t.  In his language, and the language of others, they said everything they needed to make me succeed.  That message wasn’t conveyed in mine.  And I was too ashamed to ask for more. After that meeting in his office, I had an appointment a week later with his boss, who had had his position for nearly ten years prior to his tenure.  She and I sat down and spent over an hour going through how I would review a presentation; what I would look for, write down, waste time on, etc.  She saw what I was doing, and what I wasn’t. How I was reviewing presentations and what I was missing that I didn’t realize.  It was exactly what I needed. And it never would have happened if I had let myself continue to fail to demand of myself.  To quote Lisa Nichols, “I am my rescue.”

3) Why do we fall? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.

Okay, that one isn’t mine, it’s from Batman Begins but it holds true. Failure isn’t in itself a bad thing. It is when you allow yourself to stay down. That’s when you begin to lose hope.  Never accept that in yourself (see other points for clarification).  “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of the things. And no good thing ever dies.”  Okay, that one is from The Shawshank Redemption.

4) You are not them.  They are not you. Never compare yourself to others.

This is surprisingly hard to do. Maybe one of the hardest.  Every time I start to feel better about things, I would overhear something a fellow student or professor said, and my brain would automatically take that in a negative path.  It took me a long time to realize that a lot of the disparity in how I was performing compared to some of my peers wasn’t necessarily due to my own abilities, but rather to the lack of resources I had at my disposal. And yes, part of those resources include their lifetime of taking standardized tests.  Which is something I never really had to do. On top of that, some of them have access to old exams, lecture notes and materials from previous students. Who knows what else.  I don’t know, and I really shouldn’t care. I am responsible for me.  You are responsible for you. One of the professors here likes to say, “Stay in your three foot box” meaning focus on yourself and what you can do.  I can’t control them.  I can only control myself.

5) Scream a little.

Don’t be afraid to talk to others about your stress.  Don’t be afraid to just vent and cry and scream into your pillow.  I’ve cried more in the last few months than I have in the previous thirty years of my life. And I am not a crier.  I hate crying. I always feel a little shame in it. But I’m moving passed that. Because this shit is hard.  It is intellectually and emotionally some of the most difficult things I have done in my life. Talk to someone, a professional if you need to.  Your significant other is NOT a counselor. Go see a counselor.  Those people get paid for you to yell at them, to get out your feelings. They may not like it, but it is part of the job description.  But, if you do yell, maybe try to make it up with some cookies or something during the holidays.  I’m not saying I am making cookies for a bunch of people next month….but I’m not-not saying that either.

6) Love the process and love yourself.

Yeah yeah, cheesy, I know. And I think I may have heard that somewhere else too. I don’t think it was from a movie because I seem to have all of that in my head without any problem…Fuck you Citric Acid Cycle!  I can quote Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.  That’s a valuable life skill!  But I digress … Beginning a new process is hard. And when part of that involves stripping away parts of yourself then it is even harder.  To again quote Lisa Nichols, “Some motivation will come wrapped in sandpaper.”  True change and transformation means getting roughed up.  Love who you are, love what you will become. Love every part of what you want to be and demand of yourself that you will always strive to reach that.

7) There is no Plan B

Simple, and to the point. Every time I started to falter was when I really let my head contemplate this.  There is no Plan B.

It is far too easy to let ourselves get wrapped up in letting others have instant greatness, while we shy away from failure.  I’ve done it. Many who I thought had my best interest at heart let me do it, or gave up themselves.  But, as I have learned, that success, that “greatness”, is not instant.  For some, it may have been easier, but there is nothing we can do about how well someone else did or did not do.  That is not my life experience.  I have had to fight for everything that I have.  And I will continue to fight.

To yet again quote Lisa Nichols, “Being unapologetic means that I will be all of me. I will no longer shrink or compromise myself by playing small so others will not feel insecure in my presence.”  Be who you want to be. Remove from yourself what is holding you back. Fight. And never settle into doubt that you can become what you are fighting for.  Have your support at the ready for those moments.  Have the person/thing/goal/etc. that has inspired you to make this change at the ready.

Towards the end of the semester I began to figure out the above little lessons. As I did, piece by piece I saw improvement.  In some classes I finished with my highest exam scores of the semester.   I will make it to the finish line.  It may not be pretty; but I will do it. Do not be afraid of the pain.  Do not fear failure.  Grow from it.  Be strong my fellow humans.

 

Promised Cat Pictures Below

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Pabu has the high ground.  This does not look good for Wolfi.
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Wolfi really likes cheese.

 

“[Pain & guilt] are the things we carry with us, the things that make us who we are. If we lose them, we lose ourselves.  I don’t want my pain taken away! I need my pain!”  Captain James T. Kirk from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.

Transitions and the Making of a 40 Year Old Medical Student

“I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass…and I’m all out of bubble gum.” – They Live.

Last month I turned 39.  Not quite ready for a mid-life crisis, but not so far off that reflection upon my life isn’t something that I do from time to time.  To say this assessment is a new thing would be incorrect.  Over the last few years I have tried to make a conscious effort to evaluate and improve myself.  I detest stagnation and if I am put in a position where there is little to no chance of any actual positive change, then I get antsy…if not a little angry from time to time.

For nearly the last five years, maybe more if I’m truly honest with myself, I found myself in just such a place.  School, then work that was largely unfulfilling.  Sure, there were wonderful moments and wonderful people, but there was no challenge, no new knowledge, no chance for growth.  For many, I had achieved a dream: I had a graduate degree, a stable job with benefits, and a 9-5 schedule with weekends and holidays off.  Who could ask for more!?  Well, me…that’s who.  Please, do not misunderstand my point here. I am very well aware of how good I had things.  After spending a number of years on benefits, struggling just to find any job, I know what I had/have.  But it wasn’t enough.  It wasn’t what I promised myself I was going to do with my life.

When I was a very little kid, I used to watch reruns of a show called Quincy, M.E.  It was a fun show and for me, still holds up (nostalgia goggles be damned!). Quincy was a medical examiner who was always getting himself into trouble because no one would listen to him.  He was a doctor!  He saw what the science and the victim were saying, but the bureaucrats were having none of it!  And he lived on a boat for crying out loud!  Medical dramas weren’t really my thing, with the exception of Doogie Houser M.D. but I did like the occasional episode if it came along.  I’m talking about TV here for a simple reason; besides my pediatrician, it was the only exposure I had as a child to the world of medicine.  Yes, I’m using that phrase loosely here, it was, after all TV, but it was something.  It was a world I had no clue about.  And I wanted in.  I am a product of The Scully Effect, and I own that fact.

However, I am a late bloomer.  Quite late, in fact.  My upbringing was in a town with minimal access to medical care, and expectations laid upon boys and girls that were rigidly tied to perceived gender norms and societal requirements.  The boys who couldn’t measure up as football stars were most likely headed to a physically demanding job and in many cases enlistment in the military.  Girls? If you’re very lucky you can be a nurse or a medical assistant.  Don’t forget to get married right out of high school and have some kids along the way.  Boys, go die for your country, girls, reproduce.

My dreams had been replaced by familial and cultural pragmatism and I tried to find a middle ground.  I became a nursing assistant and worked with the elderly, disabled, and provided hospice care for almost ten years.  I loved much of that work and still would rather help someone with Alzheimer’s, than talk on the phone any day (Guess what I’ve been doing for the last three years?)  Along the way, I managed to not develop a drug habit (common back home), not have kids (also very common back home), and moved away to complete undergraduate and eventually graduate degrees.  With each move east I changed, grew.  Slowly working myself out of what I had been and into something I wanted to become.  And then I landed in a cubicle.

Though that cubicle may be a miserable little box, I still got to use my entomological skillz (insert sassy z).  But, as stated earlier, it wasn’t enough.  So, I made the most logical decision I could, I was going to become a doctor.  I was no longer deluded about TV fantasy of the 1980’s and 90’s, I’d worked around doctors, communicated with them, I even had the opportunity to view a few autopsies while I was working at a funeral home and later in preparation for my med school application.  I was going to be a doctor.  MCAT prep done (working full time and part time while prepping is not recommended) and some night classes at a community college to redo some very unsightly D’s on my undergraduate transcript (Damn You Organic Chemistry!!!) I was on my way to completing my application for the 2019 year…and it didn’t work.  One interview, no acceptances.  Sort of…

Due to my not-so-great stats (I was a B-average student in undergrad) and the fact that I finished undergrad in 2009, the feedback I received from some schools was that I needed to seriously up my gpa game.  And how does one do that?  Night classes weren’t going to be enough, I had to go big or go home.  But, how could I risk giving up my job for something that may not pan out?  The solution was a program with guaranteed acceptance pending successful completion.  I applied and got that acceptance.

A one year Masters of Biomedical Sciences program designed specifically to prepare students for entry into medical school is my new destination.  I’ll write soon about this particular program and what I will be doing, but here’s the short version: It’s one year of intense biomedical science coursework with some field experience.  Benchmarks for automatic matriculation into the associated medical school must be met. I already have some done.  I just need to maintain a 3.6 or better gpa and not piss off any faculty and I am good to go.  The premed/med student community calls these Special Masters Programs.  Look for future posts about the SMP for info on the process.

So that’s that.  For those who have followed or perused this blog and occasional podcast this is an update a long-time-coming.  For new people, I welcome you.  This post is uncharacteristically long and far more personal than most of them are.  I will not leave my beloved bugs by the wayside.  After all, mosquitoes kill more people every year than people do, so I will definitely have many opportunities for overlap.  I still love Entomology and I’m not giving that up at all. But I need to do more than just rear them in a lab, count moths in a light trap, and talk on the phone while I poke at yet another Excel spreadsheet.  In less than two weeks I will once again be a full time student. And by this time next year, I’ll be a 40-Year-Old Medical Student.

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Pabu & Wolfgang ‘Wolfi’ McYubNub  (Cat pic added per Internet requirements)

Coming soon…

Bugs Blood and Bones

Find the podcast on iTunes, Google or wherever the heck else podcasts live.

What demon monsters will we be talking about this time!?!

Podcast Returning Soon

Greetings fellow lovers of all things creepy and crawly! Brief hiatus for Pod continues for now. Projected return is Wednesday, June 6th! I’ve got something very special planned. Hope you paid attention to the end of my last episode.

I’m also hoping to do a Q&A episode. Send me your questions and I’ll get you some answers! Post here or PM me.

Until next time, keep calm, and carrion.

Pets, Pests, and Pestilence Perpetrators

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-qzwbv-90068c

In todays episode of random thoughts of entomo-interest, I was philosophical about the implications of the arthropod pet trade, whether the beetle will win or my cats, and what that might mean for the smaller infestations that crop up along the way.

Stay tuned to the very end for a brief snippet of what is to come in future episodes!

Please check out the Underscore Orkestra, an amazing group deserving of all of our praise.

New Jersey Dept. of Ag Info on H. longicornis

NYT Article Mentioned That Python in the Pet Store May Have Been Snatched From The Wild

Wildlife Laundering Through Breeding Farms

More on the Tick

108: Butterball Beetles & Bugs on Your Plate

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-r6by9-8f0893

If you were to conduct a random sampling of entomologists, you would find that there are a number of issues in which we firmly divide ourselves when it comes to important, life decisions. 

What are the best IPM methods?

Who is better: The Beatles of The Scorpions?

Would you be willing to host a bot fly in your body?  You know, for science.

And would you eat a bug?  And it’s here that we land today.  So let’s dig in, and get a taste of the history of insect eating.  Some pros, cons. and downright weird. 

 

Further Reading:

A Brief History of Entomophagy

The Natural History of Cheese Mites

7 Upscale Insect Dishes From Around the World

The 1903 Cheese Mites Film History

Cheese Mites Film

Nutritional Value of Insects from Around the World

 

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