Aug 27, 2010

Personal Statement Blues...

So that whole application season thing is coming up again and like most of the red tape involved in becoming a doctor, it's a headache.

I've never had too much trouble writing, and it used to be the normal way I occupied my free time before I discovered beer, boys, and youtube...

Where I do have trouble is selling myself. I have no particular idea how to actually convey to others that I have qualities worth hiring without sounding like a tool or downplaying myself to such a degree that I can't even figure out why anyone would hire me.

I also find my best writing comes out of either humor or anger or a combination of both, neither of which are qualities befitting a personal statement. Hire me because when stuff sucks, I'll make cracks about your program that make the other residents laugh. But rest assured, it'll be at your expense.

I also have trouble conveying why I love something, because while I can write a dissertation in iambic pentameter about why I hate something (war, construction workers jackhammering outside my apartment at 11 PM, Nicolas Cage), my general way of describing something I like is that it's "awesome".

So, this means my most natural personal statement would read... "Pathology is so so awesome. I love seeing what the problem is under a microscope because it's the closest anyone will ever come to a diagnosis. I'm fine with bodies since they complain far less than living people and I love genetics and microbiology, even though anyone with half a conscience shouldn't trust me with the former. I did a couple pathology rotations and they were awesome. I used to work at the Donated Body Program and that was super awesome too. They let me play with bones a lot and I got to do forensic research no one will ever be interested in. You should hire me because I think pathology is as awesome as you guys probably do. Peace. PS, I've never seen a single episode of CSI so please don't think I'm trying to jump on the bandwagon. -Ish"

Less than convincing... immature, unprofessional, all those lovely qualities I embody, but you're not supposed to put them a personal statement.

Instead, I currently have something that is pleasantly wishy washy and sounds insincere even though it isn't. I didn't have any one event that led to my pursuing pathology. I didn't have a beloved grandfather who just would have been saved if some go-getter had diagnosed his _____ correctly. I wasn't on a plane where a passenger collapsed and someone screamed for a pathologist, and they ran up, did a biopsy and the patient lived to see another day.

When I was a girl scout, I wanted to diagnose labs instead of people. When I was 13, after abandoning my dreams of marine biology because I get so seasick I envy the dead, I wanted to be a virologist. Probably due initially to Dustin Hoffman. Then when I was a candy striper, I got sick of wheeling patients around and providing comfort around day four and spent the rest of my time there organizing slides in the path lab because it made me happy even though I had no idea what anything was. I found fourth term WAY more fun than second term because I like path and hate physio. I'm a lifer. But expressing that in any form either sounds like I'm lying or like I'm severely socially maladjusted.

Pathology makes me content. I don't run home with awesome stories largely because no one would be remotely interested in what makes my day fantastic, and my best shareable stories from it tend to be disgusting enough to significantly limit my audience. People are excited by stories about gunshot wounds and CPR... hell, I am, and I've run home enthusiastic when they've happened in my other rotations... but once that adrenaline wears off, I'm left with... what? Surgery was cool until it wasn't. Once the excitement of a case wore off, I wasn't left feeling content; I was left feeling bored and frequently frustrated. No answers and no diagnoses. When I'm doing mind numbing number crunching in the gross lab and entering standard templates into the computer, I feel a general sense of peace and satisfaction in the downtime that I have not found anywhere else. Why is that so hard to commit to paper?

Aug 16, 2010

Oh right, the test...

This sort of thing gets weirder and weirder that farther you get in medical school, once stress gives way to apathy and exhaustion.

I got a Wii!! At long last! I can lately join the awesome gaming generation as my treat for finishing that 9 hour beast of an exam. I also had friends take me out to Chip Shop the next night so I could cram some deep fried Reese's and a few English pints. I'm not even sure which is worse for you, but I'll post from the hospital over whether my heart's failing before my liver is.

The exam... boy howdy is it long. Like LONG. Like kind of over any stress you were experiencing and "I wonder how many points I'd lose if I just went and saw a movie in the middle of this nonsense" long. The questions are long. The whole test time is long. The fact that you get 45 minutes of the day to do anything you need to do and it takes 5-10 minutes to sign in and out means it's long and you're hungry. Or dyspeptic from trying to swallow an entire peanut butter sandwich and then trying to shove it a sufficient distance down your esophagus by pouring Red Bull on it and hoping the bubbles will dissolve some of it. Hell, the stuff tastes like battery acid anyway; it should make some headway.

I took it afternoon until night, as I mentioned, which was awesome, though I closed out the place, and lo and behold the place is right across the hall from the offices for Air Jamaica, which is nice because I guess if you do badly enough, they can send you straight back to Grenada without ever letting you set foot on New York soil again.

To be fair, the people at the testing center were really nice, very chill, and the temperature was good. I was able to bring my own foam earplugs (call ahead and ask your center) which is great, because the silencers provided are identical to the ones that they use at shooting ranges which makes them heavy and tight on your skull. Good for drowning out the .45 in the next booth. Overkill when you're trying to think while drowning out the keyboard sounds in the next booth.

Despite the preventative measures, I would recommend taking as many breaks as feasible. Get water, go to the bathroom, cram some calories and get back in. Stretch your back and legs, make a Home Alone face in the mirror, chuckle to yourself and go for round 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, or 8.

Don't overthink the questions because they give you a lot to overthink. If it seems right, just pick it. If you're clueless, pick the most likely (eliminate the obviously wrong) and move on, mark it later.

Getting in and out is starting to encroach on the airport's turf for security overkill. I had to get frisked before going back into the testing center each time, and though she did the job right in front of the security camera, I have a feeling the girl responsible for feeling me up felt as ridiculous about it as I did. That made me feel better about the whole thing. They didn't make me take my shoes off though.

Looking back, I don't really know what I would have done differently studying-wise. It seems like any moment I didn't have my head buried in UWORLD questions was a wasted one. There were still a lot of wishy washy weird judgment call questions, but I don't think any resource could really get you ready for them.

How do I think I did? Geeze, I have no idea. I think I passed, but once I'm getting below an 80 on a test (which I'm guessing I did on this one), I have *no* clue how I do. My mom's set on 261, which I think is about as probable as my riding into a residency at UCSF on the back of a unicorn, but it's a nice thought.

Also, with the exception of recalling some questions almost in entirety (though I was better about that on Step 1), I get massive testing amnesia. I go in... I vaguely remember things like "Oh, block three was really sticking it to me" and "Oh crap; out of time" and "AAAHHHHH MATH!!!" and then I walk out nine hours later feeling puzzled, brain-enema'd and occasionally vurping up bits of Red Bull. I wonder what happened. I go home, watch Futurama and go to sleep. I party the next day and then I sleep solidly for the two after that. Not hungover; not wildly stressed; just completely mentally erased.

So there you have it folks. Taking Step 2 CK is like getting roofied, waking up hours later with a hangover and your kidney missing and the only clue left behind is a note someone's written in lipstick on the mirror and it says "Your testing session for USMLE Step 2 Clinical Knowledge has ended. Thank you for participating in the United States Medical Licensing Examination. Close. (follow the white rabbit)"

And you're just surprised you can still read.

Aug 10, 2010

Oh, it's here

With considerably less holy crapping than the first... but time will tell.

I'm taking the Step 2 CK later today, so naturally that will be followed by probably very little helpful information since the USMLE wranglers have me so paranoid that if I say to a friend something like "Whew!! Should have studied more epidemiology!" (that's just an example; I swear I haven't taken it yet!! Don't kill me!), I'm convinced I'll hear the opening to Ride of the Valkyries and black helicopters will swoop down, whisk me away and strange men will waterboard me... or feed me okra or something. And the last thing anyone will ever hear of me will be an email from my clinical coordinator saying "You STILL haven't written your personal statement?"

Aug 6, 2010

Bored now...

The problem with being an intrinsic night owl the second you're deprived of an attending who would take you not showing up at a rotation until 3 PM somewhat amiss, is that you start studying late thus your study breaks come around... oh, say, now, rather than at a time where you can spend them doing anything fun.

So my Step 2 CK is in four days, and I'm trying to stay motivated, which is difficult because as noted above, I'm bored. I seem to have weaned myself off the crippling levels of stress that kept my blog so um... colorful... through my early med school days, but losing that overwhelming anxiety is also killing my drive to do things like study straight through for 48 hour blocks. That's probably a good thing. I also live in NYC with an awesome roommate, which means at any given time (even now), I *could* be forgoing this study thing entirely and replacing it with whatever the heck I want. Live music, transvestite burlesque shows, 2 AM cupcake delivery, microbrewery sampling.

But whine whine, that all ends on Tuesday and then I have some relaxation. By relaxation I mean, do a case write up in the hopes of squeezing a last minute publication under the wire, write my personal statement, and upload all my crap to ERAS because I'm a horrendous procrastinator that can only focus on one task at a time. Sometimes not even one.

Oh, though speaking of awesome NYC stuff plus night owl stuff, I'm actually taking my exam starting at 1 PM, because holy crap, that was an option. That means instead of spending the first three hours of the exam feeling shaky, exhausted, and smelling of Red Bull and fear, I can sleep until my normal hour, stroll to the testing site grabbing some tasty lunch treat along the way and be at my best when I'm actually at my best. Granted this will leave me strolling Brooklyn after dark, but for the luxury of sleeping in on board exams day, I will gladly sacrifice a maxed credit card or three to the urban jungle.

What else... I'm still in maximum amounts of love with my phone and it's letting me play with Wikipedia with enough speed and dexterity that I can study in places that aren't "in front of my computer where I'm getting foot drop from having plastic-chair ass".

That seems like a good place to end.