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Medical Journey

I walked with my friends in May 2012, but I actually graduate in August 2012.

Since I’m graduating and more heavily and realistically realizing the burden of debt I have accumulated (in addition to more intimately knowing the value of a dollar earned), I have decided to forego my private hosting plan with Surpasshosting that I’ve had for many years since high school. I will retain my domain name, but I will have it redirect to my new blog hosted at WordPress.com.

I’m excited about the new change! In a few ways, it takes off a burden. I’m relinquishing the rotating banner at the top of the page, but I never added another photo to that rotation since high school. Moreover, I hardly find myself with enough time to open up Photoshop (or to even learn it, for that matter–my heart is still with Paintshop Pro). I also relinquish total theme customization, but that is something I can live with. I feel as if I’m migrating even more to a more minimalistic web presence in terms of thematic and aesthetic; my current WordPress theme services this adequately.

Graduation approaches! I sat for the MCAT a few days ago, and now I begin (albeit very lately) the application process to medical schools. I have a list of 14 MD schools and a handful of DO schools that I’d love to attend.

Hopefully I will have more time to write and share my thoughts in the coming year. I won’t be in school, but I will be working, balling (so hard), and volunteering my life to do justice.

Though I never did intend this blog to be primarily focused on my track toward a medical degree (I do, however, have a category of posts dedicated to the subject, but it is rarely updated), I figured it would be nice, firstly, for me to see what I’ve done so far and how much I have to go, and, secondly, for my readers to see as well.

I am entering my junior year of university and I have finished all of my pre-med prerequisites save for biology lab. I took calculus my first summer at a community college, and, note-to-self, I have yet to ask them to transfer the credits to my university. I plan to take biology lab in the fall of my senior year, and will finish off my major in theology these last four semesters. I would love to take up a second major in anthropology or sociology or a minor in film, but I believe I would be too late in starting on either major, and the classes that my university offer in film do not entirely entice me. Right now, my senior year will be very laid back, and I hope that I do not regret that; it’s a pleasure to do as you please, but it’s a bind to waste away playing Modern Warfare.

I have somewhat abruptly stopped volunteering at the hospital that I have been helping out at for the last year. It is mundane and clerical work, so I naturally have digressed. I have been intent on calling a free Christian clinic in the Milwaukee area to inquire about a volunteer post there. I would love to be in the company of a Christian doctor (even more, a bonafide Christian biologist!), and to experience medicine through that lens. I continue to be a part of Big Brothers Big Sisters, and each of my Littles from the past two years has left the school that I am posted at. This is a sad testament to the schools and parents in inner cities. Both of my Littles were premium children: Very well-behaved, and very courteous. If all of the “good” children keep leaving these inner city schools, of course the “bad” children will take over. Following that, the “good” teachers will go to where all the “good” children are. My experience with BBBS has allowed me a peek into the social constructs of inner city America. I’m certain that experience will be invaluable in the future.

I continue to be a part of the university orchestra, and I see no reason why I will ever put my cello down. She’s been with me since the 5th grade, and she’ll be with me until the joints in my arm and fingers tire. At that point, I’ll lovingly hand her down to a grandchild and share with him or her the legacy of my cello and of cellos and cellists that have passed. My cello, Rory, will outlive me, and I think that’s the beautiful thing about classical stringed instruments. They appreciate in value over time. My affection for the cello is also the origin of my affection for art. A great part of my pursuit of a medical degree is based on my perception of medicine as an art. I think I am an artist applying to be a doctor because I am definitely not a scientist applying to be one.

I have only shadowed my primary care physician once — and he is the only doctor I’ve shadowed. He expressed an interest in having me back, but for whatever reason I never contacted him this past summer. I plan to contact him again so I can more fully experience the workings of a PCP in a clinic. I’ve also been able to network to contact other physicians through friends. There is an oncologist and surgeon — both Christians — that I would love to shadow. I must sound neurotic or obsessive for wanting to shadow a Christian doctor, but you must understand: I have never been in the company of a Christian scientist (to my knowledge) since I’ve attended university. I think non-Christian biologists are the most frightening.

I am scheduled to take the MCAT in early September. My plan was to study the entire summer, but that did not happen; it is very different to study during the summer than it is during school. I’m hoping to finish up my biology review before the weekend, and then devoting the interim until the test to chemistry and organic chemistry. I will not review physics because it will be futile. I did not understand it in lecture, and I surely won’t understand it on my own; I hope that I can make up for my physics deficiency with my performance in chemistry. I hope I don’t have to take the test again.

I’m planning to take a year off before I apply to any schools. By year off, I mean I’ll apply the next cycle after I graduate. Although, maybe waiting for the second cycle after graduation could be a possibility, but only if I have secured a job in the medical field. With the extra time, I hope to work fulltime to pay off what I can of my undergraduate debts, continue to shadow doctors and gain clinical experience, hopefully obtain an internship in Bioethics with the local medical college, participate in a missions trip that focuses on teaching English in Asian countries (hopefully I will be able to go to Laos, my homeland!), and hopefully participate in a cost-effective archaeological dig somehow related to theology and preferably somewhere in the middle east. I originally planned on applying as a traditional applicant, but there are a few things I’d like to experience before I apply to schools. I would highly recommend putting off medical school if there are things you want to do in life yet. If you truly want to become a doctor, the chance will always be there. The chance to be 22, however, will only come once.

I think it will be hardest for me to receive a strong recommendation from a professor in the sciences. I wasn’t that fantastic of a student in my prerequisite courses (AB/B average, BC/C in physics), and I only attended office hours sparingly. I don’t have that strong of a relationship with my science professors, but I’ve identified two that I think might be willing to write a letter for me. I’ve yet to approach them. I do, however, feel very confident about receiving letters from faculty and professionals outside of academic science. This only strengthens the maxim that I am truly a nonscience premed. There’s scarcely a trace of hard science in my blood; I process and manipulate the discipline, but I don’t breathe it (though I did love organic chemistry and enjoyed the depth of biochemistry).

Before I graduate, I’d like to participate in some type of research in theology. It will be the last chance I have to participate in academic theology, and I don’t want it to slip by. I have a genuine love for the subject, and I’d like to be able to have some type of material to showcase my love. Perhaps my thesis will suffice, but I want more than a thesis. I want to integrate theology and medicine at some level. I’m very interested in the intersection of naturalism and theology. I often wonder whether we perceive God more supernaturally than we ought to, that God is more natural than we consider. One point of interest is worship and prayer: what happens anatomically and biologically when a Christian enters worship or prayer? What would those results mean theologically? It would ultimately add to the study of naturalism and spirituality, and I would be a very happy camper if I could add to that.

At this point, I feel that I am honestly only doing medically related things to gain a better understanding of what I am hoping to pursue, and also to put them on my application. My heart is elsewhere, but that isn’t to say that I don’t want to do anything medically related. Rather, I think I am building a résumé that displays what I believe a doctor is — that a doctor isn’t science through-and-through. I am a truly a nonscience premed.

I started volunteering at the teaching-hospital in Milwaukee; it’s affiliated with the Medical College of Wisconsin. ((As of now, MCW is my second ranked school.)) I started off in the Emergency Department, but my first day there was horrible. I felt useless and inconvenient. So I requested to be transferred, and a week later I was in the Medical Intensive Care Unit, operating the front desk, allowing visitors to see their loved ones. What follows are two entries from the past two weeks:

9/15/09

“Today is different from last week, and what I am finding most interesting is the change from last week to today. I recognize a patient’s name from last week, but there are certainly new ones too. They are gathered in the front rooms, and the best part is that the doctors(/students?) are making their rounds. It’s fascinating: Their collaboration, what they are working toward, and what they know being put into practice. It’s something I would love to be part of.”

9/22/09

“Today, before I started my shift, I was informed that two patients had died. I remember the nurse passing the news to me in a playful way: “I think they died just now — just when you came in. Geez. What kind of dark cloud did you bring with you?” As an uninterested party, I felt no emotion, though I did have the very subtlest inclination that as vile as the nurse’s approach to the death of those patients was, it was appropriate.

“To meet the other end of the spectrum, one of the deceased’s spouse came in to sign autopsy papers. Her eyes were lightly swollen, and in her empty arms she caressed a box of kleenex — though it was uncomfortably apparent that she yearned to hold something, someone else. She was followed in by who I assumed were the daughter and son-in-law. Her entrance into the MICU was indicative of a strong woman, and when she approached me, I was eager to deflect the responsibilty of the situation.

“No one wants to confront death, but when we do, I understand why medical practitioners approach it the way they do.”

Being in a hospital setting is so surreal. I don’t know how else to describe it. Sitting in the front of the MICU and seeing the people around is just too real. It must sound stupid, but I can’t believe I’m looking at nurses, patients, families, and doctors. They are there for a reason — a reason that I hope I can soon verbalize, because I feel as though I’ve discovered it. It’s unbelievable: Two patients died, everyday doctors and students are discussing what next to do for a patient. It’s no longer me reading forums, books, and blogs about medical experience. I’m front row and center, intently and curiously watching as the story matures.

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of medical books, blogs, and articles. The past two months have unlocked vaults containing shelves and rows of valuable insight into the profession I aim to pursue. Amidst the texts’ perspectives, I’ve singled out a specialty I might be interested in. Among two others at this point, I’m intrigued by primary care physicians, our family doctors.

Theirs is a noble role on the front lines of health care. You’d never know, though. In war, we readily recognize Marines, but we require a reminder to recognize that behind every Marine, there are a number of military personnel enabling and supporting him or her. In health care, we readily recognize the neurosurgeons and oncologists, but a reminder isn’t enough to push us to recognize the family physician. The medical practitioner totem pole, from what I gather, has carved family physicians near the bottom. That’s hardly the place for these Marines to be.

Obama has recently presented a new health care plan. I’ve no idea what I think of it since I am still trying to understand how health care works. ((Kaiser.edu is a sight that might help. One of the data the website cites is that most Americans don’t understand health care.)) What I do know, from what I’ve been reading, is that if Obama wants this universal health care, someone has to remedy the stigma that primary care physicians have been gradually scarred. Recruitment into these ranks has been decreasing, and given the lifestyle and compensation of the specialty, it appears that unless an intervention and reformation is applied, primary care physicians will soon become a sight to see. “You saw your doctor yesterday? I’m still hoping he’s received my call.”

I might want to be a primary care physician. I don’t want primary care physicians to enter the profession without ample means to reduce the weight in their bag of scholarly debt; without deserved respect from their peers and the public; without the mind of a businessman, but instead of a healer and preventer who doesn’t have to worry about whether he will be paid this hour with these — and not this — patients. Medicine — our health — is not a business, and like so many things in America, somehow it’s managed to become one.

I haven’t showered, I’m listening to Haydn’s Cello Concerto in C Major Movement No. 1, and I haven’t done anything productive prior to 12 hours ago. This Friday I’ll go and see if the sheet music for the Haydn is in stock. If it isn’t, I’ll have to order online.

Production has been at a consistent nill ever since the semester let out. I even think I’ve begun to put on the fat — most noticeably in my face. That can’t be good; I’ve deduced it is because I have the worst sleeping and diet pattern. Usually, I have been eating only TWO meals daily, and I sleep regularly from 3 AM until 11 AM.

Last night was different in regard to when I went to sleep (which was around 4 AM). I had inflicted a self-induced knockout around 9 PM, but then woke up with a full bladder around 1 AM. I proceeded to relieve my precious bladder (of which I could, with much detail, describe the biological process of urination, thanks to biology 001), and then hopped on the laptop. For the life of me, I can’t recall how I started researching what I’m about to exposit on.

If my life is a goal keeper, and my life-to-be is a soccer ball, the soccer ball has bended en route to the net. It’s another curve ball. Prior to now, I hadn’t had the largest inclination to conduct research. Now, however, I’ve gathered an incredible zeal for research with anything pertaining to the human mind. Neuroscience, neurobiology, biopsychology, neurobiological behaviour — I want to eat it!

The human mind has been a topic of intrigue for me. The genesis of this interest, from what I can remember, was birthed in a PBS documentary titled, “The Question of God”. It pitted Sigmund Freud against C.S. Lewis in an engaging discourse on their approach to God.

This is getting beyond the point. Let me keep it simple: I’ve discovered a hidden interest of mine, and I want to pursue it. However, I am having trouble reconciling this new passion with my old passion of practicing clincial medicine. ((I don’t mean old in the sense that it is discarded, but old in the sense that it came before.)) Very rarely, if ever, are there individuals who significantly practice in both medical disciplines. On more of a planning note, I am considering pursuing an MD/PhD degree — from Yale, of course. This statement carries a lot of weight. Should I pursue such a degree, I will be adding more years onto the normal 8+ years of schooling for MD hopefuls. Additionally, I will be putting myself into a position where I will essentially be researching for 3+ years. If I end up discovering that I loathe research, those three years could be some of the worst years I will ever experience.

I am jumping a little ahead of myself, though. I haven’t even conducted any laboratory research yet! Although the content of the research is enormously appealing, I’m skeptical as to whether that will yield a passion for research. I’m sure there is a strong correlation between passion for a subject, and the passion to discover/learn about it through research methods, but I will discover that once I step into a lab.

As of now, it’s definitely an appealing course of action, but I still have next semester. I’ll be taking General Psychology, and then perhaps applying to conduct some research in psychology. There is also the equally enticing opportunity of working in the biological department’s labs. I can say, though, that I am unequivocally excited to conduct research — something I have never been overly excited in doing for the last 18 years.

My first semester of university education at Marquette University ended around 8:30 AM on December’s second Thursday, the 11th, in the year 2008. In pursuit of a career in medicine, I know it is of crucial importance that I maintain exceptional grades. Beginning college, I set out the goal of obtaining a 4.0 GPA. Just one semester into my higher education, that goal has been botched.

But I’m not losing sight of it. I’m going to continue to work as if I can obtain a 4.0; that’s how I can extract the best from me. That’s what starting quarterbacks in the NFL do. Donovan McNabb, after being benched during a game in favor of a 2nd year player, said this about his status for starting the next week: “I definitely hope so. But that’s not up to me. I will prepare as if I am going to be the starter and do what I can to help the team.” Donovan, even though his initial goal to start was tarnished, didn’t let some blemishes set him back. He kept preparing and working as if his goal was still achievable. That’s how you maintain excellence. That’s how you extract perfection.

I haven’t been perfect — in any sense, even a modified sense! — this semester. It’s quite humbling to be receiving a B in chemistry, and coming to terms with exams that average around 80 percent. ((I felt I was so prepared for chemistry too! A year of AP Chemistry along with a year or organic and a year of general chemistry, I thought that would have been sufficient to prepare me for the chemistry I faced in college. I think a part of my shortcoming was my conceitedness; I saw preparing for chemistry as something “extra” I could do. What a shame.)) For the most part, though, I think I did fine my first semester in college. Although not exclusively academically speaking, the past months have been an exceedingly positive experience.

For a first semester, a basis if you will, I think my jettison towards medical school has an adequate foundation. With the grades I’ve received, my just-recent self analysis, and a better understanding on how I learn and study, I think I can increase my efficiency next semester ten-fold.

One of the best teachers I’ve ever had was in 7th grade science class. His name was Mr. Charpentier, and even at the ripe age of whatever age a 7th grader is, I could comprehend the wisdom that spewed from his mouth. He was a very inspirational man, and emitted radiance in his work. Teachers are so important in our society. Having experienced Mr. Charpentier only adds to the hope that I have in all teachers and their molding of our youth.

There is one quote that Mr. Charpentier shared with us that was exceptionally encouraging. I believe it is somewhat along the lines of a cliche, but still possesses timeless truth.

Good, better, best.

Never, never rest.

Until your good is better, and your better is your best.

Mmm. Talk about fuel for your soul.

I often think about my future when it’s late — like 1:00 A.M. late. Usually I put myself in the hot seat of a medical school admissions interview. I imagine them asking me questions like, “Why do you want to become a doctor,” “Can you share with us an example of a time when you were a leader,” “If you become a doctor, what do you want to do with your profession,” and “What would you do if medicine doesn’t work out for you?”

That last question bothers me. For nearly all my life I’ve been passively positive that I want to pursue a career in medicine, and for the past 3-4 years I’ve been aggressively positive. Yet I still query my future: What if medicine doesn’t work out? What would I do then?

The past few days, I think I may have come up with a solution. If medicine doesn’t work out, I’ll pursue a career with my cello. It’s not so much as a dreaded backup plan either. If I didn’t want to become a medical practictioner as bad as I want to, I wouldn’t hesitate a quarter rest to pack my bag (it would only be one bag) and cello and move into New York City. It’s a proverb for me that I work a work that I love, and I love my cello and the music we make. It’s just that I love the art of medicine more.

There’s one thing keeping me from pursuing a career as a cellist. It’s not my “lack of talent”, ((I don’t necessarily believe there is such thing as talent. Some people may be initially more gifted, but the best become the best through practice.)) but rather the line between hobby and profession; how exactly does one determine what is hobby and what is profession? I see my cello as a hobby — not something I could do for a living. Why I view things this way is beyond me. It’s just a gut feeling, and I’m running with it. Trusting our gut feelings is underrated.

Sometimes I wish I could drop everything — 3/4 of my high school preparation and countless late nights — and run away with my cello. What a love story. I love my cello very much, and I love my pursuit of medicine. I’m sure I’ll love medicine. The French say je ne sais quoi when they speak of something that they can’t quite describe. That is exactly how I would define my love for medicine in light of my love for the cello. I don’t know what. But I’m going to keep running with this medicine thing.