doc w/ Pen

journalist + medical student + artist

Things change, things stay the same

Note: This post was written 5/29/2010, while I was on a plane on my way to Hawaii. I had no Internet access on the Big Island, so I am just now posting this.

In no time at all, I launch my official pre-med journey.

T-minus 3 months … 

Yes, that “3 months” refers to the beginning of school. Hard to believe that in a short 90 days or so, I’ll be a student again, after a 7-year stint as a grown-up.

So much feels the same, and yet, so much has changed.

I have yet to finalize my course load — so far I’m registered for Chemistry, Biology, Calculus, and a 1-hour “Topics in Medicine” class (it’s a requirement for me). I’m also trying to get into Physics, which my advisor has assured me will be a non-issue. That would put me a 17 hours – a pretty heavy load for someone who hasn’t been a student in nearly a decade. So I’m in the middle of a debate with myself: do I take all of these classes? Take Physics next year instead? But I’ve heard taking Physics with Organic Chemistry (a so-called “weed-out” course I have to take in the 2011-2012 school year) is a nightmare. Then there’s the issue of my wanting to take as many of the “fun” upper-level electives as I can, which means getting the basic pre-requisites out of the way ASAP. *sigh*

This reminds me of when I was preparing to start my freshman year in high school. The debate then was whether to take a 2-hour accelerated science course, or just take the 1-hour basic (in my mind: “dummy”) science course. I remember being at my grandparents’ cabin in Colorado, sleeping on the pull-out bed and obsessing over this dilemma. (In the end, I took the easier class because the harder one just didn’t seem worth it; plus it didn’t fit in my schedule very well. It turned out to be a good decision.)

However, this time around, I am not obsessing. Actually, I am very calm. My approach? Sign up for all the classes, start off the semester, and see how things go. If the classes are too much, I’ll drop one of them before the “drop” date and no one will be the wiser.

In these 15 intervening years, between the ages of 13 and 28, I have learned to have faith in myself, and in my decision-making abilities. I am more flexible. I have learned to handle change. I believe things will work out, and work out well. The thought of the unknown, of uncertainty, does not leave me panic-stricken.

Some things stay the same. Thankfully, other things do change.

Lessons from the student center

Note: This post was written 5/29/2010, while I was on a plane on my way to Hawaii. I had no Internet access on the Big Island, so I am just now posting this.

Large “Red Eye” (coffee plus a shot of espresso), room for cream. That’s my usual order at Descartes Coffee, the coffee stand in the University of Illinois at Chicago Student Center. Just across Wolcott Street from the Medical Sciences Building where the lab is located, the Student Center is a hopping spot at lunchtime for medical students and other UIC staff and faculty. I don’t usually talk to anyone there – other than Eva, who staffs the Descartes stand – I just watch, and listen.

You can tell a lot about a person at UIC by what he or she wears. White coats, for example, inside the lab building suggest a researcher or PhD student. The same coats worn outside the lab usually denote medical students (short coats), residents (medium length coats) or attendings (long coats). A stethoscope around someone’s neck is a dead giveaway — definitely the medical variety.

I visually size up the length of someone’s coat, try to catch what his or her sleeve patch says (“House Staff,” for example, or “Medical Student”). Without drawing attention to myself, I try to lean in to hear what the people at the next table are talking about — an impossible gross anatomy exam? A grueling surgical rotation? A demanding attending?

People often complain over lunch (which, in the Student Center, usually consists of a Subway sandwich), griping about this or that to fellow students or colleagues. But I soak it in. I dream of the day when I will be in those shoes, groaning about that exam, rotation, or attending. I probably won’t think so at the time, but from where I am now, being able to complain about such things seems like a privilege.

OK, maybe that sounds stupid, and Pollyannish. Although really, when it comes down to it, I’m not exactly your sunny optimist type. But when you think about it, just getting into medical school is a long haul. And once I get there — and I will get there — I do not plan to take it for granted.