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Category: ADCOM Q&A

ADCOM Q&A: Why our program?

racial diversityA dear friend of mine is Muslim, and is currently fasting for Ramadan. The last couple of weeks, I have learned so much about this period of fasting, as well as other aspects of Muslim culture and religion. This morning, I was sharing some of my new-found knowledge with my mom. I told her I was so thankful to have this wonderful friend, and to be exposed to another culture. “I only wish I had a more diverse group of friends!” I told her. Then it hit me: my closest friends in the Chicago area, the ones I actually hang out with and see on a regular basis, ARE indeed very diverse. I just don’t think of them that way, if that makes sense – when I see my friends, I see them as people, not as a different skin color or ethnic background. In fact, none of my closest friends here are white. (Not that I’m prejudiced against my own skin color, and I have plenty of white friends, but they’re not the ones I spend the most time with.) One of my best friends here is Indian by ethnicity but South African by geography, another is Latino, another is half black and half Polish, another is Nigerian, and my Muslim friend has roots in Pakistan and India. Talk about a diverse crowd.

I thank my parents for helping me see people as people, not as a skin color or ethnic background. You see, I was raised going to an African-American church in the inner city of Chicago. At this amazing Baptist church, there were two white families who regularly attended. The vast majority of my friends there were black. I went to their houses, and they to mine. Their families came over for dinner. We had picnics together on the lake. This did not at all seem strange to me.

So having a diverse crowd of friends now doesn’t seem odd, either. And clearly, as I was talking with my mom about my current group of friends, I even forgot that we are all “different” by race and ethnicity. Not that I don’t appreciate, or celebrate, our differences. I enjoy learning about my friends’ backgrounds, cultures, languages, etc. I simply don’t see them as “other,” to use the anthropological term. They are people, and I love them for who they are.

Which brings me to my ADCOM Q&A for the day: What drew you to our program?

Of course, my answer to this question would be multifaceted. I would talk about the medical school curriciulum, the laboratory opportunities, and so on. But one thing I also want to be able to say about this question, one thing that I want in a medical school, is that it offers a diverse environment, hopefully both in terms of its student body and the surrounding community.

I don’t want to make it sound like I don’t enjoy the company of people who share my own skin color. As I said, I have close friends who are white as well. And there is diversity to be found within the same skin color, if you think about it – diversity in religious beliefs, sexual orientation, and ancestry, as well as seemingly less important (but actually significant, I think) factors such as music tastes, food preferences, that sort of thing.

My point is that differences, as well as similarities, should be celebrated. I look forward to celebrating all of those things in my future as an MD/PhD student.

Diversity should not divide us; diversity should unite us. I firmly believe this.

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ADCOM Q&A: Reading a Book (for Pleasure?!)

One theme I have noticed in admissions interview questions for medical school is that they want to see that applicants are well rounded, and do things other than study, work in a lab, or volunteer. I.e., that they involve themselves in activities that don’t necessarily strengthen their med school applications. That they know how to decompress and relax. Because these are skills that are so important, especially in such a high-pressure field. So, one of the ADCOM questions I want to answer is this: Discuss a book that you have recently read for pleasure. Why does this book interest you?

And here was my answer, as of a few days ago: Uhhhh … pleasure? I don’t have TIME to read for pleasure!

Thankfully, I do have a little more time now, as I am not in school (and inundated with the requirement of reading textbooks). So I picked up a of book a few days ago, and started reading for “pleasure” again. And it’s felt absolutely wonderful. While I haven’t finished it, I will tell you a little bit about it, and what I have learned thus far. I will also share my reading list, books that I hope to read throughout the next months (when I will still have more time, before the insanity of medical school starts).

What I’m Currently Reading:

book 1Nature’s Robots: A History of Proteins

(Charles Tanford and Jacqueline Reynolds, 2004)

I downloaded this Kindle book (to read on my iPad) on Dec. 25, 2011, according to my Amazon.com account. And honestly, I totally forgot I had it. But I was looking at my Kindle books a few days ago, and there it was! I was thrilled, it was like Christmas (even though I bought it for myself). I started reading it that evening. And was pleasantly surprised. It’s definitely a history book, at least thus far. But there’s a lot of science – especially chemistry and biochemistry – in there, which makes me happy. And the authors detail a lot of the theories, and arguments over theories, that were proposed in the past regarding proteins. I’ve made it through chapter 5, and am quite pleased with how the book is going. Proteins were my first “love” in science, and they continue to fascinate me. They are such an important part of our lives, and anyone who is in the biological sciences needs to have a good understanding of them. Learning about their history, in terms of scientific advances, is a way for me to understand where we have been, as a scientific community, and also to be inspired about where we are going in the future.

My Future Reading List:

Fiction:

book 2The Life All Around Me by Ellen Foster
(Kaye Gibbons, 2011)

One of my favorite authors is Flannery O’Connor, and Kaye Gibbons reminds me of O’Connor (very high praise, in my book – pun intended). This book is a follow-up to the book Ellen Foster, which I read several years ago. After reading that, I flew through several other Gibbons novels. I look forward to reading more about this lonely girl, and the struggles she goes through.

book 3A Wizard of Earthsea
(Ursula Le Guin, 1970)

I was first exposed to Ursula Le Guin when I was a textbook editor, and worked on the American Literature lesson for the hilarious but disturbing short story SQ. “SQ” stands for “sanity quotient,” and the story is a wonderful parody. I highly recommend it, even if you are not a huge short story lover (I am not). I immediately checked out Le Guin’s Earthsea series, and this book is the first of that series. I have read it before, but I want to read it again. And I rarely read books twice, simply because there are so many books I want to sample.
On your Facebook info page, you can list favorite quotations. I have only one listed, and it’s from this book, from the creation story that is entwined throughout. I find it beautiful, poignant, and enigmatic, something to ponder:

Only in silence the word,
only in dark the light,
only in dying life:
bright the hawk’s flight
on the empty sky.

– The Creation of Éa

 Memoirs:

book 4Genetic Rounds: A Doctor’s Encounters in the Field That Revolutionized Medicine
(Robert Marion, 2009)

This book, which I found rather randomly while searching my library’s online catalog, looks fascinating to me. I don’t know much about it, don’t know whether it’s well written, but the topic is definitely something that interests me. I enjoy a good medical memoir for sure, because it gives me a glimpse into the field I will be entering soon. And this one piqued my curiosity in particular because it marries medicine and genetics, which is something I am interested in doing myself in the future.

book 5The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
(Anne Fadiman, 2012)

This was recommended to me by a physician I highly respect as “must read” for any physician, or physician-to-be. According to Amazon, its “explores the clash between a small county hospital in California and a refugee family from Laos over the care of Lia Lee, a Hmong child diagnosed with severe epilepsy. Lia’s parents and her doctors both wanted what was best for Lia, but the lack of understanding between them led to tragedy.” Given my interest in multicultural issues, and health literacy, it seems a poignant book to read right now.

Nonfiction:

book 6The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
(Rebecca Skloot, 2011)

One of my dear friends – who is most definitely not a science person – read this book and told me it was amazing. Here is a portion of the summary posted on Amazon: “Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells—taken without her knowledge—became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. If you could pile all HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale, they’d weigh more than 50 million metric tons—as much as a hundred Empire State Buildings. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions.”
If you read any scientific literature, you are bound to come across HeLa cells as a subject of study. Reading the story of their “birth,” so to speak, and such a controversial and heartbreaking one, seems like a natural thing to do for a budding scientist such as myself.

book 7The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements
(Sam Kean, 2011)

It was my chemistry major friend who recommended this one to me. And as you know from some of my previous posts, chemistry – and the periodic table – have piqued my interest of late. I look forward to reading the history of this seminal scientific tool. This is what the Amazon summary says about the book: “The Periodic Table is a crowning scientific achievement, but it’s also a treasure trove of adventure, betrayal, and obsession. These fascinating tales follow every element on the table as they play out their parts in human history, and in the lives of the (frequently) mad scientists who discovered them. THE DISAPPEARING SPOON masterfully fuses science with the classic lore of invention, investigation, and discovery–from the Big Bang through the end of time.” Sounds pretty cool, eh?

Conclusion:

Clearly, I have plenty to keep myself busy. The wonderful thing is, I’m not afraid to use my local library (or the wonderful library loan system). So reading all of these amazing books won’t cost me anything. In addition, a couple of these books are available through my library’s digital lending center, which will allow me to read them on my iPad. As I read these treasures, I will definitely post about them. So stay tuned …

ADCOM Q&A: Problems in U.S. Health Care

stethoscopeIt is undeniable that we in the United States have access to all kinds of health care procedures, medications, and specialists that, in many other countries, are only a pipe dream. Well, some of us. One of the responsibilities of the future generation of physicians – and politicians – is to help shape a better landscape for health care in which all Americans have access to these resources. That, of course, is easier said than done. But recognizing the problem is the first step toward a solution, so it makes sense that admissions committee members would ask a medical school interviewee something like this: What are three of the greatest challenges facing health care in the United States today?

First of all, that’s not an easy question. I don’t think anyone would argue that our system is systemically broken. So there are quite a few “challenges” I could talk about. But I will talk about three that dovetail into each other. That is, they are all related to money. Of course, pouring money into a broken system is not the solution in and of itself. But there are three money-related issues in health care that I want to talk about here. I don’t have answers, perhaps only more questions. But asking those questions has gotten me researching these topics and learning more about the difficulties facing our health care system, and at least thinking about some possibilities for the future.

So here we go.

1. The lack of comprehensive health insurance for all Americans.

When I want to go to the doctor, I have to pay a small copay, sure. But the bulk of the charge gets paid by my insurance company. For an annual check-up, doing without insurance might not be such a big deal. But what if you have a chronic health problem such as diabetes, or wind up in the hospital for a week or two? You’re looking at some hefty medical bills, medical bills that many, if not most, Americans couldn’t pay out of pocket. So how big of a problem is this? Well, according to the most recent Census Bureau report, the number of uninsured Americans topped 50 million in 2010. That’s 1 in 6 people in the country. Obama’s health reform bill is supposed to help with this, but there is much controversy (and litigation) surrounding that bill. So while the number may have dropped some, it is still high. Too high. And that makes good health care – any health care – unaffordable to too many people.

pill bottle2. The rising cost of prescription drugs. 

Prescription drug costs have increased wildly over the last few years. If you have decent insurance and are taking a round of antibiotics for a mild infection, this is not much of a concern. And there are some drugs available at Target and Wal-Mart for less than $5. But there are a couple of big problems facing people today. One is for those lacking insurance all together (see issue 1 above). For those people, drugs can cost, tens, hundreds, even thousands of dollars, depending on the medication. Clearly, that can make some drugs unaffordable all together. For people who have insurance, the rising cost of prescription drugs is still a concern, even though you might only be paying a fraction of the actual drug cost. Insurance companies are charging more for drug copays, especially for newer, brand-name, “fourth-tier” drugs. If say, you have diabetes, and you’re on several of these pricier drugs (and a fixed income), that adds up to a lot of money, even with insurance. So why have these costs gone up? Well, for one thing, pharmaceutical companies charge a lot for their drugs. According to a study published on Kaiser.edu (a Web site associated with the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation), pharmaceutical manufacturing was the third most profitable industry in the country in 2008 (it was first between 1995 and 2002). Many argue that these high prices are necessary to encourage more research and development of new drugs, though … so there’s a dilemma there. Retail prescription prices have also outpaced inflation between 2000 and 2009, according to the same Kaiser Web site. Another issue is that most of the top-selling prescriptions are those newer, higher-priced drugs. And while hospital and other professional services have increased in cost, the growth rate for prescription drug costs is projected to overtake other categories of services between 2010 and 2019 (again, via Kaiser.edu). You’ve probably heard stories on the news of people having to decide between buying medicine and food. While these situations may not affect someone you know personally, they do happen. And that’s not right.

3. The shortage of primary care physicians.

In the town where my mom grew up (the sleepy, 1,500-person town of Caldwell, Kansas), there was a town dentist – her father – and a town doctor. Everyone in town knew these two practitioners, because everyone in town went to them for their body aches and toothaches. These days, though, it’s becoming less and less common for those little towns to have a resident physician, or even one anywhere nearby. PCPThis also applies to many urban and low-income areas. In fact, Kaiser.edu estimates that 60 million Americans (that’s 1 in 5, folks) lack “adequate access to primary care due to a shortage of primary care physicians in their communities.” So what’s the problem? Again, in part: money. There is a huge income gap between a family physician or internist (we’re talking well under $200,000, says Kaiser) and the mugh higher-paid specialists (try around $400,000 for radiology or cardiology). With the cost of medical school debt sometimes rising to $200,000 or $300,000, that higher salary looks appealing in terms of loan payoff, not to mention lifestyle considerations. Fewer medical school graduates are going into primary care, in part because of these financial issues. Which stem from our payment system. You get big bucks for procedures, pennies for an office visit. And all those phone calls that your family doc makes? He or she doesn’t make a dime for that time.

Our health care system here in the United States is, in some ways, the best in the world. People come from all over to see specialists at places like the Mayo clinic, for example. But the system doesn’t work for everyone. We need to figure out a way to resolve that.