doc w/ Pen

journalist + medical student + artist

Tag: cornell

Good hospital food?

On Tuesday, I was scrolling through Yelp listings, looking for a place to dine that was located near my apartment on New York’s Upper East Side (UES). I saw the standard fare, as expected — Italian, Indian, Japanese, Thai, and so on. And then I saw this:

I did a double take. I expect Yelp to be comprehensive, but Memorial Sloan Cancer Center’s hospital cafeteria? I wasn’t expecting that.

I’d actually just been to this cafeteria the day before, the morning I started a four-week rotation on colorectal surgery. (This is the second four-week block of my eight-week surgery rotation.) I didn’t buy anything at the cafeteria, just peeked in. But after reading some of the reviews, I have high hopes. As usual, there were complaints. But there was a positive theme to the reviews, as evidence by this pointed comment:

It really is the best when it comes to hospital cafeteria food. Crab cakes, paninis, chicken pot pies, macadamian crusted fish. Enough said.

I’m not sure if the same could be said about the Garden Cafe at Cornell.

The Garden Cafe, for those not familiar with the UES hospital scene, is the cafeteria at New York Presbyterian Hospital. This is the main hospital affiliated with Weill Cornell Medical College, and where I do most of my clinical rotations. I agree wholeheartedly with this reviewer that the food there is nothing to write home about.

Even though it takes extra time and effort in the morning, I usually bring my own lunch — both to save money and because it’s healthier. But one of these days, I’ll have to try the cafeteria food at Memorial Sloan Kettering. See what all the fuss is about.


Surgery, day #1: attitude adjustment

We weren’t wearing the appropriate maroon scrubs when we went to the OR to practice how to scrub in for surgeries. So we had to don the infamous blue “bunny suit.” These disposable, zip-up onesies are only stocked in XL, so most of us looked completely ludicrous. I felt it was important to capture the ridiculosity of the moment. My friend, who had kept her iPhone handy, was kind enough to oblige.

Around the country, the medical school surgery rotation has a reputation for being one of the toughest and most grueling. The hours are long, the breaks are few, and the expectations are high.

So it was with more than a little trepidation that I approached the first day of my surgery clerkship yesterday. But after yesterday, I find myself with a changed attitude. The hours won’t be any shorter, but our day of orientation got me excited about what I’ll be seeing and learning over the next 8 weeks.

Our orientation included the obligatory lecture sessions about clerkship logistics, leadership, grading, safety, all that. But after those things were out of the way, we got to do stuff. Fun stuff.

Our orientation was held in Weill Cornell’s Skills Acquisition and Innovation Laboratory (SAIL for short). It’s a suite of rooms in the hospital designed to help surgeons, surgical residents, and medical students practice their surgical skills. And while as medical students, we obviously won’t be performing the operations, we will be assisting in some ways. Depending on the trust earned with our residents and attendings, we may be asked to do things such as insert the foley catheter (for urine), retract, hold the camera during laparoscopy, suture, and tie knots. Retracting is pretty self-explanatory, but everything else requires some knowledge.

So yesterday, we practiced. We used actual foley catheter kits (the same kind that we will see in the operating room) on both male and female mannequins. Urine passage is obviously pretty different depending on the gender, and getting a tube up there is also a little different. While inserting the foley, we worked to maintain sterile technique to reduce the risk of infection. There were also workshops on knot tying (so many knots to learn!) and suturing (so many ways to suture!). The most high-tech workshop was for laparoscopy, also known as minimally invasive surgery. That’s where they make tiny incisions and insert a camera and other instruments rather than open up the abdomen (or other part of the body) with a long incision. There were several stations to practice our hand-eye coordination. It was a lot like playing a video game. At each station, you looked up at a screen (same as you’d do during a laparoscopic procedure) while holding the camera and/or instruments with your hands. Then you had to manipulate objects with your instruments, passing tiny blocks from one hand to the other, dropping beans into a tiny hole, or untangling rope (to simulate loops of bowel), for example. These stations actually replicate an exam that surgical residents have to pass in order to graduate. After doing a few stations, I have a new respect for this kind of surgery. I did notice improvement after a few go-rounds though, so I see how these practice stations are a huge help to surgeons.

Late afternoon, we headed to the OR for a brief tutorial on scrubbing, gowning, and gloving. Since I completed my ob/gyn rotation, I’d already learned these skills, though it was a good refresher.

At the end of the day, I’d recalibrated my attitude. And I’d formulated my goals for the clerkship. I want to perform well, of course — that goes without saying. That overarching goal encompasses lots of little goals, including studying for the shelf exam, reading up on patients, being a helpful student, working hard on my patient presentations, and so on. But I also want to leave surgery with a better grasp on some of these surgical skills, particularly suturing and knot tying. We were told yesterday that it takes (literally) thousands of hours to really learn how to suture and tie knots. I don’t have thousands of hours to practice. But I also don’t need to perfect my skills to the level of a surgeon. I do, however, want to feel more comfortable doing those things, because they’re useful across the practice of medicine. So I talked at length with the doctor who runs SAIL, which is open 24/7 for us to come in and practice. I’ve now got some sutures, gloves, and other paraphernalia at home to practice with. And he told me to come back in a week or so to show him my progress. He’ll help me if I’m struggling with anything or if I’m doing something incorrectly — both of which are very likely. I know that this kind of hands-on tutoring is invaluable when learning a new skill. I’m so grateful for the help.

Along with being a writer and medical student, I’m also an artist and former pianist. I love using my hands, and know the importance of building muscle memory. So I see this as a fun (and practical) challenge.

I love a good challenge. I’m in medical school, after all.

Weill Cornell Medical College, Class of 2019!

It’s been a busy 12 months, a veritable medical school roller coaster:

  • Applications: 25
  • Interviews: 6
  • Acceptances: 3

But as of last week, it’s finally official. I will be attending Weill Cornell Medical College, class of 2019.

Initially, I received acceptances to University of Illinois at Chicago and University of Colorado School of Medicine, and a wait list offer at Cornell. Initially, I accepted at University of Colorado. On July 3, I got the long-awaited e-mail from Cornell. Did I want to come after all? I didn’t have to think twice. Cornell it is.

The roller coaster ride continues, however. Class of 2019 – that’s 5 years away, if you do the math. Wait, you might be asking – isn’t medical school 4 years long? Yes. Due to my financial circumstances, I am deferring for one year, hoping to matriculate next August (2015). In the meantime, I am trying to resolve my student loan situation. That is, trying to GET a student loan.

More about that soon …

Interview #5: Cornell (MD)

Since early October of 2013, I have had six medical school interviews. I will write a post about each one. Note: a version of this content was originally posted on

Interview #5: Weill Cornell Medical College (2/26/2014)
Status: Accepted (off the wait list)

To my understanding, Cornell chooses its incoming class in March. Which is now. So even though I interviewed very late (the last interview session as a matter of fact), I’m not in a terrible place.

Which is good. Because I very much liked it there.

My interview day was … interesting. And simultaneously wonderful.

I have a (presumed) stress fracture in my foot, and my doctor told me that if I was going to be traveling, I had to be on crutches. This made everything more difficult, as many of you know. Having never been on crutches, I was quickly made aware of this reality. From the airport, to my hotel, to Cornell, I had to ask numerous people (strangers) for help. Being an independent woman, and rather self-sufficient, this was very hard for me. And certainly gave me some empathy for people who deal with a physical disability on a regular basis.

I was blown away by the helpfulness of my fellow interviewees, my interviewers, the Cornell students I met, and especially the admissions staff. From stowing my luggage, to getting a bottle of water, to slowing down while walking, to hailing a taxi, people could not have been more kind.

So there was that. Then there was the interview experience itself.

My tour was led by not one but TWO non-trads. Totally coincidental, but that plus the fact that one of their classmates, an MS1 now, started at age 53, and I am totally impressed with the diversity of age range and life experiences at Cornell. There were opening remarks with one of the deans, lunch with students, and the aforementioned tour, as well as two 30-minute interview sessions. My first session was with an MD. We talked some about my secondary application essays (which included one on my divorce – a touchy subject for some perhaps, but one I am fine discussing). So word to the wise: if you don’t want to talk about it, DON’T write about it. We also talked about a program he is involved in, Music in Medicine, which is a privately funded program aimed at encouraging medical students to stay involved in music (instrumental, vocal, whatever). Given that I have played the piano since I was 8, I was intrigued by that for sure. They also have a writing group (I sort of like writing, as you might have figured out). My second interview was with a 4th year med student who, while in medical school, had managed to publish in peer-reviewed journals, write a book, and then take a year off to work on the Dr. Oz show. His take-home message was that if you want to accomplish something – from research to going abroad to whatever else – Cornell will help you make it happen, or at least put you in touch with the right people.

Another thing I like about the school is that nearly all medical students go abroad for a clinical, either to an established program, or to one of their making. Cornell is also piloting a new 18-month curriculum (as done at NYU, for example) that would allow for more flexibility in clinicals and other activities (such as going abroad). And who can beat subsidized housing in Manhattan, across the street from your classes?