Kidneys and confidence

StudentSpeak is pleased to share this guest post by Ben Houser, MS3. Ben participated as a mentor in the MIKE program through an elective course open to MS1 and MS2 students.

“One of the students in your group was involved in a fight and was expelled yesterday, so she won’t be able to attend today.”

I was shocked. The young woman they had described had seemed so energetic and without malice, I couldn’t imagine her getting into any trouble at school, least of all anything that would warrant her expulsion.  I thanked the messenger and entered the classroom to meet the remaining members of my group.

I was a mentor for the Multicultural Integrated Kidney Education (MIKE) Program.  MIKE is a program that matches mentors with a group of high school students for a health class centered on kidney education.  The classes utilize small groups and interactive activities to teach this group of at-risk students about the role of the kidney in health, culminating in a health leadership project in which the group attempts to pass on their new-found knowledge to the community in a constructive manner.

The remaining members of my group were seated at the table, and after seeing me they quickly shuffled the bag of Cheetos they had been eating into one of their backpacks, quietly snickering to one another as I sat down.  Choosing to ignore for now this rebellion against the health class in which they were enrolled, I asked them how their week had been.

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Making my net

“Mamaaaa. Heyyy Mamaaa! I need fresh water with ice! HEY MAMAAA! It’s morning time!”

Walking on the beachI glanced at my phone and saw that it was indeed morning time. In fact it was already 6:10 a.m., which meant that I had overslept, though I hardly felt refreshed since I had been up studying until almost 2:00 a.m.

After a few minutes of silence, I heard the soft thudding of feet on the hallway carpet. A moment later, a smiling face surrounded by a halo of wild curly hair appeared at the end of my bed.

“I opened the door all by myself!” my daughter announced, beaming with smug self­-satisfaction.

While this development had some undesirable implications for my privacy, I knew it was another critical step toward independence for her, and perhaps for me as well. Juggling a young toddler’s needs alongside the demands of medical school is no easy task, and I have come to appreciate even the smallest acts of self-sufficiency whenever they appear.

Thinking back to this time a year ago, my daughter and I had just arrived in Portland. She was 14 months old and though she could walk and talk, she was still a baby in most respects: she needed multiple naps a day, she nursed every few hours, she dissolved into tears at the slightest provocation. Returning to school meant that I would no longer be around to cater to her needs 24/7, a fact which filled me with anxiety and guilt at the time. What if she was traumatized by the abrupt separation? What if she hated daycare? What if she loved daycare and didn’t want to come home? What if she liked her caretakers more than me?

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Global voices

StudentSpeak is pleased to share the experiences of summer participants in the Global Health Center’s scholarship programs.

Jenny Kan, MS2

Understanding the Use of Intravenous (IV) Therapy in Zhenjiang City and Its Influence on China’s Public Health

“I am continually amazed by the rapid changes that are taking place in China, as soon as I first arrived. From Shanghai to Kunshan, to Suzhou, to Wuxi, and then to Zhenjiang, I finally reached my destination by train–traveling 280 kilometers maximum per hour, a speed that signifies how fast the country is marching forward. My local mentor Dr. Lu received me warmly with his colleagues from various medical fields. I was then presented with my first tasks in Zhenjiang: to carry out an in-depth survey of IV therapy and to experience the five local ‘3s’. ”

Read Jenny’s full report

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So long, farewell nursing school!

After a truly amazing clinical experience this summer, one that has transformed me from a student into a baby nurse (pending one big exam), I am less than a week away from graduating this program. Not only did I learn so many new physical tasks of nursing and become a thousand times more independent, but I confirmed where my heart truly lies in nursing. I’ve never felt so inspired. I worked with some truly wonderful nurses all summer who have all given me a little something of the nurse I hope to be. I’ve come to know so many children who while trying hard to get well are also busy being happy children who ride bikes in the hallways when they can. I’ve learned that the true doctors and nurses to these kiddos are their parents who take care of them always, and whose hugs, kisses, and dedication are truly the best medicine. It has been a complete privilege to learn to be a nurse here and I’m so sad to leave (even temporarily).


I’m not just saying goodbye to my unit, I’m saying goodbye to the 63 other people in my cohort who have gone on this crazy journey with me. While I’m absolutely sure that I will keep many of these friendships for life, it’s still a little sad to all go our separate ways, some of us moving out-of-state or on to graduate programs. Going through this program was…transformational. We are not the same people we were 15 months ago. We are nurses (or will officially be nurses very soon) and that has become a part of our identities unlike anything we’ve ever done before. I recently read an article about how difficult it is to come home after traveling to other countries around the world. You feel like it has changed who you are and how you see the world, but other people outside of that trip don’t necessarily know that. That’s a little how I feel about nursing school. 

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Meant to be here

When I interviewed at OHSU, the Physician Assistant Program Director repeatedly emphasized how much care is taken during the application process to assemble each incoming class. He spoke about how deliberately each applicant is chosen in order to create a class that works well together and values collaboration instead of competition. The selection process is not random; each member of the incoming PA class is “meant to be here.”

Current PA students that participated in interview day events corroborated and elaborated on what we had been told. They spoke about how close their class was despite the short time they had been together. About how sharing individual strengths and knowledge in an effort to achieve a collective success was the norm, and how supportive everyone was of each other during the inevitable highs and lows that occur in a demanding PA program.

At the time, I was a bit skeptical. How was it possible to bring together over 40 complete strangers and create the chemistry that was being described? Could it be done? How did the admissions committee do it? And, after vying with scores of other students for top grades in college, it was hard to believe that the PA class was not competitive. They truly wanted everyone to succeed and cross the graduation finish line? What was the catch? And yet…even though the first year students had only been in school together for 5 months, they interacted like they had been friends for years.

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Buckets of water and ice

Summer is the funnest, easiest time of year. First, there’s the delightful sun and heat that we miss during the rather wet Oregon fall, winter and early spring that enables us to wear any shoe we wish (within reason) and not risk walking around all day with wet feet. Second, and best of all, you can be in lab all day, everyday and never be interrupted by classes or seminars or journal clubs…it is just you, a bench, and your experiment, the way nature intended. Third, there’s the excitement of all that happens in nerd culture during the summer:

1. Highly anticipated movies like the amazingly inspiring space opera that is Guardians of the Galaxy and its subsequent stellar (see what I did there?) soundtrack.

2. Videos of San Diego Comic-Con panels on a variety of topics from what Buzz Aldrin thinks about the future of NASA and a possible Mars colony to Game of Thrones, and finding out that art imitates life in that Kit Harrington really does not say a whole lot both onscreen and offscreen. Oh, and of course pictures of the cosplayers.

3. The highly debated topic of what the song of the summer really is going to be (spoiler alert, it is not “Come and Get Your Love,” but it should be).

4. The knowledge that shows that air in the winter, like Vikings and Game of Thrones, are filming their next season. EEEK!

5. Book signings at Powell’s which, I admit, is a year-round event. But I got to meet Deborah Harkness and tell her how much I love A Discovery of Witches in July, so I am going to include it on this list (she is definitely one of my spirit animals)!

All these things we know are going to happen and anticipate every year, sometimes more than we (or I) anticipate Christmas or neurosciences. And then there are the things that completely take you by surprise. In my case, that something is the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. I study ALS. More specifically, I study the mechanisms of a loss of crawling behavior in a Drosophila model of ALS. Basically there is a protein in humans called TDP-43 whose loss of function is associated with ALS. Fruit flies have a version of this protein, called TBPH. When you knock-out TBPH in flies, they die as adults and as larvae they do not crawl well at all.

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Vital signs

It’s the fourth day of class, second day of real class (i.e. not orientation) and I’m sitting like an eager puppy in the second row of our Intro to Physical Diagnosis lecture. I have my pens in place, my laptop out, and I’m ready to go. Our professor poses the question, “How many of you took vital signs as part of your previous job duties? A sea of hands stretches to the ceiling.” So she asks, “Perhaps a better question would be, how many of you didn’t take vital signs?” My lonely hand reticently rises a few inches above my shoulder. “Oh shit. What have I gotten myself into?”

You see, I came from the world of human and social services, where we talked about patient advocacy, health equity, social (in)justice and conducted half-hour prevention counseling sessions. I ran a program working to make rapid HIV tests available to anyone who wanted one. My clinical hours racked up by performing HIV tests, delivering diagnoses, collecting samples for STD screens and drawing blood for syphilis screens.

But vital signs?! I got into PA school without ever taking someone’s blood pressure? I felt like a fool.

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Public health in Palau

StudentSpeak is pleased to share this guest post from M.P.H. candidate, Holly Lee, B.S.N., R.N. Holly is working abroad this summer in the Republic of Palau thanks in part to a summer travel scholarship and the OHSU Global Health Center.

Holly (left) with her friend and focus group colleague, Rus Kotaro (right).

My summer has been amazing! I am about halfway through an internship with the Ministry of Health in the Republic of Palau. Palau is a country made up of about 300 islands located north of Papua New Guinea, southeast of the Philippines and south of Guam. The main island is the state of Koror where I have been living and working.

I am working with Dr. Haley Cash, an epidemiologist at the Health Policy, Research, and Development office. I have been putting together a qualitative research project studying perceptions of pre-teens, teens and parents on underage drinking. There are high rates of binge drinking on the islands by both adults and teens. According to the Tobacco and Alcohol Secretariat of the Pacific Community, alcohol is considered the leading risk factor for disease burden in the Western Pacific, where Palau is located. The focus groups will provide insight into why Palauans think drinking rates are so high and explore their ideas for solutions.

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Clinical year begins

Today I completed my first clinical rotation.  What a challenging, humbling and incredibly fun experience.

Five weeks ago, I was assigned to a pediatric clinic in a small town in eastern Oregon.  Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I was apprehensive about working with children – I have none of my own, and I haven’t spent much time around kids in the past (especially babies). Our pediatric unit in class was months ago, and I had long since forgotten the immunization schedule.  Not being a native Oregonian, I had never heard of the town of Ontario, and I didn’t know anything about the community. The thermometer read 103 in my car as I traversed the state, brushing up on my peds knowledge with podcasts and anticipating a new adventure.

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Things I like about being a graduate student (yes, really!)

StudentSpeak is pleased to share this guest post from Kelly Chacón, a fifth year Ph.D. student and president of the OHSU Graduate Student Organization.

Venting about what stinks about graduate school can be a really nice way to commiserate with my fellow graduate students – especially over a whiskey. Whether we talk about how hard it is to obtain an email reply from our advisors (or the double-edged sword that is their cryptic two-word response), or about how we are still sometimes treated like first-year undergrads while in our thirties, it can be really cathartic to share what makes grad school tough. And I don’t think we should ever stop sharing those things, whether face-to-face, or on our blogs. It’s real talk!

But on one sunny day a few weeks ago, when my experiments were going O.K., my caffeine levels had reached that perfect zone and my boss had given me some rare praise…I decided to consider what I like about grad school at OHSU. Because, actually? It’s a pretty good gig, and I think I sometimes forget that.

First off, I often forget the significance of the fact that I get paid to get my doctorate. Sometimes it’s important for me to let that sink in.

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Ever wondered what life is like as a student at OHSU? What does it take to become a researcher? Just how gross is gross anatomy? Welcome to the blog that answers these – and many other – questions. It’s students writing first-hand about their commitment to careers in science and health care. It’s honest about the challenges as well as the joys. It’s not always pretty. But it is our story. Thank you for sharing it with us. And please, let us know what you think.

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