One down, seven to go

The leaves are turning, the clouds are rolling in, Portland is once again being spritzed like a grocery store vegetable, and the cohort of 2016 has finished their first quarter of PA school!

Reflecting on my first quarter, it has been both exciting and challenging. I began not knowing what to expect. That first morning in the Collaborative Life Sciences Building, I met an incredible group of people: faculty, staff and students. One of the things that struck me right away was how diverse, interesting, and professionally well prepared my classmates were. Quickly we have become a family where each person is valued and brings something unique to the group. As graduate education is both rewarding and incredibly rigorous, the fact that OHSU fosters a non-competitive, collaborative environment was one of the many factors that made it my first program of choice. I feel very fortunate to progress on this journey with a group of people who support one another and to be able to work with incredibly knowledgeable faculty and staff who are 100% invested in our success.

The past quarter has had several highlights. I am astounded at the amount I have learned in such a short time! For example, in the past two months, I have learned how to perform a head to toe physical examination. Next quarter, I look forward to putting these skills to use when I begin my clinical mentorship with a PA practicing in family medicine. Further, last week the first year PA students attended an event called Grand Rounds where second clinical-year students presented a patient case to their peers and faculty. I was happy to realize that after only two whirlwind months, I was not only able to understand the content of their presentation but think clinically through the questions they presented. They did great!

The most exciting experience of the quarter without a doubt was the OSCE (Objective Structured Clinical Examination) that my class participated in right before the end of summer term.

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Little Big Sib

StudentSpeak is pleased to share this guest post by Julia Armendariz, MS2. Julia participated in OHSU’s student-led peer mentoring program for first-year and second-year students.

Medical school is exhausting. I doubt that is a shocker to anyone. There were times over the past year I wondered if it was actually survivable. When I have been asked to do something hard, I have looked to other people who went through it before me and had the good fortune to find great peer mentors throughout my education.

Here at OHSU, two med students from the class ahead of me took a special interest in helping me out. One of them was my Big Sib, Kim, and the other a friend-of-a-friend, Curtis. Over the course of the year I received encouraging notes in my mailbox, treats, e-mails with resources, study guides, textbooks, advice about picking a research project, even connection with my current PI and help with my research. I always knew if I had a question, or couldn’t figure something out on my own, I had someone to ask. Just knowing I had people to fall back on was comforting.

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It’s a seller’s market here in Portland

I’m sure I’m not the only student who was affected by the absolutely insane real estate market here in Portland. Right after I received my acceptance to OHSU, being the overachiever I am, I started looking for apartments in the South Waterfront. In Eugene, finding an apartment wasn’t too hard, probably because everyone who lived near campus was a student who moved out in July and moved in in September. Unfortunately, this isn’t the same for Portland, where people actually live here for an extended period of time. The market was cutthroat to say the least. I remember asking repeatedly for time off work to make the boring two hour drive from Eugene in order to stumble into just one more apartment viewing. On top of that, viewing the apartments was one disappointment after another.

Running primarily off Craigslist, I saw apartments ranging from living above someone’s detached garage to gorgeous 1940’s spacious duplexes where the landlord only accepted the rent/deposit in all cash. I had been lured with the phrase “you’re the perfect candidate for this apartment, we would love to move you to the top of the list” only to get a call an hour later saying that someone else was quicker. I had been strung along for months with the hopes of an apartment in a renovated 1910 hotel, but I couldn’t sign a lease because my PDF application was too hard to read, even though it was typed. I had driven up for an open house, stepping in the door only to see some other person talking with the landlord saying “I’ll be right back with the deposit check.”

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Top 4 tips for being the child of a medical student

The following is a post written by an anonymous guest author as a companion piece to the AMA article “Top 10 Tips for Living with a Medical Student.”

1. Keep track of their schedule. You are a source of endless joy and inspiration for your parent, therefore it’s critical that you know when their big exams are so you can give them a Dr. Toddlerboost the night before. Little things like fighting bedtime and then waking up screaming every couple hours because your socks are the wrong color or there’s a wrinkle in your blanket lets them know how important they are to you and helps them maintain perspective for their test.

2. Support a healthy study environment. Between learning doctor stuff and cutting your sandwiches into whimsical crust-free shapes, your parent may not have enough time to keep their desk tidy. You can help them declutter by pulling all of those messy papers, books and pens onto the floor. Your parent may seem mad, but deep down they’re overcome with gratitude for your thoughtfulness.

3. Hone their triage skills. Knowing how to prioritize urgent tasks and allocate resources in high-pressure situations is a critical skill for a physician, and one that most student doctors aren’t able to develop until they are residents. Thankfully, you can provide at-home simulation sessions to give your parent a head start. Below I have compiled a list of potential components for these sessions. Simply choose any 3 and then execute them in rapid succession:

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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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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