A belated welcome!

A warm welcome to my new OHSU student colleagues! It is hard to believe that the fall term started over a month ago. The new student orientation is over and midterms are upon us.

I wanted to take a few minutes and share some thoughts with my fellow mid-career adult students. First, take a minute to congratulate yourself on your decision to further your education. Few people who are mid-career return to further their education, or perhaps initiate a career change. Even further complete their goals. The commitment of the faculty here at OHSU is to help you succeed. You will be one of those who make it!

To accomplish this you will need the support of your family and friends though not all your friends will be up for the challenge. Stay with the friends who support your choice; they will help you succeed.

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T-minus 2000 hours

Prior to PA school, I primarily worked as a pathology technician performing gross dissections (in the macroscopic sense, but often in the literal sense too) of human tissue in Anatomic Pathology. I could slice my way through gallbladders like it was nobody’s business, releasing that sludgy green-brown material known as bile that lets french fries, cheese and everything sacred exist in my diet. I could describe every minute detail of a perforated appendix on my pathology reports, forming a word-picture vivid enough that my supervising pathologist would rarely have to re-examine my work. I was GOOD at my job – and then I came to PA school.

OHSU’s 2000-hour direct patient care requirement, the equivalent of 12 months of full-time work, was daunting to a lab rat like me. I felt like I was constantly counting down from 2000 to satisfy the pre-req. During this summer quarter, most members of our class awkwardly clutched oto-/naso-/opthalmoscopes because very few of us had ever used the equipment before. Where I first felt a divide with my lab background was when we learned how to take a history of present illness. My classmates who were EMTs, paramedics, MAs, ER scribes and CNAs seemed to have the medical interview roll off of the tips of their tongues. By far, exploring the seven dimensions of an HPI has been the most challenging aspect for me as a PA student. In the lab my “patients” were tissue and had I started talking to them, it would’ve been a clear sign that I had enough formalin exposure for the day.

Jump ahead to fall quarter and our clinical medicine coursework is now in full swing.

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Dream big, Little One

StudentSpeak is pleased to publish this guest post by Jessica Petrovich, MS2. Jess participated in one of OHSU’s Science Education programs helping inspire and support underrepresented students in the sciences.

Dream Big, Little One. It is scrawled in my mother’s handwriting on a scrap of paper. Underneath it she taped a small photo of me as a toddler, staring hopefully at some unidentifiable object in the background. Well aware of the risk of exposing my inner cheese-ball, I have to admit that this scrap of paper has been on my fridge for the last six years. Sometimes, when I feel myself melting into a puddle of hopelessness and self-doubt twelve hours before a big exam (that’s kinda my thing), I stare at it until I am convinced that everything will be okay. Everything will be okay. Everything will be okay.

Truthfully, I have experienced nothing but support and enthusiasm throughout my education. There are plenty of kids who are not as fortunate. In my “gap years” between college and medical school, I taught elementary school for AmeriCorps. Many of my students came from families that were struggling to learn English. Often, when parents were balancing two jobs just to put dinner on the table, academic resources and support were compromised.

It worried me to hear that students as young as six didn’t like science and that “math was stupid and just too hard.” By the first grade, they had already resigned to the idea that they just weren’t cut out for those subjects. I spent the next two years trying to change their minds. Entering medical school last year, I wasn’t sure how I would incorporate my enthusiasm for mentoring kids, but then I found a program called On Track OHSU.

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Family ties

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

Questionably competent second-year medical student, 24, seeks slightly less competent and moderately impressionable first-year.

I don’t have any real little siblings. My mom wouldn’t have one for me. And when thinking on that deficit, all I am left with are her empty, feckless excuses. “Your father and I are divorced,” she would say. Well, not good enough, Mother. “Jesse, I’m past reproductive age.” Uggghh, whatever Mom.

I would daydream about it. Teaching a little brother that if he forgets the words to the Blessing of the Candles on the first night of Chanukah, he should just make up new words with a lot of ‘cccchhh’ sounds in them. Or introducing a little sister to The Pixies when she was feeling angsty or to David Foster Wallace books when she was feeling… well, angsty. Or just asking them to stand up for their friends and to not be mean to anyone and to think for themselves and to find the things that they loved and explore them with everything they had. I never got to do any of that.

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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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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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