On being a medical student – and a human being

StudentSpeak is pleased to present this guest post by Sophia “Sophie” Davis, MS1. Sophie is a first-year medical student in the OHSU School of Medicine’s YOUR M.D. curriculum. She is also participating in the American Medical Association meeting at OHSU April 13-14 to share innovative ideas on transforming medical education.

For a moment, my attention was drawn away from the patient and towards the exchanges between attending and resident physicians—the transfer of surgical instruments, hushed instructions, and steadying assurances. The hand in mine tightened and pulled my body closer to the operating table. “Please, keep talking to me.” It was the dark vulnerability of fear in her eyes that broke me, dissolved my desire to join the two physicians at the foot of the table.

And so I held her hand—just slightly smaller than mine—and was drawn fully into the realm of the patient. I was absorbed with the task of monitoring every flicker of expression on her face. The moment we would stop talking, her body would tighten. When the procedure was finished, she let go of my hand and thanked me, adding that she could not have faced the experience without my company. What she could not have known was the flood of gratitude that I felt towards her. It is a rare privilege to be welcomed and needed by another person in a moment of vulnerability. The explicit trust and expression of human connection were exceptional gifts.

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Students Teaching Students: Passion, Collaboration, Innovation

“Students Teaching Students: Passion, Collaboration, Innovation” originally appeared on the blog, Wing of Zock.

Larissa Guran wrote last month about our “Leadership, Education, and Structural Competency” course at OHSU, and I would like to add to her thoughts. As a reminder, we developed the course to learn facilitative leadership skills, strengthen our understanding of social determinants of health, and develop and facilitate five small-group sessions about structural competency for the new MS1 curriculum. After a session on implicit bias, we introduced the concept of taking an “Affective Time Out” to reflect on the emotional, mental, and intellectual preconceptions we bring to each patient encounter. As we approach our final MS1 session, I wanted to take my own “time out” of sorts and reflect on this experience.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

Collaborative learning works if it’s authentic and student-driven. For this class, three to four students developed the curriculum for each MS1 session, and we workshopped each session for over two hours as a large group. I learned how best to engage with my peers on sensitive issues; for example, we had a somewhat tense discussion during one workshop after which a classmate provided candid feedback about my communication style and body language.

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“Is this the real Caesar’s Palace?” NAPNAP 2015 Annual Conference Las Vegas

This year I had the privilege to experience the 2015 Annual NAPNAP (National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners) Conference in Las Vegas! This was my first exposure to a professional conference for PNPs. I was lucky to have two of my PNP instructors in attendance so I was not completely lost. As I arrived Tuesday night at Caesars Palace, I was already overwhelmed. I was trying to figure out how I was going to experience everything the conference had to offer as well as study for finals (scheduled the Monday after I returned). My journey started on a high note with an upgrade to a spa suite for one night because the hotel was overbooked. After fully enjoying the suite and getting a good night sleep, I was ready for the conference opening session Wednesday morning.

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Interprofessionalism Outside of the Classroom

StudentSpeak is pleased to welcome this guest post from Kelsey Priest, MPH, MS1 (M.D./Ph.D. candidate). Kelsey is the West Coast Regional Leader for the Institute for Healthcare Improvement Open School.

Interprofessionalism. What does it mean? Why is it important? What does it look like? As health professions students of the twenty-first century, we are learning and exploring the answers to these questions in our newly founded interprofessional education curriculum.

I sought out interprofessional extra-curricular activities prior to starting medical school while I was a first-year public health student at Portland State University (PSU). Upon taking my first course in continual health care improvement, I was inspired because of the power of teams and quality improvement methodology to rapidly improve care at both the individual and population level. This inspiration and interest was also connected to my own interprofessional training ambitions (public health and medicine). Since that time, through leadership opportunities with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) Open School I have worked interprofessionally with exceptional learners and faculty across disciplines, institutions, and a wide variety of experiences and talents. Learning and working together around concepts of quality and population health improvement we have created and contributed to small-scale projects to improve health in our local communities.

One of our recent projects for this academic year is the creation of a large-scale interprofessional learning event for students across the IHI Open School West Coast Region. This conference, the West Coast Regional Conference, is the first of its kind and will host 200 interprofessional local and regional students on April 17-18, 2015.

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Instituting “Affective Time Outs”

StudentSpeak is pleased to present this guest post by Larissa Guran, MPH, MS2. Instituting “Affective Time Outs” originally appeared on the blog, Wing of Zock

This year, Oregon Health & Science University rolled out a new medical school curriculum for incoming first year students. YOUR MD is an innovative program, with a completely new schedule and focus; it is replacing the current curriculum, which is retiring after it serves my classmates and me. This is an exciting time to be a student at OHSU, but one of the drawbacks of this transition year is the disconnect between first- and second-year students. Our school has a strong tradition of previous classes supporting and guiding new medical students through the overwhelming experience of the first year. From our Big/Little Sib program to the Sage Books of wisdom and advice passed down to the next class, we’ve worked hard as a class to stay connected to and supportive of the new students. One way we have done it is through an elective called “Leadership, Education, and Structural Competency.”

Through this class, a group of MS2s including myself are learning about structural competency and how to lead discussions, write lesson plans, and build collaborative learning experiences. After months of training and practice, we are leading several small-group sessions to discuss structural competency. This emerging concept in medical education builds medical student skills in dealing with patients’ social determinants of health. Social determinants (like socioeconomic status, built environment, education, and social support) are often considered a “can of worms” by many medical students. In this class, we learned that contextualizing care relative to these social determinants can significantly improve patient outcomes.

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Med School Parenting Made Easy With This One Simple Trick!

When people learn that I am both a medical student and a single mom, there are a few questions they tend to ask. These include:

“Are you insane?”
“Do you have a live-in nanny?”
“How do you manage to do all that while maintaining such a gorgeous complexion and impressive personal physique?”
“Is your family nearby?”
“How do you study with a toddler around?”

The first four questions are easy enough to answer: 1) Yes,  2) HAHA,  3) …okay maybe I made that one up…  4) No. The fifth one can be a challenge, however, and not only because I’m usually cry-laughing too hard to respond.

So, for everyone who’s curious, I am now prepared to reveal the big secret behind how I study with a 2-year-old around  —  I don’t.

I’m sure there are children in the world who are content to be plopped in front of the television for an hour or two while mom makes path flashcards in the next room. There are probably also children for whom crayons and a cardboard box means a solid 30-90 minutes of independent play, as well as children who can be let loose in the backyard to entertain themselves while mom reads her neuroanatomy textbook on the patio.

My daughter is not one of those children.

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That “Oh Wow” Moment: The PNP Student’s First Intensive



There comes a time in every graduate student’s journey when you realize that you are actually going to be a health care provider. Patients will come to you looking for advice and aid, and you will be making decisions to assist them. For some students that is the first term when they are exposed to health care assessment. For me, it was when I was trying to tie a square knot as I was suturing a banana during my first intensive.

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Why cancer is like the worst employee at your company

Apologies for not blogging in a considerably long time (Even my parents have since stopped bookmarking this page. Sorry, Mom and Dad.). As delayed recompense, I thought I would include an excerpt from a small introductory speech I delivered earlier this week.

I was asked to speak about my research for five minutes to a general audience (Five minutes is nothing. Even the most socially uncomfortable scientist can bloviate about their research for hours on end.).

Instead of presenting my audience with an overwrought description of my work, I wanted to leave them with one compelling idea. Nobody except for me (and maybe my non-page-bookmarking parents, and maybe maybe my thesis committee) really cares about my research—on a deeply mechanistic level, anyway.

But they are interested in cancer. For that brief introduction, I have a responsibility to tell the audience something that they would remember, something that hopefully would change the way they thought about the disease. Grandiose, I know, but some famous person once said something about shooting for the moon and landing on the stars, and the answer is yes.

I’m writing this introduction because I want to show how important it is to consider your audience. Recently, I was fortunate enough to participate in a student lunch with a very prominent immunologist. I asked her about how she communicates her science, and she revealed that, regardless of her audience, she tailors every presentation she gives to be suitable for a group of smart high schoolers.

That was shocking to me. “Wouldn’t you run the risk of unnecessarily explaining things to people familiar with your field?” I asked. “Maybe,” she admitted, but it’s worth the fifteen seconds to explain something unnecessary in order to gain an hour of your presentation being understood by everyone.

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One of the big draws to OHSU for me was the preceptorship program. I was a medical scribe for 2 years previous to medical school, and I love clinical medicine. You meet all kinds of wonderful and interesting people, and although science is somewhat predictable, people are highly variable. So, I was super excited to start my preceptorship and get some patient contact.

My preceptor is a pediatric neurosurgeon. I was initially disappointed, as she does mostly surgeries on the day I have available to work with her, and I was looking forward to talking with patients. That said, I had no previous exposure to the OR, and neurosurgery was well outside my comfort zone, so I knew I would learn a lot. On my first day, I watched brain surgery. Who else gets to do that? I had to reach deep to remember brain anatomy, but fortunately one of her residents was able and willing to explain what I was seeing as she was operating. Our patient was already intubated and anesthetized by the time I arrived, but I got a good look at the multiple layers covering the brain, and the soft, squishy tumor occluding the flow of CSF between brain and spinal cord. When I accompanied her to see our patient’s parents after the surgery, they discussed a few presenting symptoms, including personality changes and cognitive impairment, which helped me to get a fuller view of this patient.

The brain is necessary for our continued survival in both a physical and a more esoteric sense, which is unique among all the organs. That gray matter houses who we were, who we are today, and who we will be tomorrow. As I thought about it later, the exposed brain during surgery not only pulsed with blood and electricity, but also our patient’s life force. My doctor handled the brain gently but confidently, making incremental and patient progress until all visible traces of the tumor were removed. I fervently hope that her work saved our patient’s mind and body both, and gave him/her a future that they would otherwise not have had.

Medical specialties can be loosely divided into more physical and more mental disciplines. Surgeons use their hands to treat, while internists use their minds. I enjoy the puzzle, connecting patient symptoms to physical findings in order to arrive at a diagnosis. I also enjoy learning about individuals and thinking about how to connect a treatment plan to an individual’s goals. Medicine should not be about curing the disease, it should be about helping patients to live their life in the fullest and healthiest possible way.

The Path(ology) Less Traveled

Mr. S.  is a 30-year-old gay male with a 9-year history of depression, a TBI in 2011 from a bike accident, and a recent 7-month history of graduate school presenting today with concerns about his future. He appears otherwise healthy, height-weight proportionate, though slightly tired looking. He reports a lack of energy and thoughts of self-doubt. He denies any suicidal ideation, panic attacks, and insomnia. Upon physical exam, relevant heart sounds show no signs of compassion fatigue but a positive hypertrophic empathy for his patients and peers. Lab results reveal frustration levels are stable and within normal range, but motivational biomarkers are low.

Have you ever written your own SOAP note? What if they looked like the one above, taking into account all the factors that affect our lives? SOAP, by the way, stands for Subjective, Objective, Assessment, and Plan. It is a tool we use in medicine to document clinical interactions with our patients. I need to remember to explain these abbreviations because prior to medicine, I spoke a different acronymic language that could drive people crazy to an obnoxious degree. But I digress…

Let me get to the main point of this article. PA/medical/dental/graduate students are not superhuman people. They are human people doing super things.

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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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