Tag Archives: michigan

Why Medicine?

Recently, a friend considering medicine as a career asked me for my perspective.   I actually had a bit too much fun with this, reflecting back on how I ended up here in this little cubicle with my First Aid and a computer screen taunting me with 2200 practice questions to be studied so that I could jump through the next of many academic hoops in the long progression toward becoming a productive member of society.   Well, I may know a bit less about biostatistics for STEP 1, but the time spent reflecting was valuable to my mental health.  The curse of being a very long-sighted, future-thinking individual is that you’re willing to accept almost any punishment in the short term if it is necessary to achieve your ultimate utopian dream life.  Despite being experts on the subject of delayed gratification, even us med students can get a bit weary of the grind.  So, the chance to be introspective for a bit and recall why all this hard work was supposed to be worth it turned out to be quite refreshing.

The Questions

 How did you know that this was what you wanted to do?

I can’t say I was that person who knew from birth that they wanted to be a Doctor when they grew up.  Nor did I have any one experience or revelation that this is what I wanted to do, despite what my elegant Personal Statement may have implied.  Honestly, I could have seen myself in any number of fields (medicine, engineering, IT, military, aviation, business, consulting, intelligence, game development…you name it) – it came down to Aerospace Engineering vs Medicine in high school, and Medicine won out.  There were many reasons for the ultimate decision, including both the rational (nature of the work, didn’t want to be constrained to a certain geographical location, lifestyle, pay, work/family balance) and personal (I didn’t want to be a cog in a wheel, wanted to directly and unquestionably be doing something good for the world and be helping people, didn’t want to work for a bean-counter, didn’t want to slave for years making a revolutionary trinket that would be obsolete and forgotten a decade later, wanted independence, etc…).  In the end, I wanted a career that I could look back on years down the road and be proud not only of my own accomplishments, but more importantly in what I had done for the world; the fact that I had made a significant and positive difference in the lives of my patients.  Above all else, this is why I chose medicine, and why, no matter how hard the daily struggle, the frustrations of politics, academia and bureaucracy, or the boredom of memorizing minute facts for an exam, I will always be satisfied with my choice.

How many schools did you apply to?

Just MSU CHM.  I fell in love with the school, the collaborative (vs competitive) atmosphere and our magnificent, $100M new campus in Grand Rapids, MI.  The fact that I wouldn’t have to move was also a plus.  I applied through my undergraduate university’s Early Admissions Program, which meant that I only applied (early) to MSU, took the MCAT early (in May vs July or Aug), and got a decision almost a year early (June after Junior year).  If I hadn’t been accepted, I could have still entered the normal application process without losing any time. I wanted to stay in state for med school – there is little reason to spend double the tuition going to an out of state or private school, unless you are either dead-set on getting into a highly prestigious residency or want to practice Academic Medicine at a prestigious university. Say your life goal is to do a Retina fellowship in Ophthalmology at Johns Hopkins’ Wilmer Eye Institute.  Are you going to get one of those 4 or so spots without being from a top-10 medical school — probably not.  Can you still go into Retina Ophtho – absolutely.  Just do well on STEP 1 and perform well during your 3rd year rotations and your choice of medical school (as long as it is an accredited MD school in the U.S.) is of little significance in what specialty you can attain.

How did you prepare for the MCAT?

I got suckered into taking the Kaplan course.  Fear is a powerful motivator, and the fear that I wasn’t doing everything I could to prepare for a test that would determine my life overcame my reservations (and the protests of my wallet) for taking said prep course.  Hindsight is 20/20, and if I had to do things again, I’d have followed my gut and just used the resources recommended by other students on SDN, made my own plan, and stuck to it.  Actually, this is what I mostly ended up doing anyways, albeit with the inferior Kaplan books, a class taught by a GVSU senior that was more distraction than a help, and $1800 less to my name.  If you’re the type that needs externally-imposed structure and guidance, a prep course may be worth it, but otherwise I’d recommend against it.  Get the best books, take a solid month or so off to study them, do lots of practice tests, and take the real deal when you’re fully ready.  In the end though, it all worked out, so I guess I can’t complain too much.

What kind of things did you do to make yourself look good to med schools?

I checked most of the important boxes for the “good med school applicant”.  In order from most to least important, they would be a good MCAT score, competitive GPA, personality / “fit” for the school based on the impressions made during your interview and your personal statement, service (not necessarily related to medicine) and work experiences in the field (I was Nurse Assistant for a few summers during undergrad), research and/or publications (dissecting pig hearts was actually pretty fun) and other leadership experiences / awards (president of bla bla bla organization, prestigious scholarship of awesomeness, and the ever illustrious Dean’s List) ,etc..  Unlike residencies, which care much more about the first two items (test scores and grades), it is very important to have a “balanced” application for medical school.  All of these items are important.

Is med school impossible?

Haha, probably not the best time to ask this question – I’m currently studying for USMLE STEP 1, our first licensing exam – which makes the MCAT look like a colorful, fun toddler toy in comparison.  We refer to it as the mKitty.  Seriously, though – it’s easy to become overwhelmed with the path ahead.  The best way to tackle med school is to focus on the now.  Take things day by day, break large tasks into smaller tasks, and don’t get caught in the trap of comparing yourself to others and fretting about the little things that don’t matter.  There may be some long days, but in retrospect, time flies by and you really get a sense of accomplishment looking back on how far you’ve come.

Do you get sleep?

lol, yes.  I’m ferociously protective of my sleep.  Actually, I can honestly say I had more late nights studying in undergrad vs med school.  You could cram for organic chemistry.  Cardiology?  Not so much.  With the amount of materiel we are fed, there is little to be gained by an all-nighter.  Even procrastinators like myself figure out real fast that their definition of procrastination must at least be…adjusted a bit.  I feel like I’m cramming for STEP 1, and I’ve been studying for 35 days straight, with several more to go until the big day.  This is as extreme as it gets, as like the MCAT, the impact of your score determines the career options that remain available to you.  That said, I’ve managed to get 7-8 hours of sleep each night, work out an hour each day, find time to eat, and even sneak in the occasional break for a bike ride, movie, or night with friends.  It’s not impossible – you just have to manage your time.

Are you going to specialize?

Well, everyone “specializes” in that you will have at least a 3-year residency after medical school in which you train and become certified in a particular field.  Family Medicine is no less a specialty than Neurosurgery in this respect.  You can then go on and do a Fellowship to sub-specialize in a particular niche within your specialty.  I begin my clinical rotations this summer, and I fully expect that the experiences I’ll have over the next year will have the greatest influence on what I end up going into – regardless of my current leanings.  Really, though, this is one of the coolest parts of medicine – you have so many options from which to choose a field that fits you and your interests / needs.

For those still in undergrad and considering medicine as a career, it is important to learn as much about what’s involved in this decision as you can.  Keep asking questions, shadow some Docs, get involved in pre-professional clubs, and most importantly – have fun!  Don’t waste those blissful undergrad days working yourself too hard just for the sake of it (read – don’t torture yourself with the waste of time and sanity that is analytical chemistry for a meaningless minor, unless you’re actually interested in…titrating colored water and writing lab reports…and stuff).

Civil Air Patrol

“Hastings Mission Base, this is CAP 2026” I said over the FM radio as our Cessna 182 aircraft orbited a patch of farm field in western Michigan, “We have directed Ground Team Alpha to the target of interest; they report it is the tail of an aircraft, registration number November Two Four Five Foxtrot Delta.  Please advise on further orders.”  The section of airplane that lay nearly concealed below us by a thicket of trees and shrubbery marked the successful completion of an hour long search, in which we had used our aircraft’s tracking equipment to hone in on the Emergency Locator Transmitter, or ELT, that was broadcasting from the wreckage below.  We had taken off almost two hours earlier from Hastings airport, a small facility that Civil Air Patrol had commandeered for a weekend of search and rescue exercises to prepare for our upcoming evaluation by the United States Air Force later in the summer.

Hastings, MI (9D4)

Hastings, MI (9D9)

We soon picked up the ELT, and began to fly the search pattern that allowed us to triangulate the point at which the strength of the signal was highest.  After making a number of passes over this unassuming field, I had spotted a glint of metal at its very edge, nestled up against the tree line.  Suspecting we had found our target, the task then switched to directing a team on the ground to inspect it –  and confirm it was something more than a piece of discarded farm equipment.  Not as easily said than done, as we first had to find their van as it sped along the highway below, then – shuffling aviation sectionals and roadmaps in our laps – try to direct them through the series of turns along windy back roads that would allow them to reach that silvery little object we were so fixated on.  It was a moment of true elation when we heard that we had found our “downed plane,” an old aircraft husk generously donated by a CAP member for training purposes and cunningly hid by the organizers of the exercise.  Had this been a real accident, we could have just saved lives.


As a future physician – and recently minted private pilot – Civil Air Patrol was for me the perfect way to combine both of these interests to serve the community in a way unique to what I could do in either of those roles alone.  In addition to the good feelings that come from volunteering with an organization that you know is making a difference in people’s lives, I felt for the first time that I had found a way to both serve the community and use my talents and education to really make a difference.  In the two years since I began volunteering with CAP, our squadron of roughly 30 has been credited with saving the lives of two hikers lost in a remote section of the U.P.’s Keweenaw Peninsula, participating in numerous ELT searches like the one I described, educating the community on topics of both safety and aerospace, and even sending an aircraft to Concord, New Hampshire to participate in the relief effort following Hurricane Sandy.

SAREX Flightline

SAREX Flightline

While our equipment is funded by the USAF, everyone in Civil Air Patrol is a volunteer.  One of the greatest experiences I’ve had as a member has been getting to know others in the community who share a strong desire to share their time and skills to benefit others.  Our squadron here in Grand Rapids is composed of a diverse group – from pilots and doctors to former officers in the military, software engineers, lawyers, emergency services workers and small business owners.  When I first joined CAP, I didn’t know what to expect.  I had hoped to find a community of fellow pilots to learn from and share my interest in aviation, and while I certainly wasn’t disappointed in that respect, what I ended up finding was so much more than that.  This was a group of individuals who, even above their shared interest in flying, shared a passion for their community.  The type that would drop everything – personal lives, work demands and commitments – to respond to a natural disaster on the other side of the country in only a few hours’ notice on a Sunday morning.  Civil Air Patrol may not be an organization many have heard of – I hadn’t until well into my flight training – but when the call comes at 2:00am that there may be someone lost, an aircraft overdue at its destination, or an ELT signal reported by a passing commercial aircraft, there will be CAP members ready to respond in any part of the country.

Interesting?  There’s probably a squadron near you: http://www.gocivilairpatrol.com/

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Crappy MI Weather

VFR pilots in western Michigan have one more reason to hate Winter than the rest of the populace.

Translation: the weather sucks.

Everyone complains about the fickle weather we experience here in the Midwest, where it’s 50F one day, -2 the next with a foot of snow, and then a warm front comes up from the southwest and turns everything into a brown quagmire of slush, rain and misery.  For pilots however, our spite is divided between the dismal conditions on the ground, which threaten morning commutes on the highway, and the impenetrable wall of low-lying clouds that obscure the skies, keeping our boots – and the soggy socks within – firmly grounded.  It really comes to me as no surprise that MI is leading the nation in average number of cloudy days during winter.

Places in the US with more than three out of four days during winter when cloud covers over three-quarters of the sky – CurrentResults.com

The weather in Muskegon is representative of the entire west coast of Lower Michigan, and looking at the above statistics, it’s not hard to see why I’ve been unable to find a suitable day to take a much needed break from classes and the endless studying they demand to go flying for a couple hours.

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