Monthly Archives: December 2013


This evening, I listened to a talk by Dr. Rachel Naomi Reman on “The Art of Living Every Minute of Your Life.”  In her thought-stirring lecture, she spoke about the way stories help us to discover meaning and gain new perspective in life. This stood out to me because writing is a way in which I understand myself and the world around me. Like my post yesterday on perspective, I’ve found that writing helps me to examine and re-form my perceptions and responses. It is as if I’m able to pull the thoughts from my mind and hold them at arm’s length like molten glass so I can shape them into something productive and life-giving.

It’s a way of processing life—these rigid letters aligned in fluid sentences. And the past few months have needed a lot of processing.

Medical school is hard.

I knew this in my mind, but my heart was still caught off guard by some of the struggles I’ve experienced this past quarter. This time of new beginnings is also a time of intense adjustment—a time when so many things come into question.

Even things as deeply engrained as study habits can be upended. I thought I had my study skills honed to a point after four and a half years in undergrad, but I lost my footing at the start of fall quarter and didn’t begin to recover it until around the week before finals.

In the scramble that followed Thanksgiving break, I have finally confirmed that yes, some of the key study strategies used in undergrad do indeed work in medical school. I am a Google Images sleuth, a person of sketches, diagrams, and pictures. Accordingly, I spent a good part of the interlude between Thanksgiving and finals scouring the internet for images and animations, creating cartoons for Developmental Biology, and sketching out structures for Anatomy.

Developmental Biology…I remember the transcription factors best when they become animals such as frogs (FGF), hedgehogs (SHH), confused flies (WNT), and “things that go bump in the night” (BMP).  Thanks to one of our great TA’s for sparking this idea!
Anatomical labyrinths and silly mnemonics

Pictures, animations, and 3D models make me happy.

Coffee also makes me happy.

You could say I’m a caffeinated visual learner.

More Developmental Biology: how to make a heart

I do wish that I had started employing these study strategies sooner, rather than second-guessing my learning style. I had heard that study habits which work well in undergrad are also applicable in medical school, but for some reason, I didn’t act on this knowledge as quickly as I could have.

Perhaps it is because when you become a medical student, your world changes in so many ways. No matter how supportive the environment is (and Stanford is truly everything I could ask for), it happens. Suddenly, you’re trying to digest enormous amounts of information while learning how to relate to others as a budding medical professional. You’re wondering whether it’s normal to feel confused and insecure, whether you’re good enough to be a medical student, and whether your classmates feel the same way you do. You’re hoping that your dissections are neat enough, that your answers sound smart enough, and that your coffee habit stays under control.

In all of this, study habits are lost…and found again. But more importantly, friends are found. Classmates share listening ears and their own struggles, and I realize that I’m not nearly so alone after all. In a slow, beautiful way, the tenuous threads of relationships woven during the first few weeks of medical school begin to coalesce and strengthen. I begin to see them shimmering in the halls, labs, classrooms, and elevators—a support network among my classmates.

We share our stories.

And as we do, we find we’re not alone in this wonderful, crazy, amazing journey into medicine.

Opening the Window

Happy Winter!

It’s hard to believe that I’ve just finished my first full quarter of medical school. Winter break started last weekend, after a rather grueling week of final exams. Finals week began on December 9th with Developmental Biology and culminated on the 12th with a marathon through Anatomy, and I’m happy to say that I passed all my courses! The pass-fail system at Stanford is a beautiful thing.

And so here I am, in front of my laptop once again. After having been away from my blog for so long, I’ve felt a bit sheepish about coming back to it. Throughout the quarter, it has been hovering at the edges of my consciousness, surfacing weekly as one writing idea or another would come to mind. Each time, I would put it aside, waiting for a better moment…

For a day when I was less busy…

For a time when I had some splendid reflection to share…

For an afternoon when I felt more like writing…

Unfortunately, being a busy medical student with perfectionistic tendencies, such a moment has proven to be elusive (if not non-existent). For the past several weeks, I’ve been wondering how to pick up my blogging again with at least some measure of dignity and grace.

Scratch the dignity. I’m diving in.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about perspective. The themes of perspective and motivation surfaced in my Practice of Medicine course this quarter, and more recently, my mom and I have had some great discussions about perspective and life. It’s something that I was thinking about the other day while debating with myself the best way to begin blogging again. I was tempted to put writing off for a few more days (read: an indefinite amount of time) because the inertia of starting again seemed too strong. I felt rather defeated by the whole thing and, frankly, was lacking motivation.

If feelings could be expressed as scents, this one smelled of dust blanketing cloth-bound books on a forgotten shelf in a forgotten attic.

With a conscious shift of perspective, however, the bouquet of scents changes. A window is thrown open, letting a current of clear air fill the attic with the summer scents of citrus and fresh grass. Inhaling deeply, I ask myself, why now?

Why am I thinking about blogging now?

Why am I not waiting until later this week to think about it?

Since I’m thinking about it now, I realize, I must have some motivation to begin writing again soon. And with this change in perspective, I feel a little stronger—a bit more motivated and empowered to start again.

A few more things had to fall into place before I came to the point of writing tonight, but I’m beginning to appreciate more fully the power of perspective. That, and the power of encouragement and support from family and friends.

The dust begins to blow off of the books.