Monthly Archives: April 2014

Leadership Session & My Credo

This evening, my classmates from the summer Leadership in Health Disparities Program and I came together for one of our leadership discussions with Dr. Jane Binger and Mark Gutierrez. It was so wonderful to be with my teammates from this past summer; although I don’t get to see everyone as often now because of our schedules, I treasure our times together. LHDP was, and continues to be, an incredible blessing, and I am so thankful to all the wonderful people who have made this program possible: Mark, Dr. Fernando Mendoza, Dr. Ronald Garcia, and so many others!

We talked tonight about “modeling the way,” which is an important component of leadership as described by James Kouzes and Barry Posner in their book The Leadership Challenge. Over the summer, we had read and talked our way through another book by Kouzes and Posner, The Truth about Leadership, and we’ve now continued to discuss practical aspects of leadership as medical students and future physician-leaders.

Part of leadership involves defining our values, which allows us to recognize what we share with those around us and empowers us to live authentic lives. As part of the preparation for our session, I wrote out a personal credo to outline some of my own personal beliefs and values. This isn’t something that I spent a long time writing and polishing; rather, it is a glimpse into what I value and who I hope to be. I haven’t arrived yet by any means, and I’m still learning how to live out some of these things, but I wanted to share them as a sketch of what I hold in my heart. It’s funny that they came out sounding a bit like an epitaph, but perhaps by looking back from the future, I can live my life moving forward.

She was not afraid to live her life out loud. She did not hide who she truly was, yet she still found common ground with all those around her and listened to their points of view, remembering that all humanity shares the joys and sorrows and struggles of life.

She valued people above things. She remembered to dance in the rain, to share her umbrella, and to run through puddles with children.

She knew her limits but did not fear them, and she always gave her work her best attempt. When she fell down, she never failed to get back up and try again.

She lived for more than just the praise of those around her, and in her own quiet way, she was courageous.

I want to live an authentic life. I think often about how I fit in…although as a general rule, I think a lot. This is a question I imagine a lot of us have, and being a medical student has a way of amplifying this. I feel that we don’t talk about it all that often, though. It makes sense; if someone is wondering how they fit in, they probably won’t mention it to everyone.

Well, if you’ve had that question, you’re not alone. I’ve wondered it too. Even something as wonderful as being a medical student at Stanford (and that’s saying a lot!) isn’t enough to dispel the uncertainties that seem inherent in my life as a med student. I’m learning that it’s okay to ask the question.

It was remarkably timely that during our session this evening, we talked about how fitting in is now what we’re not about any more. We can’t just define ourselves by our roles and degrees; we need to know what we truly believe and live it out. In order to effectively lead, we must live our lives as examples.

For me, some of the key points I took from this is that it is important to find my voice and recognize that I don’t have to change who I am just to be accepted. There is balance to this, of course, and it must be done with respect, but I cannot be an effective leader if I am always trying to reshape myself into what I think people want or expect. It’s okay to be unique. That’s the heart of diversity; we all bring something valuable to the table, even when we don’t see it at the moment.

Your life story is unique, and no matter what has happened in your journey, there is something you can take from it to inspire others. Your story doesn’t have to be like anyone else’s in order to be valid; I know that when applying to medical school (and even now, as a medical student), it is so easy to be continually comparing ourselves to others.

I’m reminded of what a UC Davis medical student told me when I was still a pre-med. His advice to me was this: Don’t lose what makes you special.

So I package these words up into a gift and pass them on to you. Don’t be afraid to sing with your face to the falling rain or to dance barefoot in the puddles, even when the world is wearing boots and bustling past with its eyes on the sidewalk.

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Carry On

It’s been one of those days where you come up at the end of it feeling rather exhausted. I keep getting this picture in my mind of the swirling ocean with water as deep and dark as the night sky traced with clouds of foam, and I’ve just surfaced after a long plunge beneath the waves.

Even as I write this my thoughts are wandering about my head, wondering how the pressures in my lungs would change if I took such a dive, and what impact this would have on the respiratory control centers in my body.  I’m guessing this is a side effect of studying for today’s Human Health and Disease exam on the respiratory system (and antibiotics and neoplasia).  We just finished the exam this morning, and although it was intense, I’m happy to have made it through.

I wish I had something more original or profound to say at the moment, but since I’m pretty tired I’ll instead comment on two quotes which help me to find perspective when I need it most.

The first quote I’ve known for a long time, and it holds a special place in my life. My mom taught it to me years ago and it’s been a part of me ever since:

Mistakes are opportunities to learn.

For example, I’ve been tempted to get tangled up in frustration with myself for not planning my studying better.  (I can now empathize with bacteria a bit more, as I’ve finally found common ground with them. We both underestimated the power of antibiotics.)  The antibiotics are more challenging to learn than I had thought/hoped, and looking back, I should’ve started memorizing the information about them earlier than I did. Lesson learned: make flashcards promptly.

The second quote I just came across yesterday, and it was a great encouragement to me.  These words by Winston Churchill capture the essence of the perspective I need at this stage in my life:

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.

These words remind me that this is a journey, a process. It’s a continuum of sorts, and things change.

In a way, this is the same perspective that the seasons give.  Springtime is not final, for blossoms must mature into fruit that ripens and eventually falls from the tree.  Winter is not fatal, for the tree blooms again.  What counts is that the tree sends its roots down into both the warm, rich soil and the cold, frozen earth, that it stretches its branches heavenward in both the bright sunshine and in the slanting rain.

Trees, I think, could be called courageous.

While I know there are times in life when failure literally can be fatal, I am reminded in moments like these to also step back and see the bigger picture.  And then, with the ocean before me, to find the courage to plunge in once again and swim.

This Moment

I’ve been feeling a bit worn out today.  Nothing in particular happened, although I’m guessing it may be influenced by the knowledge that I have my first block exam for Human Health and Disease at the start of next week, and I still have lots of information that I need to wrap my mind around.  Antibiotic and antifungal names, actions, and uses are presenting a particular challenge for me at the moment, although I’ve bought some nifty blank flashcards and plan to do all I can to drill these antimicrobial names n’ natures into my mind this week.

Sometimes, on days like today when I’m tired and would rather be doing something other than studying, I lose sight of the unique beauty of the day.  Just now, I was looking out my window while going through some online modules for an elective I’m taking.  The wind has been blowing all day, and the way it scatters the sunlight and shadows across the ground reminds me of autumn breezes.  I love autumn because it means that Thanksgiving and Christmas and family time are coming, and for a moment I found myself wishing it was November.  After all, the holiday season only comes once a year, and for me, the weeks leading up to it are so ripe with anticipation that you could almost juice them for cider.

But then a though struck me—spring only comes once a year also.  Today, April 22, is a single day, just like Thanksgiving or Christmas Day.  In fact, each day only comes once a year, and this particular moment only comes once a lifetime.  I’ll never have the afternoon of April 22, 2014 again.  Doesn’t that make it something to be treasured?

From this perspective, the very air is alive with possibility.  The next breath I take is as fresh, fleeting and beautiful as a shooting star tracing the arc of the midnight sky, or as a hawk catching the currents of the heavens and spiraling up into the blue.

This moment is a gift.  In truth, the fact that I can study right now is a gift.

So I shall get back to studying.

And if you’re feeling a bit tired too, I hope you find refreshment in this moment, this very moment of life.


I’m back!

I am happy to say that my classmates and I survived winter quarter! It was grueling, but after making it through close to 15 hours of finals a few weeks ago, I can look back and say that it was an invigorating sort of grueling.  Although I’m not a runner, I imagine that winter quarter could be compared to an endurance race where you test your limits and, in the midst of everything, find your second and third wind.

So, I am here to say that you can indeed survive the following :

  1. Neuro.  As a fusion of neuroanatomy, neurophysiology and neurobiology, this course both challenged me and taught me a lot of amazing things (including the knowledge needed to understand why we do what we do in the neurological exam).
  2. Practice of Medicine II.  It seemed like a daunting prospect at first, but I learned how to perform a complete physical exam!  The clinical sessions were very well-done, and a big thank-you to our wonderful E4C faculty, staff, and Standardized Patients!
  3. Intro to Human Health and Disease. This was our “bugs and drugs” class on microbiology and pharmacology, and I learned everything from what causes summer colds (enterovirus!) to the different manifestations of pneumonia and tuberculosis.
  4. Clinical Anatomy.  We dissected the head and neck this quarter, which was a profound journey.  My donor, I never knew you in life, but thank you for giving me this amazing opportunity and showing me what it means to believe in the future and to give selflessly.

“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”

– Greek proverb

Spring quarter is now underway (it’s hard to believe that today finishes off the second week of spring classes!), and so far I love the material.  We’re learning about the respiratory system right now in Human Health and Disease, and in Practice of Medicine III, we’re integrating the history taking/physical exam skills we learned during the past two quarters into a streamlined, cohesive whole.  I am so excited to begin learning how to form differential diagnoses!

I’m hoping to post more later, but in the meantime, a little vignette…

Chief Complaint: Belated blogging

History of Present Illness: Patient presents with intermittent blogging. Intervals between blogging vary in frequency, but have increased in length as the first year of medical school progresses. Patient denies a loss of interest in writing and often thinks about blogging but has difficulty making time to sit down and write posts. Associated symptoms include periodic sensations of regret.

Patient Perspective of Illness: The patient’s main concern is that everyone who comes across this blog will wonder why there hasn’t been a new post since the beginning of the previous quarter.

Family History: Family has healthy writing capabilities.

Past Medical History: The patient has experienced bouts of writer’s block in the past.

Social history: The patient is a medical student.

Review of Systems: Negative.