Monthly Archives: October 2013

Tales from Anatomy Part 2

As you may have noticed, it’s been awhile. There are lots of good reasons for not writing posts while in anatomy, and I am here to share them. Actually, I think I am doing pretty good at maintaining a normal lifestyle during the first half of this block. I have several classmates that live in the lab, study constantly, know everything, and are thoroughly miserable. I have studied a little, read a book for fun, and enjoyed myself for the last three weeks or so. My grades for the first exam have yet to be posted, so I don’t know how well this strategy has paid off.

Speaking of tests, we took a whopper of a test on Monday. It was the first half (AKA the top half) of anatomy in a giant afternoon of testing. Not only did we take a standard multiple choice test, we also took a practical test in the lab (identifying tagged structures on cadavers and organs) and a slide exam in a lecture hall (identifying structures from images projected on the front of the room). The written test was par for the course, since we have all taken a bazillion of those. The other formats were more difficult for me. First of all, they weren’t multiple choice. We had to think of the answer all by ourselves (and spelling also counted). Second, they moved at an amazingly slow pace. Ninety seconds per question is way more than enough time to either figure out the answer or realize that you don’t know the answer. I take tests quickly, and being forced to wait 82 seconds before I can go to the next question just drives me crazy.

As far as the course itself, I actually like it a lot. Dissecting is difficult and tedious and lots of work, but at the end of the day it is infinitely cooler than sitting in a lecture hall listening to metabolism lectures all day. The coolest part is being able to see all of the anatomy in three dimensions, oriented in an actual body, and begin to put all of the pieces together mentally. Anatomy can’t be learned by listening to a PowerPoint lecture of a muscle group, it has to be learned directly, seeing the muscles, tendons, and nerves together.

Dissecting takes a lot of time out of your day, and I think it makes us students confront our own humanity in a certain way. While we cut through organs, vessels, muscle, and tissue, the thought is constantly in the back of your mind that these same muscles and nerves were part of a person who loved, dreamed, hoped, and lived a full life. This person left behind a family and friends, but they thought ahead and left part of the stuff that made them human behind for us to take apart and look at first hand. That makes anatomy class a privilege, and it encourages me to make the most of my time in lab, so that I can take the most of this opportunity to learn.

The pace can be overwhelming. Most of the time we have no idea where we are supposed to be or what we are supposed to be doing (the “remodeling” of our course has left it a little short on directions). All things considered, it’s a pretty good time. It is interesting the division of labor among group members. With only three members per group, there is much to do and often too many hands. When we dissected the heart, for instance, only one person could work on it at a time. I have one lab partner who was an anatomy TA at his undergrad, so he is knowledgeable and talented in dissection. My other partner has never taken anatomy, and usually asks very basic questions like “Which one is the spleen?” I’m somewhere in between those two extremes. I can almost always tell when I’m looking at a spleen. So me and my awesome lab partner do most of the dissecting, while the not so helpful partner does the accounting to make sure we find everything and makes tags to place on the structures we identify. Most of us aren’t squeamish, but there are two kinds of people in anatomy lab. On chest day, we got to use a saw to cut through the ribs and get into the thorax. One kind of med student wants to use the saw, the other kind of med student plugs it in and hands it to me (or whoever wants to use it).

That’s all for tonight! Thanks for reading. As always, feel free to comment below or email me at

Tales from Anatomy Part 1

What a week! I write this on my first Saturday after my first week of anatomy, and I am still alive to tell the tale. This Clinical Anatomy course is seven weeks long, which means we will be immersed in anatomy until Thanksgiving or so. I’ll likely write just once each week as I suffer through the course. There is a pretty significant time commitment involved between attending lectures, doing the dissections, and then learning the material.

Yes, the material. The fire hose analogy is definitely beginning to apply (med school is like drinking from a fire hose). The first block of Cell Biology was like a high pressure garden hose (enough to drown you, probably) but just the first week of anatomy was upgraded to full-size fire hose. I have a relatively good background in anatomy, having taken a difficult course in undergrad that included cadaver work, but this is pretty intense. 

The course is organized like this. Every morning we have lectures on pertinent structures and organs (muscles of the back, etc) as well as clinical problems associated with those structures (spinal trauma, paralysis, etc for spinal cord). This can take anywhere from a quick hour of lecture up to 5 hours of lecture. After that’s finished we go the cadaver lab. Three students are assigned per body for each day of dissection, but we switch off with another group of 3 about every other day. That means I do dissections with two others on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday while three other students dissect Tuesday and Thursday. Once we finish our dissection, we present all of the muscles and structures we found to the other half of the group. 

The pace is pretty frantic, because I believe that when the faculty shortened the course from 10 to 7 weeks they kept the same amount of dissection and cut out other activities like cross sections. My experience with dissection in the past has been very meticulous and careful, with lots of effort taken to make sure the maximum amount of material can be gleaned from each body. This is more like “do as best as you can but make sure you do it really fast”. In the first week we have done the back, neck, thorax, heart, lungs, and associated nerves, glands, and muscles. Then we took a quiz on it yesterday. That’s a pretty quick pace.

There is good news. First, the course only has six weeks left, and I can probably do anything for six weeks. Second, I do actually enjoy dissection work. While tedious and time consuming and smells bad and sometimes burns my eyes, it’s actually pretty cool to be able to learn anatomy so directly. Very few people have the privilege to ever look inside of a body like this, and I think it’s cool that I can see the heart, lungs, and vessels that once kept someone alive. 

So after one week I’m still in good shape. I have had a great Saturday around the house with my wife and the puppy. I have a great book to read (non-class material). There has been some absolutely FANTASTIC baseball played the last few days. The Cardinals took game 1 into the 13th inning, keeping me awake until 12:30 last night. I’m also excited to see the Red Sox play the Tigers tonight, since I think the Sox could clean house against the Tigers. On a different note, the incredibly terrible Jacksonville Jaguars travel to Denver to play the amazingly talented Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos this weekend. I bet Denver wins by 40. Lastly, the greatest race on earth is being held today in Hawaii, as the Ironman World Championship is going on today. It’s been a beautiful fall weekend and a fulfilling week, and to make sure I’m ready for the next week I’m going to stop blogging for now and continue on later. 

Thanks for Reading!

Diversify Me

Several weeks ago I was given the opportunity (med school speak for “required attendance”) to sit through a lecture and small group activity on diversity. Many companies and schools do training like this, so you know about how this went. We listened to about an hour of lecture on how ought to be diverse, and then completed a few worksheets on what we learned. It was a total joke.

Medical schools are artificially diverse. The admissions committee selects each class that way on purpose. Exactly half of the class is male, and there is a fairly even distribution of race and ethnicity among each gender. What they later noticed, thankfully, is that the class doesn’t usually function that way. By the second week of lecture, most of the students were sitting next to people much like them. I did it too. I sit in the white guy section. Many of your daily interactions are with people much like you (except for small group activities, where they pick the group members for us).

Unfortunately, this is the exact opposite of diversity. Simply making sure all of the ingredients are present doesn’t equal a magical diversity cookie (pictured below, if you’re curious). In fact, I think this process is the very opposite of diversity. So I now present the Basically Useless Road Map to Diversity.

Step One: The admissions process goes blind. Ideally, this would mean that a medical school could admit their best 100 applicants, and then look around in August and be surprised that every single student is from India. Fine by me. The very act of sorting through categories of students to make sure we are balanced out is, by definition, discrimination.

How does this happen? Fairly easily, actually. Incoming students will no longer indicate their race/ethnicity/socioeconomic status on their AMCAS, for starters. This places more emphasis on your achievements and abilities, effectively eliminating race as a determining factor. Next, the interview process could be blinded as well. Instead of seeing your whole application, your interviewer is given a sheet containing pertinent facts (MCAT, GPA, EC’s) and instead of your name, he sees a number. He will obviously see what color his applicants skin is, but he will submit his evaluation of this random person along with other interviewers for a composite score.

This probably sounds like a step backward to the members of MSHRIG (Medical Students for Human Rights Interest Group, co-sponsors of diversity day), but it’s not. If your goal is to treat each person equally, how can you possible support a scenario where admissions committee members are turning down qualified applicants of ________ race to increase the amount of _______ race.

Step 2: Teach students to get over themselves.

A main activity from Diversity Day was filling in a worksheet to describe our identities. We got to choose from categories like religion, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, political stances, etc. Their lesson was that we first understand ourselves, so that we can then understand others. By understanding our identities, we can better understand others. Did you catch the implied message there? By better understanding ourselves, we can better understand how others are different than us. I had a few problems with this exercise. First, we only attached labels to ourselves. People are more than 12 adjectives in a column (11 for me, I put white for race and ethnicity). Second, why not focus on the reasons why we are the same? Despite all of our differences, most people have the same desires, hopes, fears, and dreams. That’s the fabric of what makes us human. Let’s focus on that stuff and not on the small stuff that we can describe in one word adjectives.

Step 3: Don’t Make it a Big Deal

Diversity training was a big, hairy ordeal. We have to know it to work in today’s culture. We have to understand diversity to be a medical professional. This city is a melting pot with lots of racial polarization. Etc Etc. Bla bla bla. Guess what? You just made diversity a problem. You got a bunch of really different people here, showed them all of the ways they differ from each other, and then stressed repeatedly that they pay lots of attention to these differences in the name of diversity. One extra twist is that as medical students, we are more alike than we even realize. We can bond over our OCD tendancies, lack of social life, and fascination with disgusting diseases.

The ironic part is that we may not even need diversity training. My generation (20’s and below) has the potential to finally beat racism. In 7th grade I had an amazing English teacher. She was fun, loved her students, and even managed to teach us at the same time. I told my parents for weeks and weeks how much I liked her, all of the funny things she did in class, and the way that the class responded. Years later they told me the rest of the story. In November they went to parent-teacher conferences and were a little surprised that this teacher was black. This was highly unusual for my suburban white junior high school. But never once in months of class did I describe her to my parents as black. Why? It wasn’t worth describing. I don’t describe people as white for the same reason. I think enough people in my generation share my view to beat racism, I just hope we can do it after we do all of our diversity training.

Thanks for reading!

Wrapping It Up

This week concludes Cell Biology, Metabolism, and Genetics. We will take the last exam on Friday. Despite my abysmal performance on the last quiz (and passing Epidemiology and Research by the skin of my teeth), I need to score just a 36% on this final test in order to pass the block and never see any of these subjects again (until Step 1). Tomorrow is given entirely for self study in preparation for the exam, which will be followed by a glorious weekend with NOTHING to study before anatomy begins next Monday.

I’m actually a little bit worried about that. I am comfortable with brute memorization and have fairly good visual skills, so the material isn’t too unsettling. What worries me is this new format. A 10 week course in the past has been re-packaged into 7 weeks. Apparently the amount of dissection has remained unchanged, which is potentially bad news. They reduced the amount of histology and cross section lab work, while adding more clinical applications and emphasizing radiology reading (something we will have to actually use). A few second years told me that it will be much better than their schedule. We start dissection on the back, then switch to the front and work from the head down. Some second years told me that they had passed the course by acing exams until they hit the waist, at which point they slacked off. One girl mentioned she knew almost nothing about the lower legs and feet, since she didn’t really go to class for that part. That’s hilarious, if true, and reminds me of this.

I may fall into that same trap, because Week 5 or 6 of anatomy coincides with the release of about 3 of my favorite video games, as well as my birthday. I plan to do well and study hard, but my scores may decrease slightly after November begins 🙂

Ready for a big reason why I may fail this next exam? Here it is.

This is little Zoe, the newest addition to our family. I had a post in draft describing all of the reasons I wanted a dog, and finally convinced my wife to go to an adoption event last weekend because we saw that cute little pup on Craigslist. Now she is ours. She is part Rottweiler/Doberman, but is pretty small. Her mom is only 35 pounds, and she shouldn’t get bigger than that. She is recovering from pneumonia right now, so her endurance for romping in the yard is about 10 minutes. Let me tell you, there is NOTHING in the world sadder than a 4.5lb puppy with pneumonia. NOTHING.

She’s doing pretty good on housetraining and basic stuff, and is pretty chill for a puppy. In high school and college our family dog was a big yellow lab, 90lbs of love and spastic crazy tail. Our house and yard aren’t great for a dog of that…..girth. I like big dogs, and Zoe is a good compromise.

Despite my prolonged periods of non-posting, I have noticed continued views on posts in my absence. How cool is that? And if you are reading my blog from Australia please email me and tell me how you found it. If you Google “basically useless”, am I on the front page? Should I be excited about that?

In all seriousness, I have a theory I call the Blogger’s Paradox: those with the least time to write blogs often have incredible material to work with, should they decide to write. I have read blogs in the past where posts were frequent and the authors time was obviously plentiful, but the quality just wasn’t there. People who have different experiences on a daily basis can pull from that and write strong blogs, if they have the time. One benefit of medical is taking a daily swim in the pool of weird stuff, whether it’s diseases, classmates, or the strange things professors do and say. I try to make writing a daily habit, and I largely succeed, but the result is not always ready to be published, so I often have drafts and scraps floating around for days on end. Any time a big test looms in the future, however, you can count on posts while I do my best to not study 🙂

Thanks for reading! As always, feel free to comment below or send an email directly to my face at