Monthly Archives: February 2014

Test Taking and Last Summer Ever

As usual, I find myself in the mood to write on Sunday afternoon. I suspect that my weekly doughnut at church on Sunday morning has something to do with my inspiration to publish posts on WordPress. Maybe my muse is a maple doughnut. Anyways, this week I was asked the following question: “When was the last time you felt mediocre?” Since I’m in medical school, the answer is “every single day”. I’ve written before about how much stress is caused by combining a bunch of smart people into one class and suddenly having smart become “average”, and it’s something our deans have mentioned about twice a month since August.

Our tests reinforce this every week. Consider our last pathology quiz/exam. Fifty multiple choice questions taken using secure software installed on our laptops. It covered hundreds of pages from Robbins (the holy grail of pathology, it’s a huge book the size of a watermelon) and was a fairly difficult exam. When we got our results, the median came out to be 80%, which is actually pretty good. Some inconsiderate soul actually got a 98%, and one person barely¬†passed with a 50% (because of the way our quizzes are graded, you can still pass with a 50%, even though it’s normally an F). The median was 80%, and by definition half of our class has to fall underneath that score. That’s just the way math works. For those that are under it, there is a perception of inadequacy. For those above it, life must be awesome. I hop frequently between being just above and just below the median score, so I’m doing okay.

So obviously our 98% guy was an outlier, because the next best score was a 90. So the 98% guy needs to let himself out of the library. The 50% guy was also an outlier, and he needs to find the library. A full 55% of our class got between a 76%-84% on the exam. I know what that means in real life….we all did just fine. Yet I am annoyed when I score a few points below the average on a particular exam, even though I know that means I’m tracking just fine along with everyone else. I’m sure the guy that got a 98% is upset as well (not 100%? No sleep for me next week!!).

On to my next subject…summer time. I need it to be summer ASAP. I grew up in California, enjoying nearly endless summer weather, and after I moved to the Midwest I discovered that I am solar powered. When we have cloudy, gloomy, grey weather for weeks on end I lose any motivation to keep up with life (exercise, study hard, clean the house, wear pants, etc). This summer has a special feature…it will be my LAST SUMMER EVER. Yes indeed. After (hopefully) passing Hematology on June 6th, I get 8 full weeks off of school. Next summer I will have time off. Instead, I will start my third year (clinical rotations), which is simultaneously exciting and terrifying.

So what do MS1’s tend to do with their LAST SUMMER EVER? Some people do career enhancing activities like research fellowships, internships, volunteer activities, etc. Other people travel for fun. Some people get part time jobs, others do nothing for the summer. Because I felt the pressure to do important things, I currently have applied for a number of summer fellowships that would be good for my CV and pay me a small amount of money for six weeks. Then I talked with a professor who changed my mind a little. He said that if I only wanted to do research to have it on my CV, then I shouldn’t do it. Instead, I should do whatever sounded enjoyable to me. As the director of a residency program at our hospital, he said it really doesn’t matter what they did over their M1 summer (unless they singlehandedly saved an African village from an exotic virus). He’s far more interested in their board scores and letters of recommendation from rotations. So while I have hopes for landing a fellowship this summer, much of the stress in the competition of getting that spot is reduced, if not gone. I can’t do nothing all summer, because historically I get cabin fever after 4 days of break from school. If nothing works out, I will probably get involved with ministries at my church, study for boards, and run a lot. We’ll see how it works out. What are your summer plans?

Thanks for reading!

Let’s Talk About Getting Pregnant

I was so tempted to title this post something more search engine friendly. “Contraception, Birth Control, Natural Living, Sexual Health, and Gender Inequality” has enough buzzwords for several posts. Instead, I have this idea for a series called “Let’s Talk About _______”, which is convenient for me because I get to fill in the blank with whatever issue has been on my mind lately. And by that, of course, I mean whatever I have been forced to memorize by my medical school overlords. First things first. If you are my mom, my wife and I are not pregnant.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get into this. We live in a sad world where unwed teenagers drop out of high school to have kids after the father bails on them, while older, wealthy, loving couples are unable to have kids and so spend TONS of money on fertility treatments. Some of the most pertinent subjects of women’s rights involve access to birth control, abortion, and equality in the workplace. I want to talk about at least two of those before I have to study again.

First up is birth control. The Catholic Church is well known for drawing criticism on this subject. Since I attend a Catholic school, I have heard the reasoning behind their stance at least once (sex is about babies and bonding, and you shouldn’t have one without the other). As much as I like to support the church, I think they have missed the mark here. First of all, the Bible doesn’t speak directly against birth control. Yes, there are verses about the blessings of having children, but no direct instructions about how many kids to have or the manner in which they should be conceived. The guiding principles from the Bible all stem from its constant theme of the sanctity of each life. Some birth control medications have an effect that could potentially destroy a fertilized egg. There are those who consider that destruction of a life, and so they can’t support taking birth control medications. This is an argument I can understand, but don’t entirely agree with.

A few days ago I sat through a lecture on FAM: Fertility Awareness Methods. The idea of FAM is for women to track their cycles, knowing when they are infertile or potentially fertile, and taking appropriate reproductive measures. This is a system used by couples who won’t or can’t use hormonal birth control for religious or health reasons (people unwilling to use synthetic hormones in their bodies, adverse reactions to the medication). There are a number of ways this system can be implemented, of which I will spare you the details (I have found that when I describe things to others who aren’t immersed in bodily fluids each day, I should usually stop right before I say the word “mucous”).

Fundamentally, hormonal birth control and FAM are the same thing: attempts to not be pregnant. I don’t have problems with either of them. Frankly, they are both good ideas. There are a lot of advantages for me, my wife, and our future children if they aren’t born for a few more years. It’s not that we are afraid to have kids (ok maybe a little), it’s our goal to love them and give them our best, so we want to wait. For that reason alone, and for couples like us, I like birth control.

Like most things in medicine, we discover that we CAN do things way before we talk about whether or not we SHOULD do them. There are scenarios that made me question the concept of birth control. Examples: government enforced birth control (China). The Catholic Church said long ago that the widespread use of birth control would lead to increased promiscuity. Why do we place the burden of birth control on the woman? (The answer, of course, is that women are the ones who get pregnant, but stick with me here). Why don’t men have that responsibility? Why make everyone wear Kevlar instead of making the guns shoot blanks? At the end of the day, birth control is a tool, and it’s one worth using. Side note: I have a friend in medical school who is Catholic and did the FAM thing after they got married. Their baby is due next month.

The sad part about the whole lecture I attended was that we forget about how incredible children are. The whole discussion treated kids like a chore, some sort of duty imposed on people to attend to eventually. Having children is a huge event, something that we celebrate every single year.

This brings me to the last subject, one that I have meant to write about since the State of the Union. Obama said that “Women make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes”, implying of course that women are somehow unfairly paid less for doing the exact same thing as men. When you compare all men and all women that work 30+ hours a week in the United States, you will reach the shocking conclusion that men do, in fact, make more than women. Is this a vast sexist conspiracy to degrade women, or is it a reflection of our workforce? Consider this. Men are more likely to be CEO’s, neurosurgeons, or to work in high paying but dangerous or remote jobs (oil drilling). Women have significant presences in those fields (CEO of Yahoo, for example), but are more likely to own small businesses or work part time. So in that “fact” we go thrown in our face, we had 80 hr/wk neurosurgeons and executives being evenly compared to elementary school teachers. There’s no gender inequality there, that’s just economics. Also, we don’t value a woman’s work at home in terms of income. If a woman stays home to take care of their two young children, she won’t get a W2, but has done some inherently valuable work. If she were to get a job, they would have to pay for childcare, increased living expenses (gas, food, clothes) and account for the decreased time with the kids. There’s huge value associated with a “Homemaker”, and no way to measure the value of a woman who brings new life to the world.

There are even indications that a “gap” is beginning to form the other way. Girls tend to do better in math and science than boys, and have brains that mature much more quickly after puberty (up to several decades, some say). I was lucky to be a guy during medical school admissions. My class is 50/50 male/female, but the applicant pool was 40/60 male/female. It seems as though men are becoming progressively dumber, while women become smarter.

That’s probably where I should stop. I think I can pick up here when I start my next post. Judging by my schedule, I should have that up by May.

Thanks for reading! Sorry for no pictures!

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