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I’m a Little More Cynical, But at Least I Still Have a Heart

It’s a well known fact that medical students tend to excessively self diagnose. As we are a generally healthy cohort, it’s highly unlikely that we actually have any weird diseases, but every few weeks I study something and I feel the thought grow in the back of my mind….”I might have that!”. My classmate is terrible about this. He has spent the last week convinced that he was developing ALS, as he thought he was experiencing paresthesias in hands. He even went to the EEG lab to try to get them to “demonstrate” a nerve conduction study on him. I have a hard time believing anything he says, but I know what he’s thinking.

Most recently, I’ve been thinking I might be coming down with early onset dementia. Technically, I suppose it is now called neurocognitive decline, as dementia has that whole connotation of being possessed by demons, and people tend to not like that as much. I have been noticing some early symptoms of early neurocognitive decline, and my wife could certainly vouch for several of them, so I’m still a little worried.

Essentially, I have the same problem as my aging laptop computer. I don’t multitask well, randomly lose important items in my memory, and overheat when I am even mildly exerted. My procedural memory is still intact, and I am pretty sure I am lucid, but here I am writing to strangers (and my mom) on the internet about my perceived medical conditions, so that even my sanity could be questioned at this time. Plus, I keep showing up for medical school every day when all I really want to do is sleep and pursue my budding career as a musician. Just kidding. I can’t sing worth anything.

I only joke about my own neurologic decline because I have to take a test soon, and those are regular reminders of my below average-ness. I have been fortunate enough to see some real, true neurologic dysfunction over the last few days, and it’s affecting me quite a bit.

First of all, my standards have dropped significantly. Coming from a family of high functioning people, I have spent most of my life expecting quite a bit from other people at their “baseline”. There are many reasons for this, but I used to expect people to be able to hold down a job, pursue hobbies, actively work to accomplish their dreams, and take care of the people in their lives who depend on them. Now I’m just excited when a patient shows up sorta on time for their appointment while wearing pants. “Normal” people that come in are unusual and really enjoyable to treat as patients.

A few days ago I traveled to the county jail and did a forensic psych eval on a patient to determine their competency to stand trial. This guy was nuts. He would sing random words, complained of multiple hallucinations, and would repeatedly interrupt you by screaming, then humming loudly with his eyes close. Here’s the thing: he was faking every bit of it. He was not schizophrenic. It was all a show. He was playing us in an attempt to get a court ruling of insanity. I’ve also seen kids faking seizures (while hooked up to EEG monitoring) for attention, I’ve seen inmates faking seizures and psychosis, I’ve seen addicts faking pain and withdrawal. I’ve seen patients get arms hacked off by machetes and drunks get in motorcycle accidents at 10am on a Tuesday. Overall, I’m just a little bit harder to impress than I was last year (but I’m still gullible and really dumb, so don’t get too carried away).

The best part about this whole crazy experience is that I really do like it. Of course there are rotations that I would describe as “less than interesting” but even then I can usually find something in their to improve on, whether it be physical exam skills, bedside manner, or just a lot of time to read and study (looking at you, family medicine), I feel like each day can be thought provoking if I want it to be.

And for the rotations that I like, days go by in mere seconds and weeks pass like nothing has happened. I enjoy those rotations and love the feeling of working hard. In that sense, medical school is pretty cool. I’ll graduate in less than a year now. If I still think medical school is pretty cool after this long, I can’t be that cynical, right? Right?

Thanks for reading!

 

A Day in the Life of a Teaching Hospital

So you or a loved one has been admitted to a teaching hospital. While this is not an ideal situation, there are some things you need to know before being hospitalized or spending time with someone who is hospitalized. Consider this your peek “behind the curtain” to what really goes on during the 23 hours and 45 minutes that you are not seeing your doctor. Also consider this a therapeutic post for me to process some of the crazy stuff I see every day. Here we go. First things first….

A Hospital is a Huge Living Organism

I have no idea what hospital this is.

Hospitals famously never close and never sleep.Large hospitals provide a huge amount of jobs to the local community and healthcare makes up around one sixth of the total GDP of the United States. At my hospital, it is estimated that 10,000 people per day show up for work. Another larger hospital in town is estimated to average 30,000 people per day for weekday operations. Between the care that needs to be provided, support staff, and ancillary services, a hospital becomes a mini city of its own. Add in all of the associated Subways, flower shops, Walgreens, and pizza places and you have a mini economy.

If you are a patient in such a hospital, fear not. Though 10,000 people may go to work in the hospital every day, in reality there are only a few hundred that really matter to you. These men and women are the movers and shakers of hospital healthcare: surgeons, attending physicians, chief residents, etc. These people have schedules catered around their wishes and influence not only on your care, but also hospital policy as a whole. In general, the various pieces of the elaborate healthcare machine don’t move until directed to do so. More on this later.

Concepts like “day” and “night” don’t matter in my hospital because it is a windowless, rundown pile of sadness. The best way to tell time is by the regular nursing shift change. Promptly at 7am the entire hospital comes to a screeching halt while all of the various units and floors go through their signout procedure from the night before. Promptly at 7:30am pagers and phones around the hospital begin to ring with questions from nursing staff regarding meds, orders, and whether the patient has pooped. This will be repeated again at 7pm (or 3pm and 11pm, if the hospital runs three shifts).

It is important to look at clocks frequently while in the hospital, because there is a distortion of the time space continuum once you step inside. It is also important to think happy thoughts and remember that you are a nice person. Each hospital has a culture that is somewhat pervasive….it works its way into the walls and infects newcomers. These are not often productive thoughts. For example, many times every single person in a hospital will claim to be excessively busy. While many people work many long hours, I can promise you that the administrative secretaries eating their regularly scheduled noon lunch in the cafeteria are not busy, but they have to act like it to fit in. While they certainly do work hard, they also arrive 4 full hours after the surgery team, and leave earlier too. Another silly idea is that you are somehow the only intelligent person in a hospital full of idiots. Each nursing floor tends to think of themselves as the best floor in the hospital, each medical team thinks of themselves as the best doctors, and everyone thinks the Emergency Department is dumb. While some people have a reputation for being somewhat dim, generally everyone is about on the same level. With that in mind, we need to talk about the characters in the hospital

These People Are Super Important to You as a Patient

Way before the crack of dawn, the first workers will begin to arrive. These are primarily surgeons, surgical residents, and the hardworking people who need to cook breakfast for 5,000 people before 7:30am. The surgeons and their residents will wait until the reasonable hour of 5am before waking their patients and asking the same questions to everyone (in pain? Eating? Pooping? Chest pain?). At around 7am the day nurses arrive and perform their intricate signout procedure. As a patient, this morning time is super important. You need to talk to your nurses and doctors before rounds. It might be chaotic, and you might be seen by any combination of the following people, but this is the ideal time to have your wishes be heard. These people include

1- Your Nurse. This person will be most closely involved in your care, and she has the number for the doctor. She can get you food, pillows, blankets, take your blood pressure, give you meds, walk you to the bathroom, and give you a bath. Please treat this person well. They have a grueling, tiring job and receive no appreciation.

2-The Medical Student. This person is in the unique position of desperately wanting to help but having absolutely no idea how to do it. You can ask them for anything, but they will need to ask permission before they give it to you. Even if it’s a cup of ice, they will probably page their resident and make sure. They have lots of time to listen to your concerns and help, so take advantage of this. Medical students can be identified by their short white coats, youthful appearance, and the look on someone’s face when they are perpetually lost.

3- The Resident. This person is an actual doctor, but still getting some supervision. They will do 90% of the work in your care. They also have 25 other patients and absolutely no time to spare. If you are mean to them they will hate you. If you look funny they will hate you. Actually, residents mostly hate everybody and everything. If you are surprisingly pleasant to them they may take a liking to you and move you to the top of the list. I mostly see residents as blurs, since they are always doing 5 things at once and answering pages.

4- The Attending Physician. This is the older doctor you see maybe once per day. He is ultimately in charge of everything that happens to you, but depending on the situation may be more or less involved in your care. When he comes by and sees you with the team, that means we are rounding on all of our patients, and now is your single best moment to make magic happen. Finally share your secrets (“I’ve smoked crack cocaine for 20 years”) or the thing that is really bothering you today (“I haven’t pooped this month”). If you don’t do it now, you will have to wait for tomorrow. This is one of those “movers and shakers” in the hospital, because anything you ask that the resident doesn’t know or is unsure about will have to go through the attending. Also, sometimes the resident will have his plans disrupted by an attending with different plans.

Medical students are usually found bobbing around in the wake of attending physicians, furiously jotting notes.

The Interface

Let’s say you are in the hospital. In my hospital there’s a better than even chance that you are faking your illness, but let’s say you legitimately have pancreatitis. You will not be able to eat anything for several days, and your belly hurts badly. You push your “I Need Something” button and a young nurse comes in. You ask her to please give more pain medicine, but there is nothing she can give. She tells you she will ask the doctor.

You would think this is a simple process that involves a quick phone call, or perhaps a message on the computer, but it actually is an intricate system. My best analogy is that it would be playing with one of those trampoline tarps from grade school. You know…one of these.

In the middle of the tarp is a pile of numbers and letters. To communicate effectively, you need to maneuver the tarp in such a way that the pile of letters in the middle communicates to the doctor on the other side of the tarp.

So the nurse will page the resident, who will call back sometime this week. The resident may send his med student to evaluate the patient. The med student will not know what to do. The resident will come and evaluate the patient. The patient will finally talk with the resident and maybe get some additional medicine. The resident then needs to put the order in the computer and sign it, at which point the nurse needs to check the computer, see the order, obtain the medicine from the magic minifridge, and bring it to the patient. You can see how many places provide opportunities for this communication to break down. This, in a nutshell, is why nothing ever gets done in the hospital.

To make this even more complicated, every single thing needs to be documented in an archaic computer system so that if something does go wrong and the hospital is sued, they can theoretically document every second of your hospital stay.

“Why should I even go to the hospital? This is terrible!”

Well here lies the great paradox of the teaching hospital. Our inefficiency and the ignorance of the trainee (med student and resident) make sure that mistakes will happen, but introduce so much redundancy that the quality and outcome of your care ends up being really good. This is why six people walk into your room one by one each morning to ask if you pooped yet. This is why we agonize over medication doses, past medical records, and treatment options. From medical students who offer fresh, ignorant perspective to experienced supervising docs able to spot subtleties and guide treatment in difficult cases, the entire medical team provides really great care. And right now, it’s the only way we can train new docs to take care of us when we get old.

That is all. Thanks for reading!

 

 

I Still Don’t Know Anything About Brains

I wrote a post about two years ago discussing some of my struggles from my neuroscience course. That post was subtly titled “I Don’t Know Anything About Brains”. Fast forward two years. I am now struggling through my neurology clerkship, and I have come to the realization that I know even less about brains now than when I took the course as a first year.

About that course…..I’m still not sure I passed it. I took the first test (the “midterm”) and did poorly. By “poorly” I am really saying that it was the single worst test grade I have ever received in my academic career. I buckled down and studied really hard for the remaining month, then proceeded to get a worse score on the final. In my gradebook it says “Pass”, but the math says I probably didn’t pass, and at this point I’m just scared to ask questions and suffer recurrent nightmares about having to retake that class. We did a portion of the exam where we sat in a giant lecture hall while they displayed images of brains on the screen, with little arrows pointing at stuff that we needed to identify. It was basically two hours of people cursing under their breath and staring hopelessly at the front.

Now that you have some context, let me tell you a little bit about the Neurology clerkship so far. First of all, it’s just not that interesting. We see mostly strokes, seizures, altered mental status, and a handful of other conditions that require hospitalization periodically (Myasthenia, MS, etc). I know that there are doctors and medical students who love this stuff, but it just doesn’t do anything for me. I struggle to pay attention in lectures, can’t find motivation to study after work, and surf Reddit a lot on my phone. This has been easy for the last few weeks, as the residents and attendings I have been working with have set ridiculously low expectations for us and they have been easy to meet and exceed.

The funny thing about this is that I can really appreciate the way neurologists practice medicine. I have spent the last six months on teams that look at patients who develop an altered mental status (AMS) for about thirty seconds before saying, “Well he’s altered. Better call neuro.” Neurology and psych notice subtle details in history and exam, pay close attention to their findings, and usually do a thorough exam on patients that the surgical team won’t even see during rounds. Further, neuro has an intimate understanding of neurologic anatomy and pathways. Our residents have been able to localize lesions in the brain in less than a minute. At that point, I’m still reasonably confident that they have an injury affecting their brain area. You know, the one in the head. So while I appreciate the practice of neurology, I can’t see myself doing it at all.

My favorite phrase in neurology is “back to baseline”. We use this phrase for patients who undergo strokes or seizures, then have a period of altered mental status or decreased awareness. We talk to the patients, their families, and caregivers to determine whether or not this patient is “at their baseline”. Sometimes, our exam shows that this person is full alert and awake, they are just really dumb. If they are stupid at baseline, well……we can’t fix stupid. For example, a hillbilly from way out in the country didn’t know who the President was. Not because he was confused, just because he didn’t know. He even votes, he just forgot who it was. I gave hints and it didn’t help this guy. To evaluate peoples reasoning we will often ask them to do basic tasks, like “serial 7’s”. We will have patients start at 100 and count backward by 7, so “100,93,86,79,72,…” etc. This guy had no hope. He started out wrong and it got worse. He actually ended up adding 10’s, so he ended up at 134. We spent over an hour in another room trying to explain medication dosing and intervals to a family whose brother had just had a seizure. It was not hard. One new med, and two changes in doses to existing meds. We went over it about 15 times before we realized that their combined IQ was about 60 and that they literally could not remember what we were telling them. I think we could have admitted all of them for altered mental status, but instead we let them drive home!

Some patients have neurologic injury and exhibit neurocognitive defects as a part of their injury. For example, I saw a patient who had a stroke, and the only words he said to me all week were “Jose” and “ouch”. He also had perseverance of speech, which means that once he said a word, he kept repeating it over and over. Another patient was a very nice old man who was 75. He had severe memory loss, and legitimately thought that he was 50, it was 1990, and that his dad was alive and 78 years old. He was so nice and polite, and no matter how many times you informed him that it was actually 2016, he would forget within a few minutes of you telling him.

I’ve learned a lot so far on neuro. I feel like I am much better equipped to handle patients that are not responsive or have altered mental status. I have learned some great tips for examining and interviewing difficult patients that I will use for the rest of my life and practice. But I still don’t know anything about the brains!

 

7 Rules to Surviving as a Clinical Medical Student

If you are reading this and are currently a medical student, you will understand these rules perfectly. If you are going to be a medical student, print these rules out and memorize them before clinic time starts. If you are never going to be a medical student….then…well, I guess you’re welcome here also.

The Rules:

  1. Figure out what you need to know. There are three kinds of learning, and its your job to figure out which category this lesson/fact falls under.
    1. Things you MUST know: for example, this could include maintenance IV fluid rates, first line treatments for common diseases, basic workups, etc. You need to know these things because you are going to be a doctor (probably). These are equivalent to the “High Yield” facts to know for boards and exams and you should learn them.
    2. Things you need to know FOR THE TEST: these pieces of information are usually a little more abstract. Your residents will either not know anything about it or say something like “I used to know that when I took my boards”. This is often a completely separate set of information. I did horrible on my OB-GYN shelf because I assumed the information that I was learning in clinic and the OR was also the information that would be stressed on the test, and oh boy was I wrong about that! This is why you need to spend your precious time off reading through Case Files, Lange, or Pre-Test.
    3. Things you need to know to get through your day. On bad days, this gets down to a really primal level. For example, on some days I just needed to find a bathroom. Any bathroom. Otherwise you are more focused on learning the workflow of the team, where to be for rounds, conferences, surgeries, consults, etc. An easy way to do this by default is to stay with your resident at all times, but that can get annoying, and I try to minimize the annoyance that my presence often causes.
  2. Never miss a chance to eat.
    1. If you see a donut, you eat the donut. If you have five extra minutes somewhere between 10:30am and 2:30pm, you just got lunch. If you then go to a lecture and some rep or something has lunch, you smile and also eat that lunch. This is especially true on surgery. This rule has some broader applications as well. For example, if you see a place available to sit down, do it. (Disclaimer: by “available” I mean you are literally the only person in the room standing, there is an empty place to sit, and you have been expressly instructed to sit. Don’t go taking chairs from residents and attendings. That’s a beating if you do.)
  3. Never miss a chance to go to the bathroom.
    1. Similar to the rule above, use the bathroom all the time. The reasons for this are many. First of all, you never want to be stuck somewhere and think “I need a toilet right now”. And honestly, you’ve made it this far managing your bowel habits, so I don’t need to help you there. I’m talking about the hidden benefits of going to the bathroom. First of all, you get time away from all of the craziness going on. No one is ever mad at you for going to the bathroom. What are they going to do….force you to not ever urinate? It’s like a nice short break: no one knows where you are, it’s perfectly legit, and you can use these breaks to help you through your day.
    2. Pro tip…scope out the really nice bathrooms in your facility. The best one at my hospital is on the 11th floor and always has a window cracked for fresh air, with a decent view of the city if the weather is clear. Don’t go using the dingy one in the basement, and don’t use the one that all the patients and families use in the main lobby or by the cafeteria.
  4. Your resident (and sometimes attending) is always right.
    1. This one has some nuances to it. Your resident is almost always right for the simple reason that they can make your life hell very easily. They are always busy, have an unlimited supply of scut work, and can often be short tempered or grouchy. These are often the people that will send you home at the end of the day (see rule #6). They may also be the ones writing your evals. Do NOT cross your resident. The only acceptable circumstance that your resident can be wrong is if they are actually wrong and the attending is calling them out on it. If this happens, the best thing you can do is discreetly insinuate that the resident was correct, it was you, the naive medical student, who actually wrong. Your resident was helping further your education, that’s all. I’ve done this before, and it works great. Your resident will like you, the attending might yell at you for a little, but hey, I cry myself to sleep at night already, so no big deal, and ultimately the whole ordeal ends up going away. Tl;dr Your resident is right most of the time.
  5. Carry all of the things with you all of the time.
    1. This is the reason you wear the short white coat. My coat actually weighs around 10lbs when it’s fully stocked. You need to have survival basics to start. This includes your stethoscope, 3+ pens, your name tag, a granola bar for a snack, an emergency granola bar if things get real, your phone charger, emergency contact information (I’m only kidding a little bit), a Maxwell’s, your patient lists, and maybe an iPad mini because they fit really well in your pocket. After your basics are loaded in, get your service specific items next. On surgery, it’s great to have trauma shears, suture removal kits, surgical site marking pens, lots of gauze, alcohol prep pads, all of the kinds of tape, maybe some Dermabond or Mastasol, and while you’re at a Foley tray (just kidding). For neuro/psych, you’re looking at reflex hammers, tuning forks, and probably the printouts for evals and consults depending on your institution. I’m 90% sure I got honors on a short surgery rotation because I had a suture removal kit in my coat for a patient on rounds (the other medical student didn’t, and she got a pass), so this matters.
  6. Be Early
    1. Being early is the start to a good day. If conference is at 6:30am, you better be in the med student section (that’s a thing, by the way. If there is a scheduled conference or grand rounds, I guarantee that the med students sit in an assigned area, so you need to find that out beforehand) with your coffee at least 10 minutes early. If handoff is at 5am, you are there at 4:45 to print off patient lists for your residents. You want to beat the residents there, otherwise you will be perceived as late, and if you are actually late that reflects really poorly on you and your grade. So be early always, because on the day that you actually do get stuck in traffic/can’t start the car/get lost in a new hospital you will have extra time that might make all of the difference.
    2. Part 2 to this rule is my most important rule: when the resident/attending tells you to go home, you go home. This isn’t some sadistic contest to see who can stay at the hospital longest without eating, this is real life. I usually ask briefly if there is anything else I can help with to show that I am an eager and enthusiastic medical student who wants to be a team player (at least I hope that’s what they put on my eval), but then I gather my stuff and leave promptly after.
  7. Never touch the pancreas. It is weird and I’m not really sure what it does, so I never touch the pancreas.

Everything is Terrible on No One Knows Anything

Just kidding. When I thought about one sentence to sum up my third year of medicine so far, this is the first thought that came to my mind.

I haven’t written a single post in 6+ months. I’ve been pretty busy, but also extra lazy, and that combination doesn’t usually produce any meaningful posts. In my defense, there are at least 3 half finished drafts from those months that are mostly coherent, so I was making an effort to get stuff posted.

So while I intend to publish my “Survival Guide for the Clinical Years” very soon, I need to write a quick update of what I have done so far with my life as a clinical student.

OB-GYN:

I started out energetic, bright-eyed and bushy tailed on the OB-GYN service. Specifically, Labor and Delivery. We split our shifts between nights and days, working 12-14 hours per shift depending on how crazy the hospital was. I finished with rotations through Gynecologic Surgery and Gynecologic Oncology. I also pulled a rotation through the Emergency Room, but that’s a whole different story.

When I started medical school, the only thing I knew for sure was that I would not be a gynecologist. Much to my surprise (and disgust) I ended up liking this rotation quite a bit. I did completely horrible on the shelf exam because I broke Rule #1 of Being A Medical Student (more on that later as well), but I ended the rotation relatively happy.

Spoiler alert: I didn’t actually like Obstetrics or Gynecology. I liked being out of the classroom, I liked working with patients, and ultimately I liked the surgery that I was exposed to during my Oncology and Gyn Surg rotations. I just hadn’t figured that out yet.

Thankfully, my OB experience was pretty good. Because the hospital I worked in served a portion of the population I refer to as “Hoosiers” (not the basketball team….this is more like People of Walmart), I came away with a lot of great stories and met a lot of really cool people during the rotation.

Pediatrics:

This rotation is split into two halves. First, I spent a month on outpatient pediatrics. This was a total vacation since I had just come across town from 14 hour OB shifts and it was mid-summer, so outpatient visits were not exactly popular with kids on summer break. I often had the afternoon off to “study” and “read”, which I sometimes did. My second month was inpatient PEDS, working with the floor teams in our incredible, top notch children’s hospital. This was a great two weeks. My hours were reasonable (60 hrs a week, cover one day per weekend and one call night per week), and I had a lot of time to study. I have never had any intention of being a pediatrician, but kids are great and the vast majority of the pediatric doctors are incredible people, so this rotation was awesome. It helps that our pediatric hospital has an incredible cafeteria and nice facilities.

Surgery:

Disclaimer: surgery was easily the worst rotation I’ve experienced, and I think I will probably be a surgeon. This will take some explaining in a future post, but the main problem with surgery is that the actual surgery is awesome, but being a medical student in a surgery department is horrible. Surgeons have spent years cultivating bitterness and hate, combined with huge egos and fueled with long hours and crushing call schedules, and medical students (with our bumbling incompetence) are ideal targets for their scorn. Even if we aren’t abused directly, it tends to roll downhill from the attendings, the residents, the nurses, the janitor, or really anyone can then turn and yell at the medical student. Since we exist at the absolute bottom of the totem pole, there’s not much we can do about it, besides the usual crying yourself to sleep every night, but that’s par for the course. (just kidding…..a little)

My surgical experience was widespread. I did my first two weeks with this insane surgical oncologist who averaged about 6 words and maybe 3 emotions per week while operating 40+ hours each week. He managed this by doing 16 hour cases back to back on Thursday and Friday, then biking all day Saturday while we took call. The surgeries were “fascinating” and “interesting” (read that also as “exhausting” and “mind numbing”). Next up I did Orthopedics, which I loved and was literally the best possible rotation for medical students (all operating, no notes, no scut work), but that will get its own post down the road as well.

Next up was my trauma rotation. Important context is that our hospital is a Level 1 Trauma center serving an urban city center and about a gazillion square miles of rural farm country, so we see absolutely everything. Our trauma service is nationally recognized for being top notch and absolutely insane. We use a fun internal grading system on trauma to describe the severity of a trauma. On this scale, a 4 is something like scraping your knee. I’m not even sure what a 1 is. The only guy that got a 1 was shot 8 times and died before he made it to ER. We had a guy drive up to the doors and walk in the lobby with a 10 inch knife sticking out of his chest and he got a 2. We had another guy shoot himself in the face twice, bleeding out of every cranial orifice, and he also got a 2. Trust me when I tell you that this place is absolutely insane.

I learned a ton on trauma because I was the only medical student helping a service of 50+ patients with just one intern and one chief resident. I was able to act as a pseudo-resident and do all kinds of fun things (medical students don’t get to “do” a whole lot, sadly). I don’t know if I ever worked as hard as I did those two weeks, but I got an amazing review and recommendations from my team and realized how rewarding trauma can be. I also realized how exhausting it can be, and how difficult it will be to manage trauma responsibilities with family and having a social life as an attending someday in the future.

I finished with two weeks in Urology, which I liked quite a bit. I liked it so much that I did an additional three week elective in Pediatric Urology, as I thought I could be a good urologist someday, but I ended up deciding against it. This week I will finish up the final week of an elective and head to a nice break for Christmas, with Psychiatry and Neurology on board after the first of the year to get me started. I have a lot of other posts I need to write, most of which will include pictures and be a little more detailed. It continues to amaze me that people still read this every day even when I don’t post for months at a time.

As always, I’d be interested to hear from you at sortadrwordpress@gmail.com

 

Let’s Talk About Mormonism

Before I launch into this post, I need to share some background info. Several years ago I made several new friends, and I realized that they were Mormons as I got to know them better over time. I was given a copy of the Book of Mormon and invited to lots of church events. Because I am a curious person, I gave it a run for its money. I read the book cover to cover, visited the website, talked with Mormon friends, etc. The product of that research has come to completion in this piece, which I hope will find its way to Mormons around the world. I know that my little blog doesn’t reach a huge audience, but I hear rumors that there are literally hundreds of people on the internet around the world, and someday this might make a difference in someone’s life. My goal is to describe, in some detail, my impression from the results of my research into Mormonism. I give full permission to anyone who wants to link or distribute this article for educational purposes, so long as they send me gift cards for Chipotle.

I’m going to break from my normal writing style and include links and references, although most of this stuff is common sense. In my experience talking to others about religion, we usually end up talking about really hard stuff. Why do bad things happen to good people? Is there a God? Are we created, or did we end up here as a result of random cosmic chance? These are tough questions with definitive answers that are either unreachable or shrouded deep in the recesses of history. Mormonism, in comparison, is a piece of cake. Because it started in the 1800’s, there are lots of primary source documents, easily attainable online, that spell out the origin of Mormonism. This post is longer, so grab yourself a drink and let’s get started.

1) Joseph Smith Was a Shady Dude

To quote Gordon Hinckley, “Our whole strength rests on the validity of that [First] vision. It either occurred or it did not occur. If it did not, then this work is a fraud.” He is referring to the initial vision Joseph Smith claimed to have, the one which drove him to find the golden plates, translate them, and establish the one and only true church on the face of the earth. So obviously we need to take a good, hard look at Joseph Smith.

There he is.

Before we even talk about the First Vision, let’s acknowledge that as a young man he used seer stones to find buried treasure. He didn’t just do it for fun, he actually convinced people to pay him to treasure hunt. Now lets fast forward a bit, past the whole First Vision account. Joe has founded this religion, which has relocated to Ohio. A traveling salesman comes buy, selling Egyptian scrolls. Joe decides to buy the scrolls, as he is convinced that they are written by Abraham himself. Let’s ignore the incredible leap of imagination and assume that a traveling salesman in 1830’s rural Ohio really is selling Egyptian scrolls actually written by Abraham thousands of years ago in a language that Joseph Smith can translate. Joe translates these scrolls into the Book of Abraham, and it is later canonized into Mormon scripture. Well, after a couple decades go by, it just so happens that we discover the Rosetta Stone, allowing us to actually translate the same Egyptian that Joseph Smith translated from this scroll. Turns out that his translation is completely, objectively wrong. The original scroll was actually like a guide to burying someone in a pyramid and had absolutely nothing to do with Abraham. I mean, I’m not saying he made it up just to publish weekly installments into a newspaper that he also happened to own……ok yes I am.

Knowing that Joe’s vision is sandwiched in known instances of him lying to take advantage of others makes the First Vision account even more important. It could be possible that he lied those two times and everything else really was from God, but it would take some extraordinary evidence to somehow confirm that. Because this section is full of problems and I have places to be, I will reference you to this well written account that takes these questions into more detail. Basically, problems around the First Vision and his subsequent translation of the plates include, at minimum, the following. There are several accounts of the First Vision, and they don’t really match up. When it comes to the golden plates themselves, it turns out that no one really saw them. Even Martin Harris admits that he only saw them with “spiritual sight”, which you may recognize as being different than “actually seeing them”. Joseph Smith was unable to retranslate the sections that Lucy Harris took, which he should have been able to do if he was in fact translating. The plates no longer exist (if they did at all), so we have nothing to compare the translations. Joe didn’t even translate from the plates. He looked into a hat and used his seer stone. I’ll ask the obvious question here: if God or Moroni or whoever went to all of the trouble to hide the plates for a thousand years just so Joe could find them in his backyard, why didn’t he actually translate from them? The church doesn’t like this idea very much, so they print lots of pictures depicting the translation like this:

From official church publications

When it actually happened like this.

I feel inspired already

Joseph’s “translation” and subsequent revelations then brought about practices that were not Biblical and made no sense. Polygamy is a great example of this. Joe claimed he received it as a revelation from God himself. The reasoning is unclear, but the most common reasons I hear from my Mormon friends are pathetically inadequate. One thought is that it was commanded for reproductive reasons, specifically population growth. This doesn’t make sense because he married women that were already married, and women can’t be doubly pregnant (I think. I haven’t finished med school yet so the jury is still out on this one). Another idea is that because entering the celestial kingdom requires a sealing to a Mormon man, marrying more women will allow more them to enter the Celestial Kingdom. This idea of eternal marriage is not found anywhere else in the Bible, is unique to Joseph Smith, and still doesn’t make sense because he married women who were already sealed to other men. To boil this down a little bit, Joseph Smith received a revelation from God Himself that he was to bring about a new institution called plural marriage, overturning all religious and social norms, and that his first step should be to have sex with his maid. He went on the marry more than 30 women, some of them only 14 years old (this LDS essay hilariously describes her as being “several months before her 15th birthday).

Yes, honey, God appeared and told me to sleep with the maid. He sure did.

The Book of Mormon itself is slow. After I read the whole thing, I realized that it was written exactly as if it was being made up on the spot. Over and over again, he writes “It came to pass”, “notwithstanding”, and “wherefore”, including the inspirational “It came to pass that a long time came to pass”.

Much of the actual content covers ancient North American civilizations. The Lamanites, Jaredites, and Nephites supposedly established cities, cultures, and trade routes all over North America. Ether 15:2 references a battle in which 4 million people supposedly died. Moroni 6 references a battle in Upstate New York where 100,000+ people died. He writes about cities with stone walls, chariots, spears, horses, and armor.

Bam. Nephites.

We have not found any of this. The lack of archaeological evidence for these people groups is shocking. If these groups existed right here in our backyard, surely there would be something (anything) to get people talking. Instead, there is an enormous void. This article sums up the problem nicely. There is no solid evidence from any scientist to actually support the Book of Mormon as a historical document. It’s embarrassing, really. My Mormon friend said “Well, how much do we know about ancient Aztecs, or Incas? Later civilizations came through and destroyed evidence of their culture”. Yes, but we still know they existed. At least they are known to have existed at a certain place and time, with some insight into their level of civilization and culture. And that’s way more evidence than anything in the Book of Mormon. Let me put this in perspective. If we can find the remains of a couple thousand 3rd Century Roman soldiers in Germany, why can we not find a North American battlefield where four million people supposedly died? Like I said, embarrassing.

2) The Church is Shady Today

How much money do you pay to the church? 10% for tithe, plus fast offerings, and probably more for miscellaneous things, right? Your children go on missions, you help out with church functions, donate extra for special occasions. Good for you. So where does your money go? If you answered “The church uses it to feed hungry children around the world”, I may have some bad news for you.

Hint: These kids don’t get the money.

First of all, the LDS church is hilariously secretive about its finances. Bloomberg used church sources and church statistics to do some calculations, and they are not impressive. According to the church itself, $1.3 billion was given in aid from 1985-2010. That is a big number, but they admit only a third of it was cash, the rest was volunteer hours and material donations. Also, it’s a tiny fraction of their income, which is estimated to be around $8 billion per year. This makes their donations to charity a pitiful 0.7% of their income, and that estimate is probably high due to the fact that the statistics came from the Church itself. You have probably lost that same percentage of your money to your washing machine. I spend way more than that on Chipotle.

I know the church demands financial accountability from Mormons. I know it’s part of the temple recommend process. Mormons are completely expected to be full tithers. I don’t understand how Mormons are fine with one way transparency. The LDS church doesn’t talk about where their money goes. My LDS friend told me he doesn’t worry about it because they have “lots of accountants that watch it all”. In contrast, my church has an annual meeting where they run through the entire budget line by line. It’s incredibly boring. Every expense, from the pastor’s salary to electric bill, is covered in detail and approved by the congregation. You can find copies of it online. They go out of their way to be transparent, and the LDS church goes out of their way to be secretive. This should be a huge red flag.

The church has a history of being dishonest with money. It goes all the way back to the Kirtland Bank, started by Joseph Smith himself.  Is there any evidence today that their financial priorities are out of line? Yes. A huge, expensive piece of evidence. It looks like this:

That is City Creek Center, a shopping mall in Salt Lake City. The church dropped around $1.5 billion on this mall. They spent more on this shopping mall than 25 years of humanitarian aid combined. I’d say that counts as at least some evidence that they aren’t spending money their money feeding hungry kids.

Next, would you believe me if I said the church has lied to you recently? How about last April, in General Conference? Elder Cook got up and said that the church “Has never been stronger”. Now, I could just link you to graphs, pictures, or ward reports to show that things aren’t exactly going splendidly for the church, but those are just facts. Instead I’ll just ask you two questions. First, are wards in your area dividing or merging? My Mormon friends are excited because three separate wards are joining to form a super ward in our city. A growing church does not merge their groups/wards/congregations, they start new ones. Second, how many people are on the books as “members” in your ward, and how many people actually show up on Sunday?

Also, are they as diverse and well dressed as this picture from the marketing department?

There are plenty of other issues to write about, but the only other issue I’ll talk about here is the Church’s fear of information. It is fascinating that each of my Mormon friends has urged me to go to lds.org. Some have even said specifically to not go to other sites that may be full of “anti-mormon lies”. There was even a conference talk last month about visiting Church sites and avoiding sites that are not faith promoting. I have never once told someone to go visit a website or read an article about my faith. Instead, we sit down with some drinks and talk about it. I fully support people researching online and bringing questions. I fully support clicking my links and researching my opinions. What is it that the LDS church is so afraid of online? Is it people like me that are spreading “anti-Mormon lies”? I’m just a normal guy with a laptop, and it only took me a minute to find primary historical documents that the church would find very embarrassing. Maybe that’s what they are afraid of.

3) Mormon Practices Are Shady

Here’s this tricky part. Mormons, you are great people. Every Mormon I have met is kind, friendly, smart, and genuinely good. They love their families, work hard in school and at their jobs, and are successful people. Here’s the problem:

The good things about the Mormon church are not unique, and the unique aspects of the Mormon church are not good. 

So you like that the church is pro family? You like the way they teach you to love your neighbor, help the poor, and be selfless? Yeah, me too. None of that stuff is uniquely Mormon.

Here’s the unique stuff. Your church location is assigned to you based on geography. You are expected to follow a specific set of rules that directly affects your standing in the church. You are a grown adult, and geriatric white men have decided the kind of underwear you should wear. The church claims to be pro-family, but pulls 19 year old teens from college and home to send them on missions, allowing minimal contact with families while they act as door to door salesman for the church. The church deliberately excluded black men from the priesthood as a matter of doctrine until 1978, at which point the unchanging, everlasting God of the Universe decided he was actually totally cool with black Mormons, a decision which had nothing at all to do with cultural movements at the time.

Now for the bonus round, AKA random questions that didn’t make it in yet. Why not drink alcohol? Is there a good reason for it? Why can’t you decide for yourself? Why can’t you drink alcohol, but Joseph Smith certainly did? I’ll let you find that reference on your own. He actually had a liquor license.

If the church leadership is really composed of prophets, seers, and revelators who speak directly with God, why is conference so uninspired? Main messages last month included life changing ideas like visiting the church website, protecting the family, and not using Snapchat.

If this is the one true church on the earth, why is it composed of a tiny fraction of the population located primarily in Utah? If this is the one true church, why are they building shopping malls?

I have so many more questions, but I’ll end this right now in the interests of time. For me,this was the ultimate killing blow. You may have heard of Occam’s razor. It basically says that you should pick the principle that has the fewest assumptions, as it is most likely to be correct. Let’s look at it this way.

For me to believe in Mormonism, I first have to believe in Joseph Smith. I need to believe that he was actually visited by an angel and given gold plates, which nobody saw and which we don’t have today. I need to believe that his translation was inspired by God and not his imagination, and that his stories are all true, despite the amazing lack of archaeological evidence otherwise. I have to be ok with Joe doing his translating with his head in a hat, instead of, you know, looking at the golden plates with writing shown to him directly by God. God really did command Joseph to practice polygamy, even though that had never happened before and there was no reason for him to start. Also, God did command him to start building temples and performing rituals like baptism for the dead, restoring the priesthood that Jesus Himself somehow forgot to restore to the apostles while He was on the Earth. Finally, after God appeared to Abraham, he has subsequently appeared to each Prophet since, and that every one of them has received divine instruction from God as a true prophet, even though all prophets have been old white guys that rose through church leadership and receive their position like a corporate promotion. Their leadership of the church and my tithing is currently my only way to enter the celestial kingdom where I can be with my family forever, eventually becoming a god of my own future planet, an idea that is taught nowhere in the Bible and exclusively in Mormonism.  Also, God lives on the planet Kolob.

Of course, the other explanation is much simpler. Joseph Smith made it all up.

If you want to dig deeper into this, I’d urge you to read either the CES letter or this publication, which go into much greater depth and detail. They are written by Mormons for other Mormons and offer a perspective which I cannot, having never been a Mormon. I would also encourage you to head over to this forum, full of smart, kind, beautiful people who have walked the road away from the Mormon church and help each other out.

Please leave comments, questions, and remarks in the comments below. You can also send them directly to my face, sortadrwordpress@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading!

Step 1… Closer to Being a Doctor

It’s been quite a while since I’ve written anything on this blog, and I’m sorry about that. I had to make a decision back in January, and it was really tough. Do I…..

1) Study really hard all day and every day for Step 1 so that I can become a doctor.

or

2) Continue to blog, increasing my status as an internet celebrity and cementing the love that both of my readers have for my writing (and one of them is still my mom).

I obviously went with the first option. I studied long, hard, cold days for that stupid test, and I’m here on the other side of it with a majority of my sanity intact. If you are here to read a little about the test, skip on down a few paragraphs for my take on the exam and studying. Sadly, studying for days and days on end does not lend itself well for blog posts. Frankly, nothing interesting really happened. My wife did a bunch of fun stuff, and I made sure to get out and do things in the world on a weekly basis, but the vast majority of my time (even weekends and evenings) was spent in the library or at my desk.

I received my score a few weeks ago, so I am past the nervous period of waiting for those 3 digits (hopefully 3 digits, I’d hate to be the first guy to score less than 100!). I did ok, but I feel like I was capable of scoring higher, which is a little frustrating. I would straight up just tell you guys what I got….but you know, it’s the internet, Obama, NSA, etc. I’ll just say I scored a little bit below average, which is kind of my place in the world of medical school. Not really dumb, but also not smart. It’s a good enough score for most of the specialties I am interested in, but it makes some of the competitive specialties more of a reach (orthopedics, for example). Thankfully, I’m not a super gunner (see below for explanations of new words) and I’m not trying to become a plastic surgeon at the Mayo Clinic, so my score should be just fine. To compensate for my subpar score in the dating scene that is residency applications, I plan to make sure programs know that I also have a terrific personality.

So how specifically did I study for this test? First Aid, UWorld, SketchyMicro, and Doctors in Training. Before you copy those down as bullet points, you need to read the next sentence. Figure out how YOU learn as a student, and tailor your studying to that. For example, if you don’t learn well from videos, don’t buy Doctors in Training, because you’ll just be wasting your time. I’ll run through these resources in order of importance:

1) Uworld – this is a giant question bank (2200+) that closely resembles the questions on the actual test. You simply must do the entire bank of questions. Don’t procrastinate doing these, either. Start early, take notes, and review your answers. This is as close as you can get to the actual exam, so spend a lot of time here.

2) First Aid – The Step 1 Bible, everything important can be found here once you learn where to look. Definitely have this open often. Definitely add information to the margins. Definitely never just sit and read this book. It’s not meant to be read. Because everything is in outline form, you won’t learn much from reading the words. It is useful to browse through sections to remind yourself of concepts you have already learned, but not very useful as a way to learn complex concepts.

3) Sketchy Micro- this is a series of cartoons drawn by some genius (who is also now rich). Each of the cartoons give you little memory aids for bacteria, viruses, etc. This is stupidly helpful, especially because I didn’t learn anything from out Microbiology course. It’s fairly cheap, quick and easy to watch, and I guarantee that it will add points to your exam. I hear they are also coming out with Sketchy Pharm for future tests, which should also be very helpful.

4) Doctors in Training – this is the least mandatory of all study options. First off, it’s pretty expensive. Secondly, it’s fairly time consuming. Last but not least, it’s pretty expensive. There are some advantages to it though. Let’s say you have your heart set on a specialty that is not competitive, so you just want to pass the test and have a score that starts with a 2. If you buy DIT, watch the videos, and fill in the workbook, you are going to pass the test. They do a good job covering material efficiently, and they have spaced recall built in to the workbook to help drill in some of the details. It seems like their motto is “If you don’t remember it the first time, you’ll remember it the 8th time”.

My last few thoughts on Step 1 are especially pertinent to students who didn’t do well (like me….just kidding). After just a month or so of clinical exposure, I’m beginning to realize how little anyone cares about Step 1. I think it gets overhyped to second year students (at least it was to us). The material tested on Step 1 has very little clinical significance or correlation. Attendings and residents have been very emphatic that we are just now beginning to learn actual medicine. Finally, there’s a lot more that goes in to your residency app than your Step 1 score. If you want to be a plastic surgeon or dermatologist, you may want to work crazy hard and score well, but don’t freak out because you scored 5 points under the average for your specialty.

To close out this post, I need to include a little dictionary (for people like Mom) who may not be familiar with some of the “buzzwords” of clinical medicine. I will use these words frequently in future posts. This will be on the test.

Attending – this is an actual, fully licensed physician. They lead treatment teams and represent the light at the end of a long tunnel. The attitude of the attending often determines your fate as a med student. Good ones will teach well, have a good attitude, let you do cool stuff, and let you leave to go study. Bad attendings pimp you mercilessly, make you stay tediously long hours, are cynical and jaded, or just aren’t involved with anything going on.

Pimping – this is what happens when a senior team member asks questions to a junior member, usually in a pressured setting. It’s kind of like teaching, just scarier and with a lot more crying. Pimping can be aggressive, like an attending asking rapid fire questions to a medical student in front of everyone at rounds. It can also be helpful, like a resident asking you which structures you can identify during a surgery, then helping identify ones that you have missed.

Resident – these people do most of the actual work. Residents have graduated medical school but not finished the required residency. They are doctors, but don’t have the freedom (or responsibility) of an attending. Residents come in several flavors. Interns are fresh out of med school and are highly supervised. Each successive year past intern year, residents are given more responsibility until their final year, where they transform into the chief resident, who does everything. Residents work long hours, are not appreciated by anyone, and can be the best/worst part of your rotation on the service as a medical student.

Rounds – the sacred ritual of medicine. This happens once (or more) daily, and comes in a few flavors. Walking rounds are exactly what they sound like. The team walks from room to room. First they talk about a patient in the hallway, then they go and see that patient. Sometimes they just talk, then people see patients later, but you get the idea. Sometimes everyone sits down at a table and just talks about the patients. Sometimes rounds only take 30 minutes. Sometimes it takes hours and hours and hours. Students often present their patient(s) during rounds, giving an attending or resident a chance to pimp the student on that disease/treatment.

Tune in next time for ER stories, featuring the lady you got drunk, passed out while smoking, lit her mattress on fire, and had to be admitted for simultaneous burns AND being super drunk (at 10am on a Monday). Or, tales from OB-GYN, featuring the legendary lady with a BMI of 92. I’m more motivated to write when I see stuff like that on a daily basis.

Thanks for reading!