Monday, May 31, 2010

What All People Should Know About Me, The Future MD Part I

To the people who say that the prerequisites for medical school will be difficult: Thank you, thank you. I know. If I didn't know that, why would I be diving into commitment that involves being constantly educated, constantly tested, and constantly, perpetually exhausted?

To the people who say that I'm no good at math and science and am therefore doomed: Well, first, I'd like to say thank you for your underestimation of my abilities. It really says something when the people who "love" and care for me the most don't believe that I can work for what I want. Yes, I will admit: the two subjects haven't been my strongest points in the past, but if you can believe this or not, they both have a deeper meaning now. You just wait. I'll prove you all wrong in two months.

To the people who constantly are telling me that it's a hard feat to get into medical school: No, really?! You don't think I understand that fact? But I'm confident in my own abilities that I will get there. I'll do whatever it takes to score well on the MCAT, to boost my GPA to medical school quality, and you know what? I'll blow the socks off of the interview and admission committees.

To the people who don't believe I'll get into medical school outside the state of Georgia: Well, you know what? Thanks for teaching me to limit my options, and even more than that, you're continuing to underestimate me. Honestly, it's all the motivation I need to succeed even further. So, again, I thank you.

To the people who tell me I've never had an interest in science before: You know, interests change. People change, circumstances change, and viewpoints change. Things happen. And my interest in medicine and becoming a doctor is the most powerful passion I've had in a long, long time.

...and you know what's funny about you people? None of you are doctors or medical students. In fact, doctors and medical students are the ones who have the most faith in me. So, thanks people, thanks!

Remembering the Simple Gifts

On this Memorial Day, it is a time to reflect on the sacrifices made for our country and for the people, our servicemen and women, who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. As the song says, it's a gift to be free. Thanks to my Twitter buddy, @docCcycline, for the inspiration.

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gain'd,
To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come round right.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Five Simple Questions

This post, though from my previous blog, really sums the whole thing up. Without further ado, minus the music therapy bits, here's my story. Answered in five simple questions.

As I'm sure many of you have seen if you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, I have a newly established goal. This is a dream that has really never come to the forefront of my mind simply because I've doubted my abilities. While continuing to do a little bit of that, as is natural with ne situations and fresh changes, I have decided that I will achieve my dream of becoming a doctor. The branch of medicine in which I would like to specialize is one of the best laid plains I've seen to-date. I remember being a toddler and telling my doctors that one day, I would be one of them. And I can't wait to tell them that the dream I've waited for has always come true. I have several dreams, as does everyone, but this one is my ultimate dollhouse dream. I've felt as though everything else I was aspiring to do was just "the next best thing" to what I really, in my heart of hearts, felt was my calling. Now, I completely understand. It is, without a shadow of a doubt, my calling to become a doctor.

The math and science requirements to be admitted to medical school scare me. I know that my brain wasn't "wired" to take that many courses in such difficult subjects, but where there's a will, there's a way. I have a meeting with a pre-medical adviser later on this month, so I can adequately prepare for the discussion to eloquently express my fears, my excitements, and my concerns.

The field of medicine that I hope to enter is one that many of you, involved in the lives of individuals with special needs, will come across in the future, or it may be one that you have come across already. Physical medicine and rehabilitation is a field of medicine that focuses on maintaining the quality of life of a person with a disability, disease, or illness. For example, the doctors that many of you have come across have been neurologists. Your neurologist (primarily in the pediatric field) has given you opinions, made decisions, and administered treatments in attempts to improve the condition of your child or loved one. As a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician, otherwise known as a physiatrist, I will be charged with helping patients to maintain a patient's condition by developing pain management plans, assisting patients to achieve proper nutrition, partnering with allied therapists to facilitate rehabilitation, and many other similar tasks.

Music therapy is directly related to PM&R due to the fact that it is an allied therapy, so my undergraduate degree won't be neglected by any means, and I'm so thankful for that! Who knows? I may become the doctor known for using music with patients in exam rooms!

Before I take you on the wild ride that is this journey, I bet I know five questions that you will have, so let me attempt to answer them for you now.

Who? This question really has a three-part answer. The first part of the answer is that I feel as though my heart has played the biggest role in my decision, which is a wonderful thing. It's very often, though, that I have an inner battle of head vs. heart because of the difficulties that I face, be it physically, academically, or virtually any aspect of the process, but I have to say that confidence is slowly building, and I am continually seeing indicators that this is just what I have wanted to do. It's the biggest decision I've ever made. The second part to the answer is that I've been exposed to the workings of the medical field for nearly twenty years, and I feel as though my personal experiences will be the biggest asset that I will have to offer patients. In addition, I feel as though I will really become motivated to explore academic areas that have really turned me off in the past and that the experiences will allow me to develop stronger coping mechanisms for use when I encounter difficult situations. Thirdly, as you all well know, people have a great influence on me. Just take Dr. MT, for example. My mentor is McDoc, brimcmike, Dr. Mc, you know, he has several names. His story is incredible and is one worth reading. He may guest blog for us one of these days!

What? Physical medicine and rehabilitation deals with restoring maximum function after an injury, an injury that is related to a disability, or an injury related to illness. One thing that greatly appeals to me in terms of PM&R is that the treatments executed by the physicians is very holistic insofar as the physician is charged with examining the whole individual rather than single affected areas and/or symptoms. The field, in general, is also a strong proponent of allied therapies, which include, but are not limited to, music therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy. I feel as though PM&R is the top of the top in terms of the things I have wanted to do with my life. PM&R is an extension of my "dollhouse dream," and I couldn't be more excited.

When? I have three and a half more years (7 semesters) left of my undergraduate degree, but with the credits that I plan to obtain in the summer sessions and Maynester sessions, it may cut down on the time. I will continue working on both the pre-medical requirements and music therapy requirements and may work as a graduate assistant or employee of the university while finishing my pre-medical requirements. I will have to wait until I talk to the pre-medical advisers, but for now, my projected graduation date is December 2013, and I would like for it to stay that way if it possibly can. I would then apply for jobs and for medical school, and wait it out. I think that if I take the courses as soon as I can before the MCAT, it will result in a better score. I'm so motivated.

Where? As you may know, it is my dream to attend Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland. During my time there, I hope to observe at the Kennedy Krieger Institute and find a residency, hopefully with McDoc, in Boston. I want medical school to be adventurous; I want it to be a time where I can discover my independence thousands of miles away from familiarity, and I want it to be the most rewarding experience of my life, no matter where I am.

Why? I feel as though the field of physical medicine and rehabilitation is at "the top of the food chain" in terms of the things that I have aspired to do and be during my lifetime. Special education, music therapy, etc. Everything I have ever done has been related in some way to the field, and I feel as though this is the best way possible to give back to the ones who have saved my life and who have been there for me since birth and before then. I feel as though the credibility that will hopefully be attained as a result of my becoming a doctor will assist in the encouraging patients to achieve and fulfill their hopes goals, and dreams.

How? The answer to this one is simple for now. I will finish out my undergraduate degree and take my certification exam for music therapy and then will take a weekend course to get certified in neurologic music therapy. Depending on whether or not I am able to finish the requirements for medical school in 4 1/2 - 5 years, I will find a job and return to school part time to finish the courses and apply to medical school. As far as physical issues are concerned, Dr. DeLisa has wonderful comments regarding physicians with disabilities and the way that they are perceived in medical school and beyond. So, for now, I will focus on doing the best I can in my classes and worry about the little, nit-picky things when the time comes.

I am so excited to see what happens with this journey, and if you have any further curiosities, please do not hesitate to contact me!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Orthotics? What's the point?

Those of you who may follow me on Twitter or Facebook (or even read the other blog) may know that I wear orthotics. As defined, orthotics are "orthopedic 'appliance[s]' designed to support, straighten or improve the functioning of a body part; an orthosis." The ones that adorn my feet (and have since I was eight years old) are called SMOs, or supramalleolar orthoses. Before I turned eight, the doctor prescribed that I wear an AFO (ankle-foot orthosis) on my left foot, while an SMO was on the right.

Before the transition, I wore two AFOs, which is standard for children with cerebral palsy, and they are often referred to as "leg braces" to the general population.

As a general rule, I disagree with orthotics. Though they have assisted me to achieve my current level of ambulation, I believe that they give the consumer a false sense of reality. Through the early years, orthotics will be helpful to a child, but as he/she matures and develops, they become more of a hindrance than an assistance. For example, if my SMOs were not "trimmed" at the toes, I would not have known what the ground felt like when walking, and it could have taken more time for me to successfully achieve that goal. Orthotics have been a key player in my achievements with mobility and balance, but I feel as though they have become one of the older practices in children with disabilities and medical needs.

Think about the definition of the word "orthotic" described above. Life shouldn't be like that. A veer off the straight and narrow path of life, and the traditional methodologies for your career, for your family, for your academic life, or for your social relationships is the way that they spoil, the way that they expire, and the way that they can die out. Such a "cookie cutter" of an existence can cause one to slowly burn out and feel out-of-place, feel unwanted, or feel as if there might be something of a higher passion instilled within him/her.

As a matter of fact, a realization of a true dream and the realization that it can come true has happened in my life over the last few months. Since I was young, I have been heavily immersed in the medical field, due to the fact that I have had many, may, many issues and doctor visits over the years (as have many of you!), and I feel as though it is, and always has been, my calling to enter into the medical field.

I've never been able to find a profession, aside from that of a medical doctor, which will allow the interactions with patients that I think I'm seeking. It's always been in the back of my mind to go to medical school, but what if you do not enjoy math, science, and the things associated with the endeavor? Many would think that it would be problematic, but it's really not. There are ways that you can become a medical doctor and still not specifically enjoy either one. In fact, in recent years, according to my university's pre-medical website, students who have non-science based degrees.

Thus, it is my dream to go on to medical school to become a pediatric physiatrist and/or a developmental pediatrician, or a Doctor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

One thing I desperately hope for my medical school career is that it isn't dominated by orthotics, figurateively or literally, and that I am able to enjoy the benefits of the practice I've been doing by wearing shoes without my braces for quite some time now. If its a strenuous day, I usually try to stick to an athletic shoe, but more and more, I try to expose the situation in as many environments as possible, similar to the philosophies of the clinical years of medical school

Are you ready for the wild, orthotic-free ride for the next nearly twelve years?

image credit: TC Flex AFO System

Thursday, May 27, 2010


One of the most infamous questions of my lifetime, and of anyone else's, I'm sure, is simply "Why?" From the age-old rhetorical question "Why is the sky blue?" to my favorite one "Hey you! Why do you walk like that?", curiosity often gets the best of all of us from time to time.

Now, you're in luck. Though I've partially answered to the reasons I'd like to become a doctor, there's so much more. So, today, on this very day, you'll understand the intimacies of the reasons I will become "Erin, M.D." sooner than I think.

I've always come across the fact that people assume I want to become a doctor because it's just what I've known all my life. To give you a simple answer, it'll take just a few abbreviations and maybe some terms.

Well, you have the born at 26 weeks gestation factor, then you have atalectasis, then you have an IVH* with a grade four bleed, and then you have ventriculoperitoneal shunt placement, six revisions in nearly twenty years, Botulinium toxin** injections once every six months for fifteen years, physical therapy four five hours a week for 12 years (that's 3,120 hours, by the way), and oh, we can't forget the orthopedic surgeries.

Even after all of that medical jargon, that's still not the reason why I would like to become a doctor.

People are my passion. Teaching people the ways that they can live as healthy of a life as possible for as long as possible with the highest possible quality is my passion. It's my joy.

Possibility should be synonymous for a career in medicine. Frankly, that's what we, as future and current doctors, are responsible for showing our patients the possibilities. We're responsible for seeing to it that our patients are given a fair opportunity for complete, total healing and complete, total health.

And that, my friends, is why I want to be a doctor!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Top Five Reasons Why I'm a Nerd

As a pre-medical student, there are lots of reasons why people would think I am a nerd. And most of the time, to say I'm a nerd, is accurate. Here are just ten (and only ten!) reasons why yours truly just might be considered a nerd!

5: My Twitter feed is full of medical students and pre-medical students. Some of my closest medical related Twitter "friends" are even doctors. It's really neat to see the conversations we get into, usually about medical ethics and the requirements for medical school admissions, and to see where the conversation takes us.

4: Well, well. This is another one that just evolved within the last week, but you can find me reading my developmental psychology book when it's not assigned reading. Unfortunately, the class doesn't finish the whole textbook, but you can bet your bottom dollar that I will be keeping it until I finish and maybe beyond that. It's such a neat book that I would recommend it to any doctor or medical student to keep as a reference to understand how best to explain the complexities of childhood so that a parent (or maybe even a child!) can understand. It truly is a wonderful, wonderful book.

3: I am completely and totally interested in social media's relationship to healthcare. In other words, can we use tools like Twitter and Facebook to empower patients and to give them full access to healthcare professionals? This topic is of such interest to me that I participate in a "Healthcare in Social Media" tweet disucussion every Sunday night at 9/8c! You should join me and other interested parties to see how healthcare's presence in social media is on the rise, is effective, and is allowing a better chance to foster a positive patient-provider relationship!

2: I have always been interested in children with significant special needs. Partly due to the fact that I have something so deeply in common with these children, the other side of the coin is that I am ready and willing to help them defy the standards, just as I have by attending college and (soon to be!) medical school, and sometimes that means that the complexity of their needs is the least of my concerns when I think about all of their potential and the ways that they will be able to impact society as a whole. This is where the special education teacher in me comes back. Thus, I will specialize in developmental pediatrics as well as pediatric rehabilitation.

1: I love to watch videos like the one below. Youtube is a wonderful bank of solid knowledge (and, by the way, is celebrating its fifth birthday this week!), from which to learn the terminologies used and the basics of various exams just sets my heart ablaze with passion for the field, for the children, and for the preservation of the sanctity of life.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Power of Friendship. The Bond of Medicine.

I've considered myself pretty lucky as I've grown up. Typically, as the "different" kid, I drew an extra special crowd. I remember my first friend in the first grade. Her name was Sarah, she had white blonde hair, and her eyes were as big as, well, I don't really know. But they were beautiful. And I was convinced, even in the first grade, that her eyes were big so that she could see the bigger picture.

Fast forward nine years. I'm sitting in a sophomore, high-school-level physical science class. You know, the one that combines physics and chemistry and was virtually the worst idea that has ever been established? Yeah. That one. One day, as I approached the front of the room (the lab tables were arranged in horizontal rows), I tripped over one of the table legs, and my teacher proceeded to freak totally out. Luckily, my family was really good friends with the school nurse. She was paged to the classroom, and all was well. I was perfectly fine, albeit a bit shaken. Then, about 15 minutes later, as I made my way back into the classroom, the overprotective teacher began to ask if everything was okay and if there was anything he could do. One thing he did, though, was something that changed my life forever, and for that, I will never be able to adequately thank him for nor accurately express to you. As soon as I walked back into the room, he had the front row seat ready for me. The young lady in the seat next to the one the teacher had picked out for me was someone I knew after having a science class together the previous year, but she was brilliant. So smart that I was afraid to strike up a conversation.

The next day, which was the first day with the new seating arrangements, we talked, laughed, and exchanged stories all throughout the class period. What I found about this amazingly brilliant young woman was that she wanted to be a doctor. She was so dedicated to her schoolwork that she often didn't make the time to have outings with her friends, but she was so eloquent that you'd never be able to tell that her nose's favorite view was the deep, black printed words on a textbook page.

I like to think I broke my friend of most of what she experienced in the way of obligation to her text and to her work. As we became fast friends, I discovered that not only did she want to be a doctor. She wanted to be a pediatric neurosurgeon. Yes. My friend wanted to be a brain surgeon who operated on and saw children. I was more than fascinated by her drive, and her willingness to work as hard as it took shone through in whatever she did. That year, and really, every. single. year since. A short time after we became friends, my teacher had told me that he thought I would make a fabulous doctor. Shrugging at the idea, I knew it wasn't possible. You know, this guy's a science teacher. Which inevitably means he's a little off his rocker from the start, right?

Never really considering the idea, I shrugged it off. Teachers are supposed to encourage their students to aim high, so he was just doing his job. Right? My special friend asked if I needed help getting to class one day, and so I took her up on the offer. It was often in high school that I got fatigued from carrying all of my books and things around with me all day long. The building, just the one, is bigger than my college campus, so by the end of the day, I was sore and tired. Any energy conservation we could take advantage of was definitely welcomed.

As we walked through the pristine white hallways of the place I'm still trying to forget, we laughed. Like no two females have laughed before. We talked. Like there was no way we would finish a thought. No matter how hard we tried. The year progressed, and I was set. I knew that I would be a neurologist. Because my teacher told me I would need to subscribe to and begin reading and devouring "nerdy" material, I subscribed to Neurology Now, which is a magazine published for patients with neurological conditions as well as for their families. As a result of my having cerebral palsy, the subscription was free. It's a really, really neat read for doctors, med students, and interested parties.

Eventually, though, the doctor dream rolled off my back. There was no way in Hades I wanted to do math and science (and be nerdy about it!) for my entire life. There was just no way. So I stuck with the thing I was comfortable with, the thing that I knew for certain that I wanted to do. I just knew I wanted to teach special education, so after breaking the news to my best friend, I did just that. In my senior year, I participated in an internship for students wanting to become teachers within our school system. Over the course of the year, I completed 300+ hours in two different special education settings, and I loved it. I was just over the moon.

I came into college as a special education major, and I was just so excited. Things happened, and I changed my major, in the middle of the semester, to English. But wait. The more rational side of me began to think a little harder. It's really hard to get a job with an English degree with career advancement without a graduate degree, and everyone knows I wasn't going to be in school forever. I just didn't have time.

Since I was still enrolled in the introductory education courses, I had to observe in a special education setting. Unfortunately, the only setting that was near enough for me to get to without the ability to drive was an early college experience that is funded for middle and high school students who are classified as low-income. Now that I think about it, that setting wouldn't have been bad, but I wanted something that had a little more to do with special education since that was the field that I had wanted so desperately to pursue. A good friend I've made since college is a music therapy major, and she leads sessions weekly for adults with developmental disabilities on campus.

Perfect! Just what I needed! While there, I discovered that I knew someone special. Read that story if you're interested.

After declaring a music therapy major, I began to realize that things had gotten a little too physical for my taste and abilities, regrettably.

All the while, my best friend was at another university in Big City, Georgia, studying biology and chemistry and taking on a fellowship with the biology department head at her school. Knowing this via Facebook, it was all I could do but be proud of her, love her, and admire her intelligence.

Meanwhile, Dr. Brian McMichael, McDoc, a resident physician at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, found my blog and connected with me via Facebook and Twitter. Thus, the candle was list once more, and the flame was no longer smoldering, I knew. Without a shadow of a doubt. I am going to become a doctor.

This past weekend, I had the chance to sit down and have a nice phone conversation with my best friend about our goals in medicine. She is very well aware of my struggles with math and with science; however, she understands that successes are never discovered unless attempted. She also understands that for me, it's not about academics.

Our story is a story of the power of friendship and the strength of the bond of medicine, and I am the luckiest girl in the world to have such caring, understanding friends like my best friend!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Cheers to a Happy Me

Welcome! You may have come here from my previous blog titled Empowering People and Changing Lives, and I want to welcome you aboard this new journey with me. At first, I had thought that it would be appropriate to write a closing to the blog, but I just can't think of anything poignant or compelling to write about an ending journey. The truth of the matter is that I couldn't be more excited about my journey, and it's all about the cheers to a happy me.

I wanted to introduce you to the situations and the circumstances that make me who I am. I hope to have a more elegant looking design applied to the blog in the near future, but just in case you're new, found me through Twitter recently, or would like an update, here is my current status. And here are the things that will lead me to cheers for a happy me.

I'm a pre-medical student and community health major at a small liberal arts college in Georgia. Yes, I know, a pre-medical student out of a liberal arts college is a rarity, but after all, variety is the spice of life! My passions include writing, music therapy, social media, disability awareness and advocacy, and of course, medicine.

One question you may have, however, is that of the way my interest in medicine developed.

I can answer truthfully and honestly that my interest developed at a very, very young age. You see, I was diagnosed with a very mild case of cerebral palsy (spastic hemiplegia) at the fairly young age of fourteen months old. As a result of an intraventricular hemorrhage that ocured at the age of four days old, I also have what's called hydrocephalus. Which means, if you're a med student, doctor, or medical professional, you know this, but it means that I have a shunt. And thankfully I haven't needed a revision (tubing replacement) in nearly 10 years! My passion, my drive, and my love for medicine extends far beyond my side of the table as a patient. My love for medicine is about people, about life, and about protecting the sanctity that is life.

Admittedly, I'm no good at math and science. There is no natural ability, but I have worked excruciatingly hard for every skill I have attained. I did earn the letter grade of a 'C' in my core math class this semester, but I had been away from math for almost a year at the time I took the course, so it was my own fault. Earning A's in math all through high school, I know that it was the fact that my mind was just out of the patterning of the course. For fall semester, I am enrolled in pre-calculus. While it sounds daunting now, I am excited. I am excited to be able to challenge myself in such a way that I understand that this is a stepping stone to get me into medical school, into a field for which I have so much passion that it is absolutely immeasurable.

In a conversation with my dad this evening, he revealed that he didn't believe that medicine was the right field for me. He thought that I wasn't "stacking the deck" in my favor by choosing to pursue something which requires skills that don't come natural to me. I feel certain that when my first two clinical years of medical school are complete, I will understand that the hard work that I put forth during my undergraduate degree has been worth it.

My parents, thus far, have been, in no way, shape, or form supportive of my pursuit of a career in medicine. Thankfully, though, my medical school friends on Twittee have provided me with the resource and the encouragement that I need to succeed and to ensure that things go smoothly. Math and science has never been so important to me. I will never view math and science the same again. It is my pathway. It is my tool, and it is my necessity to get to where I need to be in my career, in my destiny, and in my calling. It will be difficult to pursue this task without parental support; however, I am responding to a calling, to a desire, and to a longing to give back, to nurture, to enjoy, to love, and to protect the patients that I serve as well as the attendings, the residents, and the medical students with whom I come in contact.

So, as we embark on this journey, in which we will take pleasure in being those who are "healthy, unwealthy, and becoming wise," I invite you to join with me in shouting three cheers to a happy us!