Closing the Chapter on Chiropractic School

As I was sitting down to write this week's blog, also my last blog as a chiropractic student, I realized that I have lately been saying a lot of "Goodbyes." Over a month ago, I said "Goodbye" to the Salvation Army clinic and my many friends who I spent endless hours laughing with and learning from. A few weeks ago, I said "Goodbye" to Dr. Owens and his receptionist Tammy at the Danville VA hospital, where I also made tremendous memories interacting with the veterans and working within the government's healthcare system. Instead of saying yet a third "Goodbye" to National, I will conclude my experience instead by closing the chapter and welcoming the next steps along my journey.

Chiropractic school has been one of the most challenging and rewarding decisions of my life. This week, four years ago, I was finishing up my fall finals at Ohio State and had just come home for the holidays, only to be surprised by a call from Karla Drew, one of National's admissions counselors. The phone interview with Karla was the beginning of a new chapter for me then, and I was thrilled when I received my acceptance letter in the mail a few months later, notifying me that I would begin studying chiropractic medicine at NUHS in September of 2012.

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My White Coat Ceremony in September 2012.

The move to Illinois was unfamiliar and yet exciting. I spent my first year living in libraries, as many students do in any medical or professional program. Phase I of the program seemed to drag on, but by 2014, I had moved on to the clinical sciences in Phase II and was soaking up all of the information. I quickly became involved in our university, both in student organizations and with the admissions office, so I spent the majority of my free time getting to know my fellow peers and developing closer friendships.

In 2015, I moved to the city of Chicago to be closer to the Salvation Army clinic and to enjoy a new experience as a young adult. I quickly became infatuated with my neighborhood in Lincoln Park and was thrilled to explore the city in my free time. I grew close with my "clinic-mates" as we called each other, and I developed both my diagnostic and technique skills as a chiropractic intern working with Dr. Erin Quinlan. During my year in Chicago, I found myself falling in love with all of the people and places around me. I decided to forego my previous plans to return to Ohio and stay in Chicago following graduation from chiropractic school.

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Soon to follow my brother Billy's footsteps at his NUHS graduation in December 2000.

It's hard to believe that the past years have flown by so quickly. I never imagined that this time would arrive! My experiences and memories at National changed my life, and for that, I am so entirely grateful. I believe that we as CAM professionals have so much potential to help others, if only we have the courage to speak up and initiate change in a society overwhelmed by pharmaceutical influence. The healthcare profession needs more chiropractors with big hearts and open minds so that we can continue to impact the lives of so many people struggling with chronic pain and disease.

It has been a pleasure sharing my experiences through my blog posts over the past two years, and I can only hope that you now feel more inspired to pursue a career in chiropractic medicine and come experience National University for yourself. As always, please don't hesitate to reach out to me via email at erinemley@gmail.com with any questions you may have.

In health,
Erin

There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays

The countdown has begun, and I feel like these last weeks of 10th trimester are flying by. After my month in Danville, I'm slowly adjusting to life back in the Chicagoland area. The city is filled with Christmas lights, tourists galore, and most importantly, holiday cheer. I find myself completely awestruck by the beauty and spirit that surrounds me this time of year, and I am even more eager now for December 17th to arrive.

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The Emley Family

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I traveled to my parent's home in Ohio to celebrate the holiday with them and enjoy some time with the ones I love. I haven't been home in nearly six months, which seems surreal to me. It's hard to believe that I won't be returning home to Ohio after all is said and done. Then again, I guess spreading your wings and planting your own roots is just part of growing up.

Once I had returned to Chicago for the remainder of the weekend, Chris and I spent Saturday night sightseeing downtown on the Magnificent Mile and celebrating my return to Chicago.

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Chris and I enjoying a celebratory bottle of wine

For the next two weeks, I will be replacing my normal clinic internship with "Observation Days" that we are allotted as 10th trimester chiropractic students. I am going to be spending time at Proper Balance Healthcare with Dr. Christina Creevy-Knox (NUHS 2001), where I will begin my career as a chiropractic associate once I receive my Illinois license in January. I can't wait to learn the flow of the practice, meet the patients, and begin training as their new doctor on staff!

It seems like next week will be my last blog as a chiropractic student at National, and I look forward to sharing my experiences with you one more time!

Saying Goodbye to Danville

Gasoline: $150
Audiobooks: $30
Travel snacks and coffee: $40
My experience at the VA hospital: Priceless

Over the past month, I've driven over 1,500 miles and spent over 25 hours in the car. I've finished two audiobooks and consumed copious amounts of coffee while driving. Would I do it all over again? In a heartbeat!

My experience at the Danville, Illinois, VA hospital system has been challenging, yet so rewarding. Dr. Owens reminds me that I was selected for the preceptorship because he knew I would make a beneficial impact on his patients, and each day that has passed at the clinic, I have been proud of my achievements. I entered the position knowing that the patients would be a challenging population, many of them dealing with chronic pain and having psychosocial components to their conditions. I was confronted with the task of providing care to significantly older patients than those I saw at my clinic internship, the majority of whom were strong men.

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Myself, Dr. Tony Hamm (ACA president and National grad), and Andrea
From the McKenzie Part C seminar this weekend on campus

I was limited with what types of care I could offer the patients, partially because the VA hospital has health care providers to perform some of the modalities we use as chiropractors (i.e. the PT department also has an electrical stimulation machine), but also because the patients were being co-managed with so many other providers. My primary tools in the clinic were manual manipulation, mobilization assisted with a drop table, flexion distraction, and acupuncture that was performed by Dr. Owens. With a much smaller tool bag than what I was familiar with having at Salvation Army, I learned to be resourceful!

One of the most valuable lessons I learned from Dr. Owens during my time at the VA is the importance of open communication with the patient. The verbal components of a patient encounter are often the most challenging to grasp as a new doctor. I found myself explaining various treatment options and their benefits, educating the patient about the importance of adjusting and acupuncture, and most importantly, emphasizing prognosis.

As interns, we often see a new patient and want to do everything we can to help them reduce their pain and improve their function. However, it's important to remember that not all conditions that walk into our offices can be treated conservatively with chiropractic. With a few difficult cases, I realize that I can't necessarily help everyone. Some patients need more aggressive treatment options or may never be fully out of pain because of their previous conditions. I've been learning to strive for "maximum clinical improvement," rather than "completely-healed." Often times, we blame ourselves and our skills for not being good enough to heal patients, and that mindset is gradually broken with time. My experience at the VA has made me value my talents and manual skills more than ever before, and I'm excited to say that I feel prepared to begin practicing.

I'm sad to be leaving my patients that I have worked with over the past four weeks, but I am confident that I am leaving them in great hands with Dr. Owens. He was a wealth of knowledge and a true mentor to me during this preceptorship, and I wouldn't trade my memories and experience for anything. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to Dr. Owens and Tammy for all of their encouragement and support along my journey!

Only three weeks until the big day! Here I come, graduation!

Part 4 Boards - COMPLETE!

There is no greater feeling than knowing you have just jumped over your last hurdle in what seems to be the most exhausting race of your life. That's the metaphor I am using to describe this overwhelming relief of having completed Part Four (IV) of the chiropractic national board exams. I haven't quite reached the finish line yet to cross through that final threshold, but the only elements that stand between that graduation stage and me are four weeks and the unknown certainty of board scores.

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A beautiful sunrise I witnessed driving down one morning from Chicago to Danville

The National Board of Chiropractic Examiners, or as we refer to as the NBCE, is the organization which administers all components of chiropractic board exams, and they always have a six-week waiting period for scores to be graded and posted. All board exams up to this point had been written exams, consisting of oodles of multiple choice questions that covered the diverse curriculum of our education. The last series, Part IV, was a practical style of exam, which in my opinion, was much more nerve-wracking!

The exam took place over two days:

  • Friday focused on diagnostic imaging, where each of the candidates progressed through stations containing radiographic X-rays, CTs, and MRIs. This section evaluated our ability to read and interpret imaging studies, as well as determine the appropriate follow-up care or referral to other providers.
  • Saturday focused on case management and chiropractic technique. For three hours, candidates were asked to rotate through different stations where we were challenged with tasks of history intake, problem-focused orthopedic examination, physical examination components, and chiropractic technique skills demonstration.

Saturday was by far the longest and most draining day of the board exams, but I walked out feeling confident that I was amply prepared through my education at National University and with my weeks of independent preparation. It was great to spend time with my friends and peers again, those who I haven't seen much since beginning clinic at Salvation Army, even if it was only because we were all forced to convene in Davenport, Iowa, for exams!

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My sister Liz and I relaxing on Saturday night after my long weekend of board exams

After the exams were finished, I came back to Chicago to spend Saturday night relaxing and decompressing from the long weekend in Iowa. I was excited to spend some time with my little sister Liz, who was in town briefly and was there to celebrate with me when I returned.

Over the next couple weeks, I will be finishing up my internship in Danville, preparing the last components of my Illinois license application, and gearing up for graduation. The last hurdle has now been jumped and the finish line is finally within reach!

My First Days in Danville

Well everyone, I've made it through my first week here at the VA Hospital! My experience began last Monday morning when I entered the rehabilitation wing of the hospital where the chiropractic clinic is among the physical therapy and occupational therapy departments. 

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View of the hospital from my house

I met Dr. Donald Owens and his assistant Tammy, who manages the front desk and handles the business matters of the clinic. After a brief introduction to other people within the department, I toured the hospital and had the chance to get oriented with my surroundings. Dr. Owens eased me into the clinic by allowing me to shadow him the first day, but my experience became hands-on by day two!

During my first week, I encountered a variety of veterans all from different eras and different branches of service. Believe it or not, almost all of the patients were presenting with neck and low back pain! Each patient has presented with a different set of symptoms with different degrees of severity, and managing each case has been a learning experience so far. It was exciting to see how Dr. Owens performs his physical exams, how he adjusts patients, and how he educates them about their conditions.

For many of the veterans, this is not their first experience with chronic pain, so as a shiny-eyed intern, it has been a challenge for me to understand the prognosis of these conditions. In our education, we focus on effective and efficient treatments that will release the patients from our care in a set number of visits. However, with many of the patients here at the VA hospital, there is no date set in stone. Teaching the patients how to best manage their condition is part of the doctor-patient relationship here at the VA hospital, because more often than not, a chronic condition associated with military service may never fully resolve.

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Sunset in Danville

In my evenings, I have been spending time at the Danville public library and in my room, gearing up for Part 4 boards coming up next weekend! Between all the flashcards and highlighters I've bought to prepare for this exam, I'm ready to put down the study materials and just be done. The light at the end of the tunnel is near!