Ugh, guys and gals, it's been a tri! I'm sitting here trying to
bang out a meaningful blog post for my loyal readers and... turns
out the only thing I can focus on is that I am surrounded by three
loads of unfolded laundry (clean at least, thank goodness) and
that's just the start of what's not getting done around here...
My mom would be mad -- sitting in my messy room, mustering
energy to do lots of things.
What week in the tri is it? I keep trying to write a comment
about it being "that week" of the tri, and to quote my fellow ND
student friend Wendy, "I just can't even." I keep telling myself
that taking boards in week 4 or 5 (or whenever that was) is why I'm
all out of sorts, but really, it's just that med school is med
school is med school, and there's just no changing that.
Classic medical student portrait -- sleepy and
In the summer I wrote about the unbeautiful part of being a
naturopathic medical student. That was the last time I had ice
cream for dinner and even though it's not exactly ice cream
weather, tonight's lookin' like its time for a repeat.
Enough complaining! What I HAVE managed to do lately is this: I
get out of bed every morning! I put on clothes, and I think I
always look presentable, if maybe, occasionally, a little weird.
Each morning I succeed in making myself coffee, and if I had a "To
Do List," I would almost always put a satisfying check next to
"make breakfast." But, it's a good day if I manage to actually eat
the breakfast without also doing two other things simultaneously;
I'm usually taking bites between packing a lunch and scrambling to
gather up all my things.
I can say with confidence that each weekday I make it to campus!
Yes! I am proud to say that I stay awake in class, and I almost
always know which room I'm supposed to be in, and when. Also, I
generally always know what's going on in lecture, although... I
have my days.
Today, when taking a blood pressure I struggled to multiply 17
by 4. It's OK, not all doctors can do math every single time,
Some days seem unbelievably long, and others I just wish, wish,
wish could extend by just an hour or two! If you had an extra hour
in the day, what would you do with it? I used to say, "Yoga!" Now,
I would sleep. I would definitely sleep. I used to think sleeping
was for the faint of heart. I'm not sure anyone could get through a
medical education without a strong heart, and so, my views have
Speaking of strong hearts, I am surrounded by them and
Hallelujah! If it weren't for my friend Blaine's reliable punchy
sarcasm, Wendy's big grin and occasional colorful language, Tina's
quick laugh, Mallory's eager smile, Abdulla's kind eyes, Lisa's
happy conversation, and Brad's constant confidence, I might have
imploded by now. And these are only the people I see the most
often! I have so many other fellow student friends who keep me
laughing, who commiserate with me, and who help me talk through my
thoughts everyday. Thank you all! You guys rock.
Sigh. Thank you for reading about my blunders and my teeny, tiny
daily successes. Now I think its time for that ice cream
So, I guess the exact name for this new lunar year in the
Chinese calendar is up for debate. What's not debatable is the fact
that I went to a (belated) Chinese New Year party on Saturday and
ate a delicious hotpot with ingredients sourced from Chicago's
China Town. Yummy! I also tried my hand (mouth?) at a Chinese
blowgun and wore house slippers.
Hotpot! (The little mushrooms were the most delicious
According to both the New York Times and NPR, the English translation of this year's
Chinese animal is fuzzy. "Yang" may mean a sheep, a goat, or a ram.
The sheep/goat/ram debate seems to be a uniquely American and
European problem. Throughout Asia, most people are settled on what
exactly the word "yang" represents for them, often depending on
which one of these animals lives in that particular region and
whether they do good or bad things for the ecosystem.
Party host Reed taking aim with the blowgun
For example, I learned that in Mongolia, this year is likely be
regarded as the year of the sheep, as opposed to the goat, which is
known for eating not only the grass but also the roots, leaving no
grass for the following year. Thus, the sheep is more auspicious
and one's ancestors would surely name a year for the animal that
leaves opportunity for growth.
As part of our naturopathic training, we take an Intro to
Chinese Medicine class in our third trimester. The course provides
an excellent segue for those ND students who are considering a dual
Oriental Medicine at NUHS. The information we learn in this
class barely grazes the surface of Chinese medicine, but it does
give us the capacity to converse with its practitioners based on
our rudimentary understanding of the substances, organs, elements,
and patterns used in Chinese medicine. We are taught to analyze a
case to determine imbalances in yin/yang, internal/external,
cold/hot, and deficiency/excess.
Pulled out my old notes on Chinese Medicine for a
After much debate in my third tri here at NUHS, I realized that
studying in the OM program was not for me. Many of my ND peers are
working toward dual degrees and take night classes in the
Acupuncture/Oriental Medicine program. I hear fabulous things about
the professors and the program as a whole! If you're curious about
the master of science programs in acupuncture and oriental medicine
here at National, don't hesitate to jump over to Juli's blog
and read about it!
As for the rest of the naturopathic medical schools, I believe
that the Canadian colleges include more training in Chinese
medicine in their curriculum than do the American schools because
parts of Canada include acupuncture in their ND licensure. Another
note to make about this overlap between naturopathic medicine and
Chinese medicine is that as NDs we have the opportunity to sit for
an acupuncture-specific board exam when we take NPLEX Part 2. If
you want to practice in certain Canadian provinces, Arizona or
Kansas, I believe you must sit for this board exam. In order to sit
for this add-on exam, you must have upwards of 200 credits in
acupuncture/oriental medicine. At NUHS, this means you must enroll
in 7 specific courses in the AOM program. I looked into all of this
because I intended to take every add-on board available to me when
it comes time to do so, but in the end I decided I was unlikely to
end up in Arizona or Kansas or most of Canada, and if I do end up
in one of these places I'll tackle that obstacle when I come to
In the meantime, I'll be making an effort to embody these
qualities of our new Year of the Sheep (/goat/ram): avoid pessimism
and hesitation, be kind-hearted, clever, tender, and compassionate.
Happy New Year to you all!
Whew. I'm finished with the boards! At least for now. I didn't
realize how much time and energy I was giving to studying and
preparing for that big exam until the day after. Even the evening
after the exam I was still energized and excited. The day after
however, I was totally burned out and my brain felt like mush. The
emotion of the experience was wholly exhausting.
Cheers to getting through part 1 NPLEX!
On an easier note, how did I celebrate? First, my girlfriends
and I toasted each other's success of making it through while we
complained about the hard questions. The rest of the week was a
difficult mix of catching up on work while also trying to catch up
on sleep. And when the weekend came, I paid attention to my
heart-mind by attending the Integrate Chicago conference
and going out to enjoy Chicago's restaurant week.
My view in a lecture on the philosophy of care at Integrate
Integrate Chicago is a conference put on by students of
medicine from different disciplines. The organizing board included
students from UIC and Loyola med schools, as well as an ND student
from NUHS, and many DO students from The Chicago College of
Osteopathic Medicine (CCOM). One of the most enlightening talks I
attended was about the clinical application of Osteopathic
Manipulative Medicine (OMM). I learned that most doctors of
osteopathy (DOs) do not actually practice their manipulative
medicine, which I always thought was what set them apart from MDs.
The presenters were passionate about bringing OMM back into regular
practice. As part of their presentation, they demonstrated a few
things that can be used on hospital inpatients, such as those who
have recently undergone open-heart surgery, as well as techniques
for outpatient care such as an acute sinus infection. I took
Not only did I learn how a more traditional osteopath uses their
medicine, but I also learned that DOs describe themselves as
"exactly like MDs," except that they get more training in
diagnosing and treating musculoskeletal conditions. The presenters
stressed that as DOs, they always use the appropriate drugs as
indicated for the sinus infection or other disease, but will
combine these conventional treatments with their manual therapies
to help speed healing time.
This presentation was particularly helpful for me, because as an
ND student I often field the question, "So, are you like a DO?" Now
I can be confident in saying that we are much different than DOs
and why, at least based on what I learned from the doc and students
The presenters opened their talk by briefly mentioning the Tenets of Osteopathic Medicine, which include
a belief that "the body is capable of self-regulation,
self-healing, and health maintenance." Despite this, there was a
resounding affirmation in their talk that they are no different
from MDs. Their treatments consist of the appropriate medications
first, with their OMM used as an adjunct to this care. There was no
further mention, beyond their introduction, of the body's ability
to heal itself, nor their application of such a tenet in treatment
Herein lies a major difference in our medicines. An ND forms her
treatment plan around supporting the Vis and addressing the basic
determinants of health, which may be truly very basic (air and
epinephrine, as in anaphylaxis) yet important for all cases. Also,
an ND IS different from an MD, and this distinction is both
important to us and necessary for treating within our philosophy of
the body-mind-spirit as a whole.
We need all of these styles of medicine, each one has its
strengths and integrating them all seems like an effective way to
make sure each patient gets the best, most individualized care. I
came away from this conference confident in what I am studying. I
could keep up with the anatomy and biomechanics talk of the DOs, I
could nod in understanding at the anti-inflammatory diet, I knew
the biochemical pathways implicated in replacing curcumin for
NSAIDs, and I understood the uses of and references to
pharmaceuticals. I also better understand what challenges I will
come against, even in the integrated medical environment.
Thankfully, the skepticism often comes from a limitation of
knowledge, and if the audience is already prepared to throw off
some of their dogma, then with time, there's nothing some extra
education can't fix.
What happens when you've been studying microbiology for your
Part 1 boards and you see a sim patient in clinical problem solving
class? You come up with a somewhat obscure viral infection as your
diagnosis, when something along the lines of autoimmune disease was
what your professors had in mind... Such was my first reminder this
week to take a step back and remember the big picture. Who can
blame me though, really? I've been busy!
The Desert Room--where I found a good reading bench.
This week's second lesson in considering the totality of things
also reminded me to make space for wonder. After picking up my new
glasses on Saturday (Yay! Happy eyes!), I walked over to the Oak Park Conservatory to find a reading bench
among the plants. It was late morning and there were small children
exploring in each of the three greenhouse rooms. Most of them were
working on a scavenger hunt prepared by the curators, but some were
too small for that. I alternated between reading my NPLEX study
guide and watching and listening to the small humans as they went
through cycles of amazement (Mommy, Mommy look at the pink flower!)
and frustration (I can't find the snake! Help me!)
The Fern Room--where I sat to smell the flowers (no joke, so
Thankfully, I was granted about an hour of uninterrupted study
time among the cacti during which I made some good headway through
the section on the urinary system. Around the time I developed a
numb butt from the wooden bench, I packed up my books and set to
exploring the place with my new glasses on. I'm sure some of you
reading this know that feeling of newly crisp vision; texture has
returned to my world! I didn't plan it so, but the Conservatory was
definitely one of the very best places I could go first with my
sharp new eyes. The cacti were spiny, the tropical leaves were
waxy, and the flowers were bright and complex. The climbing vines
sprouted tiny brownish green curly-cues and the huge, fragrant
lemons hanging on their branches were beautifully pock marked
(What's that disease process I was just studying with "orange-peel
The Tropical Room--where I conversed with some
When I finally headed out, the volunteer docent was apologetic
that I had to study over the sound of kids. I reassured her it was
a welcome distraction, and a good reminder before I sit for my
board exam to attend to all the possibilities. Also, that I should
not forget to delight in the details.
And we're back! We're really back, full-on, cramming for boards,
prepping for patients and all. I'll admit it, the experience of
preparing for boards has taken some wind out of my sails. Last
trimester I was feeling ready to be a doctor. Spending time in the
clinic made me feel ready to see patients and puzzle through the
hard cases. More recently, I've been laboring with my 500-page
board review book and feeling inadequate.
Thankfully, I can see that the deflation of my confidence comes
in direct response to my anxiety about taking board exams. And I
guess I am feeling slightly more capable after finishing the Cardio
section yesterday and color-coding my weekly schedule this morning.
Wrapping my head around a new schedule always takes at least a
week, and getting it all organized definitely helps calm my
Yeah, my color-coded schedule for Tri 7
Seeing as we celebrated Martin Luther King Day this week with
Monday off (thank goodness, any extra study time is treasured!), I
am inspired by this piece of wisdom he wrote:
cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot
drive out hate, only love can do that."
In preparing for boards, it doesn't do much good to mix
negativity with those dark, foreboding clouds floating around
February 3rdon my mental calendar.... I'm trying hard to stay
positive while I study and am thankful for the encouraging text
messages I've been getting from my ND friends who are in the same
JohnnyD instructing me in the fine art of shooting a
As it turns out, even a 4-week break can't provide enough time
to study as much as planned. I do have a few good excuses
though.... My boyfriend Hanzi and I spent a week around Christmas
in Northern Michigan with his family; we skied, caught up with some
of Hanzi's old friends, and I learned how to shoot a pistol!
(Hanzi's Dad is the manager of a local shooting club.)
After returning from Michigan we had a few days before we headed
out to Boston to visit with my family. Our week in Boston was our
first visit to my parents' new house (I wrote about their move in
this post), and included pond hockey, dinner with college
friends, and some quality girl time for me with one of my oldest
friends. I was also lucky to spend a day working with my Mom at her
Integrative Dermatology practice where she incorporates diet and
lifestyle in the treatment of her patients. I had an absolute blast
interviewing patients and prepping them for their visit with the
doctor, though I found the electronic medical records a huge pain
to navigate... things to look forward to I suppose....
Ebola dinner lecture, my view from my seat by the
In addition to working in her office, my Mom took me as her
guest to an informational Ebola dinner (appetizing, huh?) hosted by
the local chapter of the Massachusetts Medical Society. I ate yummy
salad, roast beast, soup, and chocolate cake while learning about
Ebola. The lecture compared the first known epidemic in the 1970s
with the disease picture of today's outbreak. I met one
semi-retired female doctor who practiced general surgery who seemed
wholly uninterested in naturopathic medicine, and another
practicing female GP who asked me to send her an email with
information about what we naturopathic doctors do. How cool!
After spending time immersed in the conventional medical world,
I am happy to be back at NUHS, working on becoming a confident
doctor who can hold her own in the company of skeptical, old
medical doctors. If that isn't inspiration to crush these board
exams, I don't know what is! Back to the books now.... Welcome back
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