Archive for tag: studying

Patients Change the Way I Study

One of the more frustrating things about taking classes while also spending 18 hours a week in patient care in the ND clinic is that I'll be in the midst of studying, you know, really getting things done, when all of a sudden I'm -- Whoops! -- off down the rabbit hole! I'm irresistibly curious about how this particular botanical applies to that patient case and... then all is lost. I may be losing my knack for efficient studying, but I must say, I am really, truly LEARNING.

Morning coffee, study mode

I've had this conversation with ND student friends before; wouldn't it be nice to spend some more time in the clinic earlier in our education? While I agree it would be rewarding, I realize now that having done all the groundwork, I am much more prepared to effectively approach a patient case. A mere 2 trimesters ago I was on clinic observations, and while there were a handful of things I couldn't quite wrap my mind around, I really thought I was ready to be seeing patients. Now that I'm actively involved in providing care, now that I'm responsible for the thinking and problem solving, I realize that I know SO MUCH MORE than I did as an observer.

The difference between then and now is that I've had classes that teach me how to actually make decisions and proceed with care based on what I've learned about how the body works. By now, I have tools to create an actual treatment for a patient, whereas before I had merely the understanding of how it all works, what can go wrong, and why. Still, in every lecture I am collecting strategies and clinical pearls for helping my patients. I am learning about what works, what doesn't, and where to begin. I still have a lot to learn; I have many more tools to add to my belt.

Down the rabbit hole

Medical school has definitely taught me to acknowledge what I do not know. Each trimester I learn more than I thought I could have ever known about a particular topic, and I am rewarded with a deeper understanding that makes it easier to translate what I've learned in a classroom to patient care. With this in mind, I should pick up where I left off studying botanicals... before that patient case wiggled it's way into my brain, tore me away from routine studying, and inspired this post!

Storytelling, Salamanders, and Sol

A few weeks ago, before she left us (sad face) for her new position as an Assistant Dean in the Naturopathic Program at the University of Bridgeport, Dr. Stephanie Draus organized for a woman who calls herself Comic Nurse to come speak to us during a Tuesday lunch hour. Comic Nurse told us about how she uses comics with her patients and with the medical students she teaches at Northwestern to help tell the story of the healthcare experience. Whether it is getting patients to express their frustration with their doctors, or helping doctors-to-be address their anxieties about their future, comics have proven to be a remarkably effective form of expression.

Photo of hand drawn comic

Many of us think of comics as funny things that make us laugh, and with good reason, the adjective means, "to cause laughter." But we are talking about the noun here, and the noun is a form of storytelling that involves words and pictures and lets the storyteller use imagery to express those things that are sometimes too hard to express with words alone.

You can probably tell that I like using words to process my struggles and tell my stories. Some weeks though, those words just don't flow like I'd expect them to. I have the modern day equivalent of a trash can overflowing with crumpled up papers; too many untitled WORD docs in my "student blog" folder laden with half-sentences and stories that never came to fruition. Now I know an alternative outlet to get my creativity flowing!

No matter which medium you use, storytelling is a powerful tool for learning, for self-discovery, for communication, and for teaching. In PT Modalities class a few weeks back, Dr. Hill told us a story about chopping the legs off a salamander and then re-growing them with the application of therapeutic Microcurrent. So of course I remember that Microcurrent is indicated for tissue healing and repair! The rescue of quadriplegic salamanders is a pretty great memory tool.

Photo of hand drawn comic and McKenzie
My study comics, Piper and Sun King

I also tell stories to remember my botanicals. For a recent quiz, I had to remember Solidago virgaurea; common name Golden Rod, used for urinary tract infections and colds with a runny nose, and sometimes mistaken for ragweed in allergies. I associate the word Sol with Sun. So, there's this BIG sun god with a golden scepter and he's a super powerful diuretic/aquaretic! (This god always has to pee.) If you look at him directly, you'll start sneezing like crazy and you'll need him to cure your snuffles. You could think you're allergic to him, but you're probably wrong, this sun king doesn't wear rags.

Another favorite Bot Med study story is of Piper methysticum (common name, Kava.) Piper is an aging socialite in NYC who drinks too much wine while she lounges around, sedated on her couch all day, popping muscle relaxants and pining for the elusive man GSH who she loves but who does not love her back. Piper is also sad because she has a urinary tract infection and is very worried about her skin. As you can see, there is a lot going on here with Piper, so I'll spare you the medical translation.

Photo of comic on desk in LRC
Reading some medical comics in the LRC

Storytelling is one of the very best ways to remember and to process emotions, two things we must do often as medical students. If you're more of an artist than a wordsmith, try like Comic Nurse does and draw the story. Or, if you're neither good with a pencil nor crafty with words, screw it, try either one! Because it doesn't matter if the sentences are simple or if the characters are stick figures, what matters is self-expression and creative learning.

Piles of Laundry and All the Strong Hearts

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 studying.

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, right?

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 changed.

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 dinner...

Orange Peel Appearance

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 fragrant!).

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 appearance??")

The Tropical Room--where I conversed with some parrots.

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.

Finding Time for Art

Happy belated Halloween! I think once Halloween has come and gone, fall has really shown itself and we're officially getting closer to winter. Winter's impending presence is evident around here; it has been in the 30s at night. Brrrr! We even had our first snow last week!

First snow! Early morning on campus before classes began on Halloween day.

To celebrate Halloween this year, Hanzi and I went out to support the arts in Chicago. We saw a creepy opera put on by the Third Eye Theatre Ensemble called "The Medium." The show is about a woman named Madame Flora who scams customers by putting on fake séances with the help of her daughter and a "deaf and dumb" boy she has taken under her wing. When Madame Flora feels icy cold hands grab her around the neck at one of her séances, she gets terribly scared, admits her dishonesty and tries to give the people their money back. But the couple and the mother who have been coming to her séances to speak with their deceased children are convinced that Madame Flora has truly helped them to connect with their lost loved ones, and they fight her on her claims. Her customers say they know the voice and the laugh of their dead children and she must continue to help them connect with their dead!

The story is lots of fun and this particular show was put on in a black box theater, with two rows of seats along two of the walls. It was incredibly cool to feel that we were participants in the events taking place in Madame Flora's parlor.

I left this little rhyme outside our door incase we had any trick-or-treaters come by while we were out.

It is really very easy to forget our creative side when we are so busy with school, but taking the time to either make art or appreciate it brings me so much more alive! This is something I speak with my other student friends about often; when we're really dragging we encourage each other to go create something or find something artistic to enjoy. The experience of using the other half of our brains seems to really help put everything back in balance!

On the set of "The Medium"
(Photo credit: hanzi d. -

After the Halloween show, as Hanzi and I hustled through the freezing rain back to our car, we had to make a stop at a bookstore called Myopic Books. It was 10:15 p.m. and the glowing red 'OPEN' sign in the window was intriguing. The place was packed with books from floor to ceiling, some narrow shelves constructed from raw 2x4s made for several narrow halls and fantastic browsing. The whole place was 3 stories, and packed with used books! I bee-lined to the third floor and parked myself in front of the alternative health section. Our spur-of-the-moment stop at this shop was totally worth it; I found a copy of "Women's Encyclopedia of Natural Health" by Tori Hudson, ND, know as THE women's health doc in naturopathic circles. And it cost me less than 10 bucks! There were signs inside the store asking us to not take photographs, so I had Hanzi snap this shot of me outside on our way out. The blustery, seriously chilly night combined with the red light in the window made for an appropriately spooky setting!

My fab bookstore find! On Halloween night at Myopic Books in Wicker Park.
(Photo credit: hanzi d. -

After our artsy and interesting Halloween night, I am inspired to seek out artistic endeavors in the midst of my studying. Maybe I'll doodle when I'm losing focus in class, or maybe I'll take more creative pictures on my short walks between buildings on campus. I do really love to patronize the arts; this is perhaps the best use of my time (and money), as I don't really trust myself to find time to follow through on my own creative projects in the midst of med school. Now that I think about it, I have been getting more exposure to the arts... Just last week Hanzi and I went to a show at Cole's Bar in Logan Square where several hard-rocking local Chicago punk bands covered other awesome bands like Led Zeppelin (my absolute favorite!), Bikini Kill, and LCD Soundsystem. It was such a treat to lose myself in the music, all the while surrounded by people who sought out this show to do the same exact thing.

If I can't enjoy and create art on a regular basis right now because I am too busy studying medicine, I can at the very least let the little exposure that I do get to the arts fuel my studying. I'm writing this on Sunday, and am feeling totally ready to sit down and dig in to my Phys Dx lectures in preparation for this week's exam. I realize that I've had a good fill of art lately, and it would serve me well to remember, over the next year or so of school, how it truly helps to balance my brain.