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With my second exam finished, I found this article and the accompanying video about a cat who received two prosthetic limbs just the thing to put a smile on my face.

My favorite part is where the vet gets fashion conscious: “I’m not going to put brown feet on a black cat!”

As they explain in the article, the technology they used to do this involves having skin and bone actually grow into the implant to avoid infection and the usual friction side effects that occur with normal prosthetics.

I’m trying to figure out what kind of volunteer work and shadowing I want to do while I’m here at school. Right now that’s involving a little bit of emailing and a lot of contemplating because the prospect of adding anything on top of my school work is a bit intimidating. Thus I’m engaging in the age old tradition of the “think system,” as defined by “Professor” Harold Hill* and hoping that the time and energy to engage in some enlightening medical work will magically appear before me.

Before moving to start school, I spent a little time volunteering at a trauma center. I worked with the radiology techs; mainly following them around with their portable x-ray machine and attempting to keep track of the slides they used to record images. I was probably about as useful as an extra foot, but I was able to see a lot of different aspects of hospital work right up close.

There were so many things about working in a hospital that I wanted to write about; the smells, the machines, the strange hierarchy that was made all the more complex in a teaching hospital. Right now, though, it all feels hidden behind an impenetrable wall of stoichiomoetry equations and thermodynamics. As important as chemistry is to understanding how our bodies work, it’s a little hard to see the direct applications of an acid base titration to my future as a doctor.

So on the one hand I’m dreading having to be somewhere every week that isn’t a classroom or a library, but on the other hand I’m incredibly eager to do something, anything, that will tie this whole thing back to medicine.

With that in mind I’m going to go read about gas laws for our lab tomorrow. And continue thinking about how I’m going to call my connection to Planned Parenthood about volunteering there.

*From the musical The Music Man. And if you had to refer to this endnote to recognize that, you now know what you’re renting from Netflix this week.

I’m far too fried from calculating thermodynamic equations to write anything interesting today. Instead have an interesting medical article to chew on:

Stem cells reverse burn-related blindness

More to come later this week: volunteering and medical specialties. Stay tuned.

It occurs to me that some people might be reading this and scratching their heads, thinking, “What the heck is a postbac? Is she a grad student? A med student? Why does she keep acting like the world as she knows it ended last Monday?”

It’s a fair question. Especially if you consider that a year ago I didn’t even know what a postbac was, or that such a thing even existed. (Back when I was interviewing, the director of one program admitted they had a bit of a problem with exposure. How do you advertise a program with such a small target audience?)

Basically it goes like this: there are people out there, apparently far more than I had ever guessed previous to this venture, who are interested in medicine but who chose to study something other than chemistry and biology in college. There are a lot of reasons for this; perhaps they thought they wanted to do something else in life or didn’t really think they were capable of handling the workload. Perhaps they knew that at eighteen and on their own for the first time, they didn’t want to limit themselves socially by choosing a major that required them to study constantly.

Whatever the reason, these individuals, like me, found themselves with a college degree, a burning passion to practice medicine, and none of the prerequisites that would qualify them to enter medical school.

Enter the postbaccalaureate premedical program (often shorted to postbac because, seriously, who wants to say that mouthful all the time?). These programs are designed for students who already have a degree, but need to take specific science courses to apply to med school.

Officially, the postbac curriculum is as follows:

One academic year of general chemistry (with lab)

One academic year of organic chemistry (with lab)

One academic year of biology (with lab)

One academic year of physics (with lab)

Most postbacs seem to range from one to two years, depending on how rigorous the program (and possibly how much money they think they can wring out of you.) My program is one year long. I take general chemistry and the accompanying lab over the summer. That’s one year of chemistry crammed into about two and a half months. Fall and spring semesters include the rest of the classes and labs, and in my program there is an added pass/fail class where we discuss current topics in healthcare.

It’s basically med school boot camp, and I have been told by more than one person that the experience is actually more challenging than the first year of medical school. The other metaphor attached to both med school and the postbac (I’ve seen it more than one place so I don’t know whom to credit with the phrase) is: “like trying to drink from a firehose.” After one week I can say that this seems an apt description.

In addition, medical programs expect applicants to have actually spent some time working in a medical field. (It’s one thing to understand the concept of science, but it’s quite another to spend your days treating actual human beings with all their eccentricities.) In addition to our studies, the postbacs are expected to volunteer on a semi-regular basis, usually in a hospital or med center, and also to shadow doctors in various specialties to get a feel for what their lives are like. All of this serves the duel purpose of reminding our poor frazzled brains why we signed up for this torture in the first place, and also to show the admissions committees that, no really, we know what we’re getting into and we still want to be doctors.

Ultimately the students who survive the postbac year make up an older, more mature, more definably driven portion of medical school applicants. Not only that, but they often tend to be a more diversified group, as many have already held full-time jobs and earned degrees in a wide variety of subjects. For the most part they are applying to medical school because they want to be doctors, not because it was expected of them by their families. We’re a different breed, possibly one a bit touched in the head, but a determined one nonetheless.

I told myself that before I started this program I would make some promises to myself and that I would ask any readers who cared to lend a hand in helping me keep them. (By which I mean, when I’m flipping out six months from now, for someone to smack me and say, “Hey! Remember what you promised?”)

Promise #1: I will remember that this is a hard thing that I am doing and that stumbling along the way is supposed to happen. It is not a sign that I’m stupid or that I’m not cut out to be a doctor someday.

Promise #2: I will remember that this is about challenging myself to the greatest extent of my abilities and that there is a risk of failure involved in that challenge. It is better that I should fail trying than to have never come here at all. Failure at this does not equate failure as a person.

Promise #3: I will stop using caveats to talk about the future. It is when I go to medical school, not if I go to medical school. I have acknowledged that nothing is certain, but qualifying my goals will not help me achieve them.

Promise #4: I will take at least one evening to myself every week to do something that is completely unrelated to school.

Promise #5: I will not worry about my student loans, my glide year job or the MCATs until it is time to worry about them. I will not let my worry about these future problems get in the way of my studies.

Five promises. I am not promising that I will keep them always, but now they are here to refer back to in the coming months. Tomorrow I begin.

I may be out of a job before I even get started; scientists have created artificial antibodies that counteract bee venom.

Next stop, worldwide panacea. (From http://www.physorg.com. Found via http://www.warrenellis.com.)

It has been over six months since I’ve written anything more than a rant-filled livejournal entry on the ridiculousness of my various places of employment. That’s an uncomfortable fact to face as someone who has always felt that writing was a second nature; not something I did because I wanted fame or money (which is a good thing considering my net profit from writing for the past ten years is something around $260), but something I did because it was necessary. But ever since I made the decision to reroute my life and pursue medicine, the writing has gone by the wayside.

That’s a major reason for the creation for this blog. Whatever it ends up being, I hope it will keep me hammering out ideas in the form of the written word.  Hence the title of the blog as a whole; Cura Te Ipsum; Care for Your Own Self (or something along those lines…don’t look at me I don’t speak Latin.)

According to Wikipedia (and we all know Wikipedia never lies), the phrase originates from a story in the Bible where Jesus admonishes one of his followers by telling him to deal with his own problems before casting aspersions on others. As the disciple in question was a physician, the phrase, as adapted into Latin, was adopted by the medical professions as a reminder to doctors that they need to take care of themselves before they go about trying to fix their patients.

If other people who pursue medicine are anything like myself, it is a well-needed warning. In all of her unending support for my decision to do this, my mom’s one piece of advice to me was, “You really need to find something—meditation, drugs*, anything—to keep yourself from going crazy when things get rough. Because you know how sometimes you can get…really stressed out.”

Meditation never really took, (although I’ll probably write a bit about it at some point, since I’m a big believer in its benefits; much in the same way I’m a big believer in the benefits of exercise and haven’t been to a gym in longer than I care to recall) and drugs are out for obvious reasons. Instead I’m choosing writing. Not a novel, not a great big project; just a series of vignettes, opinions and snapshots to keep my writing muscle loose and my feet on the ground.

Hopefully it will also provide some folks out there with something interesting to read, and, if I have my way, something inspirational to anyone who is thinking that maybe they want to wipe the slate clean and start from scratch.

*My mother would like to make it very clear that she was joking about the drugs. Neither she nor this blog promotes the use of illegal drugs as a means of managing stress.

Here’s a game for you. Let’s say you have a twenty-something female massage therapist working and teaching in a medium-sized city on the east coast. Let’s say she has a BA from a small liberal arts college where she studied English and psychology and eventually wrote a novel that never saw publication. She makes enough to support herself, and maybe start putting something away for a rainy day.

What would you guess her next move might be?

If you said, give it all up to go back to school and try to become a doctor then give yourself a gold star. (If you said get married and have 2.5 kids, then this possibly isn’t the blog you were looking for.)

With that I welcome you to Cura Te Ipsum, part medical blog, part peek into the life of someone who has surrendered her foreseeable future toward a nebulous pursuit of medicine. Will I make it? Only time can tell.