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It’s been awhile since I’ve done a science/medicine post, but this one caught my eye the other day. One of the things I find fascinating in a creepy way about the body is how much our personality is controlled by simple chemical reactions. Entire personalities can change as a result of damage to the brain or a change in neurotransmitter and hormone levels.

source: Re-Create Your Life Today

Oxytocin is a hormone produced by the posterior pituitary in the brain. It is responsible for uterine contractions when a woman gives birth. It is also the hormone that is associated with that warm fuzzy feeling we feel when we are close to someone we care about. It is produced during childbirth and during sex. It is often called the “love hormone” because much of the non-sexual attachment we feel for our offspring and for our significant other are attributed to oxytocin. (I also would guess it’s produced when I see fuzzy, baby animals, because something chemical has to be the reason my voice raises two octaves every time my roommate’s dog enters the room.)

Also, as the article that caught my attention points out, oxytocin might be an important determining factor in our moral decision making.

It makes sense; if oxytocin makes you feel kindly toward others it would make sense that your choices would be more aimed at the good of the whole.

But I balk a little at this term “moral.” The article seems to equate trust and generosity is a sense of morality, and even makes the point that hormones known for increasing self-preservation (testosterone in this case) counteract the effects of oxytocin. A bride, feeling warm and loved in the thrill of her wedding experiences a much higher jump in oxytocin than the groom, whose testosterone levels shoot up as the guests admire her in her wedding gown. (Or so the author conjectures.)

Generosity isn’t a bad way to measure moral fiber, I suppose, but donating money a pretty unambiguous measurement. What about the more complex moral choices we make every day? The article left me wondering; do oxytocin levels affect a woman’s choice to keep or abort a pregnancy? What about race, religious tolerance or homophobia? And does this battle with testosterone imply that morality and self-preservation are inherently at odds? Certainly the act of falling in love and out of love can have a detrimental affect on our reasoning skills.

The author does take this into account and points out that there are myriad factors besides oxytocin playing a part. But as food for thought, it certainly has my wheels turning.

The trouble with financial aid isn’t really the debt.

Okay, that’s a lie. The trouble with financial aid is all about the debt. But the complexity of the debt just adds insult to injury.

My first real experience with financial aid was for the postbac program. I had a teeny tiny government loan from

Pictured: Me for the foreseeable future (source: The Medical Student Blog)

massage school, but my undergraduate school was paid off free and clear (thanks mom and dad.)

The thing about student loans is that you can’t just get one lump sum to take care of things. You fill out FAFSA (the Free Application for Federal Student Aid aka Taxes II: This Time It’s Personal) and the government comes back with a smattering of limited options that may or may not cover the cost of tuition and living expenses. All of these are offered on a gradually increasing scale of soul possession.

Subsidized loans are the best; they mean that you have a low interest rate that doesn’t start accruing until after you graduate. Of course the government recently got rid of these (or cut them back drastically) because they don’t want us to have nice things.  (Bitter? Me? You must be joking.)  Next up are unsubsidized loans (higher interest rate that accrues during school) and then grad plus loans, which have the highest interest rate. They don’t offer these to postbac students because technically they aren’t graduate students.

If your collection of federal loans don’t quite cover tuition and living expenses (for example, if you’re attending a program that doesn’t count you as a graduate student), you can always take out private student loans.

I am relatively confident that financial aid officers are forbidden from knowing anything actually useful regarding private loans. At least every time I emailed any of the schools I was planning to apply to for postbac I was immediately referred to their website. Seeing as I, being an intrepid young internet user, had already perused their website at length, I would email back politely restating my question and pointing out that their website fell short. After that I usually received an email that basically equaled, “I dunno…ask the bank? Just check with our website to make sure you get the right bank.”

Sigh.

If you do get a private loan, it goes through the school. They extract their tuition from you and send you a check for the remainder if you’re taking out loans for living expenses. They do this on a semester basis.

In postbac, over the summer they divided my loan disbursals between the two summer sessions (Chem 1 and Chem 2). Only they also decided not to divide the tuition payments in half. So for the first month and a half, the school had paid itself the majority of the entire summer’s tuition but was hanging onto the money I needed to buy food and pay rent…just because? When I pointed out that I kind of needed that money for important living purposes they offered to lend me (with interest, of course) an extra $2,000 to tide me over. No financial aid, I don’t need more loans. I just need the ones I already signed my soul over for.

Fortunately, because medical school is such an extreme financial burden, they hire financial aid officials who actually know their shit and they actually put together a package for you rather than sending you out into the wilds on your own. You still have to fill out FAFSA, and most of them want tax records from you and your parents, but at the end of it all you get a bunch of numbers tied up with a bow matching the cost of attendance (which includes living expenses.) They also have advice on how to limit your loans and information on a the many different payment plans you can use in residency and beyond.

That doesn’t mean everything is all set, though. Even though most medical students are well past the drinking age, financial aid still takes their parent’s income into account. I am finally (at almost 27) considered old enough that I had no EFC (expected family contribution) to contend with, but younger students either have to count on mom and dad to fill in the gap or tackle the grad plus or private loans.

Do you have a headache yet? Because to top this all off, every school is different. They all want FAFSA (no problem) but different schools have different extra forms they want you to fill out. They also have different need-based loans and scholarships as well as merit-based scholarships. And keep in mind that every loan coming from a different source (school, bank, government) is a separate organization that you’re going to need to keep track of as you move through medical school, residency, and beyond.

All of this so that I can spend the next four years of my life studying harder than I have ever studied before and then spend the next ten to twenty five years paying monthly payments four times my current rent.

Screw it, maybe I’ll just give up and join the military.*

source: Le Regard Cretois

*Please look to future entries as to why the military and the National Health Scholars Program are not part of my medical school payment plan.

It’s easy to get caught up in planning for a wonderful future. As the start of medical school draws closer, I spent most of my time fixated on how great it will be to get back to school, to get off the treadmill of the glide year and return to the sensation of moving toward a goal.

The trouble is that during my glide year, I’ve gotten used to having endless free time to fill with…whatever I feel like. A large portion of this time is filled with empty pursuits; it’s astounding the percentage of one’s waking hours that can be spent following up on links posted to Facebook. I’m not going to miss those hobbies. (Okay, I might miss them a little. But mostly I acknowledge that I am a happier and healthier person without them.)

There are other habits I’ve begun this past year that I really want to continue. It takes an impressive amount of boredom, but as it turns out I do enjoy working out. I’ve taken up running and have slowly worked my way up to a 5K race I plan to run in June. I’ve also been writing more. Besides this blog, I’m doing a biweekly article for a small online site and have been steadily at work on a novel that will probably never see the light of day. I’ve been reading more too, plowing my way through books the way I haven’t since high school.

I want to have it all. I want to be able to spend eight hours a day studying and still have energy left over to cook a new recipe for dinner, work out for half an hour and bang out a thousand words of fiction on the weekends. Even sitting here now, sipping a latte at 3PM with nothing much planned for the rest of the day, I’m picturing how perfectly it will all work out.

It won’t all work out. I’m sure in the history of medical students there have been a few cases of super students who, I don’t know, ran their own business and a marathon, during medical school. I’m not that sort of person. I’m filling empty time right now, but once my schedule fills with library hours, something is going to have to give.

All of this is as it should be. It’s what I signed on for. If I just kept on having all this free time at my disposal I would get bored. I’m already bored. I chose medicine because it was all consuming; because I wanted to be consumed.

I’ll be interested to see how it all plays out. Which hobbies, if any, will make the cut once my availability drops. I intend on continuing the blog (and hopefully having more interesting topics to write about) and at least the occasional home cooked meal. And someday, years from now, perhaps I will make it as a writer/physician like the ones who have inspired me.

source: The University Times