The other day, I was on my daily commute to the hospital for one of my clinical rotations. The train chug chugged along and as it neared one of two bridges, I turned my head expectantly to view the expansive water and distant hills. But on this particular day, the view which I have come to treasure, was blanketed by an unrelenting fog. I could see absolutely nothing outside of the window. It was a disconcerting feeling. What was happening behind the fog? When would the fog lift? As the train made it to the other side of the bridge, the water and hills left behind, the fog gradually lifted, trees and buildings slowly appeared and my view of the outside world became crystal clear once again.
This two minute experience got me thinking about how similar life can be to this event. There are times in our lives when our path forward is clear. We can feel confident enough to proceed on our journey. There are other moments, when things become less clear, our confidence may become shrouded in uncertainty and we wonder where has the path disappeared to? One thing I do know. The fog eventually lifts, and we will see clearly again. It just requires patience, determination and the will to never give up.
I recently completed my second Psychiatry rotation and have just completed my first 2 weeks of Internal Medicine. Both have been great learning experiences with amazing staff physicians and residents. On some days though, I feel truly tired. I wonder if I have the strength and ability to become a good doctor. Or I struggle to balance medicine with family life. Doubts try to creep in. But I also feel so grateful to be in a position to help people so directly in their moments of crisis, illness or fear. It truly is a humbling and privileged position to be in! And even on those cloudy, unclear days…the fog eventually lifts!
Featured image: View from the train in summer time, late evening (potentialdoctor.com)
One of the things that I wanted to improve on from my last year in medical school was learning to slow down and appreciate the little things around me. I loathed the fact that mornings were rushed and it seemed like we were always ordering the kids around and rushing them out the door. With better time management and changes to our parenting approach, the mornings during the past week have been beautiful. I know that not every morning will go smoothly but I am simply grateful for those that do. This morning I felt grateful for 4 things:
Brushing my little girl’s hair: I had dreamed of doing this ever since I was a teenager. After my first pregnancy ended in a traumatic miscarriage, it sometimes seems like a dream that both she and my son are actually here in my life.
Getting hugs from my dear son: As I was getting things ready this morning, my son suddenly stopped me and said, “Mummy, I want to do something”…he then enveloped me in a deep, long hug. Moments like these make the challenges of motherhood seem more than worth it!
Being in medical school: As I looked over the voluminous material I need to learn over the next few weeks, I simply sat back and drank in the fact that although it’s a challenge, I am doing what I have been wanting to do for so long…and I love it!
My Heavenly Father: I love the scripture in Psalms that describes God as a “Father to the fatherless” and a “Defender“. Having lost my father unexpectedly when I was 5 years old, I truly have seen God be a Father to me through the years. Despite the ups and downs, He has always been there for me. He is my hope and everlasting peace!
Take a moment to stop and reflect. What are you grateful for today?
Raising kids is one of the greatest challenges one can face. It calls for the utmost patience, unconditional love, and draws stark attention to our own weaknesses. I personally realized that I was not as patient as I thought I was. I can recall my angry outbursts and frustration with my two young children (particularly my son), often feeling like I had no idea what I was doing when it came to parenting. I couldn’t understand why they simply couldn’t listen more…and whine less!!
This summer, with my kids home with me every day for 2 months straight, I knew something had to change with my parenting approach. I didn’t like the fact that I felt so much frustration and helplessness. I decided to take concrete action and found that I started to see significant improvements in my son’s behavior (and my own!) If there’s one thing that I have realized with kids, it’s that often their negative behavior is fueled by my own behavior and attitudes.
So what action did I take? In a nutshell, I prayed daily about the situation and I read parenting resources voraciously. Then I applied what I learned consistently!
I have distilled what I learned down to five basic principles which I learned from several different books and online resources. I feel that these ideas have completely transformed the way that I see myself and my children. I will share these principles with you over a series of posts, but let’s get started with the first one.
Parenting Principle Number One: Positive Speaking
Speak positively about your child and to your child: A child responds to your demeanor and attitude toward them. If all they hear is negative words about themselves, this is how they will behave. Negativity can slip out unintentionally in a moment of frustration: “You’re so messy!”, “You’re so slow!”, “What’s wrong with you!!”. I know I have been guilty of putting down my son when I could have been more gentle or understanding.
How can you create a more positive environment for your child? Focus on your child’s strengths. What are they good at? What did they do well today? This can be in the simplest of ways, “Thank you for putting your toys away” or “You were really sweet with you sister today, that’s great!” or “You’re really good at building things, keep up the effort!” This doesn’t mean ignoring their weaknesses or any bad behavior, but it means putting more emphasis on what the did well rather than what they failed at.
This principle was inspired by reading “Raising Positive Kids in a Negative World” by Zig Ziglar.
Stay tuned for Principle Number 2 in this series of ‘Parenting Principles That Transformed My Life’
How do you handle a stressful job, demanding school work, family life, parenthood or the challenges of life in general? There is no one-size-fits-all solution but there are some strategies that can help us cope with the day-to-day demands we face. Based on my personal experiences, I have found that there are 4 things that consistently give me energy, stamina, improve my mood and attitude:
Regular exercise: It can be tough to find time to exercise 3 or more times per week. There are so many other things that need to get done! But, physical activity is as beneficial to our bodies as healthy food is. In fact, when it comes to cardiovascular health, physical activity is just as important as healthy food. It can take some time to find a regimen that works for you but setting realistic goals and easing into it could help set the tone for a more consistent exercise routine. Why not start with just 10 minutes every other day? Establishing the habit is the hardest part but you can do it!
A good night’s sleep: This means different things to different people. Some can get by on 5 hours while others (like me) need at least 8 hours a night to feel fully rested. I have personally found that my mood, attention span, ability to learn and handle stress are much better when I have been sleeping well. If you are feeling stressed, consider whether the amount of sleep you are getting is sufficient for your daily needs.
Social ties: Sharing our struggles with those we trust can take some of the burden off our own shoulders and help us cope. There is no shame in feeling overwhelmed or tired. Reach out to someone if you can!
Reflection: Taking time for reflection, prayer or meditation is a fantastic way to make sense of your thoughts and slow down the rhythm of our fast-paced lives. It can also help us bring to the forefront unresolved feelings, hurts or other difficult emotions. Why not set aside 10 to 15 minutes a day for this personal reflection time?
Whatever stresses you may be going through, consider the above basic strategies to help you cope. Simple but effective!
My recommended workout of the week. This is a great 30-minute cardio workout with light weights (5 to 10 pounds) that also targets chest, abs, glutes, obliques, shoulders and legs. For those with problematic knees (like me!), there is a modified version of the exercise displayed. In general, aim for exercises that target multiple muscle groups at once to get more bang for your buck!
There is no doubt that medical school sometimes feels like a marathon. There are moments of high energy and exhilaration. There are also moments when we feel like we are running out of fuel. The pace is fast, intense and requires consistent focus. If there is anything I am learning, it is absolutely necessary to take moments to slow down, reflect and catch our breath. Why are we doing this in the first place? Do we still have our eyes on the finish line? Are we taking time to enjoy the scenery as we run the race?
This week I felt exhausted from all the demands of medical school and family life. I woke up this morning feeling mentally and emotionally tired. I went before God in prayer asking for strength that only He can give. As I opened my Bible, I came across verses that immediately encouraged me and reminded me that it’s ok to feel weak sometimes. It’s ok to fall on our knees, hang our head and call out for some help. In that moment, we just need to take stock of the attitudes permeating our hearts and minds, and lift our head back up to keep our eyes fixed firmly on our prize. We will get to the end of the race and reach our goals in due time!
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
“I press on towards the goal…” Philippians 3:14
“Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances” I Thessalonians 5:16-18
My first semester of medical school is officially done! It has been even better than I imagined. There is no doubt that medical school is tough and demanding. However, the opportunity to work with passionate physicians, professors, students and patients has challenged me and kept me motivated.
Highlights of the first semester of medical school:
Fascinating material: So far we have covered 3 blocks: Public Health, Respiration and Circulation. I really enjoyed the diagnostic aspects of these blocks such as interpreting chest X-rays and ECGs, as well as the anatomy and histology labs. I also enjoyed the various clinical scenarios where we had to come up with a diagnosis.
Family Medicine shadowing: I have been enjoying the Longitudinal Family Medicine Experience where we get to shadow a family doctor in their practice two to three times a month. It has been so interesting to see what we learned in class reinforced in the clinical setting.
Surgery shadowing: I had the wonderful opportunity to shadow an OBGYN endoscopic surgeon in the OR. It was an incredible experience!
As the months have progressed, I have been refining my study methods and trying out new techniques:
Keep up with the material: In medical school, it is critical to keep up with the lectures on a daily basis otherwise the amount of material becomes unmanageable.
Be strategic: Learn to identify what material is “high yield” and focus on that. It is almost impossible to memorize every single detail presented and you may burn out trying to do so.
Test yourself: I have found it very helpful to test myself often, either using online quizzes or building my own quizzes using key material from the lectures. My strategy is to write out 15 to 20 questions in an excel sheet following each lecture, upload the questions into an app called cram.com, then regularly test myself.
Explain it: Try to explain a difficult topic to a classmate (or in my case, usually my husband) to see whether you have really understood it. This will help to solidify the material and you will recall it more easily.
Remember the ultimate goal: Remember that the purpose of your learning is to become the best doctor you can be for your patients. Try to learn the material in a way that you can remember it in the long-term, rather than just short-term cramming in order to pass an exam.
How is balancing medical school with a family going? Generally, it is going well. I try to get the bulk of my studying done during the day and during the week so that I reserve my evenings and most of the weekends for family-time. I also try to multi-task listening to recorded lectures while commuting, cooking, cleaning or exercising. I don’t always succeed in finding a balance but I keep trying!
How to handle the heavy workload? If possible, it is important have a support network in place. I am very thankful to my husband for his help with our children and around the house, as well as my friends who have upheld me in prayer. Also, I try to reserve some time for my music hobby, devotional time and to exercise. This keeps my physical, emotional and spiritual life healthy. Planning my week also helps with getting things done in the most efficient way. Things don’t always go perfectly and I do feel overwhelmed sometimes. But developing a plan, being organized and reaching out for help when you need it can help you get through those particularly difficult moments.
Overall, I am very happy with how the first semester of medical school has gone. I feel incredibly privileged to be pursuing a career in medicine. If you have a dream, don’t ever give up on it. Keep persevering, keep your head up high and surge forward with all your strength. You can do it!
The second block of medical school is complete! We just spent the last 5 weeks learning about lung structure, function, diseases, diagnoses and treatments, interspersed with a few lectures on clinical method, epidemiology and genetics. My favorite parts of this block were the anatomy and histology labs, and learning how to interpret chest X-rays and CT scans. We also learned the basics of how to perform bedside ultrasound. I love how hands-on the curriculum at my university is!
In mid-October, I had the wonderful opportunity to shadow a pathologist and two pathology residents for half a day and I loved it! The atmosphere was very welcoming and I was allowed to sit in on some cases at the microscope. Fascinating!
During one of my clinical sessions at a private Family practice, I got to perform my very first physical examination on a patient. I was a little nervous at first (especially since I have very cold hands) but the patient was very gracious as I stumbled along trying to figure out how to use my stethoscope and the blood pressure machine.
My final exam on this block was tough but I felt good about it overall. The week before the exam, I started to recognize signs in myself of feeling a little burnt out so I took a break from studying and went for the women’s fellowship at our church during the week. It was so rejuvenating to exercise with the ladies, chat and study the Bible. What I was challenged about most was resuming my daily devotional time with God (particularly first thing in the morning). I have to admit that with the busyness of school and family, I have not been as consistent with my quiet time. I was reminded how important it is to have daily reflective time alone to recharge and gather my thoughts! Whenever you suspect that your life may be going out of balance, acknowledge it and try to address it as best you can. Medical school is demanding and it’s important to take care of your emotional and spiritual needs too.
The other item that challenged me during the bible study was to reflect on what things I can improve on in my character. There is always room for improvement. For me, the 2 areas I would like to work on are patience (particularly with my children) and humility (it is important to remain teachable, humble and remember that every person is valuable).
As I start Block C of medical school (Circulation), I am so grateful for all that I have learned during the past 2 months! It’s been both challenging and fantastic!