2018 | Don’t Sleep Through Life & Wake Up Dead

As cliche as it is that I write a post every single New Year, I enjoy having this space and snapshot in time to reflect. Life is short. Our Christmas Eve sermon at church made me think about this: imagine yourself in a room filled with everything that brings you happiness. In the furthest corner is death. Every year, the wall you’re standing against pushes you one step closer to death. There’s no other way to get out of the room, but through death. I want to be conscientious of not sleeping through life and waking up dead.

Wow… 2017 was a whirlwind. It was one of the most trying and transformative years of my life.

Thank you 2017 for: the loss of an unhealthy and mismatched relationship, self-love, self-worth, ability to run a marathon, a closer relationship with God, living in my true values,  confidence in who I am, MD Camp reunion with two lovely future DOctors, life-transforming mask activity in the cultural competency workshop, donating my hair to Pantene Beautiful Lengths, medical student coordinator role at Physicians Free Clinic, secretary/treasurer position in student government, secretary/treasurer position in Humanism in Medicine, being selected as 1 of 2 OU+REACH scholars, the start of my public medical Instagram journey, When Breath Becomes Air, class humanitarian award,  the opportunity to develop my public speaking skills at events for accepted students, getting to know an old friend better, my cousin’s wedding, completion of first year of medical school, adventurous walks/hikes/runs, two weekends of cognitively-based meditation training at the Cleveland Clinic, the summer running group, healing my acne, good health, Leroy A. Rodgers preceptorship in family medicine, leading the OU+REACH healthcare discovery camp for high schoolers, rediscovering my hobby of video editing for our student government YouTube, watching fireworks from the 40th floor in a building downtown with friends, leading orientation for incoming first-year med students, catching up with Lois in Athens, shadowing in-patient family medicine at Grant Medical Center, two week vacation to LA, the best Korean shaved ice experience, lots of sun and beach time, seeing San Diego for the first time, Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend experience, meeting an elderly stranger on the airplane and becoming pen pals with her, the beginning of second year of med school, treating a patient with OMT for the first time at a CCE, really understanding OMM through teaching the first years as a TA, my OMM professor planting the idea that I could have a future in academic medicine/medical education, fun 20-mile long run on the Olentangy Trail with RunColumbusRun, closer friendships with my med school classmates, Ohio Heritage Foundation video interview about why I chose my school, 25 years of life, having the opportunity to go back to my high school to speak about osteopathic medicine, catching up with my high school anatomy teacher, finding a church community with like-minded and -hearted people, meaningful conversations at the Dean’s house, kind compliments and feedback from classmates, painting on a canvas for the first time, reviving the Humans of OUHCOM Dublin page, shadowing in (neuro spine) surgery for the first time, getting to know more medical faculty, making friends with regulars at the gym, networking dinner where I exchanged contact info with a woman in medicine that I’ve been running into since the few months before I began med school, caroling at an assisted living facility with Humanism in Medicine, kind-hearted classmates that helped me complete 11 no-sew blankets before the holidays, authentic and vulnerable conversations, starting my qualitative research project over break, Christmas hot pot meal with church friends, playing Settlers of Catan for the first time, New Years Eve gathering with church friends.

So much has happened — growth, progress, small victories. Often, medical students may feel sad that they’re missing out on life. They see their friends getting married, making money in jobs, buying houses, having kids, going on vacations around the world. This is why I don’t enjoy logging on to Facebook. But if we all take the time to reflect on our journey, there is a lot to celebrate and feel good about. How amazing is it that we get to experience such wildly diverse experiences in four years that not many people go through? I just had conversations about this topic and both doctors said it took 10 years to get to a comfortable place in life, but in the end all the hard work and sacrifice was worth it.

Reflecting on last year’s goals, I did pretty well! I accomplished all 10 at some point during the year, but the majority of them I want to continue in my life. I’ll write about three new ones I have. I don’t really make resolutions in the traditional sense of SMART goals, but I take time to think about what kind of person and what type of energy I want to radiate in the new year.

In 2018:

  1. Live Your Truth: This is my 2018 motto. Our psychiatry professor always inputted little nuggets of wisdom in his lecture and this one was my favorite: “listen to your friendly psychiatrist. You got one life; you got 24 hours. Sleep first. Exercise vigorously next. Then, decide on what values will drive your life. Then, fill the rest of the time with value-driven life that you’re creating for yourself.” I didn’t know what a value-driven life meant until I read 7 Habits of Highly Effective People over winter break. Imagine yourself at your funeral and looking down at your casket: what do you want your immediate family, friends, work colleagues, and church/community organization to say about you? Those are your values. This was the year I realized I’m made in God’s image from which I developed immense self-love and purpose. I am finally at a place in life where I have a clear picture of my values and know that I don’t have to change for anyone or be ashamed to be who I really am. The truth is: you can’t please everyone. Be who you are and those that are meant to be in your life, will be. I hope to live my values and my truth every day in 2018.
  2. Simplify: This is inspired by my need to hunker down to study for Step 1 this June. I’ve heard someone describe this as the darkest time of their life. I do feel nervous at this point because I know I should be diligently dedicating some hours every day to study for it on top of school work, but I’m relishing in break just for a little longer (I’m going to start tomorrow!). To simplify, I’m going to limit social media use to once a week, focus mainly on studying and exercising for the next 6 months, transfer leadership positions to our first-year students, finish OU+REACH research, say “no” more.
  3. Serve with love: I aspire to be a genuine person that radiates kindness, warmth, love, positivity, and authenticity. Even in difficult situations, I want to be reminded of our shared humanity and to love others as my fellow brothers and sisters on Earth. I’m grateful to have found a community of like-minded and -hearted people at church with whom I can grow in faith with.
    • On relationships: Love is not a thing that needs to be earned by changing yourself from the person you are. I am truly understanding what it means to love yourself before loving another. I’m not rushing, and I’m not settling. I trust in God’s plan ❤

Wishing you a new year of sincere love, happiness, peace, prosperity, success, good health, and blessings.

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Gap Year

“What should I do with my gap year??”

Take a step back. Celebrate the progress you’ve made in life. I don’t think we do this enough because we tend to think in future tense and worry about the next step. I have been asked the above question several times from pre-meds, not realizing in the moment what a privilege it is to be on the other side with the ability to inspire the next generation.

I took one gap year before matriculating into medical school, and I would recommend this for anyone that feels burned out from college, unsure if they want to become physicians, or want to gain more life experiences (while you’re young). In this post, I’ll share what I did with my gap year and some tips I’ve shared with high schoolers and pre-meds.

My mentality for my gap year was that I wanted to contribute to society in a meaningful way. I remembered hearing about AmeriCorps sitting in one of my neuro classes during senior year. I decided to look at health-focused programs across the U.S. in late summer after graduating from college. A lot of them excited me! I was thinking about moving to California to use Cantonese to help patients in the Asian free clinics or Cleveland to coach patients in making lifestyle changes, such as smoking cessation through motivational interviewing. Ultimately, I chose the COMCorps program in Athens, Ohio because of the diverse experiences and I knew I wanted to attend Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, so I saw this as an opportunity to learn more about the school and its mission.

AmeriCorps is described as the U.S. version of PeaceCorps. It’s a government-funded program that employs volunteers across the country in public service work with a goal of helping others and meeting critical needs in the community in the fields of education, public safety, healthcare, and environmental protection. Benefits include: living allowance and a $5,750 education award upon completion of 1700 hours.

I joined a cohort of 24 members whom were placed at different sites, such as schools, non-profits, and health departments. Our program’s mission is to maintain or decrease the rates of childhood obesity and diabetes through healthy food access, nutrition and cooking lessons, and physical activity. My service site was at a local school district near Athens, Ohio. It was my first time seeing a school that held preschool-12th grade. My main duties were threefold:

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  1. I worked alongside the two nurses in the school clinic to triage sick (or malingering) students and provide first-aid. I routinely documented chief complaints, took temperatures, created and gave ice bags for injuries, gave crackers and water for upset stomachs. I didn’t realize how many students try to get out of school by feigning sickness. In any given day, we would see around 100 students. I also realized scrubs are so comfy to wear to work! I really enjoyed this role because it felt like what a doctor would do, but with more minor cases, and I got a chance to personally provide comfort in times of distress.

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2. I taught five one-hour classes of the Live Healthy Kids curriculum to all of the 2nd graders. I have always loved teaching, especially in topics I enjoy, such as nutrition, health, and wellness. I was super excited! I quickly found a newfound respect for all elementary teachers. I had so much knowledge I wanted to inspire the students with, but I had to take into account a younger mind’s shorter attention span and use classroom-taming strategies to re-focus the group. Despite the challenges, it was an excellent learning and growing opportunity for me, as well as the students. Every week, we brought in a cart full of fresh and healthy food, cooking appliances and supplies, and a new recipe every week. We taught the students basic cooking skills, such as measuring, preparing fruits and vegetables, and safe cutting techniques with a knife. The first semester, we made a fruit tart, oatmeal bar, quinoa salad, tofu ranch dressing. The second semester, we “travelled around the world” to create dishes from different countries: Japanese lettuce wraps, Russian borscht, tofu stir fry, taco bar, Ethiopian injera and wat, sweet potato curry. Before cooking, we had a powerpoint where we would educate the students with facts about the food we’re making that day, name of ingredients and methods of cooking, MyPlate, healthy decision making, and fun facts about the different countries. After cooking and eating together, we complete a quick worksheet re-inforcing knowledge and also do some physical activity together (quick circuits).

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Such good memories with these kiddos. It was fun getting to know their individual personalities over a year. A team of researchers from Ohio University are conducting a study about the effectiveness of Live Healthy Kids. As a teacher, I administered pre- and post-student knowledge tests, parent surveys, and helped organize data. They are five years into the study, and I can’t wait to see the results.

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We saw the parent feedback at the end of the year. It was so heartwarming to know that we made a difference in families’ lives.

Screening

3. I organized all the vision, hearing, and lice health screenings for my school. This was a tough feat requiring lots of attention to detail due to the volume of students in preschool-12th grade. Thankfully, our 24-member cohort help the members stationed at schools with the screenings, so it wasn’t a one-woman show. It was neat to learn how to perform all the screenings ourselves. After the massive screening days, I looked through all the paperwork to see who I needed to refer. We send a letter with the results to the parents recommending that they take their child to an optometrist for glasses and/or an audiologist for hearing aids. I tracked the follow-up rate and results. I saw the power of prevention from a new perspective.

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Aside from the three main duties, we have the opportunity to use our creativity to implement new programs or events at our site.

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My school had a carnival night, and I created black bean dip for people to sample along with a host of healthy tips. Those corn tortilla chips are made locally with natural ingredients — so so good!

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I collaborated with Ohio University Recycling and Zero Waste to collect 900 pounds of food that were used to create 34 food boxes and then distributed to 30 families, collectively serving 80 children in the school district during winter break. I had the unique opportunity to work closely with our school’s outreach worker from Athens County Children Services to travel on home visits to distribute food boxes, fruit baskets, and holiday gifts. It was an enlightening and often heartbreaking experience to personally observe where the students live and hear their stories.

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Read more: Campus Recycling Partners with School Outreach Programs to Host Successful Winter Food Drive

Love of Humankind

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I was requested to do the annual 4th grade hygiene and puberty presentation. It instantly brought back awkward memories of my experience with this presentation in 5th grade. I tried to make it as interactive and practical as possible. First, we brought all the 4th graders in the gym for a talk on basic hygiene, such as using deodorant, brushing teeth, and washing hands. Then, we split up into boy and girl groups. Luckily, I recruited the only young male in my cohort to lead the boy’s discussion. I led the girl’s discussion with an OU student intern. We taught them the basics about puberty changes, reassured the girls that everyone is on their own schedules and not to compare to their peers, menstrual cycles and cramps, and how to use pads. Towards the end, we welcomed questions, and I was so happy the girls weren’t shy to have discussions. They had great questions, and we almost ran over time. It felt nice to have open, honest, and genuine conversations. We awarded all the 4th graders with hygiene goodie bags: deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrush, mouthwash, floss, pads and tampons (girls).

Other than activities at my school, we had community events that we help out with throughout the year. Two examples are:

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Building a sustainable garden behind an elementary school.

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Painting mile markers on the community bike trail.

I definitely got really nostalgic thinking about my time and memories in AmeriCorps. It definitely challenged me as a person, helped me gain rich life experiences, and provided me a way to give back to society in a meaningful way right after graduating college.

I’m grateful I finally took the time to share my AmeriCorps experience in words and pictures. Throughout first and second year of medical school, I had frequent flashbacks: learning about fever (taking temps), childhood intellectual/behavioral disorders from parental neglect/abuse, which can be associated with encopresis and enuresis (heartwarming memory: a boy who endured a rough childhood came down to the clinic at least once a day to change his undergarment always wanted to tell me fun facts about things he’s learned, which surprised the two nurses because he normally doesn’t like talking to people), malingering (sifting through real and fake complaints), teaching the kids that we get vitamin D from the sun (they were so amazed).

Tips for your Gap Year

  • It’s okay (and frequently recommended) to take time off before professional school
    • You will NOT be at a disadvantage. It can even boost your chances for admission.
    • Differentiate yourself in interviews by talking about your gap year with passion. Show schools who you are, what your motivations are for becoming a physician, and who you see yourself becoming through your experience. Be honest and reflective. Medical school admission teams like to see genuine personal development, not just another activity you did just to “look good”.
  • Time time for reflection and rejuvenation.
  • Do something meaningful and purposeful to you. You’ll be a stronger candidate for professional school.
    • PeaceCorps, AmeriCorps, Study Abroad, Mission Trips, Research, Teach for America, etc.
    • Get a Masters (MPH, MHA, MS in anatomy)
  • Sometimes, a postbaccalaureate program after college is the right choice for students that have lower GPA’s, MCAT’s or are career changers.
  • Many people work/volunteer in a healthcare setting to get more clinical experience.
  • Update resume/CV with each new job/experience.
  • Stay in touch with professors and contacts, continue networking.
  • Don’t be afraid to take chances.
    • May learn a lot about yourself and what you don’t want to do
  • Continue to learn!
    • Job shadow, informational interviews, join young professional clubs, travel abroad, read books, network with mentors in the field, participate in a scholarly activity, take classes.
  • Spend time with family, friends, and loved ones before beginning professional school.
  • Work on your professional school applications.
  • Save money.
  • It’s okay if you decide not to go to med school after your gap year adventures. It can be a long, arduous, stress-provoking, often isolating, and ironically dehumanizing journey. Make sure this is where your heart and mind is before you begin. If this is your true calling, you will use the hardship to become a better doctor 🙂

What I Learned about Life While in College

I have a lot of drafts I never published, so I decided now’s the time! This will be part of a series where I explore and reflect on life milestones and experiences that have helped me reach the position I am in now – a second year med student whose goal is to incorporate humanitarianism into the practice of medicine. I am also very passionate about passing on wisdom that I have learned, which is a large reason why I write. Hope you pick up some pearls along the way ❤

1. Be somebody that makes everybody feel like somebody. Ask questions that don’t elicit a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer by using prepositions like “what”, “how”, and “why?” (shoutout to Student Wellness Center Wellness Coaching). During college, I discovered that I love deep and vulnerable conversations that get to the core of what makes us human.

2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or ask someone to be your mentor if they are in a position where you want to be.

3. College is a really important identity-forming period. For most, this is the first time ever being away from family. You will experience peer pressure. Stay true to yourself. If you don’t want to drink alcohol, don’t. If you don’t want to go to the clubs, don’t. In the end, you don’t need to worry about what others are doing or what they think because this is YOUR life. You’re in full control of your decisions. Check in periodically and ask “if I’m a stranger looking back at me, would I be friends with myself?” Half way through my first year in medical school was when I felt 100% confident in who I am, what I stand for, and the values that I won’t compromise for anyone. This can be a lengthy process.

4. You are a reflection of your closest friends whom you spend the most time with. Are you proud of that? Choose these people carefully.

5. They say you’ll make lifelong friends with people that live in your dorm during freshmen year. This is not always the case and it’s okay. Some friendships are meant to be for a season and some are meant to be for a lifetime. Be a good person regardless and trust life.

6. Don’t be afraid to be very busy. Junior year was definitely the most busy if you’re on the pre-med route. You’ve got one foot in undergrad and another foot trying to figure out how to get accepted to medical school. On top of all of that, you might have leadership positions, research, volunteer commitments, and other organizations. I would be on campus from 8am-8pm running around to different functions. I think this helped transform me into a person who can successfully balance academics and extracurricular activities, while still maintaining a vibrant personal life.

7. Try to enjoy your senior year as much as you can. College is certainly a very unique time that you will not experience again. If you’re pre-med, you should be working hard freshmen, sophomore, and junior year. By the start of senior year, you will have already applied to medical schools if traditional and you’ll look forward to interviewing. Take classes you’re actually interested in, spend time with good friends, go to different events on campus, stay involved in organizations you’re passionate about, and celebrate when you graduate. Don’t worry too much. Life has a funny way of working things out. I know that’s easier said than done because I experienced all the feelings associated with realizing you’ll need to take a gap year. Stay tuned for the next post where I’ll share with you what I did during my gap year and why I sincerely recommend it for everyone!

I Lost My Friend of 12 Years/Best Friend of 7 Years, but Gained a Relationship with God and Became Closer to my Family

Disclaimer: this is a deeply personal post, much more than the previous one. Views are my own.

“Getting a corgi so you can attract all the ladies, right?”
“Like I have time for that.”

“This sacrificing for medicine thing is no joke. Just turned down a hot date to study on a Saturday night.”

These are real quotes I heard in the past 24 hours from fellow medical students.

I didn’t get closure.

We FaceTimed every day, catching each other up on our days. We had just seen each other the week before. Although we shared a difficult conversation before parting, a joke was mentioned at the end. A week later, they shock you with the news that they found someone new. They want no contact because it’s not fair. Just like that, knowing someone since 5th grade means absolutely nothing. I am innately sentimental, sensitive, and loyal, so this shattered the depths of my core. Without going into all the details, our companionship did have a romantic plot for some time, but due to many external circumstances, slowly fizzled along with growing apart in different cities. I knew we were at different stages in life and wanted different things out of life, but I couldn’t stop my loyalty. I felt devastation and sadness, but I couldn’t stay that way for long. I found myself praying for the other person to find peace in their life. Reading some of Thich Nhat Hanh’s works, I realized holding onto anger is just hurting yourself. Maybe, I’m the only weird person who wants to remain on good terms with someone that hurt you, but life is too short. There should not be a limit as to how many people you can be kind to. For relationships that grow apart, why can’t two people discuss a civil dissolution and go their merry ways while still remaining friends/acquaintances in the most general sense? I’m aware of the old adage of people entering and leaving your life for different reasons, but I was naive to believe this person would be my lifelong friend. If you look at my life, my dearest friends are those that I’ve known the longest. These are some life lessons I’ve learned recently:

  • People don’t have to be in every season of your life.
  • You’ll never change other people’s thoughts, attitudes, way of life. Accept what is and move on if it’s no longer giving you good energy and you’re no longer enhancing each other’s potential.
  • Even if you have the best intention, other people are not guaranteed to think like you do. I constantly think about how life is so short on this planet compared to eternity. This motivates me to relish in all my relationships and connections to people and overall live with kindness for all people. I really do believe in the phrase “forgive, but never forget.”
  • Nothing is ever lost in life: memories were made, experiences were shared, lessons were learned. Take them with you and don’t make the same mistakes.
  • Always hold your family closer than friends (exceptions do exist for those who unfortunately have unreasonable family members or are estranged from them). It takes a lot to be estranged from family members as you share a blood line, but with friends and significant others, anything can break that bond within seconds no matter how long you’ve known them. Through my heartbreak, I’ve opened up to a lot of people and heard their stories. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard similar sentences, “married for 24 years, raised 4 wonderful children together, and divorced.” In my neighborhood, I am a part of a row of 3 houses that have single middle-aged women living independently after a divorce. The lifelong probability of a marriage ending in divorce in the U.S. is 40-50%. That’s about half of us! Here are interesting stats of some variables associated with divorce:
    • race/ethnicity
    • importance of religion to the couple
    • timing of the first birth of any children (before marriage, within 7 months, after 7 months, or never)
    • if one spouse has generalized anxiety disorder

This is not meant to be pessimistic, but realistic in the fact that anyone can have a change of heart at any time.

  • Serendipitously, I became quick friends with an elderly gentleman at the gym I regularly workout at. He describes our friendship as if “we’ve known each other for years” when in reality, it’s only been a few months. Even with a 40+ year age difference, we’re able to talk about anything and everything. We know all about each other’s love lives. Something he shared stuck with me: “I wish I would have gotten divorced 5 years before we actually did.” Early on, they both knew trouble was brewing, but he really wanted to stay together for the kids, at least until they all graduated from high school. He shared that kids know when there’s something wrong. Sometimes, it’s not about holding on and being loyal, it’s about letting go. This reminds me that selecting the right person is so important, no matter how long it takes. Don’t rush and don’t settle.

I hope by writing and sharing, I can gain some closure. I often think about how my experiences can help my future patients. As doctors, we need to remember we are humans and remind patients we are too. An activity I recently did to cope with loss is: writing down all the reasons why this was meant to happen and then on the back of the page, specific qualities of life you wish for in the future. Keep it somewhere you can access when you need to. Spirituality has also helped me cope tremendously. My family had roots in Buddhism, but I didn’t grow up with a religion. I’m not sure where this will take me in the future, but I have found comfort in developing a relationship with God, praying, knowing that He has a plan for our lives, and listening to Christian music instead of mainstream radio. Another relationship I gained is a closer one with my family, particularly my mom. We’ve had our ups and downs, and still do, but this is the most honest relationship we’ve had in our entire lives. Due to external consequences, that individual and I did not open up to our families about the relationship. As teenagers and young adults, we blindly believed love is all we need. This was not healthy, toxic even. After I told my mom everything after seven years, I vowed to live honestly and authentically, especially with family. If someone doesn’t appreciate honesty and authenticity or if I find myself violating my values, I know I don’t have to force a relationship with that person or continue doing that activity. I can’t wait to finally live freely and without fear. In the Asian culture, respecting and caring for our elders into their old age is extremely valued. It can be hard growing up in the US where this is not valued. It’s an ongoing internal conflict for me. The current cultural notion is: we’re young, we should be building our own lives, move far away, have 5-minute surface conversations on the phone with one’s parents, they don’t need to know the important thoughts and activities of your life, visit them only during major holidays because being away from your friends is so boring. Years pass and the next time you really become close with your parents again are when they’re nearing death in a hospital room. Yes, we should all be independent adults chasing our dreams, building a life worth living, taking as many trips as we can, and having fun as 20-something-year-olds. I don’t disagree with that, but life can flash in front of your eyes. Years slip away, your parents get older, health problems arise with age, and when you finally realize you should have cared and spent more time with them before they pass, it might be too late. Imagine stepping into your parent’s shoes. The best situation would be to still have your significant other grow old with you, but what if you were divorced or widowed in old age? Would you want at least one of your children you raised to care about you or be sent to some arbitrary nursing home instead? I’m not advocating to live in your parent’s basement or constantly worry about them and put them first before the important things in your life, but a healthy balance must exist between independently building your vibrant future while also remaining close to your family, especially those that sacrificed so much to raise you to be the successful adult you are now. I am happy to return to my true values and know that one of my purposes in life is to care for my mother. Never change your values for anyone. I can only pray that my future significant other respects me for who I am, values and all.

Sample some of the songs that have helped me get through tough times:

  • Stars Go Dim – You are Loved
  • Danny Gokey – Tell Your Heart to Beat Again
  • Matisyahu – Live Like a Warrior (Richello Remix)
  • Chris Tomlin – Impossible Things
  • Axwell – On My Way
  • Mandisa – Unfinished
  • Lauren Daigle – First
  • Matthew West – Mended
  • Bobby Mcferrin – Don’t Worry Be Happy

There were a whole host of reasons for my situation, but I cannot leave out the fact that medical school played a part. We must say “no” to hanging out on weekends with friends, going to birthday parties, family functions, weddings, vacations. We need to plan around major exams. We only have one summer between 1st and 2nd year. We always have things to study seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Lifelong learning is a cornerstone to being a physician. Sometimes, friends and family don’t understand this. I’m creating an ongoing list here to resolve this sacrificial dilemma and think about it in a more positive light:

  1. My faculty mentor told me “you can have it all – all of your priorities.” Know what your priorities are. Write them down. Your studies should be #1 or #2 on your list. If you make time to do what’s most important to you (say the top 5 things), you can have it all.
  2. Treat medical school like an 8-5pm job. Work relentlessly hard Monday-Friday during those hours to get things done. There’s always going to be more, but if you had a good week, don’t feel bad about taking one day during the weekend off to enjoy your #2-5 priorities.
  3. Share with your friends and family what you do and what interesting facts you’re learning about in the human body.

Did you know heart burn, acid reflux, and GERD are talking about the same thing? This is when stomach acid used to digest our food leaks backwards into our esophagus that connects our mouth to our stomach. The best treatment to try first for this is lifestyle modification, not medication.

  • Eat more plant-based protein (beans, broccoli, spinach) to improve the strength of the sphincter/door between the stomach and esophagus.
  • Avoid dietary fat, caffeine, chocolate, mints, herbs/spices eaten after meals, alcohol, estrogen and progesterone (birth control pills).
  • Lose weight and eat smaller meals, so the stomach doesn’t extend too much.
  • Avoid eating before laying down and elevate the head of your bed 4-6 inches (sleeping on pillows won’t work, you need to physically place blocks under the head of your bed to raise it).

Both men and women 50 years and older are recommended to get colon cancer screening. Colon cancer is 70% lifestyle related. Want to know how to prevent colon cancer in old age?

  • Eat less processed meats (lunch meats, bacon, sausage, etc.)
  • Eat less red meat
  • Eat more vegetables and other fiber-rich foods

The link between a meat-heavy and vegetable-sparse diet to colon cancer is as strong as the link between smoking and lung cancer.

3/4 of all adults and 90% of adults from African and Asian descent will experience lactose intolerance. This means that you don’t have the functioning enzyme to break down the lactose in dairy products. The lactose travels further down your gut and gets chewed up by bacteria. The result of bacterial digestion produces carbon metabolites, hydrogen, and carbon dioxide. Therefore, you have bloating, diarrhea, and dehydration after eating dairy products if you’re lactose intolerant.

Take your significant other to medical functions or a night out with your classmates. When you involve your loved ones, they become a part of the journey rather than a carry-on baggage you lug around. However, if sharing your new way of life isn’t working and you feel dragged down and unsupported by this person, it might be time to let go. We’ve had three relationships break up in our medical school class shortly after starting school, but we also have two students starting families while in medical school (albeit the wives are not the students). It can be done, but it requires deep understanding, patience, and strong communication from both people. I recently read a wonderful article about how a wife survived family life while her husband was in residency. It helped me gain a lot of insight into how to work on a relationship and what kind of understanding must exist on this medical journey: http://www.kevinmd.com/blog/2014/11/wish-knew-advice-spouses-doctors-residents.html

Thanks for reading. I pray we all live the life we’ve always wanted.

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Let’s Get Personal | What’s Your Story?

I attended a Primary Care Progress Leadership Summit at my school yesterday. The purpose was to advocate for the benefits of team-based care in the primary care field and cultivate this team culture through intentional story-telling and coaching. The story-telling exercise was the most powerful part because it got to the root of: what’s your purpose? why are you here?

In my single-parent household, education was a prevailing value growing up. My mother didn’t want my life to be like hers. However, as a first-generation college student, she was not able to provide very much guidance, especially past high school. I really had no idea what the “real world” looked like. I just knew how to pass all my classes and that I had a particular interest in science – until the summer after my junior year in high school when I was gratefully accepted to attend a four-week MD Camp at OSU College of Medicine. We were treated like first-year medical students: meeting professors of medicine, shadowing an infectious disease doctor, experiencing the cadaver lab, taking a comprehensive test, and receiving a white coat. This opened my eyes to a career in medicine and lit a spark in me that I can do this. So this became my goal all throughout college as I pursued a degree in Neuroscience at The Ohio State University. It was a smooth journey until the MCAT, which made me question whether I was cut for the career or not. During the summer after my junior year when I was studying for the standardized exam, I spontaneously reconnected with an old friend from elementary school who was also on the medical path. That summer, we made a routine out of running together most summer afternoons – this was my solace from studying. I had no idea that our rekindled friendship would change my outlook on life forever. My friend was a true free spirit – he always said what was on his mind without caring what other people thought. That was the complete opposite of me. I have always been a reserved person and it took me a while before I can completely open up to others. His energy was so contagious that I caught it. I slowly fostered this free-spirited nature and that was the first time in my life I truly felt alive. I started thinking about the impermanence of life and how we should strive to feel more alive. This then made me ponder the meaning of life, which is partly why I started my blog. Among many nuances, the meaning of life for me is building authentic relationships and connecting with others on a deeper level. When we are on our death bed, I doubt we’d think about whether we could have made $50,000 more or if we should have bought a Lamborghini. We are going to think about people – regrets, shared experiences, joyous times. When I’m lying on my death bed, I hope I remember more good times than regrets, which is why I am making a more conscious awareness in my daily life to be more authentic with others to build a deeper connection. You never know the magic that can arise when you open yourself up to another human being. Fast forward to medical school. I had to overcome some hurdles with the MCAT, but in the end successfully completed the leg of the race and am now in my first year. People go into medicine for a variety of reasons ranging from: family influences, money, prestige, wanting to help people, research, service. Some of these reasons provide more lasting inspiration than others. My reason that I want to continually cultivate is building that deeper relationship with patients so that I can explore how their meaning in life affects disease and vice versa. Patients are more than just their disease state. We should seek to understand their robust life outside of the 15-minute office visit. This sense of shared humanity motivates me.

Caveat to this idealistic approach of being more vulnerable, authentic, and honest (from feedback and personal experience): people might not reciprocate and value these same qualities. One of my friends expressed that he would rather not live life this way because you are handing people bits of information about yourself that they can use against you. You weaken your defenses if you show people how you think and who you are. From personal experience, I was taken advantage of because I was too honest. I knew this person for many years and we practically knew each other inside out (except for the things he hid from me this past year). Being honest and open is my way of showing that I deeply care for someone and their well-being. I’m still struggling with this concept because I don’t believe in playing games in life for it is impermanent – say how you feel and do what’s right. Don’t hurt others in the process. In conclusion, it’s wise to use your judicious decision on who you want to be vulnerable with and what parts of yourself you want to share. I’m not a big fan of superficial conversations and the proverbial “good” reply to “how are you?” and this is a way to overcome that.

Extra note on love and life: While thinking about the meaning of life, obviously love comes to my mind. I am a self-proclaimed hopeless romantic. I get teary-eyed at least once in movies and books because the relationships between the characters always pull at my heart strings. I just dangerously subscribed to a YouTube channel that’s focused on creating professional wedding videos and sharing love stories – you can already guess I cry during every single video. Upon reflection, I should have had more independent time instead of stringing the other person along and being strung along. I encourage every early to mid 2o-year-old to spend at least a few months completely single – free of any kind of emotional or physical intimate relations. Society makes us believe that being alone should be one of our biggest fears, that being half-loved by someone is better than not having them at all. With the world at our fingertips now, dating apps make it that much easier to replace person after person without ever being lonely. I don’t think this is healthy. One of my friends argue that we all need to feel validated by someone and that you often can’t overcome heartbreak without seeking intimacy with another person. Yes, it’s a nice feeling to be cared for and it might be the easiest way to mask your hurt, but why can’t you validate yourself? Being truly single for a month now, I have learned to respect myself and give myself the time and space to self-improve. You shouldn’t invest yourself in someone who can only give you 99% or less of their heart. I’ve had a skewed image of what a loving relationship should feel and look like, but now I am awakened. It can be very painful to be patient, but I have faith that the wait is worth it and that there is someone out there who is ready to give you what you need and vice versa. Love is complicated. Relationships take lots of time and work. It’s a conscious effort – not just something that happens between two people who like each other. Don’t jump in if you’re not ready. That’s not fair for either of you. Being single means you have all the time in the world to use as you see fit – freedom at its purity. It’s important to have introspective time to realize who you are and what you want before trying to share with another complex being. People may have many definitions of what kind of relationships they want to have: casual, open, exclusive, inclusive, polyamorous. Don’t settle if that is not what you truly want. Establish your guidelines for love first and stick to it. If your potential lover has a completely different agenda that you don’t see for yourself, let them go. I’m taking this time to establish mental guidelines for accepting and giving love, to workout and improve physical fitness, to accomplish independent goals, to open myself to deeper friendships, to learn from missteps, to know my self-worth, to deepen knowledge, to live in my values, and embrace confidence in who I am and realize I don’t need to change for anybody. The person you’re meant to be with will want you just as you are and find your faults endearing. Only then will you be able to paint a collaborative art piece called love whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Story-telling always has a conflict. The good news: some sort of resolution always occurs. One of the most important take-aways from hardship is being able to relate to others through experiences and sharing what you learned. Key elements of intentional story-telling: story of self, conflict, choice, values, and the story of us (how it relates to your audience). Try it out: what’s your purpose for why you are where you are right now or where you hope to be?

2017 | Get Out There & Be Children Again

Happy Old Year and Happy New Year beautiful souls,

With friends going back to school/work, family getting on my case about my love life, acquaintances saying “thankful for 2016 because I found him/her”, and free time away from classes, I started this new year feeling a bit lonely. I am not proud of this, but I think it’s important to acknowledge all emotions, for we are complex beings.

What I do know is that I have a lot be grateful for, both in the past year and in the future.

Thank you 2016 for: the opportunity to interview at two more medical schools, consecutive snow days at my work at the school, meaningful hygiene/puberty presentation with 4th graders, beautiful cherry blossoms in Athens, group photos with all the 2nd graders I taught in AmeriCorps, first music festival, first osteopathic medicine conference, acceptance into another medical school, finishing my AmeriCorps service term with wonderful supervisors and coworkers, making a real impact in the Athens community in regards to health and wellness, prematriculation, scenic running/biking trails in Athens, getting to know a beautiful soul at my elementary school with whom I had authentic and vulnerable mentoring conversations, road trip to Cincinnati with my best friend, a sweet roommate, moving back to my hometown, first day of medical school, white coat ceremony, love, knowledge, wisdom, learning, good health, PR’s in 5k and half marathon, keeping up with fitness while in school, spontaneity, the most authentic talks with my childhood girlfriends during our night out, and reconnecting with people from the past.

Goals for 2017:

  1. Act out of love and kindness. One of my all-time favorite quotes is: “kill em with kindness.” I recently read an article about how to deal with negative emotions and that is to pray and wish happiness and well-being for that person that has caused the emotions. Remaining angry and resentful only hurts your inner peace.
  2. Embrace spontaneity.
  3. Just do it. This was the same goal I had last year, but I decided to bring it back because it’s a work in progress. I realize I might be one of those people that likes to work under pressure, but procrastinating and thinking too much causes unnecessary stress.
  4. Step outside your comfort zone in terms of putting yourself out there in leadership roles.
  5. Run the Columbus (full) Marathon.
  6. Travel this summer.
  7. Gain new medical knowledge, skills, and experiences this summer.
  8. Be an initiator. Some things don’t happen unless you make them happen. Watch this excellent TEDTalk – What I Learned from 100 Days of Rejection. I’m inspired: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-vZXgApsPCQ
  9. Do more of what makes me feel alive – at least one thing every day.
  10. Live in vulnerability and authenticity, always. I found that it’s freeing for the human spirit to be as open and honest as we can with people close to us. Just discovered this TEDTalk and she speaks words from my soul: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fcm-mAwPkxg
    • “Uncover your soul and look for that soul-spark in everyone else”
    • “Step off your hamster wheel into deep time”
    • “Getting emotionally naked with another human being, putting aside pride and defensiveness, lifting the layers, and sharing with each other our vulnerable souls”
    • “You don’t have to wait for a life-or-death situation to clean up the relationships that matter to you, to offer the marrow of your soul and to seek it in another”

Do this exercise with me:

  • Grab a plain white sheet of paper.
  • Write in big letters:

    “What makes you feel alive?”

  • Write in smaller print around the question, what activities or feelings make you feel most alive in life. Don’t filter it and write everything that comes to mind.
  • Hang it up somewhere you look at everyday. Resolve to do more of these things that makes you feel alive.
  • It’s a working document, so feel free to add to it when inspiration strikes.

I updated mine recently and I’ll share it:

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This exercise helped wave away the feeling of loneliness I had. I feel more connected to myself and to the world around me. Amidst our crazy, busy, and hectic lives often working for other people, I think it’s imperative to do something everyday that genuinely makes us happy. The feeling I get when I do something that makes me come alive is analogous to a child playing and exploring the outdoors with friends in the summertime – excited, care-free, youthful, and rejuvenated. So get out there and be children again 🙂

Update 1/15/17: Happy early Chinese New Year. This year, it’s celebrated on January 28, 2017 – year of the rooster. An ancient Chinese superstition that I was surprised to learn about in last year’s post was that one is supposed to have bad luck during your birth year sign. I guess the bad luck caught up to me in the remaining month of the monkey year… misspoken words, confused feelings, and disgraceful pride. However, I believe this is how things are supposed to be because everything happens for a reason – it’s up to you what you take from it.

A recent epiphany I had regarding the practice of medicine is that the role of doctors is not only to diagnose and treat diseases or even pay attention to social determinants of health, it is to help our patients find meaning in their lives. This struck me while listening to Paul Kalanithi (http://stanmed.stanford.edu/2015spring/before-i-go.html) and re-inspired my purpose for choosing a career in medicine. Along with our medical knowledge, lab tests, and prescribed medications, we should seek to explore how the diagnosis of a disease affects the meaning of life for a patient.

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” -Howard Thurman

Here’s to the journey of life and meaning ❤

Med School is not as Glamorous as you may Think | August 20, 2016 National Day of Solidarity to Prevent Physician Suicide

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http://espn.go.com/espn/feature/story/_/id/12833146/instagram-account-university-pennsylvania-runner-showed-only-part-story

A nice reminder for all social media users. I first came across this news story three years ago and even wrote a blog post about it. Out of the blue, my research PI (who is a psychiatrist) sent me this article at the end of my senior year and it elicited even stronger emotions. I felt compelled to start a draft, which I didn’t finish until now. A lot has happened in my life since then, but I was reminded again of this story as I attended the National Day of Solidarity to Prevent Physician/Medical Student suicide at my medical school a couple weeks ago.

Since the era of sending mail through horseback and the advent of phone calls, we have always portrayed the positive parts of our lives, but the difference now is that Instagram and other social media has consumed more of our day as we endlessly scroll past people’s filtered accomplishments, happiness, and picture “perfect” moments.

All of Madison’s friends shared some form of struggle, yet she still felt alone because social media didn’t match up with what they were privately saying. This really urges me to be real with people I talk to. I’m not going to pretend like I live in a world of rainbows and butterflies. No one lives a perfect life. This is what it means to be human. We are all in this together.

‘People are also often encouraged to put filters on their sadness, to brighten their reality so as not to “drag down” those around them. The myth still exists that happiness is a choice, which perpetuates the notion of depression as weakness.

As a family, they had never talked about suicide. Jim never considered it a real possibility — just the dramatic ending to someone else’s story. Jim feared that speaking about suicide would make its likelihood greater.

Bill Schmitz Jr., former president of the American Association of Suicidology, points out that depression does not have a one-size-fits-all prognosis. “The course varies,” he says. “In a way, it’s the same as cancer. For some, we might prolong life for months, for years. For others, it can be very sudden.”‘

  • These three paragraphs summarize the myths of depression and gets at the very root of mental health stigma in our nation. Yes, happiness is a choice, but when a person is suffering from a mental handicap, their brain chemistry has changed to where you are not in full control anymore. With that being said, depression is a real disease and not a personal sign of weakness. A lot of us want to please those around us, but we also need to be in-tune with ourselves. Your body is all you’ve got in this world; love it and take time to nourish yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually. The quote, “Speaking about suicide would make its likelihood greater” is similar to the sexual education dilemma. I think it’s important to talk about taboo topics rather than sweeping it under the rug because the more open we are, the more opportunities we have to help ourselves and others.

“It’s OK to not be OK. It’s OK to show people you’re not OK.”

  • Most important message I took away.

“I run because it’s therapeutic for me. Because every time I run outside, around my home, I am reminded of the beauty of the world, of which I often forget. Yet at the same time, I am fully aware of beauty — it simply saddens me because of reasons I have not yet conjured up. I suppose I am sad. But at the same time I am happy; and miserable; and joyful; and stressed out; and calm, and everything in between. I am everything. Every emotion, rigged in every format, and developed through every machine. I am numb but I am not.”

  • I can totally relate to the first few sentences as a runner, but the latter half is where the message is. We are all bodies of emotions and feelings. This is a very beautiful thing. Never feel alone in your thoughts and feelings because somewhere in the world, someone else is or has already felt that way. When you need help from yourself – tell someone, ask someone. We are all in this together.

Revisit my first post about this news story: https://journeyoflifeandmeaning.wordpress.com/2014/01/22/what-if-we-car…ore-loved-more/

Excerpt: “Make sure that whoever you talk to or come in contact with, that you are okay with how you made them feel with your words and gestures if that was your last day on Earth. Try to develop that deep connection with people so that maybe you can save someone’s life. This is a powerful realization for me. You don’t need an MD to save people’s lives – just genuine care for one another’s well-being by opening up, being vulnerable, talking deeply and loving thy neighbor.”

Developing a Healthy View of Social Media

Recently, I had a friend tell me that she didn’t want to take a picture because she was so concerned about being too fat and ugly. I hadn’t seen this friend in over a year, so I wanted some memories. This saddened me a lot and I tried sharing my perspective that you should never measure your self-worth based on numbers on the scale or what you see in the mirror. She wanted to be perfect. I said that’s not possible. She said “90% perfect then.” She even turned down entering in relationships because she said she didn’t want to disappoint them with her physical looks.

Let’s be honest. We are all affected by our outside looks to some regard. We can’t change this because our exterior is what others see first. I don’t want to sound like a perfect person because I am not. I still get very bad acne in my mid 20’s and I’ve been battling this since middle school. It’s been worse recently most likely due to medical school stress. My acne makes me feel less attractive, it takes me more time in the morning to make sure people won’t be staring at my acne rather than my eyes, and sometimes it prevents me from going out if I have a really bad breakout.

However, I think I am half way there to the wisdom of not caring what others think of you. As long as you are okay with the energy you give off to the world every day, it doesn’t matter what clothes you wear, what your face looks like, how fat or skinny you are, etc. I don’t untag photos of myself because “people might find me less attractive” and I don’t care if I’m laughing so hard in a picture that you can’t see my eyes. It’s all about the feelings of the picture – the happy emotions it elicits, not the way you look and the thoughts of what other people on your social media might think of it.

At the end of the day, I am happy with myself if I spread kindness, warmth, deep care for others, and positivity in the world. Think about the kind of energy you want to radiate from your soul.

National Day of Solidarity Lessons

  1. The osteopathic handshake is a hug. It was cute to see all the presenters hugging each other when they passed the mic and it reminded me of the hug fest we had during orientation week. As DO’s, we are known to be more hands-on and more open to expressing the caring touch. I really do believe in the healing power of touch and this is a huge reason why I enjoy learning OMM.
  2. Get enough sleep. Fun fact: 7.7 hours is the average hours we should be getting. I make this a priority and it’s been really helpful in keeping me awake and alert for school.
  3. Practice healthy selfishness. I love this phrase. Never ever forget to take care of yourself.

Med school is not as glamorous as you may think. I know I didn’t really think about what daily life was like for a medical student until I was one. I was just concerned about getting in, but the hurdles don’t stop there.

  1. You spend so much time staring at a screen studying that the next time you feel the sun’s warm rays or talk to a person about something non-medically related, you feel like a new person.
  2. All day, every day, even weekends and breaks, all you think about is studying. You feel guilty if you have too much free time. The material isn’t hard in and of itself, but there is so much content that it’s not humanly possible to master every detail. You keep striving to learn everything and fall short.
  3. You schedule to see your friends during the one free weekend after you take the block exam and before starting a new block the following week. You have less time to spend with family and friends outside of the medical world. You might miss important life events, like birthdays, weddings, reunions, graduations, etc. People might even move on without you… That’s one of the hardest things about this lifestyle. Non-medical people in your life might never understand what you go through and they move on because you can’t provide the kind of attention and time they seek. There are so many articles and videos out there about personal sacrifices people in the medical profession make (I do have something positive to say about this. See #6 in the “good things” list).
  4. You don’t get enough sleep because you are constantly wanting to study more and/or you have to get up early for another day of new lectures.
  5. If you’re away from family, you have to worry about managing life outside of school, such as cooking for yourself, expenses associated with eating out, cleaning, and other miscellaneous chores. You might experience being homesick.
  6. You put life on pause in a way. If you haven’t found your life companion, good luck dating and finding someone that puts up with your lifestyle. If you have found your life companion, wishing you the best during this challenging journey and may love endure, sincerely.
  7. Your apartment/room is a madhouse because you wait until exams are over to clean it.
  8. You spend your whole Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at the library/study rooms before a big exam.
  9. You’re constantly accumulating $200k+ debt while in school.
  10. You often let go of a few hobbies and forget about what truly makes you feel alive.
  11. You end up double speeding YouTube videos you watch for fun because that’s what you do for lectures.
  12. While you may see your non-medical school friends traveling the world, making money in a job, going out every weekend, getting married, having children, buying houses, and settling down, you’re concerned about passing the first two years of didactic learning, then rotations, then applying for residencies where you work long hours with modest pay, then finally securing your first position as a board-certified physician. By this time, you’re in your 30’s (older if non-traditional). While I’m not saying these things can’t be done simultaneously, it’s just more to think about and juggle.
  13. Medical school takes a toll on you. Four of my fellow medical students developed strands of white hair halfway through the year. You might experience feelings of depression, anxiety, and inadequacy.

Good things!

  1. You become close with your medical school classmates because of the shared struggle. With a small class size, you truly become a supportive family.
  2. You get to be a sponge as you soak in all this new information. You’ll look back and think “how in the world did I gain all this knowledge in four short years.” Learning is fun!
  3. What kind of career allows you to learn something new every single day for the rest of your life?? When I feel bogged down about studying, I step back and think how awesome it is that we have a wealth of information at our finger tips.
  4. Making new and exciting memories (e.g. unintentional twinning with my classmates and end of block gatherings with the whole class).
  5. I look forward to working out now because it’s the main release of my day. It feels so good to lift or run off all the stress you felt during the day. You just have to schedule it like you’re going to lecture. Hopefully this will prevent the med school 15 haha.
  6. I have a lot of classmates that have supportive significant others, even a few starting families. It’s not impossible. If you are privileged to have already found your person while in medical school and your relationship withstands the hardships, you know they are a keeper. Count your blessings for finding someone so understanding and patient.
  7. Medical school is a unique and special time. You only get to do this once. It’s four years where you really don’t have real responsibilities. Your job is to learn as much as you can. These four years will pass by fast, so make the most of it and slow down to be grateful for your daily opportunities.
  8. A long line of people would die to have your seat in medical school. In the 2016-2017 application cycle, 21,030 out of 53,042 applicants matriculated into medical school. That’s 39.6% acceptance rate. If you’re a medical student right now, be very grateful for this life-changing opportunity. Source: https://www.aamc.org/download/321442/data/factstablea1.pdf
  9. How lucky are we, as medical students and beyond, to have such a wide array of activities to experience and accomplish that’s worth documenting? Seeing your first standardized patient, volunteering at the free clinic, studying, OMM, taking Step 1, student organization events, conferences, presenting research, leading a health careers exploration camp for high schoolers, welcoming new students on campus, new friendships, field trips, wearing scrubs, holding human hearts and brains, learning new clinical skills, rotations, graduating, starting residency, etc. Follow my medical journey on Instagram: ghrellen where I explore what it means to be a strong female physician humanitarian 🙂
  10. When you learn about diseases that people in your personal life have and you start thinking about how it’s affecting them and possible treatment options: cystic fibrosis, immune thrombocytopenia purpura, GERD, lymphoma, Wilson’s disease.
  11. You become happy with very little. Sometimes, we go through such low points in this journey that we become more appreciative of the little things in life, such as having a free weekend off to spend with friends, breaking up the studying routine to get lunch with classmates, or taking a few minutes to be appreciative of nature outside the window.
  12. I normally go on a long run shortly after noon on Wednesdays, weather permitting. As 1st and 2nd year medical students, we have a lot of flexibility and decision-making power to choose how we spend our day. Of course, this changes in 3rd and 4th year, so I’m trying to be consciously grateful for this freedom while we still have it.
  13. At the end of this journey, we are in one of the most meaningful professions. In what other capacity do you get the chance to become so intimately involved in all spheres of another human’s life? We have the unique opportunity to save lives, reduce suffering, and love humanity every day.
  14. Remember, it’s not solely about the destination, it’s the journey – not only the journey of medicine, but the journey of life. We are in this space and time only once. Step back and be grateful for everything you have.

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I challenge you to live a #lifeunfiltered