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?


Ghrellen – Stay Hungry for Life

Hi beautiful souls 🙂 [cue Jesse McCartney]

It’s been awhile, but I have not abandoned the blog! As I delve deeper into my gap year, I hope to utilize this as a space to reflect and share the experiences and lessons I am learning about life and the journey to medicine.

I have been trying to think of a creative name for my blog that ties in the search for meaning in life and my love of science. Naturally, I google “rhymes with Ellen” and immediately smile when I see ghrelin. I had learned about this term in my hormones and behavior course during the last semester of senior year. Ghrelin is a peptide “hunger hormone” produced in the gastrointestinal tract and also functions in the central nervous system to regulate energy homeostasis. I wanted to apply this concept to avoid complacency in one’s journey and to stay hungry for life. Always check in with yourself and ask the question “what makes me feel alive?” Apply the answer to this question to decide how best you can contribute to the world. Just as homeostasis strives to keep our biological systems stable by continually making adjustments, we too should continually use what makes us feel alive to better our community. So that is the meaning behind “Ghrellen – Stay Hungry for Life”. Truthfully, I really miss thinking scientifically from studying for the MCAT everyday this summer (which I took last weekend!), so this is my attempt to bring science into everyday life. I am currently working on secondaries and hope to be in a position to meaningfully contribute to society very soon!

Join my journey 🙂

I have no regrets, but I would do it over again

You may be thinking “Ellen, that doesn’t make sense. You have regrets if you would do it over again”, but let me explain.

I’m now a proud graduate of The Ohio State University with a BS in Neuroscience. As a first-generation student, I could have never imagined in my wildest dreams all of the unique experiences I’ve had these past four years. For that, I am forever grateful for all the people I have met and all the opportunities that were afforded to me.

DSCN5087But I’ve hit a serious roadblock to my vocational dream that developed the summer after my junior year of high school – to use medicine, science, leadership, and education to positively impact the future of healthcare and better the well-being of humankind.

At this point, I do not have sufficient credentials to attend medical school and I wish I could tell my freshman self what I know now. But I realize this is life. You live and you learn. It’s all a part of the journey.

If granted a wish, I would re-do my college experience over again to make sure I adequately show medical schools that I would make a great physician and achieve success the first time around. The medical school process is an arduous one, but I know this is my purpose if I still have the drive to find out what went wrong from professionals involved in admissions and to improve myself to re-apply again. Even if I say I would re-do my experience, I have no regrets. A lot of failures are blessings in disguise. I’m learning a lot about myself in this time of despair, feeling lost, but also of introspection. This failure has forced me to re-evaluate the question “why medicine?” and I feel that once I am at the moment where I can confidently say “I made it”, I will be more grateful for this unique life opportunity than if I had effortlessly gained admission the first time.

I’m currently applying for jobs to gain more experience working in a clinical setting and planning to re-take the MCAT. I am excited to continue on the journey, embracing the roadblocks and detours.

Stay tuned for some blog topics I would like to share in the coming months! 🙂

Sneak Peek
– What I learned about life while in college
– Medical School application tips I wish I knew
– Love & Vulnerability
– Book reviews
– Revisit of a blog post I previously wrote concerning social media

If you feel some of my post-grad sentiments, I’ll leave you with inspiration from Nicki Minaj’s new song (who knew Nicki could write some lyrics that would become my life anthem and also match the theme of my blog so well??)

“So make sure the stars is what you aim for.
Make mistakes though.

I never worry, life is a journey.
I just wanna enjoy the ride.
What is the hurry? It’s pretty early.
It’s okay, we’ll take our time.

The night is still young.
How dare we sit quietly.
And watch the world pass us by.”

And this quote:
CC_o_pWVEAAVotO.jpg large


Day 6 (Thursday, May 8): Inspired by Life

*I am so behind on blog posts, but I will try to catch up! It’s difficult living in the moment while also documenting the details…*

For the first time, I did not wake up with my alarm that was set for 7:15am. The snooze button called my name, and I ended up sleeping until 7:45am. I even felt like I could have slept a couple more hours. Must have been the exhaustion finally catching up with me. At 8:30am, around ten people were still at breakfast. I wasn’t feeling the breakfast which was pancakes (Indian-style), curry and tea. I got two toasts for Taniqua.

At 9:20ish, I walked to the Manipal library with Adam. We had to wait outside the room a little past 9:30am while more of our people trickled in. Dr. Raj’s lecture was about ethics and health systems. He talked about how schooling works here:

Grades 1-7: Elementary and Middle School
Grades 8-10: High School. Pick science or humanities track. Highly preferred track is engineering or medicine.
Grades 11-12: Pre-university
College: Professional school

Once you pick a track, you’re essentially stuck in it. Ex. no changing majors like in the US and no freedom to pursue a medical degree despite earning a BS in art.

Other quick facts:

1. In India, people visit the doctor only when they are sick. Once given the treatment and they feel better, they won’t return despite the doctor’s advice. This reminds me of my mom when we had no health insurance. She went to see an eye doctor because of a floaty and flash of light. They told her it’s a normal process of eye aging. The doctor told her to come back in 4 weeks to check-up on it. She never did because of cost, and the fact that there’s no treatment.

2. Raj was a part of the SAGE cognitive test project, which I happened to see on the OSU College of Medicine YouTube several months ago. Haha I guess it does pay off to watch every single video that they post. It’s a questionnaire to test if an individual’s cognition and memory is declining with old age. If the frequent testing shows a sharp decline in scores of the SAGE test, that is a harbinger of Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s is of particular interest to me because of my grandmother and background in Neuroscience.

Dr. Raj wants to take us to the circus because someone from our group asked and also on a tour of the Manipal/Kasturba Medical College hospital. He said he did not want to go to the hospital (sounds like he adversely hates the hospital environment), but can arrange a visit for us. I am looking forward!

Went to the Manipal store after class and bought a blue Manipal U – inspired by life t-shirt for 450 rupees ($7.50). I chose it because of the displayed motto – inspired by life. About five other people were in the store also and a couple people bought sweatshirts for $22. They felt very soft and comfy but I wouldn’t wear it here so not a good investment. I tried to find postcards, but they didn’t have any. Dr. Raj informed me a couple days ago that Mysore would have some.

IMG_5299Lunch consisted of barley rice, sweet rice, beans, veggie curry (my fave) and another type of curry. Walked back to room around 1pm with Lindsey. I tried on the t-shirt, and it was a little too loose-fitting, but I guess that’s good for India. It’s also 100% cotton so it’ll shrink. I walked over to the library by myself. Walking alone can be so refreshing. I pay more attention to the environment and people and think about how blessed I am to be able to study in this country on the other side of the world.

All of our students were in the rock garden when I arrived, and Adam led the way to the classroom. Dr. Bhat talked about secularism and social change in India. Adam inquired about my blog, and I gave him the URL. Makes me happy when others are interested in reading. Writing is a passion of mine, and it’s exciting to share it with an audience other than myself. Dr. Bhat told the Manipal administration people to turn down the AC, so it felt comfortably warm in the classroom as opposed to an ice box. He’s so cute. He told the people he has class at 3:30pm so that they would turn it down right away.

IMG_0401Dr. Raj told us to meet him on the ground floor of the Manipal Library so that we can get our ID pictures taken to access the gym facility. Meanwhile, several of us were reading the bulletin boards. One was by a de-stress organization advertising their multitude of activities. The second one was a women empowerment board with international women leaders. The third one had posters and ads. Dr. Raj told us about the computer room on the first floor too. The ID place was across the street from the university near the market. It was a passport photo place.



Tea time: coffee cake and bread with curried veggies inside. I enjoyed the bread. Went back to dorm to chill until dinner. Signed up for room cleaning with Lindsey. I was feeling really sleepy up until dinner. I saw Lindsey locking her door as I opened my door, so I told her to meet me downstairs.

Dinner: rice, potato curry and 2 other types of curry. I got a small portion, which was the perfect amount. Others got pizza, Chinese food and Subway from the second floor cafeteria. Went back to room to take a shower. During my shower, the cleaning lady came, and I felt bad but thankfully she returned around 9:30pm. It was weird sitting on my bed waiting for her to clean the room. Not used to having other people do things that I normally perform myself, but it does provide a piece of mind for me because I love cleanliness. She even wiped the table! Was not expecting that. She has to keep the door open and that made me paranoid because of the bugs at night especially in the rain. I’m gonna try to keep my room very clean. I skyped mom for about an hour. I was studying also so wasn’t too into conversation but it actually made my day a little better. Knowing someone cares about you. I think I had a slight bout of homesickness today. I felt kind of lonely, and it’s probably partly my own fault for not reaching out to others but it’s so hard to change natural tendencies. I should keep reading the book I brought with me on this trip, “Quiet. The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by: Susan Cain, to discover some truth in this personality type and how to be a better citizen of the world as a reserved person. Look out for a blog post about the book in the near future 🙂 The thunderstorm could be heard all night, and the power switched off twice for a couple minutes. I thought electricity would be out for the night, but it was okay after several minutes. I studied for the first quiz until 2am. I need to get to bed earlier.