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Saturday, June 23, 2012

It's been awhile

Sorry for the long hiatus. China's block of Google affiliated programs includes Blogspot and so I was unable to sign on during my time there. I just got back into town about a day ago and so my sleep schedule is like my cat's - sleepy in the afternoon and wide awake (and HUNGRY) in the morning.

It seems like the next few weeks will be crazy with medical school preparations. Changes are happening and its time to get serious!

Checklist of things to do:
  1. Confirm status of new roommate - in or out?
  2. Buy books and start summer reading - The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
  3. Buy a keyboard for my iPad (instead of a Mac or a Dell, I have enrolled into the iPad pilot program at case. Anyone have any experience with using an iPad for school?     
  4. Find furniture without breaking the bank - any suggestions other than Craigslist?
  5. Make new friends. =)                                                   

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The best weekends are long weekends

One of my best friends from school - my sorority sister, Sherry* - came to visit me this weekend. I messaged her on Wednesday just to chat, but we decided, very spontaneously, to have her fly to see me this weekend.
Sherry with my fat cat, Auggie
When we first met, I was so scared of her. Perhaps it was nerves - I met her on interview day - or perhaps I just wasn't in the right mood that day, but Sherry just seemed like the scariest person I've ever met. When I joined Omega Tau Zeta (our sorority) my freshman year, we had to interview all of the older girls to get to know them. I wanted to avoid interviewing Sherry, so I had another sister set up the interview for me. Everything I could do, I did to avoid her.

But over the course of the years that I've gotten to know her, we've become very close friends. Her and I are similar in many aspects - we're both ambitious and silly. We can make a conversation out of anything. We are also very different. She's very assertive and always presents the first opinion on every topic. I'm much more easy going. Perhaps this is the reason why we get along so well. She helps me be more decisive and I help calm her down.

Sherry just finished her first year of medical school. It'll only be 2 more days till I go to China and one more month until I start medical school. One more month till we're reunited! I can't wait!

*For purposes of NOT keeping her awesomeness confidential, I have used her REAL name

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Dell or Mac?

  • Processor: Intel i7 (2.80GHz)
  • RAM: 8 GB
  • Hard Drive: 128 GB SSD
  • LCD Screen: 14"
  • Includes: 1TB External Hard Drive for backups, Wireless Optical Mouse


  • Processor: Intel i7 Dual Core (2.8GHz)
  • RAM: 8 GB
  • Hard Drive: 256 GB SSD
  • LCD Screen: 13"
  • Includes: 1TB External Hard Drive for backups, Magic Mouse, MiniVGA Adpater, Windows 7 Pro

I have to choose a computer for school. I don't know anything about computers, but, thank goodness, the IT department has provided only four choices (well, and the IPad pilot program) - two different Dells and two different MacBook Pros, where the difference appears to only be screen size.

I will definitely be going with either the smaller Dell or the smaller Macbook. I don't want to carry anything heavy around (although I guess a few ounces is not that big of a difference). At home, though, I will have a big monitor, so screen size is not that big of a difference.

What I am having a hard time deciding is whether to go with the Dell, which has a better warranty package, or with the Apple, which has better aesthetic qualities. Of course, another issue is cost. The Apple product is more than $1000 dollars more expensive. But given that I'm already borrowing so much, what's another grand?

Can anyone with computer knowledge recommend which laptop you think is the better fit for a medical student? Or should I just ignore computers altogether and sign up for the IPad pilot program?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Signing my life away

I have finally buckled down and completed all of my financial aid paperwork. I have officially accumulated $77,500 dollars worth of debt. I expect to be borrowing on average $80,000 dollars per year for my four years of medical school for a grand total of $320,000.

With so much money owed, I knew no amount of complaining could help.

I looked into repayment plans (I hope this will be useful to some readers out there as well!). With a good plan and good luck, hopefully I won't be spending the rest of my life shackled to the cost of my education.


The Good News: 

Income Based Repayment (IBR). The IBR is for people with loans substantially larger than their income - in other words, one needs to demonstrate a partial financial hardship. Usually, one would expect to pay only about 10-15% of their income (minus 150% of the poverty line). For a family of just me, makng about $50,000 a year during my residency years, I would only be expected to pay about $400 dollars every month. This is much more manageable than the 10 year repayment plan (the standard). For the first few years of my career, this is the only viable option given the amount of debt that I will have. 

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). For doctors, this can be an amazing plan. After 120 on-time payments (10 years), whatever amount of money you still owe will be forgiven and the amount forgiven will not even be taxed! There are some caveats:

  • You must work in a public service job (non-profit or government organization). Most hospitals qualify as an acceptable employer (62% are non-profit and 20% are government hospitals). 
  • You must be working full time in the public service job during repayment, when you're applying, and when you receive forgiveness. This means there's no skimping out. You have to work the full ten years (at least) in providing a public service. 
  • It's all or nothing. Just because you paid 119 payments doesn't mean you're entitled to most of the forgiveness. You have to satisfy EVERY portion of every requirement for the government to accept your application.

The Bad News: 

Uncertainty. The government does not have any assurances that the PSLF program exist indefinitely. Like any bill, it will come under scrutiny and review. When it does, who is to say that it will remain in its current form? Mark Kantrowitz wrote an article denouncing the use of PSLF by doctors, who he argues only have short terms of low income (residency years only). Who knows if reform is on its way to restrict the use of this forgiveness program? 

Either way, I have to borrow what I have to borrow. A girl's got to do what a girl's got to do.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

All I want for my birthday is ... floss?

Do I find it a little weird that whenever I go to China my grandparents and uncles always ask for floss? Yes, of course. Why wouldn't I? 

I absolutely hate going to the dentist and the thought of asking for oral hygiene products for a GIFT? Well, that's just beyond weird.                   

I forget, however, that for many people in China and even for some people in the US, dental care is considered a luxury. Many people here in the US have no dental insurance and so the routine teeth cleaning is not so routine. As a consequence, cavities and infections are ignored until they become a much more severe problem. Shockingly, some of these issues can even turn into ER problems.

Dental health and overall health is highly correlated. A person with oral issues such as gum disease or tooth decay at greater risks for heart issues, diabetes, osteoporosis and a host of other problems. When you have bad teeth, it's not just an matter of attractiveness, but it could be a matter of life or death! 

So I'm glad to be buying Costco cases of floss for my relatives. If they're healthy, I'm happy. 

P.S. It's also always good to have good smelling breath.

Monday, May 21, 2012

I've seemed to misplace my kneecap...maybe

It's official. My doctors and I know about the same amount about my knee, which is to say nothing much at all. I have thus far seen two orthopedic surgeons and the results are inconclusive.

The first doctor's opinion: 

The pain and soreness that I have been feeling is due to my nee being displaced - a common problem in young women. In other words, I have patellar instability.

Essentially, my knee cap moves out of the groove (trochlear groove of the femur) that is supposed to be holding it in place. While there is wiggle room in all knees when straightened, the knee cap should not have the ability to move OUT of place. When I was examined, the doctor saw and heard a pop as I flexed and extended my knee - a j-sign.  

Watch the left knee for the pop as the knee cap goes out of place
What he was seeing is a partial dislocation of my kneecap - a patellar subluxation. During my everyday movement as I bend and straighten my knee, the patella moves in and out of the the groove, rubbing against the cartilage and causing excess tension for the joint (patellofemoral joint). 

He suggested that I either go for physical therapy (twice a week for seven weeks) or go for surgery. He recommends surgery because of how long my knee has been bothering me (and because he is a surgeon by trade). 

The second doctor's opinion: 

Immediately, the second doctor ruled out the previous doctor's diagnosis. He did not see the j-sign and so found my knee to be perfectly stable. Because he ruled out structural damage and to explain the persisting pain, he told me that I have either chondromalacia patellae, a softening of the cartilage of the knee, or plica syndrome, the inflammation or irritation of the surrounding tissue of the knee.

Cartilage softening is commonly found in young women during their growing years. Seeing as I did grow a couple of centimeters in the past few years at college, this was a likely scenario. Plica syndrome is a last resort situation - a problem diagnosed by exclusion, meaning that this is the diagnosis made when everything else is ruled out. To confirm what I really have, this second doctor has ordered an MRI. 

Either way, I hope that the doctors figure it out soon. I have to arrive at medical school in mint condition. I've got intermurals to win and volleyball to play! 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

If you teach a man how to fish

Today is the last day I'll be tutoring one of my students and my third to last day for tutoring all together. After this week, I'll be too busy getting ready for medical school or on a different continent.

Teachers/tutors always look back on their interactions with their students with the fondest memories. I am no different. I am glad to have had the opportunity to have built friendships with these kids. They say crazy things and make me laugh with their honesty. Our conversations have changed from purely about academic to more personal exchanges. This and their improved testing scores are my two biggest accomplishments. I couldn't be prouder to have worked with such great people.

But what teachers and tutors sometimes neglect to mention (with sincerity) is how much they have learned during their teaching experience. Even tutoring the SATs - a test I will never have to take again - I have learned useful skills. I have learned from them  humility and the art of the explanation. They have pointed out my errors, my misspoken words with tact and grace and challenged me to provide clearer and better answers. Really, they are better than any college level communications course.

I imagine academic medicine must be invigorating for the same reason. I bet the attendings at a teaching hospital know about this little secret - teaching is not for those who CAN'T do, but those who can do even BETTER. Teaching reaffirms skill sets and provides introduction to novel ideas. It is the student's unclouded and sometimes straightforward thinking that allows the teacher to see things in a new light. They say that the mother of invention is asking the right questions. Who can we rely more on to ask questions than students?

I hope that I can work in an academic setting one day. I want to teach, and, more importantly, to learn.

So here's to all the students that I have had the pleasure to teach! Thank you.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

100,000 hearts

I checked the book out on a whim, not even thinking about the name that graced the cover. The only word that caught my eye was "surgery."

It's because I'm not sure that surgery is the career path that I will be taking that I am reading this book. I want to know what it is like to be a surgeon from a surgeon's perspective. Is it as exciting as TV? Is it as demanding as the blogs and forums seem to suggest? But most importantly, I want to know, what does it take to become a world-class surgeon? And no one is more qualified to answer these questions than Denton Cooley.

Cooley is pretty much THE surgeon in terms of the heart.

First heart transplant in the US? Check. 1968.

First ARTIFICIAL heart transplant? Check. 1969

And did I mention that he was also a basketball star in Texas? Some people (like Cooley) have the option of being either an NBA star or a world-renown famous.

There are more checks on this man's list of accomplishments than IRS checks in April. His name is literally displayed throughout the last 50 years of medicine. If you live in Texas, the Texas Heart Institute is his hospital. The man's existence changed the way heart surgeries were performed in the US.  Because of his and his colleagues, medicine has changed.

Check out this and all twelve other books to learn more about this AMAZING man. You'll find yourself impressed beyond words, but more importantly, SO much more eager to learn. Maybe you will be the next Cooley.

P.S. If you are reading this, Dr. Cooley, please advise on when you found the time to sleep. This seems to be the only issue you did not address.

Friday, May 18, 2012

I'm a little squeamish, but...

I was watching Grey's Anatomy last night and I thought I was going to be sick when Meredith Grey stuck a safety pin in Derrick Shepard's arm in order to keep the skin together. When they cut opened Mark Sloan's chest with what looked like a small razor blade and inserted a lotion pump, I was sure I had enough.

                                THIS was inserted into someone's heart to drain pooling blood.                                   
But I kept watching. My eyes were glued to the TV.

The thing is, while I am a little squeamish regarding the unconventional methods of surgery, I am also excited by the innovation. Surgeons have to be quick on their feet and fast with their hands. Anything can go wrong, even in an OR. Surgeons have to be prepared for whatever surprise comes their way.

Hopefully the surprise is not a plane crash and having to operate on your colleagues with a razor. Perhaps trauma is not the place I want to be. But surgery, definitely. Can you imagine anything more exciting or rewarding?

Of course, TV shows are fiction and dramatized to the point of being unrealistic (How can THAT many unfortunate things happen to one hospital in only a few years?). But when my dad tells stories of his practicing days - he was a neurosurgeon - I sense the same excitement that I see on TV. I can see by the way he talks about the decisions that he made that the greatest moments of his career were in the operating room. When I grow old, I want to look back on my career with the same sense of accomplishment.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

OMG I have arthritis

Lately, the weather has been super gloomy. It has been raining everyday! This is absolutely horrible for my knee! It just aches and aches and aches. I cannot fall asleep at night because of how sore my knee is. I'm pretty sure I also creak when I walk up stairs.

This is me on my good days.
At the ripe old age of 22, I am feeling much more pain in my knees than I should. And with the ease of internet search and my knack for over-thinking and over-analyzing (see definition for hypochondria), I came to three conclusions. I could have:

Worst Case Scenario: Bone Cancer. 

Why I could have it:

  • My knee feels numb and weak. When I stand on my right leg, it's almost as if I cannot support my whole body. One of symptoms for a tumorous growth is numbness due to the compression of nerves or blood vessels, thereby restricting blood flow. 
  • I have felt this discomfort for a really long time. Over the past few years, I have had these pains on and off. It's only been lately that my knee has been consistently sore ALL THE TIME. With bone cancer, the pain is not usually immediately noticed. When the cancer spreads, the pain begins to increase.
Why I probably don't: 
  • I don't have a mass. My knee is sore, but I don't feel any lumps...but then again, not all bone cancers have palpable tumors.
  • No fractures. Cancerous bones are weak and can break from small traumas or even just standing. I can still play beach volleyball and have not seen any breaks.

Fixable Diagnosis: Meniscus Tear ala Jeremy Lin  

Why I could have it:

  • I ski - a lot. A couple years back, I fell pretty hard going over moguls on my right knee. Only my right knee is this sore, so I'm thinking that there is a correlation. Sharp twisting and turning (as found in skiing and basketball) can be the root cause.
  • My knee feels like it's not strong and I feel like it cannot support me. Many patients who have been diagnosed with meniscus tears report being unsure about the stability of their knee.
Why I probably don't: 
  • As far as I remember, my knee didn't swell after my fall. I kept skiing the whole weekend. With an injury like a tear, there should be an inflammatory response.
  • I can straighten my knee. For people with meniscus tears, the torn piece can sometimes fold up and limit the range of motion for the knee. Of course, when I straighten my knee, there is an audible and visible shift of the patella. This is very common in younger females, but can lead to the erosion of the cartilage...leading us to my next possible scenario.

Geriatric Disease: Arthritis.                                                     

Why I could have it:

  • I am a girl. Women are more prone to be diagnosed with arthritis than men. In fact, 60% of patients with arthritis are women.
  • My great-grandmother has arthritis. This is a pretty far family connection, but arthritis can be hereditary
Why I probably don't: 
  • I'm only 22. While more than half of patients with arthritis are under the age of 65, I am WAY under that age.  

With my own search results completely inconclusive, I made an appointment to go see an orthopedic specialist and, lucky for me, he had an available slot yesterday afternoon. Talk about luck! Usually, making an appointment can take weeks and mine took mere hours!

Unfortunately, he asked me to come back to consult with a knee specialist. I won't know definitively what's wrong until Monday. But at least no cancer!!

For all you doctors and doctor's in training out there, what's your opinion? Do you think I might have one of the above? If not, what's your diagnosis?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Furnishing pain of my first apartment

I went apartment hunting in April and have seen my apartment space for a total of maybe three minutes. I think I have a general gist of how big the place is, but really I probably have no idea. No matter the size, I'd like to have a modern interior. I think it would contrast well with the old and faded feel of the building - a building so old I actually had to sign a lead poisoning disclaimer.

The benefit of modern designs are the clean lines and the appreciation for simplicity. Simplicity, of course, equaling fewer pieces of furniture and so lower costs.

I'd like to imagine that my affordable apartment will look like this:

Modern Apartment Warm Interior
The perfectly beautiful and fantastical abode of a starving med student place will most likely just look like this: 

Choosing between fed and fasted, I chose fed
Of course, my walls will have a bit more color than that pictured above. One of my wonderful roommates is a CRAZY artist - "crazy" taking on the meaning of "good" in this context.

Trying to keep the balance between affordable and quality is really tough on a shoestring budget. However, if you're willing to take the time to look online and really REALLY search, there are a lot of cool stuff that you can find. Stores like Walmart and Target have affordable furniture, but the downside is the delivery choices are not so great. Shipping to store is usually free, but with large pieces of furniture, you might be better off just paying the shipping fee. The same is true for looking on Craigslist (also, beware of who you buy from. Lifetime has scared me for life with The Craigslist Killer). 

So far, we've decided on a futon and a set of bookshelves and have not yet picked a color for the futon. Help us decide! Black, grey or red?                                                     

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Oh, the things you'll see!

The majority of students at Case Western School of Medicine matriculate into the University Program. Every year starts with a class of approximately 150 students. Even the PPSP students become a part of the University Program. The MSTP and CCLCM programs are not a part of the PPSP guarantee - PPSP students must submit a full application, including MCAT scores.

I will be entering the UP track in July and I can't wait! With the majority of Case med students in this program, you know that there is a diverse crowd. When I interviewed, Dr. Mehta (the Dean of Admissions) asked all of us interviewees to say something interesting about ourselves. I had expected an icebreaker - I expected to find out that my future classmates were interested in soccer and liked to bake in their spare time. Perhaps, the most adventurous would say that they were a karate fanatic. Instead, I was AMAZED and completely floored by the volume and variety of talent. There were fencing champions and professional bakers and black belt martial artists! Not knowing how to cook and living in a city like Cleveland, I was more than just "a little happy" to find out I'll be going to school with Zorro, the Cake Boss and Jackie.

Safe and fed? What more could a girl ask for?

University Program (UP)

Case is a great medical school and consistently turns students into phenomenal doctors. There are three reasons for its success:

1.) Its prime location in Cleveland. The School of Medicine (SOM) is the only medical school in Cleveland. This means that we are the only students seeking the attention of the doctors at all of the great area hospitals - Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, Metro Health, the VA. World class surgeons and internists are ready to teach you everything you desire to ask. The opportunity in Cleveland is CRAZY amazing. All you have to do is step into the city, and you will be surrounded by medical wonder! Like they say in real estate: "Location, location, location." 
2.) The WR2 curriculum. Case is known for its cutting edge curriculum. The emphasis in the curriculum is learning collaboratively. When I arrived at Second Look Weekend, I found out how true this is! I was introduced to the Inquiry (IQ) group.The IQ session almost entirely student run and helps everyone voice their concerns, ask questions, and work together to figure out a solution. Every week, students are handed new cases to discuss in their IQ groups and this small, discussion based learning really mimics the real life work of doctors - working in collaboration with their peers so that patients may receive the most thorough care.
3.) The sense of community. The first thing I noticed when I arrived at Second Look Weekend was how close all of the students and faculty were. Case was so much more than a school to all of them, but a shared community - a smaller city integrated within Cleveland. That is not to say that friendly competition is not a factor: Case has four societies - Blackwell, Robbins, Satcher and Wearn. It's like Hogwarts over there! As future doctors working within communities, it is incredibly important to maintain the personal touch in order to be able to connect with patients and peers. Case, from Day 1, emphasizes this importance.

College Program (Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine)

Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP)

These two programs are geared for the more research oriented students, but they receive the same benefits of being in Cleveland and being a part of the Case school system. Both of these programs, however, are longer than the traditional four years (CCLCM is 5 years and MSTP is 7 years). The great thing though, both of these programs come with hefty scholarships and stipends. Extra degrees and no debt? Why not?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Oh, the people you'll meet!

When I first imagined the students at medical school, I thought that the students would all be very similar. I had imagined a medical school crowd to simply be an extension of the pre-med group in college. I had thought that entering medical school would be entering a world of like-minded people and I was excited about that prospect. I soon found out, however, that medical school is a wide and diverse place - an even BETTER prospect. I find it that when I am surrounded by people who are not like me, I have a greater opportunity to learn from our differences and a great chance to experience something new and exciting.

Everyone comes into school with a different background that this breadth of experiences is what contributes to the positive learning environment. At Case Western, I find this to be especially true. Just looking at the diversity of medical program offerings can showcase the different types of people. This week, I will be going through the different types of programs offered at Case. I'll share my insight mostly on the two programs I am most familiar with - PPSP and UP, but feel free to ask me about anything and I'll try to find out for you!

Pre-Professional Scholars Program (PPSP)

The PPSP program is offered to high school seniors. Along with the regular Case Western college application, students have to submit an additional essay describing their desire to enter medicine. A number of students will then be invited to spend a day at the medical school and undergo a medical school interview. The key is to show maturity and a passion for becoming a physician. As an 17-18 year old, you are experiencing the same interview process usually faced by someone four years older and four years more mature. The admissions committee is hedging a bet on you, on whether or not in four years, you'll be a student they would like to see matriculate into the school of medicine. Every year, there are only a handful of admitted PPSP students. 

The obvious benefit of this program is the assurance of a guaranteed spot. In order to retain this spot, however, students are expected to maintain a minimum GPA (in the 2008 application cycle, the expectation was 3.60 GPA) and to show contribution to Case community by actively participating in clubs and organizations. No MCATs are required, BUT if you do choose to take the exam, you must reach at least the average score of the entering class in order to retain your spot (for 2008, the score cut-off was 32). Many of the students do not take the MCATs. Can you imagine the stress free life they're living? WOW!

The greatest benefit of this program, however, is not the lack of MCATs - it's the freedom. With a guaranteed spot, students no longer have to worry about fulfilling the "must-haves" of a usual resume. If a student has no interest in research, there's no need to work himself to the bone at a research lab, hoping to get published. The guarantee allows the students to open up their undergraduate careers to do whatever may interest them. You can pursue a degree in English, peruse history books, check out a archaeology dig or volunteer with at a hospital or set up a band. One of my friends in the program is a DJ with his own radio show! The beauty of the program is that it allows students - future doctors - to become more well-rounded individuals who will, in the future, better serve and better connect with their patients. 

Let me know if you have any questions regarding the program or how to apply. Leave your comments below. Thanks!

Still To Come: 

University Program

College Program (Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine)

Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP)

Stay tuned!!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mother's Day!

Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there! For all that you've done to raise your children and to help them grow and achieve, you deserve a whole year's worth of celebration. Let's declare 2012 to be the year of the mom.

My mom spends every Mother's Day morning with me and my dad. We have breakfast and either my dad or I wash the dishes. It's a pretty normal day (minus the dishwashing). We don't normally celebrate holidays with gifts. There's no element of surprise. My family prefers to shop together, often with hilarious/disasterous results.

The real highlight of the day for my mom is the afternoon. She, along with all her closest friends, head out to lunch. They talk, they eat and they take a million pictures to commemorate. They have a standing reservation at the restaurant. I think the owner, a mother herself, sometimes joins in on the celebration. My mom calls this day her day off. It's a weird tradition, but my mom loves it. Since this is her day, she gets to do whatever she wants.

Happy Mother's Day, mama! Don't forget to bring home the leftovers!

Mama, Auggie and me. I love you!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Going home and buying out Costco

Every four years, after I graduate, I go on a pilgrimage. Even though I graduated in 2011, it has only now finally reached the four year interval. This will be my final big trip before the barrage of medical school and residency and fellowship begin. I'm incredibly excited because in two weeks, I will be going to China to see my family. Even though I grew up in America, I can't seem to help but call these trips a "return home." The city is more like a foreign land, but I can't help but feel a sense of familiarity. It has been too long and I've missed family.

What I don't miss, however, is all of the pre-trip disasters that comes along with each trip. The closer the trip gets, the higher the tension at my house. Of course, the main reason for this is my family's propensity for procrastination and absolute lack of gift-buying skills. Every time we begin to plan a trip, we promise ourselves that this will be the year that we begin our gift shopping early. Every time, we make a great plan to tackle the most difficult items first.

1.) Shop for Family - These are the hardest people to shop for because I am always searching for the one perfect thing. Luckily, our family is small and we have at least 4-5 months to find that one perfect thing for each person.
2.) Shop for Family Friends - These are the people that get fancy packaged gift baskets/boxes. The packaging on these gifts are probably more important than the gifts themselves. The key is to show that you were willing to forgoe an extra pair of pants to fit that large satin bow because this family friend just means so much to you.
3.) Shop for Friends of Family Friends (AKA Total Strangers) - Food. Gifts of foreign food (Hershey bars are considered foreign food) are great as a little something so you never see anyone empty handed. Chinese tradition says that you never come home from abroad without preparing gifts for your family and any stranger that happens to visit your family during your stay. It's very rude to neglect to give a gift to your grandfather's old colleague's young grandson and his entire entourage (none of whom you've ever met before).

Every time, we have only one or two weeks to finish start shopping. After several days of wandering aimlessly and angrily (increasingly so) around the mall, we all begin to panic that we'll arrive at the airport with empty suitcases. So, we start at the bottom of the list.

1.)  Costco - We buy as much chocolate as we can carry. There are approximately 100 pounds. We figure this will cover 8-9 random strangers; we grab a couple more boxes because my grandma is very popular and has just joined a new walking club.
2.) TJMaxx - We buy the perfume sets and the pretty baskets of lotions. The more awkward the shape and the more needless space it takes, the happier we are with the purchase.
3.) Best Buy - We are at a loss for what to buy. We decide that we are going to buy each family a gift because 3 families is far less than 9 people. Cool gadgets and shiny metals are great! We are exhausted and whatever the GeekSquad guy suggests, we nod our heads at.
4.) HOME - We eat a pound of the chocolate. My mom tags the weird perfumes for immediate return. We stare at the cameras and wonder if the power adapter will work in China. We assume it will and we all lean back in relief that the next trip is not for at least another year.*

T-minus two weeks means today is the first day of mall pacing. Oh boy.

*Due to our different schedules and our new cat, Auggie, we cannot all take long 3-week getaways together. Therefore, my mom and dad and I take turns. Summer 2012 is my turn!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Introducing me and all of my financial trouble

Hi! Welcome to my blog! I look forward to updating you about my experiences as I begin my career as a medical student at Case Western Reserve University. I am so excited to be heading into the field of medicine and I want to share all of the key moments in my path towards becoming a doctor. Writing this blog will be my way of keeping friends updated and helping aspiring medical students figure out their own path towards their MD degree.

The first thing you need to know about the path towards becoming a doctor is the financial hole you're about to jump into. On average, medical students graduate with $141,132 in debt. That is A LOT of money...and we're only talking about averages. Half of students have debts worth more than the mortgage on a small house. With the high interest rates (6.8% for Federal Stafford loans and 7.9% for Grad PLUS loans), medical students are looking at years of indebtedness. My current medical school costs are going to put me at more than DOUBLE the national average (I'm not even counting the interest rate here!) when I graduate.

These large figures can be very daunting when you first look at them. I was terrified, but I am a clear headed physician-to-be!! So I made a list of possible ways to finance my education:

1.) Write a letter to Mitt Romney/President Obama and ask for money in return for my political support.
2.) Pay the school in Confederate dollars.
3.) Rob a bank, because hey, even George Clooney did it.

I'm just going to disarm you with my good looks and then help myself to some spending money.

But when the shock was replaced by panic, I turned to Google - the one who has an answer to everything. There is a wealth of resources online and in every financial aid office. One of the best tools that I found online was the AAMC financial aid calculator that is a part of their whole website of information and tools (FIRST). For those of us who are not mathematically or financially inclined, the calculator lets you plug in numbers and does all of the calculations for you. It even tells you the amount of money the government is likely to forgive if you follow through on different forgiveness plans (Ex: Public Service Loan Forgiveness - a topic I will cover in another post). The website also provides a lot of guidance for figuring out how much you should take in loans and how to pay it all back when you graduate.

My financial aid counselor was also really welcoming and ready to help. I scheduled an appointment with her on the phone and she answered all one thousand of my questions. A lot of times, you can find the answer you need online, but for the questions that are specific only to you, there is no better resource than a financial aid officer. They deal with this kind of information day in and day out, so they are armed to the teeth with relevant information. Even better, they are particularly knowledgeable about your specific school. Woohoo!

So while I am still very intimidated by the idea of a six-figure loan, I am at least aware of my options. Despite all of this debt, I am very certain that a career in medicine and my education is exactly what I want. I can't wait to start school!

P.S. If any rich millionaires or billionaires are reading this blog, please feel free to contribute to my education fund. I might be the doctor to save your life one day!