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Student Article: Continuing the Passion for Science in Medicine

This article was originally published in the January/February 2023 issue of the Tarrant County Physician.

OFTEN ONE OF THE FIRST QUESTIONS I AM ASKED WHEN I mention that I am in medical school is, “How did you know you wanted to become a doctor?” Sometimes I scramble to find the most inspirational and motivating answer, as there were many reasons why I chose the career path that I did, However, at the core of every underlying reason was first, my love for science, and second, the desire to put that love into good use. Throughout my undergraduate years, I made sure to put scientific research at the forefront of my priorities. I took additional classes to help develop my skills as a researcher and participated in local symposiums whenever I could. Going into medical school, I kept research and the scientific process in mind as I learned about each body system. Given my medical education, I could delve further into the pathologies and the application of their respective treatments, and, if there were any developing treatments, I could keep an open mind about them and seek an opportunity to participate in the field research (if my busy school schedule let me). Thankfully, this past summer, my school presented the perfect chance to participate in the Pediatric Research Program (PRP) with Cook Children’s Hospital.

The PRP selects a group of second year medical students to take part in research “that aligns with their specialty interest.” There are also additional benefits such as being provided a mentor who guides you along the way and opportunities to present work at local/regional/national conferences. I chose neurology as y number one field of interest, so I was assigned a case study with a pediatric neurologist as my research mentor. I was excited and eager at the prospect of beginning work, especially since I had been assigned to Cook Children’s. The idea of being in an environment that was dedicated to helping children with challenging diseases brought a sense of fulfillment to my foundational goal of helping people heal.

Writing a case study was a novel experience, but I was fortunate to have a dedicated mentor who aided me through the process and helped me understand clinical information that my then year-one-medical-student mind could not comprehend. My mentor further allowed me to shadow her periodically throughout the summer, which was a nourishing experience to my medical education. I was able to interact with many pediatric patients who were affected by a variety of neurological disorders, especially congenital ones. This provided me with an appreciation for specialist physicians since they offer a great sense of hope and security to their patients- something I had associated more with primary care. What was even more admirable was my own mentor pursuing her research and developing case studies to help spread awareness of the pathologies that affect her patients.

Regarding my own project, I was able to learn more about the neurovascular complications of Marfan syndrome and the importance of considering it as a possible cause of stroke. I thoroughly enjoyed the process of gathering information and researching literature since it showed me how physicians from different parts of the country can come together and use their scientific nature to bring light to issues and possibly come to solutions. I look forward to working on more case studies and research projects as a medical student because it reaffirms my belief in using scientific methods and research to better the lives of patients and reach new heights in treatments.

The Summer Our Lives Stood Still

By Cassidy Lane, OMS-II

This piece was originally published in the September/October issue of the Tarrant County Physician. You can read find the full magazine here.

I was 13 years old the last time that I experienced a summer break, because it was that summer that I decided that I wanted to be a physician. I spent every summer after that through high school at the Volunteer Department of the nearest Level I Trauma Center in East Texas. If I wasn’t volunteering I was shadowing, and if I wasn’t shadowing I was scribing or taking classes that would prepare me for medical school. It became a constant cycle, month in and month out for 11 years. Every one of my spring breaks, winter breaks, and summer breaks was jam-packed with exciting new medical adventures, classes, or some other activity that was someday going to get me into medical school and ultimately help me become a physician. As crazy as it sounds, my story is not unique. This is the path for many students, former, current, and future, who pursue a career as physicians. This is a way of life that we gladly accept, because for many of us the idea of doing anything else is much more depressing than spending every break of our youth working towards our future career. 

I was all geared up to spend the summer after my first year of medical school the same way. I had two in-hospital research projects lined up, was interviewing for a pediatric research program to review case studies and publish reports on the cases, and I was already looking for a summer job to bring in a little extra income during what I considered my “slow” month between the two academic years. Then, in an instant, a global pandemic hit, all my plans fell apart, and I was left with a very empty calendar during a period that was supposed to be a time for me to check all of the boxes that residency programs would want to see completed by the time I apply just three short years from now. When the initial shock wore off that a virus was capable of shutting down medical programs created and run by very people who live to combat these same types of diseases every day, it was like I had stepped  into the sunshine for the first time in 11 years. As I began to read about the attempts of countries all over the world to contain and combat the virus, I was struck by an unexpected common theme in the rest of the world that I felt within myself: rejuvenation. 

There were stories about nature being able to cleanse itself once people were no longer allowed to pour waste into it every day. Families were spending more time with one another at home, and smiles were being shared through technology all across the world because people were no longer able to go, go, go. Self-care began to emerge at the forefront of peoples’ minds, and I began to understand what it meant to take a step back and soak in the moments.  I started cooking dinner every night, I read books on history and got outside every day. At a time when uncertainty was the norm and we were all scared, I spoke with colleagues and friends who were learning and growing personally outside the realm of medicine into better spouses, friends, and students. With this fresh new start that we received, we have been able to go back to school refreshed and ready to learn about medicine and people instead of being burned out and emotionally exhausted. During the time that our medical lives stood still, our mental and emotional health was able to re-blossom into excitement about life, medicine, and being the physicians that we are destined to become. 

Social Surgeons: The Importance of Social Media in the 2021 Match Cycle

by Kristina Fraser, OMS-IV

Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, medical professionals, including surgeons, had already been utilizing social media for networking purposes. An example is the monthly Association of Women Surgeons Tweet Chat
(@womensurgeons). Students can participate, and I personally have been able to meet resident and attending physicians at various residency programs through these chats. This interaction provides me and other applicants the opportunity to network before interview season begins. Without audition rotations, these interactions will become highly valuable. Having the ability to connect with program directors, residents, and attendings through these chats may be the difference in being offered an interview or not.

Fourth-year students are also concerned the virtual interview process will not provide us an accurate representation of residency programs. One emergency medicine (EM) resident physician echoed this concern and tweeted asking EM programs to share information about their program, including name, a unique aspect of that program, and information about the program’s city. Numerous residents have replied to his tweet, allowing rising fourth-year medical students to gain insight about EM programs from all around the country. Seeing the success of this tweet, I decided to ask for general surgery residents to share more about their programs. The responses have allowed me and other aspiring surgeons to learn about more than 25 different general surgery programs across the country.

Twitter is not only a means for residencies to share information about their program; it is also a way for them to learn about applicants. The biography section is an opportunity for us to provide more personal information, including our medical school, hobbies, and interests. I have been expressing myself through Twitter by re-tweeting surgery research, posting about cooking and baking, and sharing funny videos to show my sense of humor. Programs want to know more about applicants than our board scores, and thoughtful biographies and tweet content can show a residency program more about a student and what we can bring to a program. 

For this year’s rising fourth-year medical students, it is more important than ever to be active on social media. This engagement is enabling us to network, learn about residency programs, and show programs who we are. With the help of Twitter and other technologies, residencies and medical students alike will be able to interact and form relations in spite of physical distance.