Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Why I Do This

This is my personal statement from my application for medical school. I'm putting this up mostly because I was just reading something that reminded me about my grandmother and the countless important lessons she taught me as I was growing up. I knew when I was writing this that some of the opinions I expressed were going to hurt me if the wrong person read this, but honestly, I didn't really give a shit. And in the end, I think being true to myself helped me find a school that wanted me for me. This is part of who I am and this is why I'm doing this. I hope this helps others think about what is really important to them, or even inspires them to write about something more than a running list of credentials in their own personal statement. But mostly this is here to remind me, and to say thanks to my grandmother. You are missed.

“Is there anything I can do for you?” the doctor had asked. Rain was slowly pooling up on the flat roof of the adjacent hospital ward, just outside the window, invisible from the corner where my grandmother’s bed sat. “Yea,” she replied, gesturing toward the window of her cramped room, “you can throw me out the window.” The doctor (as if he had just been slapped by a bedpan) stood staring at her, his mouth moving awkwardly yet seemingly unable to form an audible or adequate response. The problem, you see, is that she was completely serious.

These were the moments – the final days, hours, and memories that I shared with the woman who had raised me – that I learned how complicated medicine can be. The truth is that you already know most of the reasons why I want to go to medical school. Like every other qualified applicant, I want to help the sick, make a difference in the lives of others, and enjoy the utter privilege of being able to learn throughout the rest of my life. I want to go to medical school to learn the tools that help make a great doctor, and to gain an understanding of a subject that I am intensely interested in. But I have also, for better or worse, learned that “healing” can mean very different things to a patient and a doctor. That is, I also want to go to medical school to learn what to do when all a patient wants is to be thrown out the window.

My grandmother taught me that life isn’t an episode of “ER,” and that everyone can’t always be saved. And for a pre-med, a doctor, or a loved one, this is both a painful and important lesson to learn. It seems that almost all of my pre-med friends hope to someday become surgeons. And while being a surgeon is certainly a prestigious and incredibly challenging job, this singular aspiration certainly speaks to the “reality” that we as students of the 21st century inhabit. We are taught to fix problems; we open, operate, and suture our wounds. Or at least we try. But what do we do when the wound doesn’t close? Most of us stand by, mouths moving, but unable to speak.

I don’t just want to learn the most effective way to fight the cancer that killed my grandmother, and I don’t just want to continue working in the lab to help find a cure that may one day save others from suffering the way that she did. I also want to learn how to continue to help, and how to cope, as a human and a doctor, when the only healing left for a patient is death. I can say that last summer I took at least the first step toward learning perhaps the most important lesson a future doctor can learn: how to deal with death.

When my grandmother was transferred from her local community hospital in the Bronx to Calvary Hospital, where I happened to be volunteering at the time, I was devastated. Her transfer to Calvary, a hospital specializing in the care of terminal cancer patients, meant that there was no hope. Or was there? It amazed me when after months of suffering, I saw her smile for the first time thanks to the wonderful nurses, doctors, and volunteers working at Calvary. I learned about a type of medicine that I hadn’t known existed: the kind that touches people’s spirits. And I re-learned an important lesson that my Dad had inadvertently taught me years before, that sometimes simple human acts of kindness and communication (in his case ranting and raving with his patients about the Yankees) are almost as important as any medicine.

My grandmother taught me that sometimes healing is as simple as sharing a great band (and half a headphone) with someone you love. My father taught me that patients can also heal doctors. And I suppose that ultimately, I had to begin teaching myself how to deal with death. And I can honestly say that after all of my experiences I still don’t know everything that it takes to be a great doctor. But I have seen many of the most important qualities in the mentors, friends, and family that I have had the privilege of learning from. I have learned that one of the most important qualities for a doctor is to never assume that you know all the answers, to never assume that everything can be “fixed” without complications. I am applying to medical school so that I can continue to search for answers to some of the hardest questions, like death, whether they lie in an anatomy textbook or in the spirit of a patient, because sometimes it isn’t as easy as reminding a patient, “there’s a roof outside your window.”

Monday, April 20, 2009

I'm Skinny: The Beginning

The Good News

Well, I'm back from Chicago and I'll be writing my review of my revisit at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine later this week when I get my camera back to add in some cool pictures I took while there. It was a great time, and I'm still recovering a bit from a solid combination of hangover and lack of sleep. But for now, I'm going to talk a bit about my new workout plan and set this up so that you can all follow my progress and make fun of me when I screw up.

The Bad News

For anyone who doesn't know me, I'm really skinny. As long as I can remember I've been insanely tall and insanely skinny, much to my personal dismay. People often make stupid anecdotal remarks like, "Oh you're so lucky that you're skinny" or "Wow, have you grown since I last saw you?" Granted, being skinny is much better than being fat. Being fat sucks for everyone. But skinniness has its own downsides, and to be honest I'm sick of getting confused with McCauley Culkin when I take my shirt off at the beach.

I'm saying this mostly to give people an idea of where I stand now, and not so that you will feel bad for me because of my "bad genetics". This is one of those things that fat people say all the time to make up for their lack of motivation and discipline. I've even had people at work complain to me (as they simultaneously scarf down a twinkie) that they have been cursed with "bad genetics". Genetics certainly play an important part in everyone's body composition, I'm not denying that. But I am calling bullshit on the oft proclaimed excuse that there is some singular fat gene manipulating the fat people of the world.

I would say that in my own case, I certainly have a genetic predisposition to staying at a less than ideal body weight. And even though I would classify myself as a "hardgainer," I will certainly take ownership for my persistent skinniness. First of all, I spent the majority of my life with the nutritional understanding of a 5 year old. Even when I started lifting early in high school for football, I had no idea that I should be eating close to 1 gram of Protein per Pound of body weight, consuming post-workout shakes, or that my diet of processed foods like potato chips were likely halting my progress and recovery. Only within the past three years or so have I started reading extensively about nutrition and fitness. This has, without a doubt, been a huge road block in my own journey towards finding my ideal body composition. I plan on writing an article about general nutrition in the future to let you all know how I'm approaching this aspect of my training, so look forward to that.

The other thing that has been really halting my progress is that even when I was lifting, I was lifting like an idiot. In college I spent years training exclusively with drop sets (retarded), rarely did squats and deadlifted even less often. I worried about hitting three angles on the bench instead of doing pull ups, and I did biceps curls instead of working compound lifts that worked multiple muscle groups with heavy weights. The only thing I wasn't doing wrong was that I wasn't doing my curls in the squat rack (lol). I was literally doing everything wrong, and I even managed to make some small progress during this time.

What I'm Doing About It

So the other day I was entering patient data for my job at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and one of the values I often need to calculate is body surface area (BSA). I thought it might be fun to calculate my own, so I entered my own height, weight, and age and checked the computer's qualitative assessment of my body type. It told me what I already knew - I'm underweight - in a way that I couldn't avoid. I figured right then that it was time to start doing something.

I have been reading a lot of the articles on T-Nation over the past few months and am itching to get back in the gym. In particular, I have been really interested in Chad Waterbury's workouts, which generally incorporate full body workouts utilizing mostly compound lifts with relatively heavy weights. Now that I am going to be around my Dad's more often I figure I can relatively easily make it to his gym 3 times a week. I'll be following the plans outlined in Chad's newest book Huge in a Hurry, which I've found to contain a solid combination of experiential and scientific knowledge. Definitely check the book out if you are looking to try something new in the gym. As Chad mentions, most of what he's advocating is not new, but the way in which a lot of it is done (lifting fast, for example) is relatively different. I have no doubts that it's going to help me get to where I want to be.

I'm going to be backpacking for a month in about a month, and that is going to make things interesting in terms of getting stronger while walking 10-20 miles a day. But at the very least I'm going to be doing some body weight exercises and other relatively non-conventional stuff (in addition to a ton of walking) to stay as strong as I can. Check out my other site, Nakasendo Solo, for info on my trip. I'll post my "MacGyver Backpack Training Plan" here and over there for those who are interested.

For now, here are my stats and some pictures so that I can stay on track and you all can follow my progress. I have no doubt that by the end of the summer I'll be in much better shape and feel a lot better about where I stand.


Weight: 170 lbs.
Height: 6'4"
Pictures: (Forthcoming)

Monday, April 13, 2009

I'm Around Here Somewhere

It's been quite a while since I've last posted, promising to provide some reviews of the schools I interviewed at for entrance in 2013. I'm still going to do that - sort of. At this point, I've heard back from every school I applied to way back last summer, and have narrowed my choices considerably. For anyone who cares and doesn't know already - I'm essentially deciding between The University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and The University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine. My new plan is to record my impressions of each school after the interview and revisit weekends over the coming two weeks.

Here's the breakdown of how things worked out for me this interview season. (Keep in mind that I had to apply before I knew my MCAT score so there is quite a range of schools and far too many of them, which is why I didn't even interview at some of them after I got an invitation. If you know your scores don't be dumb and apply to less schools than I did.)

  • University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
  • University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine
  • Albert Einstein College of Medicine
  • NYU School of Medicine
  • BU School of Medicine
  • SUNY Downstate School of Medicine
  • Yale University School of Medicine
  • Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons
  • Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine
  • Weill Cornel Medical College
  • Harvard University Medical School
  • Stanford Medical School
  • UCSF School of Medicine
Didn't Even Bother To Reject Me
  • Johns Hopkins School of Medicine
  • New York Medical College
I Didn't Finish The Application/Didn't Go To Interview/Forgot to Withdraw Application
  • Tufts University School of Medicine
  • Stony Brook School of Medicine
  • Northwestern School of Medicine
  • Mount Sinai Medical School
  • Duke University School of Medicine
After all this, I can say with absolute certainty that applying to Medical School is a hilarious and painful thing, full of ups and downs. After getting into the University of Chicago early on in the game I withdrew my application from quite a few places. Then I was waiting pretty anxiously during February and March to just hear back from the rest of my schools, and was rewarded with a slew of disappointing waitlist decisions. I would say I was at my lowest when I got accepted to Penn, literally the last place I was waiting to hear back from, and strangely also the most highly regarded place I interviewed at - go figure!