Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Don't Forget to Send the Guest Posts

I had written the following post with the intent of sending it in to Mothers in Medicine's topic week. Because I was more than a little distracted, I completely forgot to email it in by the due date (Sunday) so yesterday I edited it a bit for here.

The topic being discussed was imperfection.

My husband and I have two young kids. Kid 1 is six, kid 2 is two. As it was the only way to afford to send me to school for my premed years my husband went to work in the oil fields. He comes home for only a week or two every two months.

The separation from their father has been extremely hard on the kids. Me being in school instead of home, as I was for the first year of this new life, has been even harder. I am tired and worn out a lot of the time these days. Once the kids are in bed for the night, I study until I go to sleep. The housework gets left to the weekend so that those precious two and a half hours after we get home can be family time.

We have far less disposable income, and free time is near to nonexistent. The kids don't get to do fun things very often as I either can't afford it or can't schedule it. I exchange some of those fleeting few hours with my children for time with my books far too frequently.

My pursuing my dream of medicine costs these kids a lot. Not only is their devoted father gone the vast majority of the time, they have a barely present mother as well and spend more time playing with their grandparents than either of their parents. The fun, new experiences they have do not involve me. Sick kids are shuttled off to their grandparents' house instead of being cared for at home by me; grandparents, I note, that they will be leaving behind because we will have to move for me to go to med school.

I feel like a terrible mother much of the time. I do get stressed and the house gets too messy, I am far too prone to being cranky, nighttime cuddles for sick kids happen surrounded by books. I can't lose any study time if I want to maintain my 4.0 GPA - which I need to bolster my application because I can't find a lot of time for extracurriculars like other premeds. This dream of mine will cost these children stability and happiness for at least another six years and the guilt I experience over that is immense.

Yet, my six year old - who has occasionally had to come to school with me - tells me how much he wants to go to university like me, how much he wants to be a scientist. My daughter is flourishing in daycare, unrolling her little social butterfly wings.

I may not be the mom who makes works of art out of her daughter's hair every morning, or the mom who can come to all the school events, or the mom who can stop life for a day when a feverish toddler needs it, but right now I am looking at my happy, healthy, exuberant children climb on their exhausted father who got home yesterday, and I know my imperfections haven't done them any harm. 'Good enough' has to be good enough in this new life of ours. At least for now.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Good News

So, good news all around. My mother's surgery went well. She's now in recovery.

Also, I got my last mark.

94% in physics, exactly as I expected.

My marks first year:
Physics 1: 95%
Biology 1: 94%
Chemistry 1: 93%
Spanish: 93%
Calculus: 97%
Physics 2: 94%
Biology 2: 92%
Chemistry 2: 92%
Rel. Studies: 98%
Statistics: 95%

For an overall average of 94.3% and a perfect 4.0 GPA on the OMSAS scale.

So, even in face of my mother's cancer diagnosis, my husband being injured, my son's extreme problems at school, financial problems, and me being ridiculously sick for several weeks, my average dropped only 0.2%, and my GPA was not at all impacted.

I can do this. I will do this.

So, goal #1 - CHECK!

Next up, MCAT. I can do that too, I know it. And it will keep me distracted for the next while.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Ups and Downs

My husband arrived home safely and in one piece. He's very relieved to be home and I'm very relieved to have him here.

I'm likely to be a bit distracted over the next few days. My mother's surgery is tomorrow morning, and I'm going to be the contact point for much of the family.

She and I have talked a lot about her health lately, and she has given me quite a bit of insight into her mental state as well. My mother is very much a realist, and she refuses to let herself hang on false hopes or fall into depression, which is suppose is probably the best way to be when it comes to this.

She's spoken quite a bit about frustration with how people seem to expect cancer patients to be upbeat stories of inspiration. I tend to agree with her - there's a tendency to put cancer patients who are happy and enthusiastic about their treatment, and smile even in the face of terrible news, on a pedestal. As though it is wrong to think that having cancer just sucks.

It does suck. It sucks that my mother has cancer. It sucks that I may develop it myself. That just plain, right up, completely SUCKS. The fact that she doesn't view this as some personal journey of growth isn't a failing, and I hate that the general attitude in the media, on support boards, etc. is that cancer patients should have rainbows following them around. People cope with that news in completely different ways, and sometimes, people want to mope and feel sorry for themselves and talk about the fact that it just sucks.

Pointing out that they could be worse off just frankly doesn't help. Should she be happy it's 'just' kidney cancer and not GBM? No! Her cancer doesn't suck less because it could be worse - it is horrible in its own right and diminishing her feelings of frustration and anger at it does nothing.

I am learning a lot about how to approach these matters by watching her go through this.

I will never, never be the doctor who dismisses a patient's anger, frustration, or sadness about what a cancer diagnosis means. Even if it is treatable, people who receive that diagnosis become cancer patients, for however short a time. To be a cancer patient, to have that label, is a big deal and people shouldn't all be expected to try t make their own life into a 'Chicken Soup for the Soul' story.

Unless they want to, then they can fill their boots.

Saturday, 27 April 2013


I have absolutely no desire to do anything today besides sit down and read.

Life is, unfortunately, not so kind as to let me do that. The house needs to be cleaned in preparation of my husband's homecoming tomorrow, the kids want to do a science experiment (dyeing chrysanthemums), then go to the indoor play place since the weather isn't nice enough to go out for long today.

My relaxing time is over. I set Wednesday as the date by which I must have a job, and so far I have been unsuccessful. Though I did move to the next phase of the selection process after my interview last week, I was apparently not selected as I have heard nothing.

I am applying to a lab position, but it is unlikely I will get it. It's for testing natural product extracts on cancer cells. Having no significant lab experience at this point, the likelihood of me being selected is low, but I can home my enthusiasm will help.

As it is, that doesn't start until the end of May, so I can't keep waiting. If I have heard nothing by Wednesday, I am going to head to the farm down the road and get hired on as a farmhand, since they are looking. At least hard, physical work like that should help me with my weight loss over the summer. So that's a bonus. The pay is crap, but I can walk there and back so there's something to be said for that. Also, don't have to worry about dressing nice.

My parents had to euthanize one of their dogs yesterday - she was old and, best as we could tell, absolute riddled with cancer. Her abdomen was hard and distended, felt a lot like a tumor, and she had a fast-growing lesion that had recently shown up on her skin. Haematuria, anorexia, severe pain... It was time.

I'm finding myself thinking a lot the past few days. Hopefully there will be good news to pass on, but I'm mentally steeling myself in the event that that is not the case.

I really, really hope I get to be the bearer of good news on Monday.

Friday, 26 April 2013

First Contact

I just recently got contacts for the first time. Being able to see properly without my glasses on for the first time in over a decade feels incredibly strange.

I have no particular reason for needing them, but they are a free 30 day trial pair so I figured 'why not?' It was on my list of things to try out. So I'm putting them through their paces; played outside with the kids, have been reading lots of stuff, and so far, so good. I'm following the recommendations about gradually increasing time and all that.

So when I last put them in, I decided to sit down and read my favourite blog Science-Based Medicine since I end up traipsing through the archives for hours.

While clicking around, I found a link in one article to Choosing Wisely. It is a very interesting initiative, built around physicians and patients questioning common practices.

Read through the master list or any of the individual ones. As I'm reading through them, so many things strike me as very much common sense.

But they come up on that list for a reason, because the (US) national societies of the respective specialties have identified them as problems. Common sense isn't necessarily common, even with doctors. Though sometimes things that are common sense are actually not medically sound, so there's that.

While I'm sure many, many premeds read such materials (as well as medical journals, UpToDate, and others) simply out of interest, I try to spend time contemplating these things and come back to reflect later. Not just absorbing information, but seeking out additional sources so I can fully understand the reasoning for particular recommendations. I know that I will be taught this stuff - or learn it in a clinical setting - in the future, but I'm trying to follow the evolution of best practice. Even in the fifteen or so years I've read medical literature, I've seen things change, recommendations evolve. It's fascinating to watch this ongoing refinement of medicine.

I'm still at least 2 years or so from med school, most likely, and I expect that things will continue to change in that time, so much of what I learn today will be outdated by the time I'm a doctor myself, but I hope that the very loose, undirected foundation of knowledge I'm trying to build may help refine my critical thinking skills and prevent me from picking up bad habits at the start, since it's harder to break a habit than not start one.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

I Am A Scientist

A very good article on breast cancer, overdiagnosis, over treatment, and the myth of early detection. This prompted a few thoughts I thought I'd collect, so I recommend you go read it. It is long, but very much worth the read.

While I`ve only just finished my first year of undergraduate studies, I have no problem calling myself a scientist. Science is an approach, not a degree, and it is an approach I employ in my day to day life and always have, not just since I began my formal studies.

There was a time where I used homeopathic preparations (read: BS sugar pills.) I didn't know better; I assumed, like many, that they are herbal extracts, which I knew to have measurable effects. After some research, I learned the truth, and I no longer use them and actively encourage others to do their own research and not be fooled into purchasing those little balls of lies.

When new evidence comes along that makes old knowledge obsolete or reveals it to be incorrect, you adjust your habits. That is science. I examine the available information for its reliability, compare it to the information I currently have, and let the evidence speak to efficacy. 'Anecdata' is not evidence, and that is something I will need to remind myself of through my medical training.

The article I posted above is particularly important in that, because it summarizes a great deal of research that supports that the current 'early detection saves lives' line of thought - which so many people, including doctors - believe in so strongly, seems to be wrong.

Decades of medical practice being challenged. Doctors are supposed to be scientists too; they are supposed to - as objectively as possible - evaluate the available information through the lens of their professional training. Yet, much like the people I know who continue to insist homeopathy isn't just sugar pills, many will point to anecdotes or clinical experiences, instead of the much broader investigations involved in the academic debate on these subjects.

We have doctors to interpret this information for us, for people who are not trained to understand it, but we must be able to trust that our doctors are making good decisions based on the available information, not just 'this is the way I've always done it.' Medicine must evolve because it is a living science, and doctors must be willing to accept the forward march of science, even if it means their old assumptions and practices were wrong.

I hope I don't lose sight of this as so many doctors tend to. I've encountered many myself, who are so out of date that even as someone outside of medicine I can see that they have not kept up their education.

I have to remember to put the science first, to evaluate, investigate, and be prepared to cast off old ideas that are no longer supportable. Because I am a scientist, and my most valuable tool is my ability to accept new information even when it conflicts with things I previously accepted as fact.

That is something far too often lost when someone dons their white coat and stethoscope.


I am still looking for a summer job, but otherwise don't have much to do outside of domestic duties and studying for the MCAT.

Studying so far has just been reading through the EK books I have. I do not generally like 'chatty' books, so that is turning me off of them a bit. I've started with the verbal and mathematics book, which should be my easiest. I'll do organic chemistry next.

At the moment, I am procrastinating. My son is at school, my daughter at daycare, and I am doing absolutely nothing besides writing this post.

After the last eight months, it is a very strange thing to not be doing something.

Okay, I have two loads of laundry on the go and my dishwasher is humming along, but otherwise I'm just trying to relax. I'm surprised, actually, by how much the academic year sapped me. Working was so much easier, because it didn't follow me home like an abandoned and needy puppy.

It's nice to have this little break, really. I need to recover a bit, decompress, and just be. Maybe I'll take the dog out for a run this afternoon. That would be nice.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

The Waiting Game

Still waiting on my last two marks. They don't have to be in until May 1st so I think my professors may be taking their time. The marks for fourth years have to be in by today, so I expect the profs are just busy.

Right now, everything is waiting.

Waiting for my husband to get home on Sunday.

Waiting for my MCAT books to arrive.

Waiting for my mother's surgery to be over with.

Waiting for test results to find out if the kidney cancer in my family is of a particular type, which will then mean I have more waiting because I'll be undergoing the testing myself for the sake of my kids. While all the mutations that cause kidney cancer are not known, some are. The ones that are known are all (so far as I've been able to find) autosomal dominant.

It is fascinating to read about, but terrifying to realize I may have this ticking time bomb hanging out in my DNA.

I suppose this is the danger in knowing. There is nothing I can do to change that risk factor, if I have it. I can find out, I can have my kids tested so they know before they have kids themselves, and I can be cautious in investigating any potential symptoms, but by the time RCC becomes apparent clinically, it is often advanced disease and outcomes are poorer. The incidentalomas (tumours found while looking for something else) are usually easier to treat.

There's nothing I can do to mitigate this risk. All I can really hope is that medical science continues to advance and can help do something about this before I need it, if I do.

Fortunately, researchers are working on it.

So, for now, I continue to wait. Because that is all I can do.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

On my way

MCAT books are ordered.

I did a lot of reading to decide which to purchase. Indigo, the Canadian book retailer, had a sale on their website where most MCAT materials were 34% off.

I couldn't decide between EK and Kaplan sets. There was only a $5 difference.

Lots of reviews say that Kaplan has more information, and EK is better about telling you exactly what is on the MCAT.

Thing is, I do not want a set of books I need to essentially memorize; I want to get into the foundations of the information and build from the ground up. That is how I learn, and how I will be most comfortable with the material.

So I bought the Kaplan. I do not want to study to the test, I want to study the material. Because I am combining my MCAT studying and my preparation for next year, this seemed a better option.

Conveniently, however, I found a super cheap copy of the EK books anyway so I have both. The EK can give me a guideline of what I should focus on more, while the Kaplan can give me the background.

I also picked up a copy of the Gold Standard flashcards and the book of Kaplan practice tests just as supplementals.

As I work through, I'll point out strengths and weaknesses of the books. May as well try to help others with the decision.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Playing Hookie

When I was little, every so often my mother would show up at school around lunch time and take one of us out for the rest of the day. We'd go have lunch, go shopping, or even just go home and bake.

They were always very special days, and to this day remain some of my fondest memories.

Well, this morning my daughter had a bit of a rash and since daycare tends to freak out a little over them, I decided to keep her home.

We went out for lunch, walked around downtown, I even bought her a little sunflower which she held onto the whole time. She wore her leopard print shades and brought her purse, of course. Because two year olds need purses.

She's been having a rough time lately. For some reason, this last week in particular has been hard on her, so I thought she could use a day off from life, and it seems to have helped quite a bit. She's in a much better mood.

Wednesday, I'll be doing the same with my son. Take him out, have fun, let him have a surprise day off from school.

Everyone needs a mental health day now and then. Think I needed it as much as she did, since I now feel ready to take on the tasks I've been putting off.

All ready to take on the world. (Ignore my horrible grass. We JUST started getting temperatures in the positives regularly)

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Having some Fun

I'm playing around with stuff on my blog so if you notice it looking very strange for a while, that's just me having fun.

The new header is a script that I just decided to make up. Added some colour in gimp to a scanned copy of something I wrote by hand.

I'm actually rather proud of that. It's rather nice in person, but it's pretty all done up on the computer too.

This is what I do when I'm procrastinating.

MCAT studying has begun in fits and starts, but honestly I am so fried that I just needed a bit of time off. I wrote my last exam on Tuesday so I figure a week is a fair bit of time to recover, so I'll be launching completely into it on Tuesday.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

So far so good!

I have three marks in so far for this semester, so I'm just waiting on two.

So far this year:
Bio 1: 94
Chem 1: 93
Phys 1: 95
Spanish: 93
Calc: 97
Religious Studies: 98
Stats: 95
Bio 2: 92
Chem 2: ? (Anticipate 93)
Phys 2: ? (Anticipate 94)

The second bio was one of the classes where I was worried I'd come in under 90. I had a poor performance on the midterm (89%) and on the in-lab quizzes because they were structured very differently.

For a while I was worried about my physics mark as well, but in the final weeks I turned it around, getting 100% on my last four quizzes and decent performance on my final few labs.

Chem was iffy for a bit but I think I did really well on the final.

Going into exams strong is my biggest tactic for success. It is far easier to have wiggle room on exams than depend on a high exam mark to salvage a grade.

I think having done so well in face of my mother's cancer diagnosis and my son's extreme problems at school is deserving of a little celebration. Once my final two marks come in - sometime in the next week or so - I may take myself out for a treat.

If I pull off a 4.0 this year, I am going to be so thrilled.

The problem with smart kids

My kid is smart. It's not a mommy brag thing, it's just a fact. He does algebra and reads science magazines at age six. The kid is smart academically at least.

This doesn't mean he makes smart decisions, though. This morning he thought it would be a good idea to style his sister's hair using dish soap because it LOOKS like hair gel. He tried jumping down several stairs to test gravity (yes, really) and face planted into the landing. Live and learn, kid. I won't save him from his own stupid decisions, provided it isn't dumb enough to kill him. I strongly believe experience is the most effective teacher. For most things, anyway.

The problem with this kid being so smart is that he thinks he's smarter than everyone else. Including me.

This morning, I told him to go get dressed. "I've told you several times already."

"Not several. More like five or six," he replied.

Sometimes, it is really, really hard to not crack a smile while correcting him for being disrespectful.

"Could you go let the dog in?"
"Yes." *doesn't move.*
"Hon, I asked you to go let the dog in."
"No, you asked if I could." He got me there.

He is logical to a fault which means I have had to learn to phrase questions and requests very explicitly.

I suppose that is a skill that will come in handy in medicine. I'm used to evasive answers so I've learned to ask better questions.

I also refuse to be outwitted by a kindergartener.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Study Break

If you don't know who Dr. Grumpy is, I recommend you go read his blog. It is hilarious.

He has referred to a certain book as his Bible a number of times and after reading a few short excerpts, I decided to pick up a copy. I managed to find one for $0.01, which rounds down to 'free' under Canada's new 'no penny' currency habits.

Shipping was $6.49 though.

Ah well.

It arrived today and I am really looking forward to reading it as a break between MCAT sections. I'll do a writeup about it once I'm done.

In Moments of Terror

A dear friend of mine lives in Watertown, MA, and is currently under lockdown as one of the suspects in the bombing is running through her neighbourhood.

On Monday when I heard the news on the radio, I checked Fark, one of my favourite news sites, and the photos being posted were horrific. Without fail, there were people running in to help. The photo I recall most clearly was where a gentleman was holding closed the femoral artery of a victim in his bare hands, saving that young man's life. I'm sure mostly everyone has seen the photo of Carlos Arredondo and Jeff Bauman Jr. Be careful about seeking out the full image if you have not seen it yet, the damage to his legs is graphic.

Mr. Bauman is still alive. He has lost both lower legs, but he is alive. The bomb was placed at his feet, the flesh from his lower legs stripped off, bone left exposed. He was able to identify one of the suspects as soon as he came out of surgery.

I've looked at these photos and asked myself if I would be able to rush into the immediate aftermath of such a horrific thing and throw myself into the mass of injured, bleeding, shredded bodies to save lives.

Honestly, I don't think it's possible to answer. While I like to think I would, that my dedication to reducing suffering is such that I would put myself at immediate risk to save others, I don't think it is possible to know with complete certainty how one will react in a situation like that because it is so far outside of any experience most people have.

I hope I will never be faced with that, but if I ever am, I hope I will take the right action, like so many trained professionals and bystandars did.

Using it as an opportunity to explore my own feelings brought me down another path.

Last night, a medical team spent 20 minutes trying to save the life of one of the bombing suspects. I think that shows a strength of character and professionalism that some people would not be capable of.

I can say even now with absolute certainty that yes, I would be able to treat someone regardless of their wrongdoings. My morals would not allow me to do otherwise.

So I suppose that's a good question to ask myself regularly, as a measure of who I am. There was a time where I would have struggled to answer that, though.

“Your conscience is the measure of the honesty of your selfishness."
― Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

Regardless of my little trip down a path of self-reflection, I am hoping my friend and everyone else stays completely safe.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Band Together?

Wondering whether I should consider joining a band. There is a band here called Second Chances and it is for hobbyist musicians like me.

I play several instruments and have for most of my life. Oboe, clarinet, various recorders. I can tootle around a bit on the flute too, but not terribly well.

My mother was a professional musician for a while and is extremely talented. Her RSD has gradually stolen that from her, and the sounds of beautiful flute music that narrated my childhood no longer give life to her home.

It might be fun, if I can find the time, to bring some of that to my own kids. Have them hear me rehearsing, see me play with a band, experience the thrill of live music that leaves you awed.

Might have to look into it. It'd be a nice EC to have, and might give me a creative outlet.


Got all fancied up this morning and headed off to my interview.

The people were absolutely lovely. It's always nice to be interviewed by friendly people especially as I've had much less pleasant experiences.

The issue of references came up. I have not worked a regular job since August 2010, so nearly 3 years. I have the dreaded gap in my résumé that tends to make it difficult for moms to return to the working world after staying home with kids for a while.

Being a student actually helps me out here. People hiring students usually expect them to not have much experience. While I have experience, I just don't have much recent experience. Even then I'm ahead of many others I'm competing against. I also have experience dealing with the ins and outs of office politics, so that helps.

I'm hoping I'll get this job. It's regular hours, with a department I am familiar with, and is a student position so there won't be hard feelings about me leaving when school starts. It also pays better than most, as government positions tend to, and that matters when my husband is about a week away from being laid off until October.

We'll be fine, but finances are definitely a concern we need to take into account.

I'm trying to motivate myself to clean the house. So far, not working that well.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013


In my first post on this blog, May 17th last year, I set some goals for myself.

One year from today, I will have a 4.0 GPA.
Two years from today, I will begin intensive studying for the MCAT.
Three years from today, I will be holding an acceptance to at least one Canadian medical school.
Seven years from now, I will introduce myself with the title 'Doctor' because I will be able to.

I just wrote my last exam of my first year. Took all three hours to write it and while most seemed to find it fairly grueling, I only had issues with half of one question. Accounting for unnoticed errors, I imagine I came in around 90%. I only need 84% to meet my goal for the course.

Judging by my feelings about each exam, I believe I reached my goal in each course. Grades should start popping up over the next couple of weeks. They have to be up by May 1st.

All in all, I'm about 95% confident I reached my goal of a 4.0 for the year. The worst possible GPA I think I may have achieved would be 3.98. I'll be disappointed if that is the case, but it's still nothing to sniff at.

As for goal #2, I'm doing that earlier than expected. MCAT is August 9th, so intensive study - combined with preparation for next year - starts tomorrow night.

I have a job interview with a government department in the morning, then will spend until 5 getting the disaster that is my house cleaned up, as well as applying for a few jobs.

My husband will be home in twelve days, so I'm looking forward to that too. The summer should be relaxing, I hope.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Executive Decisions

My university, like many, has a Mature Students Association. We have a lounge, and I spend a lot of time there. It is where my friends and I gather, where we eat lunch, study, chat, relax.

It is nice to have a place where we aren't odd. Where discussions of daycare and derivatives take place together.

Plus, we have lockers. Everyone knows those are at a premium on campus.

I have a great number of opinions about how mature students are treated. We're largely ignored, which bothers me, and I've tried to meet with the Student Union to discuss the ways in which our needs are disregarded. It's not been met with much success.

Last week, the Association was seeking nominations for the executive. My friend asked me if I was interested, I mentioned that I was, but I didn't know if she'd done anything about it.

Found out today I'm now the new treasurer. In the association, most of the executive has the same tasks, the titles exist only because executive members must have an official position, but duties are distributed amongst all.

I have not been seeking things like this to puff up my application because padding CVs is something I'm not generally in favour of. It has the sense of box-checking to it. I find it interesting that I have, without really any effort, found myself in an executive position for an association that I do care deeply about, concerned with a topic that matters greatly to me and 1400 other students at my school.

It was lovely little boost of confidence a few hours before my chemistry exam.

I'm looking forward to being able to help further the interests of students like me and I'm fortunate to have been given the opportunity. It's up to me now to ensure that it is not an empty title to simply pad my CV.


Just watch this. It is amazing.

That is mostly unrelated to my post, but I figure anyone who is gunning for med will get a kick out of it.

I've come to terms with the fact that I am, in fact, a keener. I always go to class, I do assigned work early, I am not satisfied with any grade below a 90. In fact, I consider less than 90% to be a failing mark for me. Good enough is not good enough in my scholastic pursuits.

But I'm not a gunner. I want to see others succeed too, and will gladly help them if I can. I won't tear people down to raise myself up, which is unfortunately a pretty common attitude amongst premeds.

I think this is helped by the fact that there are not a lot of premeds at my school. Because we have a vet college, most of the students who share my classes are planning to go into veterinary medicine. Their society is one of the largest in the school, actually, and they operate much like premed clubs do at other schools.

I've met fewer than ten premeds. But around 80% of my bio class raised their hand when the prof asked who was planning to go into vetmed.

Maybe I'm nicer about all of it because I'm not competing directly with most of my classmates.

Maybe I'd be mean and competitive if I were at U of O or U of T or at some other school where half of the lifesci students are premeds.

Don't think so, though. While I do always push myself to succeed, I have never really been the sort to want to succeed off the failure of others.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Well, that answers that question.

After talking to a few people, I've found out I definitely will not be able to fulfill the prerequisites for U of A next year. Organic Chemistry II and Biochemistry are both small classes so there is only one section offered. Because Orgo II is a prerequisite for Biochem, they just schedule them at the same time every year. I can take organic for the life sciences in the fall then take Biochem, but that would not suffice for the U of A requirements.

Because of that's there's no possible way for me to take both classes in one year, so I can't apply to U of A in the fall. Hazards of going to a small school, I suppose.

I'm rather disappointed, but really it was a very small chance I'd get in.

In all likelihood, I won't apply to U of A at all now. I'll be applying to four schools in Ontario in third year, five in Ontario and the two Atlantic schools in my 4th year, and I will need to budget carefully for travel costs if/when I have interviews. I can probably only afford 2-3 interviews per year when you take everything into account, considering it'll cost me easily $600-$700 per interview. Alberta would cost more since the flight alone would cost that much. It'd be worth it if it could get me in earlier, but if I have a shot at other schools, I can't really go spending over a thousand dollars to attend one interview.

Since I can't apply to U of A next year, I'm going to take the easier organic chemistry stream. I'm also going to take biophysics, modern physics, and possibly the other physics course I want for my minor (Energy, environment, and the economy) since it is offered only every other year.

The timetable for next year will be up soon, but my schedule for next year will look like this:
Semester 1:
Animal Diversity
Modern Physics
Organic Chemistry for the Life Sciences
Genetics I
Energy Environment and the Economy

Semester 2:
Biophysics I
Microbial Diversity
Genetics II or Plant Diversity (depends what is offered and who is teaching)
Cell Biology

Looks like it should be a pretty cool year. My prevet friend and I will share most of our courses, with the exception of physics since she is glad to be done with physics forever.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Why I am not stressed out...

You hear constantly about how stressful exams are, how university students go nuts and chug red bull at this time of year.

I'm not having any of it. Honestly, I have other stuff to stress about like my mother's cancer surgery two weeks from Monday, or my husband being laid off shortly. Or finding a job for the summer (have an interview with a government department on Wednesday, though!)

Exams are a tiny thing in the grand scheme of life. Stressing about them will not help me, it will make me do worse.

My strategy for exams goes as follows:
- Go to bed at a reasonable hour
- Study 20 hours per exam over the three weeks leading up to exams.
- Do not study the material within 24 hours of an exam. I want it in my long term memory, not my short term memory where it is easily 'thrown out.'
- Most study groups are useless. Study with people who have similar learning styles as you, and definitely not people who expect stronger students to teach them the whole semester in an afternoon.
- Eat light, healthy meals and exercise.

I take care of my brain by giving it good nutrition and lots of sleep, and it takes care of me by having my memory working in peak form. While waiting to go into exams, others are feverishly trying to commit their summary sheets to memory while I'm standing around humming. I go in relaxed, ready to show what I know.

Stress isn't going t get you anywhere. Loading up on caffeine and pulling all nighters is just going to burn you out and leave you a quivering blob of anxiety before every exam and you will 'blank' on important stuff. My psychiatrist always warned me to avoid caffeine during potentially high stress times because it aggravates anxiety and will just make everything worse. It was wonderful advice. I have my cup of coffee in the morning, but that's it.

I've always been a good test taker, so perhaps this all may not work for others, but I think a lot of why I do well is because I don't stress.

Even though these exams do essentially dictate my future.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Study Breaks

Stats exam is on Saturday, then I have chemistry Monday evening and Physics on Tuesday.

Due to inclement weather coming in, my parents are keeping my kids overnight tomorrow night. Because of the late hour of my exam on Monday, they are keeping them overnight then too. So, all in all, I have quite a bit of time to study coming up that I was not expecting.

So I figured I had enough time to take a break from my studies and focus on something else.

It wasn't effective.

I just got a new pen, a Pilot Parallel Plate calligraphy pen. Still getting used to handling it because it feels so different from my more traditional wooden dip pens. I also am having a hard time getting used to not reaching over to dip the pen. Ornamental fonts are relatively new for me, I usually stick to more blocky ones, but that one isn't too bad.

Seems like I'm incapable of getting med off of my mind today.

I suppose studying statistics may have something to do with that. There are so many health-related examples used.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013


The marks for my stats class were posted, showing our marks on assignments and the midterm - no names, just student numbers.

I have the second highest mark in the class. The only other person with marks on the assignments near mine (we both have four at 100%, I have 1 at 99% and they have one at 95%) beat me on the midterm by three percent.

I was going to argue the points for my midterm - I had 3% deducted because I didn't show something that was not asked for in the question - but I decided against it because I didn't want to be a pain in my prof's rear.

Now it is bothering me. I am not generally a very competitive person, but for some reason being second bothers me in this one class.

Usually, I'm just competitive with myself - I have to do better than my expectations, and if I do I'm happy.

But I'm studying furiously now because whoever it is who is beating me by 1.46% is going down.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Screeching Halt

To get into U of A, I have to have completed by the end of next April:

1 year of:
- General Chemistry (check)
- Organic Chemistry (okay, fall and winter next year)
- Biology (check)
- Physics (check)
- English (Fall and winter next year, unless I can find the tuition for the summer one)

Half year of:
- Statistics (check)
- Biochemistry.... uh oh

My school is small. There are extremely few science courses offered over the summer, and none above first year.

To get the one year of organic, I have to take it all year next year.

There are two organic chemistry 'streams' offered. Chem 241/242 which is the whole year. Then there is Organic Chemistry for the Life Sciences which is chem 243. It is offered in September.

Biochemistry - which is offered in January - has prerequisites. Chem 242 OR chem 243.

So, if I take the full year of organic chemistry, I cannot take biochem until third year, so I can't apply to U of A until fall 2014.

If I take the life sciences version so that I can take biochem in second semester, I won't have the full year of Organic and won't be able to apply to U of A at all. U of A is the only school I am considering that requires a full year of organic.

This is a problem. 242 is not offered in September, or this wouldn't be a problem since I could just take organic I through Athabasca over the summer and take organic II in September and biochem in January.

So, either I have to take 241/242 and get permission to take biochem and 242 concurrently, or I have to take 241 and challenge for 243 at the same time so I have the prerequisite officially.

I'm going to talk to the chem department chair to see what I can do about this. It's kind of ridiculous that the less rigorous one semester course can be used as a prerequisite, but the much more rigorous first semester of the full year course can't be.

Then again, this does seem like a LOT of work for a small shot at getting in to the only school that requires a full year of Orgo.

But... I stand to shave a whole year off my education and save thousands and thousands of dollars IF I do get in. Tough decision.

Guess I'll set up a meeting. It might not be possible to get around this. If that's the case, I'll simply have to wait another year. Which sucks. But in fall 2014 I'll be applying to probably 4-6 schools so at least there's that. It won't be as long a shot.


Wrote my bio exam today. Went very well. I need ~85% on it to pull a 90% in the course because it is weighted fairly heavily and I did not do as well on the midterm as I'd have liked and I do not know my score for my lab final but put a rough estimate based on my confidence level.

It was 120 questions, 80 MC and 40 fill-in-the-blank or labeling. There were 4-5 multiple choice and 3-4 of the fill in the blanks I was iffy on, though more confident on some than others, so I'm fairly sure I reached my target.

When I'm writing a midterm or exam and I have time left over, I do a bit of a 'worst case scenario' estimate. I count the ones I am iffy on and I give an estimate of the number I got right - usually 1/3 to 1/2 depending on the material and my confidence. I then calculate my estimated score with the ones I am certain of and the estimated number of correct ones. I'm usually within 3-5% of my actual score.

Within my confidence level, I'm pretty sure I reached my target on today's exam with a comfortable margin.

I tend to get a tiny bit anxious about knowing my marks as soon as possible, so this gives me something to go on. I'm usually close enough that my actual grade is either a pleasant surprise or not too bad.

As ticked as I will be with myself if my numerical average this semester is lower than last I just have to keep in mind the most important part: 90% = 4.0 for OMSAS for my school. That is all that matters. Doesn't matter if it is 90.0 or 99.9.

My numerical average matters for stuff within the university which is why I do my best to keep it so high. As I mentioned last post, I don't have any academic awards as yet (well, I'll be on the Dean's List, but what premed isn't?) so anything I can do to improve my chances there is good.

Off to study for stats. That exam is on Saturday - ew. Who's bright idea was it to schedule an exam on a Saturday?! - and then I have chem Monday night at 7pm (again, ew) and physics Tuesday afternoon.

One week left of this semester. Then I'll have second year standing.

Monday, 8 April 2013

A Weakness

At U of A, ECs count for 28 pre-interview points as of the 2013-2014 application cycle

This will be the breakdown:

For selecting for interviews:

cGPA: 30
Prereqs: Yes/No
MCAT: 15
Personal Activities: 28

To select for offers:
Interview: 27
Letters of Reference: Pass/Fail

What they do is they set a cutoff. People above X/73 points get an interview. After the interview, people with Y/100 points get an offer.

My weakness is Personal Activities, which will count for almost as much as my grades.

I have not worked in almost three years. Two, I was a stay at home mom out of necessity, and then I've been in school. While I'm sure my work with my son (I was trained to be an IBI tutor so that I could do his therapies at home as well as what he gets in the centre) will count as an activity during those two years, and continuing, I'm not quite sure how to quantify the hours.

There are 8760 hours in a year. I am his mother for all of them and we started doing IBI-like therapy at home even prior to his official diagnosis, so we've been doing that for nearly four years. Not quite sure how I'll put that in the app.

I've worked, mostly at call centres. For a while I was a supervisor. Also worked as an embroiderer, in food service, in warehouses. I took whatever work got us by, and I have almost never been able to afford to volunteer. I could not ever afford to pay someone to watch my kids so that I could volunteer, it just wasn't possible. I was a personal care aide for four years - to my mother. I was legally employed and salaried as a part time care aide from 14-18. I suppose that may work to my advantage.

My weakness is that I do not have ECs like most people have ECs. I do have a bit of volunteering, but not at the red cross or a hospital or a malaria clinic in Africa. I have political activism in health policy but it hasn't been a huge time commitment, though I have been a member for almost four years.

I do not have academic awards. Funny enough a lot of academic awards at my school actually require that you demonstrate academic achievement *and* financial need, but I do not demonstrate financial need, by their definitions. Despite being a very high achieving student, my resources are not so limited that it's PC to acknowledge my academic abilities, I suppose.

Perhaps the fact that my experiences tell a story - of a teen mom working at times 65+ hour weeks, then having to leave work to make the best possibile prognosis for her disabled kid - will help.

I just need to figure out how to present it in a way that will make me seem like an amazing candidate instead of a whiny person.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Give it a shot or not...

I'm still deciding whether I'll apply to U of A this fall.

In all likelihood, I won't get in. The chance of me getting in is minuscule. If my MCAT is high (the average MCAT of successful 2/3 year applicants - they are treated the same - is nearly 36 balanced.) I may stand a chance of an interview but getting in is probably not going to happen unless they consider me in their rural pool.

I have lived for almost fifteen years in rural and remote areas, so they may consider me rural enough to fall in that pool which would increase my chances. Not by a lot, but maybe, just maybe, by enough. Funny enough, despite the fact that all of PEI suffers from the same problems as other rural areas, most of the island is not considered rural by their definitions because the vast majority of it is within 80km of Charlottetown, which has a population *just* over 50,000, depending how you count it.

The reason I keep debating it is because I have to make two choices if I want to apply to U of A. I am registered for English this summer and plan to take science in literature in second semester next year. If I do not intend to apply, I'll put it off until next summer.

It also means taking full year organic chemistry instead of the one-semester organic chemistry for the life sciences (a considerably less rigorous course.) I register for second year in July, so I have to decide by then.

U of A is the only school I am considering applying to that requires the full year of organic.

Decisions, decisions. I may apply just for the hell of it. If I get in, bonus. I probably won't, but the worst they can say is no, right?

Friday, 5 April 2013

Tick tick tick tick

Four days until my first exam. My motivation level is pretty much zip right now. Instead of studying, I spent this afternoon applying for jobs as I do need work for this summer since my husband is due to be laid off in a couple of weeks.

Plus, I don't want my applications to med school to show me doing nothing over my summers.

I've applied to a program we have here called Health Futures. It's for students in a health-related degree program, or who are planning to pursue one, and it gets them full time positions in healthcare facilities. The placements are only 12 weeks and typically start in early June, so I need something for the interim (or longer, if I'm not selected.) So my job this summer might not be terribly attractive looking on an application, but honest work is always work worth doing, so I'll throw myself into it, even if it is just being a labourer in a dairy plant.

I did opt to not apply for the beekeeping position that was posted at my university. I don't think screaming and running away from one's job is generally considered a good thing.

Yesterday, my son had to come to school with me. He had a fever in the morning and due to his history of spiking scary high fevers after a few hours with a low-grade one, I kept him with me. My mother is due for surgery in a few weeks so I don't want her exposed to my germy kids. Not wanting to miss the last physics and stats class, I took him.

Never have I seen a kid so excited as he was about physics class. He packed a little notebook and his pencil case in his backpack and was dutifully copying the slides as best he could. He was perfectly quiet the whole time, as well as during stats class. He tried to ask a question mid-lecture, to the amusement of people around us, but I made him put his hand down and had him ask me the question after. He wanted to know how photons bounce off of shiny surfaces. My physics professor was very kind to him afterwards, and my son enthusiastically declared he would come to that class 'after [he's] a teenager.'

It never ceases to amaze me that he can be perfectly behaved in an auditorium full of adults, but cannot conduct himself properly when in a class with fifteen other children. He loves the university so much. He likes to walk around the science building and gaze up at the research posters, peek into labs, and ask what such-and-such a device does. Hopefully I can foster this passion of his and help him realize that he has to do well in school if he wants to pursue a career in science someday.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

A Follow-Up to Autism

For anyone interested in actual scientific research into autism, as well as debunking of the pseudoscience that is all too common amongst those who care for autistic children, I offer you a few good resources.

Quackwatch: Covers everything from the bogus autism and cancer 'cures' to the quackery of chiropractic as a panacea. Very interesting site, thorough research, and very comprehensive of the sorts of quackery you find floating out there on the Internet.

Science Based Medicine: A site whose name I can get behind. The author is very thorough in debunking the quacks. Not just autism, but BS cancer 'cures' and other hackery are explored on the site. Give it a read, I highly recommend it.

Association for Science in Autism Treatment: Very good resource that explains how to sort the wheat from the chaff and decide what is valuable research and what is not.

Emily Willingham: A mother of a son with autism who also has a science background and evaluates available information for its trustworthiness and credibility. She is a scientist through and through.

There are more and I'll add to this post as I have time.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

On Autism

Many of you are likely unaware, but today is World Autism Awareness Day. I'm not really one to hop on bandwagons - in fact, I'm extremely critical of large charities and typically do not participate in things like this - but I'm going to use it as a platform for today.

My son, as I've mentioned before, is autistic. He was diagnosed just after he turned 3. At the time, his verbal communication was extremely limited. He could talk, but the vast majority of his speech was echolalic, meaning just copied verbatim from some source. Usually Thomas the Tank Engine episodes.

Behaviourally, he was one of those kids where you could watch him for a few seconds and could tell something was 'off.' He did not respond to other children. He didn't acknowledge their presence or respond to attempts to communicate. He played around them. He was extremely sensory driven. He could not pretend at all. He lined things up. That was how he played. He would line things up for hours, or watch things spin. That was it.

This is several hours into this repetition. He was 2.5 here.

He started in speech therapy about two months after he was diagnosed. He had a severe delay (greater than 22 months delayed) in his expressive language. His receptive language could not be evaluated because he wouldn't respond. We knew he had receptive language skills but the appointment did not go very well, to say the least.

We were launched fairly quickly into the alphabet soup of autism services. IBI, OT, AS, Psych, ST, etc. Thirty hours a week at the peak of service delivery. It's why I couldn't go back to work after my maternity leave with my daughter was up; there was no way to manage his schedule on top of two full time jobs.

Over the course of this whole thing, I did make the mistake of joining a few online support groups. I came to the conclusion very quickly that far, far too many of these online communities are anti-science and far too often composed of people who do very dangerous things to try to 'cure' their children.

I don't want to cure my son, nor have I ever. The point of the therapies wasn't to make him not autistic. It was to give him tools to help him cope in a world that operates in ways he finds difficult to understand or adapt to. His being autistic actually gives him quite a range of abilities and attributes that will serve him well. For instance, he doesn't care if people like him. That has its downsides, but it also means that anyone who says unkind stuff to him is just pretty much immediately excluded from his notice and he gives no further thought to them.

He's smart. Scary smart. I do think the autism plays into this because he is extremely logical, and that makes math and science appeal to him and he excels in areas where logic is key. I've nurtured this with him, true, because in the science world is where he's going to meet a lot of others like him. I mean, how many physicists have you met who *don't* seem a little quirky? (no offense, guys. Everyone loves a physicist, but you can't deny the fact that you have an abnormally large percentage of eccentric people in the field...)

He's come a long way. He's honestly a pretty amazing little kid and a lot of days he tests my patience like any six year old would. He faces some challenges, and he probably always will, but thanks to early intervention the possibility of him having a productive and independent life as an adult is far more real now than it once was.

All of you reading will encounter autistic people in your life. Those in or entering medicine will probably encounter a lot more of them. Maybe you can take some time and think about it, about what this challenge means to kids, their families, their schools. We've certainly encountered physicians who know very little about it, so maybe you can make a point of learning a bit more about this interesting collection of advancements and delays we call autism, just so you know it when you see it.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Planning for MCAT

There are a variety of study schedules prepared by MCAT takers available on the Internet. One of the most popular is one posted at SDN by a member called SN2Ed.

Here's a link.

It's rigorous, and the person who put it together suggests spending three months dedicated to MCAT study while doing nothing else.

Wonderful. If you're 19 and living with your parents. For those of us with busy lives, who have to work or take care of our families, spending 6+ hours a day on the MCAT isn't really that possible.

I'm planning to take a look around at what is for sale here and what I can get from others online relatively cheaply. Honestly, considering I have to save for a hotel and travel on top of spending $300 for the test, I can't afford to spend $600+ on materials. I'm going to buy used books, used libraries, and for Organic Chemistry, I'm just rolling my prep for next year into it.

I'm going to get the book my school uses from another student, and get a copy of all the notes used for chem 241/242. I figure the best way for me to learn it is to essentially take the course myself. I can work through two courses in six weeks, so I'm starting off with that. If my school actually offered science courses over the summer, I'd be taking orgo, but this will serve to function as my prep for next year. I'll review material covered this year in bio, chem, and physics and continue my usual readings on those.

I plan to start with the MCAT materials towards mid-may, when I'm wrapping up the organic baseline material. I'm hoping to get a set of EK or TBR books. I see them for sale here sometimes so maybe I can get them cheap and local. Going to try to get those sorted out before exams.

Once exams are over (April 16th) I'll be putting together a comprehensive schedule that covers all the material that is supposed to be on the MCAT. I'll be sure to share it once I do.

Today, I'm scouting around for materials.