Graduation

June 2, 2014

Hello, Readers!

Back from Graduation! It was great. I was surprised–don’t get me wrong, I knew that it would be nice but I had no idea that it would be THAT nice. I had talked to former students who said it was alright but in general, a waste of time and money and not worth the trip. To be honest, I was on the fence about going, myself. I was planning on driving my folks up there even though it’s a 14-hr trip (not including stops), but then we ended up deciding to fly at the last minute which ended up being an expensive decision.

Not familiar with Massachusetts, I had never heard of Mechanics Hall before and thought that it would be some small municipal meeting area. Not so! Mechanics hall is this grandiose HUGE building built back in the 1800s which has a gorgeous cathedral ceiling with ornate decorations, a giant stage with built-in pipe organ. And then after the ceremony was over, the schools had actually gotten a really nice catering company to come in and provide “a light reception” of refreshments including sushi rolls, cookies, fruit, cheeses, foccacia, grilled chicken skewers, punch.

The school had reserved a block of rooms ($119/night + tax) at the Hilton Garden Inn in Worcester, where the ceremony took place, though those were sold out quickly. Most of the other places in Worcester were going for $150-200+ per night so we ended up staying a couple towns over in Framingham at the Sheraton for a thrifty $72/night (thanks Hotwire!). The hotel was described in reviews as looking like “the castle from Beauty and the Beast” and it did not disappoint. It was very nice with lots of amenities and huge rooms. We didn’t even mind that they charge $12/night for parking or $10/day for internet.

We flew into Boston on Friday, though the actual ceremony was on Saturday. Worcester is a good hour away from Boston so we decided to rent a car rather than getting around via taxi’s. The girl at the desk warned us that there were a lot of toll roads and suggested we get the unlimited E-Z toll pass for $11/day which ended up being great advice. I counted and we had to pass through 5 toll booths just on our routine trips between the towns. (Cash ONLY is accepted at the toll booths, plus you have to stop and pay–with the pass you just slow down but keep on driving right through). We settled in at the hotel then headed off to Worcester to scope out the hall and have some dinner. We quickly decided that our hotel (for $50 less/night) was much nicer than the Hilton when we drove past. We decided to have dinner across from the Hilton at a cantina restaurant someone had recommended. Bleh–not good. Bland and pricy. But on the plus side, they validated our parking and we were able to meet up with my relatives who had come into town for the graduation there.

The next day my folks dropped me off at the hall at 9:30 for the graduates’ brunch. At first I saw no one I knew–the reason for that later became apparent: Saba had over twice as many graduates as MUA, so most of the other people were there from Saba. The brunch consisted of an assortment of cookies, coffee, fruit and yogurt. What do you think I went for? Haha, that’s right–how often do you get to have a chocolate chip cookie for breakfast? I rationalized it, thinking how embarrassing it would be to pass out from low blood sugar during the ceremony. (Am I hypoglycemic? No, but it sounded good at the time.)

Slowly more MUA people started trickling in. You had to register and I finally got to meet some of the ladies in the clinicals office I’d been emailing back and forth with so much during these past 4 years. There ended up being 10 people from my class. All but a couple had matched–they were waiting to apply this coming year. Lots of them matched IM, a couple OB, and 3 of us were psych. (1 even in CANADA!) We looked at the program and there were 4 or 5 more whose names were there as graduates but who hadn’t come to the ceremony. Then there were quite a few people from other classes that were before mine. Saba had 8 rows of graduates and MUA had 3.5 for a grand total of about 150. We “rehearsed” which basically was the hall staff standing there telling us what we were supposed to do when we went up to the stage, then each school went down to the reception hall to have our class photos taken.

When we finished, folks were still being seated in the hall so we lined up and then in about 10 minutes, the ceremony began. We walked in to “Pomp and Circumstance” then heard introductions of all of the folks from administration at the schools who had come to see us. I was surprised–they’d flown up 2 of the Deans from the island to help with our graduation. We heard a speaker who was one of the higher-ups for our school. My parents said his speech was difficult to follow and sounded too “doctor-y” but which just sounded like he probably should have rehearsed a bit more to me; he kept losing his place in his notes. Then we heard from the student speakers. The guy from Saba was amazing. His speech was casual and effortless but at the same time, deep and summarized the similar struggles we had all been through up until this point. I knew when he finished that it was going to be tough for the guy from MUA to compare to. The guy from MUA who spoke was from my class. He did good, was a bit nervous, but it was just unfortunate that he had to follow such an amazing speech.

I found out at that point that we have an award called the Dean of Clinical Science Award–basically if you got straight A’s throughout clinicals, when you walk across the stage after you’re hooded, you get honor cords to wear. Also your name is printed in the program with an asterisk next to it. The speaker was the only one from my class to have received this honor. I was suddenly ashamed. I don’t think I’ve mentioned this before, but I suppose I can go ahead and share that during my clinicals, I got all A’s and just 1 B–it was during an elective, my adolescent medicine elective at Cook County Hospital in Chicago that I got my only B. That’s it, a 4-week elective (out of 72 weeks of clinicals) during which I’m not sure what I did wrong to get a B instead of an A. I know it doesn’t matter at this point, I’m already in a residency, but I felt like I’d let my parents and relatives down. I felt guilty for not going back and making an issue out of it to see what I’d done wrong or bad. Needless to say, knowing what I know about awards and rotations now, I won’t be recommending THAT elective to anyone.

But anyway, then we watched Saba stand and walk up to the stage and hear their name called, get hooded and receive their fake diplomas, then we did the same. After everyone had been across the stage, we all stood and recited the Hippocratic oath together, which was fun and monumental-feeling. Then we all left for the reception. Our “gift” was available at the reception–apparently they give out a book each year. This year it was a book about Henrietta Lacks (unknowing provider of HeLa cells from her cervical cancer sample so many decades ago) and the [lack of] medical ethics associated with her case. Oh, we also got to pick up our diplomas at the reception (those of us who graduated in May, at least). That was a happy moment.

After the reception, my family and I went back upstairs to the hall for a photo shoot on the stage and with the school banner. They were all very proud and a little tearful. When we went to leave, we noticed that lots of folks had parked on the street. We thought it was metered parking though looked as we walked past only to notice that the meters are not active on the weekends–free parking. Good to know for next year. I’m already planning on trying to get off so that I can go see the rest of the folks from my class walk across the stage!

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More on the Match

April 10, 2014

Hey ya’ll,

Made it back to NC from LA to spend a quick weekend doing laundry and swapping out wardrobe choices before I headed off to Virginia for my last elective. I’ve gotten a lot of questions about Match stuff, so now that all is said and done I reckon it’s safe to discuss some of the details and things I learned.

So if you’re planning on Matching in 2015, you should already be working. The school wants all prospective Matchees to submit their Personal Statement by April 1. That was actually really helpful. The summer before Match got so busy for me [finalizing Step 2 stuff] that it would have been difficult to sit down and put into clear words why I want to be a psychiatrist. Ah, yes–the great mystery is revealed–I applied for Categorical Psychiatry programs, Internal Medicine-Psychiatry programs, and Triple Board (Pediatrics/Adult Psych/Child & Adolescent Psych) programs. But back to personal statements, they should state why you find the particular field interesting (usually in the form of a memorable anecdote), why you’d be good at that field, where you want to go once you’re in the field, and lastly, why you’d be an awesome asset to their program. It should grab their attention but at the same time, not be kitschy. DO NOT LIE. You will be asked about your personal statement and its contents, so be genuine and review your PS before each interview so that it’s fresh in your mind and you don’t glaze over if your nerves get the best of you.

Second thing is timing. You need to make sure that you have your CK scores back and available for your ERAS application by late August. It’s best to submit your applications to the various programs on September 15, the first day that application submission is available. In most cases, folks’ scores increase between their USMLE Step 1 and USMLE Step 2 CK so you’ll want both scores to show your improvement. Most folks have a bit of PTSD about the Step 1 and how difficult it was to remember all those details. I think many of us think if we’d just given ourselves another couple of weeks to study we’d have done better, but that’s a fallacy. Don’t let those feelings make you keep pushing your Step 2 CK back. It’s definitely not as difficult (to me, at least) as the Step 1 and I found that on some of the questions I was unsure about, logical reasoning carried me a long way unlike on Step 1 where you either knew the fact or you had to guess. The Step 2 CS is not a big rush–after all, it’s pass/fail, but you always want to leave yourself enough contingency time so that, worst case scenario, if you have a bad day and don’t pass, you have time to reschedule the CS and take it again. My dean’s advice on the CS is that you should have at least taken it by the end of the year you’ve applied for the match. I was cautious and took it early enough last fall that I was able to get my scores back by the end of the year, so that I was able to tell folks during interviews that I had received news that I had passed.

Last thing for today is interviews. It might just be my inner Southern belle, or our meticulous obsession with manners down here in the South, but I was surprised by what I saw during interviews–which I thought should be easy for most folks who had made it through medical school and the CS exam! There are some major faux pas which I saw some of my co-interviewees commit that I thought I’d pass along:

1. Wear a suit. A clean, wrinkle-free professional suit. Everyone wears suits, mostly suits with pants rather than skirts (ladies). And wear nice, bland accessories. No loud ties, bright red pumps, deep-cut blouses. I know there’s a lot of avant garde advice floating around that you need to wear something which will make you stand out or grab their attention–which could be true for dates or regular job interviews–but remember that the folks who are interviewing you are RESIDENCY PROGRAM DIRECTORS! They want to see if you’re trained and civil enough to see patients during some of the most physically and emotionally challenging times of their lives. Program directors don’t care about your flashy scarf or how high of stilettos you can endure for 8 hours, and if they do, this is not the program for you. They are conservative folks who want to see that you clean up nice and can be appropriate with patients and get your work done. High neck lines, comfortable shoes, no wrinkles, and muted ties.

2. Easy on the perfume/cologne. Don’t wear it, it grosses everyone else out and makes it seem like you’re trying to cover up a body odor problem that couldn’t be or wasn’t solved by soap and water. Most hospitals have rules which stipulate you don’t wear it as it nauseates some patients, so don’t. If you insist on wearing it, spray it on your body ONCE, then cover that area up with your clothes so the scent isn’t so strong.

3. Dinner manners. Pretend like you’re on a first date. Most programs send you to dinner with the residents the night before an interview. This is theoretically a time for the residents to get to know you and figure out if you would fit in with them for the next 3-5 years. This is not the time for you to assault them with every cut-throat question about the program’s dirty little secrets you can muster. 90% of the time, I found that the residents were just there for a free meal. Now that doesn’t mean that they weren’t paying attention to the applicants, but they’ll ask you if you have questions and aside from a couple of easy questions about how they see the program or elements of the training from their personal perspective, let it go. Let them eat, enjoy what they have to say, use the time to make observations about their relationships with the other residents–if they get along well, if they have a good sense of humor, if their morale is alright. It’ll tell you a lot about how the program treats its residents.

Ok, must go get ready for rounds. There are many, many more tips which could follow on Match processes, which I will try to share later. 12 more work days of rotations left! YAY!!!

Jenn

Post Match-Weekend

March 24, 2014

Hey, ya’ll!

Thanks so much for the congratulatory comments. What an awesome week it was. Monday brought a wave of relief when I checked my email at 11:05 (central time) while we were seeing outpatients, then it was a LOOOONG week of waiting until Friday at noon (when we were still rounding) when I found out where: I get to stay in my home state of North Carolina and matched into my #1 specialty, Psychiatry! Within 5 minutes, I ducked into the nearest bathroom to take a call from my new program director congratulating me. Within a couple of hours, I’d gotten a slew of emails from folks in the department also offering their congratulations. Happy, happy day.

All those close to me have been very supportive and are also very excited. It’s great to have something concrete to plan–I finally can start looking for apartments, scheduling vacations.

Rotations are winding down. This is my last week in Louisiana doing a FAAAAABULOUS psych elective where I’ve gotten to see inpatient child, adolescent, adult, and chemical dependence patients, as well as outpatients. The pace has been unusually busy for psychiatry, but fun. I’ve learned time management as we see 30-60 patients/day. Next I’m off to Virginia to complete my last 4-week elective, a required medicine sub-I elective BEFORE I’M FINISHED!

I’ve received emails about graduation already. We all get to venture up to Massachusetts at the end of May. I’m looking forward to meeting classmates I haven’t seen since we left the island. It’s exciting ordering announcements and graduation attire.

2014 Match

March 17, 2014

::drum roll::

I MATCHED!!!!!!!!!

I will find out where on this coming Friday! YAY! SO HAPPY!

Hello, again!

February 25, 2014

Hi, Readers,

Checking in again, as promised before the Match. Has been an interesting few weeks at home; took a while to settle down as this is the first time since 2009 that I haven’t had something pressing to study for/apply to–no board exams to prep for, no semesters to shop for, no rotations to set up. It’s a good feeling, relaxation, but I’m still nervous about the upcoming Match. I’ve gotten good news from many of the programs with which I interviewed–correspondence that they will be ranking me, which is great to hear, but it makes my ROL decision tougher. While I haven’t changed my original Rank Order List since I certified it shortly after my birthday, I think about changing it daily, sometimes hourly. There are so many factors to consider: location, program size, available fellowships, program reputation, graduate placement, research opportunities, facilities, gut-feeling, program director and faculty, call schedule, patient population, benefits. My head is swirling.

I’m facing the last big hurdle a student from the Caribbean must face. There’s a lot of nasty opinions and forum posts out there about how Caribbean grads never match and how there won’t be enough residency spots available in the coming years to support Caribbean grads.

I think it’s clear at this point that I will match somewhere, but now my dilemma is where to go.

A big concern of mine when choosing a Caribbean medical school was California approval. Ironically, I ended up going to a school which has not been visited by the California inspectors yet, but is not on their disapproved list. While I’m not pursuing a program in California, their list has had an impact on the licensing requirements of many state boards of medicine. I’d found comprehensive resources back in 2010 which stated that most of the states I was interested in settling down in, were not specific about IMG requirements in order to obtain licensure. Some states require careful scrutiny of a student’s Core clinical rotations and require them to be completed at a hospital either directly affiliated with a medical school or at a hospital in which there is a residency program in that field (“Greenbook”). Others are fine with core rotations which have been completed at a hospital which has residencies, but not specifically in that field (“Bluebook”). Some states have no requirements at all, as long as a student has successfully graduated from a medical school, has completed his/her clinicals in the US, has ECFMG certification, and has passed the USMLE Step 1, Step 2 CS, and Step 2 CK exams. My research back in 2010 revealed that most of the states in which I was interested, fell into the latter category–there were no requirements.

During my 3-week hiatus, I took the time to contact the State Medical Boards of some states that I had interviewed in, just to make sure that things hadn’t changed and I wouldn’t have a problem obtaining licensure there, only to find out that they had changed their requirements. Uh oh. It’d be horrible to match to a great program and then not be able to go there because the state won’t recognize your clinical training and therefore won’t license you.

I’m waiting to hear back from the folks in my school’s clinicals department–surely they have dealt with licensure issues in the past and can offer some insight. Kind of coming down to the wire, though, since ROL’s are due at 9:00 this coming Wednesday. Might have to change my list and go with a more conservative option in a state where I know I won’t have licensure issues. #thoughtIMGproblemsweregone

Will keep you all updated on what I find out.

Update

February 5, 2014

Hi, Readers!

Checking in from my break-month, back at home in NC. Finished up in OK and have once again, relocated the bulk of my possessions back to my folks’ house for a temporary break. Interview season is over! It’s rank order list time! Tough decisions to be made, taking time to sit back and think “would I be happy there, with those people, doing that for the next few years?”

Got my last tuition left-over check back from my loan. It dwindles further. I got $600 to live on for the semester back after the school took out tuition from my $15k loan [minus the loan origination fee]. Ridiculous, no? I don’t know how other students from the US are doing it, other than perhaps utilizing the MBA program. Though I couldn’t imagine taking business classes when you need to be focusing on interviews, match stuff, and 4th year rotations. More power to those kids. I’ve accepted the fact I’m forever indebted to my parents and couldn’t have made it this far without their support.

Meanwhile, I’m working out on a daily basis trying to get back down to my pre-Chicago weight. (I’m close) And now, researching my March rotation in Louisiana–where to fly in, where to stay, etc. I have a place lined up to stay at in VA in April but I’m not getting a lot of details about LA. Oh well, patience.

Will be in touch before the match. Best of luck to everyone!

Interview Season Winds Down

January 12, 2014

Hello, Readers,

Hope you’re all okay. Should be in the bed by now as I have to head out for the airport at 4:00 tomorrow morning (that’s in less than 8 hours from now), but am making sure to research the programs my next two interviews are at this week. There is a fatigue that has been setting in as the interview season progresses–you get comfortable with the process and too lazy to ‘do your homework’ before you go to a program (many of them have a similar setup as the requirements don’t leave a lot of room for improvisation) but it’s your own fault if you get into a conversation and look stupid because you didn’t research beforehand. There are subtle differences between programs and if you aren’t aware of them, you look uninterested and uninformed. Even though this is late in the season, my goal is to go into the whole process with the attitude that these are the interviews I have been waiting for the whole time–I’ve saved the BEST for last. Attitude is everything.

Rotation’s been going fine. Most days are 7:00am-5:00pm (long-ish for a psych elective) but fun. Getting to see plenty of interesting patients with diverse pathology. Not too many ‘frequent fliers’ and even if the attending is familiar with a certain patient, they seem to be pretty good about giving the residents and students latitude to discern symptoms and DSM criteria on our own without spoiling the surprise and going with the same old diagnosis. We have open discussions about pharmacology here such as receptors, side effect profiles, and potentiation. It’s cool–wasn’t expecting to learn some of that stuff until residency but happy that I’m picking up on it now.

Well, back to FRIEDA and the program pages. Have a good night, ya’ll.

J

Happy New Year!

January 8, 2014

Hi, Readers!  

Hope you all had a fabulous New Years and and thriving in 2014.  I’m writing from the gym, waiting on an empty treadmill, amused at folks still going strong with their New Years resolutions 1 week into the new year.  My New Years resolution is to not scream at my iPad mini for auto-correcting my quick sausage-finger typing into absurdities.  Jk–that’s just for right now–naw for real, my resolution is to give up soda. Don’t know if the effects of too much aspartame are bunk or not but at least my restaurant bills will be less.  Hope it will help with weight loss too.  Have set myself a lofty goal of losing 50 lbs before residency starts.  Started Atkins today.  Will be easier with chicken and turkey incorporated back into my diet now that last years resolution of vegetarianism is completed.  Made some yummy salad dressing by diluting Ina Garten’s satay dip with coconut water.  Should be relatively low-carb.  The point is that it is delicious in small quantities and makes me fill up on leaves in lieu of more protein or fat.  Mission accomplished and sitting in my fridge in a plastic squeeze bottle.  

 

On the school front, I have just come back from a couple of interviews which added more wonderful programs to my options and have complicated my match list yet again.  Great problem to have.  Preparing for a couple more interviews next week, should be fun.  1.5 weeks into adult inpatient psych elective rotation and love it.  Do rounds in the morning and then after an hour or two lunch break during which I have ample time for running errands, spend the afternoon in admissions.  Admissions doc likes to give us reading assignments for quick presentations during our down-time, so I’m learning a loT of upper-level psych stuff.  

Crap, the gym patrons are increasing in number instead of decreasing.  Better go if I want to get some kind of cardio done today.

 

-J

P.S. Quick reminder–I moderate comments and if you submit comments with a fake email address, no matter how many times you submit them, I delete them. Don’t have time for creepers.

Merry Christmas!!!

December 25, 2013

A festive hello, readers!

I hope you all are having an excellent holiday season. I’ve been taking it easy out here in OK–found out on Monday that my attending was planning on taking most of this week off/being on-call from home, so he told me that afternoon that I was off until this coming Monday (when I start a new elective with the adult psych folks). I kayak.com’d flights back to NC while I was sitting in his office, but to no avail; the most economically feasible options were $750+ and while my folks offered to foot the bill, I just couldn’t rationalize paying $100+/day to be at home when we’ve still got flights to book for January/February interviews. (Seriously, I flew to Kitts for less than that!) So here I sit, hanging out with the dusty old books in the medical library, writing interview thank-you’s. At least I’m not in the middle of my internal medicine core rotation like last Christmas…or ruminating over going back for my fifth semester of med school on the island (dreading that ghastly comp shelf exam) like the Christmas before. Things are improving! YEA!

This latest situation (where I found out that last-minute flights out of OKC are expensive) reminds me how important it is to schedule yourself in a convenient location with access to more than 1 airport during interview season. I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m really kicking myself now for not thinking about that back when I was booking electives. It was silly of me to apply to primarily East-coast programs (which are normally easy to drive/fly to from centrally-located NC) but then put myself in Oklahoma during the two busiest months of interview season. If I’d have thought ahead, I’d have done these OK rotations either before or after interview season so that I could have been closer to all these places I’m having to pay premiums to fly to from OKC.

I have a weekend coming up in January where I have two East-coast interviews booked over one weekend, so I’m having to schedule a multi-city flight plan to make it to both interviews from Oklahoma in one trip. When I first looked up ticket prices, I was flabbergasted that they were $650+ and thought that surely they would go down. Nope. Priced them today during my stent in the library and they are now $800+. I feel stupid. Considering it’s 2 separate interviews and 3 flights, it averages out to a reasonable cost but I feel like kicking myself (again) for not booking earlier when it would have been cheaper. Who knew that it was so expensive to fly out of OKC? I was just sitting here wondering what the limiting factor on the expense of my trips out of OKC was and realized I hadn’t checked other airport departure sites. I mapquested how long it would take to get to Tulsa or Dallas–2 hours and 3 hours, respectively. That’s not horrible–I drive that far to get to RDU. So I priced my multi-interview trips out of Tulsa and they’re only about $700. Better. Priced trips out of Dallas. $600. Cha-ching! That minus my $50 voucher from Delta [after I never got off the ground during my last attempted East-coast interview from the OKC] and I have 3 flights for $550. SCORE! Merry Christmas to me. I guess I should re-title this entry “$250 discounts for thinking outside your home airport.”

More on the Match

December 20, 2013

Hello, Readers,

Happy Holidays to you all. I’ve spent the past few hours cooped up in the 24-hr medical library of the program I’m at, since the house they rent to us doesn’t have internet. So many chores tonight. Because I didn’t have my CS score report when I sent out eras applications, I am having to go back to ALL of the programs I am awaiting replies from and send them my score report, just in case they were waiting on that to make a decision on my application. Thankfully, I haven’t gotten many rejections [which would narrow down my list of correspondence], but I’m a point where I’m starting to think I should have made my match list more succinct. Ok, nevermind, that’s the tiredness talking. Grateful, promise. Most of the places have really nice residency program pages but many are stingy with their contact information. I was able to find program coordinator/assistant email addresses for most of them [with some cunning googling] but still have to make a handful of phone calls tomorrow, sometime, when I’m not in the midst of my interview. As is the norm I’m figuring out, when you’re actively completing an elective rotation at the place you’re interviewing at, you have a significantly abbreviated interview day. Shouldn’t be too much trouble calling to get email addresses.

Also, I’ve had the occasion to seek out a printer–I got word today that I was approved for my 10th and final Ed-Invest loan for the school. Hooray! I can afford to finish my schooling! After getting an email that your loan request has been approved, you have a specific time-frame during which you must print out a loan acceptance page, sign it, and then send it back to the loan folks so that they’ll issue the money to MUA. If you are late or drag your heels, MUA delays sending you your “refund check” of the money left over after paying your tuition. Even though this check has dwindled down to a pathetic amount which one could not possibly survive on for 4 months, it usually helps to pay my rent for a month or so. Life gets more budgeting-intense when it is late, so you can see why it’s a big deal.

I’ve gotten lots of lovely correspondence from new readers and folks recently accepted to MUA wanting advice–please, keep ’em coming! If I can’t answer your question, I know lots of friendly folks who can give you very current information on the island/school.

Whelp, still have a gym date, suit-ironing, and a bunch of belated Thank-You’s to fill out before I retire for some beauty sleep before tomorrow’s interview. Wish me luck!

J