Monday, May 15, 2006

Going back to Cali!

It's official. I've been accepted to the Drew/UCLA Medical Education Program, and I've accepted their acceptance. I got the phone call on Thursday, and I've had four days to decide. Wow. All this time I thought I was going to Pittsburgh, and now I'm headed for Los Angeles. It's all a little overwhelming ...

Here's the deal with Drew/UCLA. It's a special program that trains doctors to work with underserved populations. I'll spend my first two years at UCLA, and then I'll do my clinical years (3rd & 4th) working at county hospitals and community health clinics through Charles R. Drew University. Drew is associated with MLK-Drew Medical Center and I'll also be training at Harbor UCLA Medical Center.

I made this decision while on an awesome little vacation with my mom and dad. My dad is a retired high school teacher, and while he was still teaching, he found out about this special program where you can take a group to camp out on Alcatraz. My dad is fascinated by Alcatraz, and I'm pretty into it, too. (Did you know that Alcatraz means "pelican" in Spanish? Did you know that American Indian activists occupied the island for 18 months in 1969?) We walked all over the island, and saw lots of parts of the prison that you don't see as a tourist. We watched a fireworks show from the roof that night, and then we slept in actual cells. I've slept over three times now, and I can vouch that there's definitely some paranormal stuff going on. You hear a lot of things -- voices -- that you can't explain. I love it!

Got to go ... I've got a lot of planning to do!

Monday, May 08, 2006


In yoga, Hero Pose is a meditative pose, a great way to stretch out the legs and chill out at the end of the day. I feel like I need it right about now because my life is moving at a crazy pace. I got my financial aid offer from the University of Pittsburgh today -- very generous. I've never received a scholarship before ... it makes me feel pretty good, a little bit of a hero. I also got my nose pierced -- one of the things I swore I'd do after I was finished interviewing for medical school. It didn't really hurt, just a pinch and then a strange metal thing to get used to in my nose. Kind of makes me want to sneeze. Life is good.

Thursday, May 04, 2006


I've got two of them. But in a good way, not in a root-through-your-garbage way. My sister rescued a big mama rat who promptly gave birth to a litter of eight. I went home one weekend and got offered some rats the moment I stepped in the door. I can't believe how much fun they are! I've always thought of rat owners as role-playing game types who live in the basement of their parents' house. Now I'm one of them. I've never had a pet before! The one with the blue racing strip is Rez. She's a total spaz. The white one is Sasha, and she's more chill. (That's relative -- her heart still beats 400 times per minute.) They're albino, which is the kind of rat used most often in labs. I hope I got rats like the Rats of NIMH. They live in an enormous cage that was meant for a ferret -- I kind of went crazy at the pet store.

Catching you up ...

I've been wanting to start a blog for a while, but the whole medical school application process was so awful that I didn't want it to consist of me whining post after post. I'm so lucky. I can drink the water out of my tap. I can flip a switch and make lights turn on. I can sit on my deck, grab an internet connection out of the air and write this.

But, for an overview of what happened to me, go to my profile on, a web site even more insidious than SDN.

I also wanted to post my personal statement, after a discussion on SDN about how we'd like to share, but are afraid of getting plagiarized. So here is my caveat: Plagiarism is an extremely bad idea, both professionally and karmically. Please don't do it. I really mean it. If you need further discouragement, take this current example from Harvard.

My personal statement, June 2005.

Georgia looks bad. Her chart says she’s at the clinic for a urinary tract infection, but, as a health educator, I’m worried. She’s pale, almost gray, and bundled up in a wool cardigan and denim jacket. Her chart also says she’s 26, but her tiny frame makes it hard to believe. I ask her how she’s doing, and I get a startling answer: “I’ve been living on the street for about two weeks, but then this pain in my back got real bad, so I had to come in.” I mentally piece together a story -- the infection has progressed up to her bladder, maybe even her kidneys, but her immune system is working against malnutrition and exposure. She has made the effort to get to the clinic, and now I have a small window of opportunity to help her. Squeezed into a small health education room, I realize that we are in what my physician friend calls a “teachable moment.” I’m thankful for my two years of experience as a health educator; I try to appear open and supportive as I push back butterflies of panic in my stomach. I commend her for coming in and I reassure her that we will take care of her. I suggest some sexually transmitted infections that she may want to get screened for, and I give her literature about the hepatitis B vaccine. I find her a referral to a shelter and the telephone number for a suicide hotline. After I introduce her to the nurse practitioner, I sit down in the clinicians’ office and breathe a sigh of relief. I realize that this is exactly where I want to be, exactly what I want to be doing.

Long before considering what to write in my personal statement, I prepared myself to explain why I wanted to go to medical school. Friends and family wanted to know what had gone wrong: I had the beginnings of a rewarding journalism career -- how did I stumble onto the arduous path to medicine instead? Four years before I met Georgia, I was a fact-checker at the investigative news magazine Mother Jones. Every fact, every statement, had to be checked for its accuracy; an incorrect detail could call the credibility of the entire story into question. I called embassies, combed maps, interviewed sources and pored over legal documents. Once in a while, to my delight, I would find a new detail that enhanced the story, and the editor would add "my" fact to the final article. I began pursuing one health-related story after another: a spurious link between abortions and breast cancer; the incidence of HIV/AIDS in the American prison system; the debate raging over medical marijuana.

One day, I was interviewing Martin, who had HIV/AIDS and smoked marijuana to combat the nausea he experienced from the assortment of medications he took. As he told me his story over the telephone, I was distracted with thoughts of all the work I'd have to do to meet my deadline. Martin summed up his situation with a sentence that stopped me cold: "This is not about a plant. This is about human beings." Martin was dying, and all I could offer him was the possibility of seeing his name in print. I was getting accustomed to asking very personal questions of people I'd just met, but there was no dialogue, no exchange -- I could do little to help these people whose problems I was documenting. Martin forced me to be honest about where all these health-related stories were leading -- I wanted to be a doctor.

I completed the prerequisites for medical school while fielding two years of questions like “Why?” and “Are you sure?” On darker days, these questions came from deep inside. But I knew I was moving in the right direction. I was fascinated by the microscopic universe of cellular biology and enchanted with the elegance of Newtonian mechanics. While organic chemistry lab inspired loathing in my classmates, I actually enjoyed the experiments. At the Women’s Community Clinic, my health education sessions were the conversations that I had craved as a journalist -- my women patients asked as many questions as I did, and they left more knowledgeable and in control of their own health.

I now volunteer in the emergency department at Highland General Hospital, assisting a clinical research coordinator with emergency medicine research. The focus of my work is a project that offers rapid HIV testing to all emergency department patients. I work with a diverse population of un- and under-insured patients with a variety of medical problems. Every day that I spend in the emergency room, a patient surprises me with their story, their sense of humor, their spirit. The clinicians I meet are street-wise yet compassionate. Instead of being burdened by the crises I witness, I leave Highland inspired and energized about medicine.

My interest in medicine has gained a momentum of its own. From my experiences at Highland and the WCC, I have decided to apply for a position with the Community HealthCorps -- a year-long program that places members in community clinic settings. Now that I am actively involved in health care, the decision feels right -- I feel at home in the clinic, in the emergency room, talking to patients, discussing diagnoses with clinicians. I look forward to learning more about medicine, to medical school, and to my next “teachable moment.” I wonder -- do my patients know they often teach me as much as I teach them?

That's it. That's how I poured out my heart and soul to admissions committees everywhere. They gave me 5300 characters to do it, and I spent every last one.

Stuck on your personal statement? Here's a simple yoga pose that will make the words come a little easier. It's called Legs Up The Wall, or Viparita Karani. It's like a cup of coffee for your soul.