Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Now, many (many, many!) years later, I have had few (if any) regrets. OK, I wish I would have traveled more and if I knew then what I know now, would probably have structured some of my early experiences differently. But I received a very good education in my little community-based program and have never felt limited in what I could strive for.
So dear students, although today emotions run high and nerves are shot, in the long run this day will become just one of several pinnacles you'll scale. Looking back, memories of my wedding, the birth of my sons, and numerous career highlights are crowding out any recollection of the anxiety I'm sure I felt when Match Day rolled around for me. And I think that's as it should be.
But Christmas and Valentine's Day and other perfectly fine occasions for him to pop the question and appear on bended knee came and went and I was feeling a little - how shall I say - frustrated. To put it nicely. In actuality, I was going a little insane. I remember initiating serious conversations about this: where are we going? We need to do some planning. You know, all of those conversation starters that cause men to start sweating and looking for the nearest exit. But I needed to know: is this the real thing? Do I put this relationship before my real program preferences? I thought other programs might be a better fit for me and what I wanted to eventually do.
In the end, I ended up ranking the program at my school first. I also had a lot of positive feedback from the program, leading me to believe it would be pretty much of a sure thing. Yet, still, I was nervous on Match Day. What if there was a computer glitch? What if they were just telling me I was a shoo-in? What if I ended up somewhere far away?
He was with me as we gathered with all of my classmates in the big hall. I had picked up my sealed envelope from a faculty carrying the envelopes for students with my last name letter. We stood around in informal clumps, around friends and some family for the magic words at 12 noon, informing us that we could open our envelopes and find our fate.
It was time. I opened the envelope and pulled out a surprisingly small slip of paper with only the name of the program I had matched into: My school's.
It was not a surprise or an elation but a relief. A huge relief.
Some classmates were more vocal. There were shouts of joy, a buzz of "Congratulations", there were hugs and hugs all around. It was a very emotional, joyful moment. In the beginning.
But when the dust settled a bit, and the flurry of happiness fluttered down, I started to notice that not everyone was happy. Some of my classmates were quiet, bummed. Some look like they were spun, confused, trying to be positive. And some were in tears. A good friend of mine, in fact, was in tears. It wasn't all happy.
But like that, all of us were going somewhere. Some to places they dreamed about. Some to places they wished they had never ranked. And I, was staying.
In the week to follow, my boyfriend and I took our planned student-budget trip to San Francisco, touring Napa Valley, taking mud baths in Calistoga, driving down the Pacific Coast Highway and stopping occasionally for impromptu picnics.
For me, I was fortunate in the fact that I didn't have to worry about a couple's match (trying to match to the same place as your spouse or significant other). Mr. Whoo was delightfully mobile with respect to his professional life, so we didn't have the constraints of specific places that we just *had* to be. We picked a general area of the country in which we knew we would be happy, and concentrated on applying to the programs in that general area. I was also fortunate that I wasn't trying to match into a super competitive residency like dermatology or radiology (or, the "lifestyle specialties," as they are called), and I really had no interest in the rigorous academic programs. I was more concerned with learning how to be a general community Ob/Gyn, could not care less about research or academic prestige. For me, I primarily searched for community based, procedure heavy programs in a large region of the country. I looked at how the attendings and the residents interacted with one another, and I was really interested in finding a program where the residents actually seemed to *like* one another. As far as match criteria are concerned, mine were quite modest. I ranked 8 programs, 2 of which I loved enough to place them interchangeably in rank order.
Match Day itself was rather overwhelming. There was lots of pomp and circumstance, and even more nerves and jitters. There was a big ceremony outside, then we all went into the main lecture hall (where we spent the whole of our first two years as students, sort of poignant). It was there that we received the envelopes which held the direction for (did I mention?) our entire professional lives. To add extra fun, each of us was called individually up to the front of the entire room, filled with friends, students, and families to open our envelope in front of *everybody* to read aloud the program and specialty to which we had matched. The only prior knowledge that you had going up to this point was whether or not you *had* matched, so the reactions ranged from ecstatic, to barely concealed bitter disappointment. It was a little awful and a lot wonderful. On the whole, my class matched well, so many of us were rejoicing together. When it came my time to grab my envelope, I could barely squawk out the words on the paper, I was so overcome. I vaguely remember cheers and applause as I blindly made my way back to my seat. I had matched into my first choice...my path, once shrouded in mystery and doubt, was suddenly, sunnily clear.
After our class had opened the last envelope, there was a cake and punch reception (to which we brought flasks to generously spike the punch). We shared happy and sad tears, and there was a sense of relief that it was all *over,* when, in fact, it was just beginning. I found out that two other classmates had matched into residencies at the same place in which I did. This was kind of amazing, since we were coming from a big, academic med school in a location nearly a full day's drive from the smaller, community-ish program to which we all matched. It was comforting to know that there would be a couple of familiar faces in that new, unfamiliar territory. That night we all hit the town together as a class, and acted decidedly not like budding young medical professionals, but like the kids that we actually still were. For all the toil, sacrifice and tears that we had endured thus far, with even more looming on the horizon, all was right with the world on the day that we found our match.
It was one of the most intense experiences I have ever observed.
As we left, I clearly remember saying, “Thank God we’ll never have to do that again.” Ah, the irony.
My husband matched and we moved for his new job. I started medical school. Life hummed along nicely. Then he decided he wasn’t sure of the career he’d matched into, and needed some time to think about it. That was two years ago. And a wedding, a house, several dogs and cats, and a baby ago. We thought things were so complicated four years ago, what with the thinking and the ranking! Now, he’s moving into a different specialty and going through the match again. This time, he’s not in a class, so there is no fancy ceremony. Just an email around 1pm Thursday.
He has good options, was well received everywhere, and I think we will be happy wherever we end up. But that’s just it. Where will we end up? Will we stay here, where we have a house and friends and a babysitter and in-state tuition? Will we move closer to my family, where our son will grow up with his cousin and enjoy his extended family? Will we move to the great North, where we know almost no one, have no friends, but have a promising career path? And the worst of it, as you all are well aware, is that we don’t get to decide. Granted, the list that my husband submitted is of places that we would be able to live. But we don’t get to pick.
When, in all of this, do we actually grow up? Sometimes I feel very grown up. I am a mother, a wife, a homeowner, a very responsible person overall. But then, I’m also still a student, still have to request permission to use the restroom, still terrified of getting a real job. And, of course, still being told where to move and when to be there. Someday, maybe, we’ll get to decide our own fate and choose our own futures.
Of course, we still have my match to live through in a few years. And the match for fellowships, if we decide to do them. Maybe by the time I’m 40 I’ll be able to pick the city I live in. Until then, we’ll be sitting in front of the computer, chewing off our nails and clicking ‘refresh’ around 1pm Thursday.
Katie! Third year medical student, currently on maternity leave. In her free time: Mama, wife, dog-mom, sister, daughter, aunt, friend. She's probably supposed to be something else, but she's forgotten. She aspires to be a morning person, organized, and an OB/GYN. Cross-posted at You’ll Never Know Everything.
Monday, March 16, 2009
I had mixed feelings about the book.
What I thought the book did well was to de-mystify the process that is The Match, giving historical context, even going so far as introducing readers to the mastermind of the computer algorithm behind it. I also thought the book captured the artificial relationship deadline/pressures fairly well of the Match and particularly liked the relaying of Rakhi and Scott's down-to-the-deadline struggle of where to rank UCLA. This was a very real moment to me, full of the tensions of submitting a rank list when partners need to be considered.
I have to admit, though, that as a woman in medicine who has gone through match day and internship, I kept feeling like the voice telling the stories was an outsider; someone catching glimpses of moments but not possessing the full understanding of what it is really like. Salient moments that defined the challenges of being a woman going through these events weren't explored. Stephanie's experience as a female surgical intern would have been vastly different at a program where she was the only woman in a class of men, which is more often the case. The struggle of being "strong", letting your emotions show (nearly every woman resident has cried - dealing with those feelings), even different dynamics with other staff...all very personal, defining parts of our journey were missing.
I guess I felt that it could have been more authentic.
Overall, I was a bit unsure what the book was trying to do besides exposing the mystery behind Match Day and the pressures this can create for couples. I didn't feel it addressed women in medicine and today's challenges with full depth, but I got the sense that this was one of its goals. Still, I think the book could be very interesting to those who haven't gone through this and bringing some of these issues to light.
These were my questions for the author and his responses:
What probably surprised me most was how i never lost interest in the
subject. I had a friend once say that you know you have a book topic
when you have so much to write and say about a topic that a magazine
article will not do it for you. That was the case for me with this-- I
kept finding more interesting aspects to the story.
When did you decide you were going to write this?
A little less than a year before the Match Day that I describe in the
book. It was around that time that I was discovering this strange
ritual and realized so much of the world knew so little about this
process and moment that affects the whole country.
Well, Stephanie and I are still together, so so far so good. I still
keep in touch with the other people in the book.
How do you think your personal connections to all of the women you wrote about impacted your storytelling? Your objectivity?
This is a great question. In journalism, so often, we keep our
distance from our subjects. But actually, I found that I was so
passionate about these people and their lives, that it made for
stronger writing. I was also very lucky that none of the characters in
the book ever tried to influence what I wrote about, so I never felt
like this did anything but make me more passionate about the story.
Readers can get the chance to score a copy of Match Day on Wednesday, our Topic Day on Match Day. Mothers in Medicine received two free copies of this book for the purposes of review, but we are not not otherwise getting compensated for these reviews, nor are we obligated to provide a positive review.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
You can tell even without reading the back flap that Mr. Eule is a journalist because the novel is sprinkled with factoids about match day and residency. A lot of it was information I already knew (my class was the one that got punished by the results of the catastrophic urology match screw up), but some of it was new to me. Sometimes the book felt more like an expose on match day than a novel about three women, but either way, it was a very entertaining read. And now I can honestly say I know everything I ever wanted to know about the history of the residency match.
The scene that hit closest to home for me was when Rakhi, an intelligent young woman applying for internal medicine, is debating giving up her dream residency in order to be in a program closer to where her husband wanted to go to graduate school. Even though the rest of the book deals with more serious topics such as palliative care, this above all was the scene that brought tears to my eyes. Because when I submitted my match list for residency four years ago, it was not the one I had dreamed of. I gave up my dream residency for my other dream: to finally live with my husband. It was a sacrifice that I never regretted, but reading Rakhi’s familiar story brought back some bittersweet memories.
Unfortunately, as we all know, sacrifice does not end with match day. Intern year and residency, as the novel describes, is also filled with sacrifices. We give up our free time, our family life, and allow ourselves to be treated like dirt on the side of the road in order to realize our goal of becoming a physician. If you can get out of residency with your personal life intact, you can consider yourself lucky. One line that stuck in my head was about a surgery program that had a divorce rate of “over a hundred percent”, since one resident got divorced twice. You can’t make this stuff up.
The other highlight of the book was author himself. As a resident who is married to a man who isn’t in medicine, it fascinated me to get inside the head of a doctor’s husband. What’s it like to be Dr. and Mr.? How do they put up with us?? I only wish that Mr. Eule had dedicated more of the novel to himself, as the opportunities inside his own head were few and far between. But maybe that’s a topic for his next book.
I had the privilege of corresponding with Mr. Eule in the interest of asking some questions for the purpose of my review. I got a thrill out of the fact that his writing in the emails sounded exactly like his writing in the book. And what an incredibly nice guy, who clearly adores his physician wife. Here were some of the questions I asked him and his responses:
Q: You wrote a book about women who are becoming doctors. You are a man who is not a doctor. Explain.
"That's exactly the point. I was an outsider to this world, suddenly thrust into it. These key moments and decisions would affect so many lives, including my own. But I was also a journalist who knew how to dig into a story to find answers to all of the questions I had. Often, it is the outsider who sees the issue and topic most clearly. (You'll notice, for example, great books written about Presidents are often not by Presidents.)"
(There goes my dream of becoming President and writing a successful book about it.)
Q: Who do you feel is the intended audience for your book?
"I like to think that there are several audiences for the book: mainly anyone interested in doctors (anyone who has ever known a doctor); friends and family of medical students and residents, interested in this strange and demanding world they've only seen from afar; as well as those beginning their careers in medicine, beginning to make these key decisions. At a time when media stories about health-care and the quality of medical care in America are a constant, understanding the process by which doctors are selected, trained and groomed in this country seems more relevant now than ever."
Q: Since your book is called Match Day, why did you decide to include the stories from intern year in the book? Was this your intention prior to starting the book?
"Match Day is a play on words. There are multiple matches occurring in these people's lives at this time-- matches with career and matches with spouses and families, in particular. Yes this was my intention-- I was excited by this crucial turning point in all of their lives, when these people go from student to professional, and I wanted to follow these people as the first year of their career played out to show how things turned out after the Match and how they changed from student to doctor. Medical students often don't realize the impact these moments and choices will have on the rest of their lives."
Q: What are your top five tips for non-medical husbands of female physicians?
"It's hard to give tips for such a diverse group as that. I recognize people are very different. For me, a few things that have made this difficult time more bearable are: trying to remember to have patience, keeping a sense of humor, recognizing the amazing sacrifices my wife is making, realizing how many people she is helping, and reminding myself that she's human. That, and giving her some space after a 24-hour call shift!"
Q: How do I get my husband to write a book about me?
"Hahaha. Have him drop me a line and we can talk about it."
Thanks for your offer, Brian, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. He’s a mathematician, so the best I might get is a theorem named after me.
MiM Editor's note: We'll be giving away 10 free copies of this book on our Match Day Topic Day this upcoming Wednesday, so stay tuned! While we received two copies of this book for the purposes of reviewing it for our site (second review to come), we are not otherwise compensated for these reviews and are under no obligation to provide a positive review.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Match Day is such a unique experience for doctors-to-be: the suspense, the ceremony, the Moment, the hugs and joy and surprise and sometimes, despair. It changes our lives, that computer program.
We have some special surprises in store, too, for our readers, so stay tuned next week! Send your Match Day stories to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Monday, March 9, 2009
We recently had a few families over to dinner. They are dear friends--originally the parents of our kids' friends from preschool, now our close friends in their own right. They live 5 minutes away. As they were leaving after dinner, a few weeks before my husband was to deploy, one of the women said to my husband, "Well, if we don't see you, stay safe" and to me, "Let us know if you need anything." My heart sank, and my husband immediately saw it on my face.
Now, I'm not complaining...well, not that much anyway. Believe me, I know it could be waaaaay worse. He's only going for 5 months, not the 12 or 15 month deployments that Army families cope with all the time. It's pretty safe, as deployments go. We'll even be able to talk on the phone for about 20 minutes once a week. And, most of all, I fully expect him to come home to us. At some point, he won't be in the Navy anymore, and all of this will be behind us.
But the fact of the matter is that I will definitely need things. When people say, "Let me know if you need anything," the implication is that you probably won't, but just in case, you know how to find us (and we won't be finding you). The fact is that needing things is not the exception; rather it is the rule during deployment. I need things right now, and he hasn't even left yet. Like someone to babysit my kids for a few hours so that I can have a date with my husband where we finish sentences (or do our taxes), someone to help me cook and freeze a bunch of meals to decrease the evening madness, someone to invite us to dinner on the sad evening of d#1 of deployment, and most of all, someone to reassure me that I can do this, we can do this, and we will all get through it.
I have been giving "Let me know if you need anything" a LOT of thought since then. As far as I can tell, we only say it when it is clear that help will be needed...and a lot of it. Someone's husband dies: Let me know if you need anything. Someone's baby is born prematurely and is in the NICU: Let me know if you need anything. Someone loses his job: Let me know if you need anything. And, most relevant to us, when we are the bearer of catastrophic medical news: Let me know if you need anything.
If these words make it to the antechamber before your lips, STOP THEM RIGHT THERE! This is probably a situation where the person in front of you needs not just anything, but everything. I have decided to banish the phrase from my vocabulary and instead make a concrete offer. She can say no or barter for something different, but at least she knows I expect she will need help--it's not a sign of weakness and not an exception. If she wants to refuse it, she is free, but I won't make it easy. From here on out, I'll be saying "I'd like to bring dinner tomorrow night for you and the kids. Is 5 o'clock okay?"
Sunday, March 8, 2009
In the past week, I've seen Donald fall from a 30 foot tree, plummet from several cliffs, and be exploded countless times. As I was watching him run his sled into a tree stump masked by a snowman, I couldn't help but think of my patients who ended up with serious brain or spinal cord injuries because they hit a tree on the ski slopes. As Donald made impact with the tree, I winced as I thought about broken bones, halo vests, intubation, central lines...
But none of that happens in the cartoon. Obviously. Slamming into a tree at 60 MPH definitely is an annoyance to Donald, but the only thing he appeared to damage in the accident was the winter coat he was wearing. (The winter coat was destroyed virtually beyond repair.) When a bunch of ants pushed him off a 100 foot cliff to get at his picnic basket, he yelled out in fury and climbed right back up the cliff to get revenge on those ants. When ten sticks of dynamite explode in his face, he just adjusts his beak and moves on.
Yes, I know cartoons are not supposed to be realistic, but this is really beginning to bother me. It disturbs me not just as a mother who wants my daughter to know the consequences of violence, but also as a doctor who has seen countless veterans with severe permanent brain injury from IED blasts. I need to see Donald experience the consequences of his actions in some way. I mean, they don't have to show him on a ventilator, but if he falls off a cliff, at least show him limping a little in the next scene.
And for the record, a second head bonk is NOT a cure for brain injury.
At this point I sit back down and take a deep breath. This happens to me a least twice a day. I start with the usual questions (I’ve answered with the most common answers):
Does it hurt? No
Do you like your husband/partner? Yes
History of abuse? No
How often do you have sex? 2-3 times a month *
Do you like sex when you have it? Mostly, I’m just so tired I don’t ever feel like doing it.
Does your libido improve when you go away for the weekend with your spouse? I don’t know, we haven’t done that in 10 years
It’s at this point that I want to say, and occasionally do depending on how well I know the patient, “You mean after working full time, taking care of 3 kids, dishes and homework, you don’t suddenly feel like Samantha on Sex in the City the minutes the lights go out.?”. I don’t know it this is “normal” but I know it’s very common.
Women are multitaskers. But the one place not to be a multitasker is the bedroom. There was a recent study that showed women enjoy sex more if they are able to “live in the moment.” Well DUH!!! Honestly, it is hard to be in the moment, with so many “to do lists” floating through your head.
When I first start clinical rotations in medical school I definitely had a time of transition. After watching my first Vag Hyst as a student I couldn’t have sex for a week. Slowly, like all the other issues you some how learn to separate work from home, most of the time. The pager does occasionally go off at an inopportune time.
Although, I have become a little jaded from my profession. During a recent conversation with my husband I remarked “We have a great sex life, I mean… it doesn’t hurt, I don’t get yeast infections and I don’t have to worry about you giving me Herpes.” He gave me quite the incredulous look. I guess its all relative.
*I had a newly wed patient who was having trouble with painful intercourse. After several visits, ultrasounds, creams ect. I finally asked her how often she was able to have intercourse. When she said 5 times a day for 6 months straight…… I discovered the cause of her discomfort.
Saturday, March 7, 2009
Four month old giggles and nine month old babbles
Dermatology cases in which I like to dabble
E-prescribing program that I am now trying
These are a few of my favorite things
A parent who stops me in Target to say thank-you
Tough diagnosis and putting together the clues
Recognition from a preteen that I am connecting
These are a few of my favorite things
Coaching new parents and caring for preemies
Referrals from OBs who bring their kids to me
Hugs at the knees and scared children now smiling
These are a few of my favorite things
When the ED calls
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don’t feel so bad
Friday, March 6, 2009
~ Bringing babies into the world is, quite simply, awe-inspiring. I love it. It is so special and intimate, that moment when a family is born (and re-born), and I feel privileged to be a part of it.
~ I love helping women. Women are way too busy taking care of every one else to worry about taking care of themselves. It is good to have 15-20 minutes to sit and listen to women, and make suggestions on how they can better care for their own needs.
~ I like to *fix* things. I am, at heart, a fixer. I want to change things for the better, and being an Ob/Gyn allows me to do this more often than not. I find this infinitely satisfying when I can make things better through surgery or medical treatment.
~ I enjoy the continuity of care that being an Ob/Gyn affords. I love being able to deliver multiple babies for the same patient, and then be able to take care of their Gyn needs once childbearing is over. I like the lasting relationships the field can foster.
~ I like to do Gyn surgery. General surgery, to me, was overwhelming, but Gyn surgery affords me the ability to do a variety of cases in a limited area of the anatomy. The perfectionist in me enjoys the focus on one organ system, but there is always good enough variety to keep it interesting.
~ Procedures are fun. Not just surgeries, but colposcopies, LEEPs, IUD insertions, polyp removals, and endometrial biopsies are all very enjoyable, and the results are often immediately evident. Highly satisfactory.
~ There is a limited amount of pharmacology. For me, it is pretty much antibiotics, hormone replacement or suppression, birth control, anti-inflammatory meds, the occasional hypertension or diabetes med, and some anti-depressants. I loathe polypharmacy, so I enjoy the clean and simple pharmaceutical profiles that Ob/Gyn provides.
~ The patients. That's right, for all that they do to drive me crazy, it's the patients that keep me coming back for more. Be it the infertile woman that I helped to conceive, or the anemic, miserable woman whose ills were cured by a simple procedure or surgery, or even the chronic pain patient who got the correct diagnosis, treatment, and subsequent improved quality of life. I do this for the patients, plain and simple.
~ At the end of an exhausting day, I feel that I am making a difference and an impact for good in people's lives. That fact makes the unbearable actually bearable.
So, look, I love my job. I love it. For all of my whining, I wouldn't do anything else. I hope this answers the questions out there. Thank you for listening.
**Cross posted at Ob/Gyn Kenobi
Thursday, March 5, 2009
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
It was 7:30 AM, the front door was open in readiness for the five of us to brave the morning chill and head for the van, and I was crouching in the front entrance hurriedly attaching boots and mittens to my dawdling four-year-old.
I ushered him out the door, entreating him to pick up the pace as he ambled down the walkway, stuffing pinecones into his hoodie pockets. Once in the van, I had to remind him several times to climb into his car seat, as I strapped in his sister and deposited backpacks in the trunk.
I read once that children have no sense of urgency, that it's a waste of time to try to make them hurry, and I must say that in my seven years of parenting, truer words have never been spoken.
However, from time to time I can't resist trying to instill the importance of efficient house-departing routines into their little heads, and so this morning I told him earnestly, "Mommy and Daddy can't be late for work. If we are, we could be fired!" Unlikely though that scenario is, against the backdrop of today's economy the statement sounded sufficiently grim.
My words seemed to have an effect. I had his full attention. "They would set you on fire?" he asked with real interest.
Sunday, March 1, 2009
I smiled at her and the next thing I knew, she was throwing her arms around me in the middle of the hallway.
She was here with the rest of the family, wanting to thank the staff, wanting to tell us of the funeral arrangements. She had told us last week that if she ever had cancer, this was the way she wanted it to be. This was the care she would have wanted.
My team has taken care of many, many patients with cancer these past few weeks. In a way, it's been depressing. There's just so much cancer. But in ways like this, it has been deeply fulfilling to be able to make a difference in the lives (or end of life) of patients and families.
I'm reaching the end of a particularly long stint of attending on the medicine wards. I thought that I would be ravaged by working the weekends, of not being able to spend as much time with my children as I wanted. I thought I would be impatient, tired, and annoyed.
Yet, today, coming home after a day of weekend rounding, I feel renewed.
Several patients expressed how much they appreciated me taking care of them. One grandfatherly figure said that he felt better just by me coming to talk to him and joked that even his gouty ankles were smiling at me. One, despite being frustrated at still not feeling completely better, told me how much he felt I made a difference. One, slowly getting better, said thank you in a way that made me humble. One, confused about what was going on, shook my hand with both of his after I gave him the diagram I drew of where in the biliary system we thought his obstruction was.
I don't know whether, with time, I'm getting better at interacting interpersonally with my patients, or that I just happen to be taking care of an appreciative bunch, but I can tell you I feel like each conversation I have with a patient lately has been therapeutic. I feel like I am personally making a difference in their hospitalization, that my joking with them, or trying to make their illness experience better in small, tangible ways, is making a difference.
Today, I came home, picked up, and twirled my 13-month old son, delighting in feeling his weight, his sweetness.
All the more sweeter from having such a fulfilling day in the hospital.
And, I thought to myself: I am good at this. This is my calling. I can't imagine doing anything else.