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Dear 1st Year Medical Students

Young african-american doctor making notes at the medical meetingThe first day of medical school is fast approaching for many you! First off congrats!  Let the heavens say AMEN! Let your cheer squad give you that resounding YAAAASSSSS!!! Ok now, let’s get down to business 😊 You have fought hard for this moment and it’s finally here which is super great but, medical school is a whole new ball game and if you don’t have your game plan in place things can quickly become overwhelming. So here are a few my tips for starting medical school off on the right foot so you can thrive rather than just survive.

  1. The fire hose analogy is fact not fiction

We all heard of this analogy before- but it is VERY true.  All the information you learn in medical school feels like you are literally being slammed with the world’s biggest fire hose daily. Don’t let this fact scare you though; many have come before you and experienced this “hosing” (myself included while having 2 babies) and survived; therefore, I KNOW YOU WILL SURVIVE TOO. The biggest key to success is time management. You must develop a habit of mapping out your life i.e. planning study time for each course, meeting with tutors/teachers to review, study group sessions, time for sleep or eating etc. Ok, maybe penciling sleeping and eating on your calendar is extreme but, you catch my drift. You must be methodical in how you allocate your time to make sure you can fully master (not just memorize) all the information medical school will throw your way.

  1. First Aid is a MUST

If you haven’t done so already, run to Amazon and buy a copy of First Aid. For those who may not know, First Aid is a review book for the United States Medical License Exam (i.e. the USMLE board review book). First Aid is your medical school BIBLE. It’s not like a GQ or Vogue magazine where you read every now and then…. IT IS YOUR BIBLE…. YOUR DAILY BREAD. Now, some of you may be scratching your head like “I haven’t even stepped in the classroom yet, why are we talking about boards already?” Your first boards take place at the end of your second year and they will cover the coursework over the first 2 years of medical school. So, as you progress along in your courses, you can review topics and annotate First Aid as you learn. I call this strategy “pre-gaming” the boards edition 😊 The advantage of pre-gaming is that when board time rolls around, you have already reviewed First Aid, made notes and you ready to study and review. Moral of this story- work smart not hard kiddos!

  1. Find your tribe

Can’t say this enough, find your “squad/ tribe/ village/hittas—whatever you want to call the circle friends you will grow to rely on medical school.  This will be the group of people who be the coffee break buddies between classes, the laughter to break up the boredom of studying, the cheer squad on your good and bad days, study buddies who laugh at your geeky science jokes. So, don’t be a lone wolf. Be social. Mix and mingle with your classmates. FIND YOUR TRIBE. No one survives medical school by themselves.

  1. Believe, Believe, Believe

Self-explanatory. Always believe in yourself. Doubt kills dreams and as it only serves to brews hesitancy and fear that can paralyze your ability to go for your goals. So don’t doubt yourself you might wreck yourself—that’s a rhyme right?!?! Lol. Know that you didn’t come this far to only come this far. You earned your acceptance to medical school which means you are more than qualified to become a doctor. So, roll up your sleeves, discover your favorite coffee brew, create a playlist of your favorite trap songs (to hype you on those long study days) and start grinding until you shine.

  1. Learn how you learn

This is essential. Everyone studies different. Do you like lectures and note-taking or do you prefer to read books or maybe charts/graphs? Do you like to study mostly by yourself or do you prefer group study? These are important questions to ask before you get knee deep in your medical studies and find yourself sinking in quick sand of medical knowledge. You need to know how to effectively study to achieve academic success and that means knowing which study style best fits you personally.  If you haven’t figured this out yet, take time and find your study style.

  1. Don’t memorize, learn and apply knowledge

This is not college where you study a little bit here and there or burn the midnight oil with cram sessions. Pump and dump style learning WILL NOT work in medical school. Treat medical school like it’s your job to learn as much as you can. You are not just learning information to get a passing grade on test but, you are learning this knowledge so you can save your patient’s life one day.

  1. It’s okay to ask for help

We all know doctors are type A personality which means we always strive for perfection. Don’t let your desire to viewed as perfect hinder you from seeking help if you aren’t preforming well academically.  If you find yourself struggling, reach out for help. Go to review sessions, meet with tutors, talk with your teachers, do review questions, etc.  Don’t struggle in silence. Use your resources to help you succeed.

Good luck future docs!

The Little “Doctor” Engine That Could- 5 Tips to Motivate Aspiring Doctors

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This is for that pre-med or medical student out there who needs a “divine sign” to keep pushing today! Let’s chant together, “I know I can, I know I can, I know I can.” Let this be your daily mantra! No matter what season you are in your journey, stay focused! You don’t have to have it all figured out to move forward…just take the next step forward.  Becoming a doctor is a long journey filled with many ups and downs with a whole heck of lot of uncertainty.  I am here to say trust the process and always keep moving forward NEVER backwards. You will look back on this very day and thank yourself for not quitting when the road became rocky.  Growth isn’t always comfortable BUT it is always worth it.

I can say these things with great certainty after having walked the burning sands of becoming a doctor. Here I was a triple minority: poor, black and a woman trying to re-write the rules and break the mold to become a first-generation doctor.  I didn’t always have the answers. I can’t even begin to count how many times I heard the word “no” along my journey. Heck, I can’t tell you how many times I had to change up my plans once a was door closed. I can tell you I never let someone’s doubt cause me to doubt myself nor my abilities to become a doctor.  I really was the like The Little Engine That Could. My path wasn’t always straightforward, I had to take few detour routes through the swamps and back alleys but, nonetheless I persisted until I finally broke the mold to became Dr. Denmark.

So here are some pearls of wisdom that helped me stay motivated along my journey:

  1. Surround yourself with positivity

This is self-explanatory. Don’t hang around people who don’t support your vision. It doesn’t matter if they are “fam bam” or a friend who you wore matching diapers with as a baby- if they are negative limit their time in your life. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and will be your cheerleader on your best and your worst days.

  1. Be your #1 fan

If no one else believes in you, then believe in yourself. Becoming a doctor is long journey and many people fall off the support team along the way before you finally make it. Don’t let someone lack of ability to see that you are destined for greatness derail from going for your goal of becoming Dr. “Insert Your Name.” Always believe in yourself and know that you are capable of anything you put your mind to.

  1. Recognize your progress

Any progress is good progress as long as you’re moving forward. Don’t be hard on yourself if your goals are taking longer than expected or not going according to your perfectly color coordinated timeline-you know that one you carefully highlighted with 8 different colors and laminated 😊 Remember, little progress adds up to big results.

  1. Visualize yourself accomplishing your goals

Visualizing myself as a Dr. Denmark motivated me to wake up at the crack of dawn to get ready for my day or fueled my 3am study sessions in med school.  So its helpful to visualize yourself as a doctor as way to motivate yourself. If you believe it you can become it!

  1. Don’t compare

We all know comparison is the biggest joy stealer. Yet, so many find themselves cruising the gram or FB comparing their Day 1 to someone else’s Day 365. . Please don’t compare yourself. Comparison will only make you question your capability, slow down your progress and prevent you from fulfilling your purpose. Focus solely on your journey and life goals and you will be successful.

7 Tips to Survive Intern Year

 

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Dear Interns:

First off, congrats on the most epic accomplishment ever and joining the Doctor Club! You finally get to rock that long white coat with the deep pockets! But, to whom much is given much is required as the old saying goes. So, with the upgrade in titles and fancy coats, privileges of this exclusive club include: long hours, developing a dependency on caffeine or chocolate, never ending trail of paperwork, envying your friends weekend excursions as you grind at the hospital BUT the feeling of helping others in their most vulnerable states is the most rewarding feeling.  Let me not scare you, I admit this job can be stressful but, I wouldn’t trade it for anything! As you embark on this journey, trust the process and even though the learning curve is S-T-E-E-P you will SURVIVE!  You are probably a mixed bag of feelings right now as July 1st  approaches, so I think it only appropriate to pass along a few pearls of wisdom to help you survive the trenches of intern year.

  1. You are officially the Doctor—no longer the student

First off, do a happy dance—You are officially Dr. (Insert Your Name). Secondly, embrace what it means to be officially a doctor. You are no longer Student Doctor (insert your name). The training wheels are coming off. You are responsible for patient care. You are responsible for reviewing/ordering EVERY lab/imaging/notes/medication etc. on your patients. You can no longer hide behind the “my attending/resident will follow up on x-y-z patient” You are now the physician responsible for managing patient care. While pointing this out may seem trivial now, as a senior resident (in T- minus 2 days) I have seen interns including myself not understand or fully embrace this important point at one time or another. As an intern it’s easy to become overwhelmed but, you must remember you are responsible for executing patient care and ensuring you keep abreast with everything with your patients and never assume someone (i.e. attending/upper level resident) will “catch things” you miss or keep up with all the changes with your patients.  But, don’t worry too much now, their will be someone there to catch you if fall or miss things especially early on. Just get in a habit of taking responsibility for actions and managing your patients.

 

  1. It’s okay to be scared

It’s TOTALLY okay to be freaking out now.  I mean you are a few days out from embarking on your first day on the job as a doctor! Its okay to panic a little 😊Plus, we have all been in your shoes and remember the anxiety of our first code or fluid resuscitating our first septic patient- so these feelings are totally normal. As you progress through your intern year, you will learn so much and you will see your initial fear subside as you become more confident and gain more experience.

  1. Ask questions

Please ASK questions!!!! Never be too scared to ask questions. You are an intern and no one thinks you know everything if anything at all. Not to be offensive but, this is intern year and you are essentially a ball of unmolded clay and it’s the residency program job to mold you over the next 3-7 years to be ready to become an attending. So, ask as many questions as needed. This is how you L-E-A-R-N.

 

  1. Humble thyself

Yes, you are now a doctor BUT you are still an intern which means you have a long way to go in your journey of learning. Do not come off as if you are better than people on your team. Do not act like you know everything because you don’t. Don’t be brash towards your attendings and question their logic /thought process because you read one article in the New England Journal of Medicine and now feel you are an expert on a topic they have been covering for 30 years. Just humble thyself and be accepting of suggestions, criticisms, etc. to better yourself as a physician. Remember, you will be at this program for 3-7 years so don’t start off on a bad foot, as it will be hard to erase the stain of a bad impression.

 

  1. Be Kind to All

Can’t stress this enough! Your support staff are critical to you especially in the early stages of your residency.  We all have stories of how nurses or technicians have given us valuable insight/suggestions which saved our behinds and ultimately improved patient care. So, if your nurses or support team are telling you something, LISTEN don’t IGNORE them. Bottom line, build a good rapport with you nurses, administrators, technicians, respiratory therapist, cafeteria workers, etc.

 

  1. Don’t forget to eat and take care of yourself

Stop and smell the roses! As a physician, you must learn the art of balancing work life with your personal life. You can’t be a good physician if you tired and run down because ultimately this will have a negative impact on your ability to provide good care to your patients.  So make time for you family, significant other and friends. Find time to exercise, meditate/pray, shop, browse Netflix—you catch my drift still find time to live life.

 

  1. Grind

No explanation needed. Grind until you shine!

Discrimination 30,000 Feet Above

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By: Dr. Ashley Denmark, D.O.

My experience of discrimination with Delta Airline Flight 2215 last week when I was not allowed to assist a passenger needing medical attention.

It was supposed to be a relaxed flight. I’m a mother of two young children with a husband busy in his 3rd year of law school. By the way, did I mention I’m a physician completing my 2nd year of family medicine residency? Extremely busy right? So you can imagine as a busy mom and professional like so many, I was in DIRE need of a vacation. So when my college friend decided to have a destination wedding in Hawaii last week, I seized the opportunity to book me and my hubby two airline tickets with Delta to paradise.

So fast forward to our flight Delta 2215 from Seattle to Hawaii last week. As I settled in to watch a movie and read a book, about 1 hour into our flight over the intercom, a flight attendant requested a doctor or nurse to report to front of cabin to assist a passenger. When duty calls it calls- even if you are 30,000 feet in air. Without hesitation, I got out of my seat and made my way towards the front of the cabin where I was greeted by two Caucasian women and a delta flight attendant. I quickly asked “What’s going on?” Then I stated, “I’m a doctor. How can I help?” Immediately, I was greeted by puzzled looks from all three women. The flight attendant asked, “Are you a doctor?” to which I replied “Yes.” My response only left a more puzzled look on the attendant’s face. She turned around and began to talk to another flight attendant. I stood there in bewilderment because someone on the plane was in need of medical assistance and no one was escorting me to the passenger in need. Finally, one of the Caucasian passengers who came to assist spoke and stated her and the other passenger present to assist were both nurses. Then she asked, “Are you a doctor?” to which I responded “Yes” …..again. She immediately responded “Well you need credentials to show you are a medical professional.” I gave a funny look but, remained composed and quickly quipped “I have my hospital badge which should be enough.” At this time the flight attendant turned around to address us again.  She inquired from the two nurses what field of medicine in which they worked. At this point, I had grown annoyed. I had been standing for four minutes and had yet to see the passenger needing medical assistance. I grew even more perplexed as time passed. Why was the flight attendant addressing the nurses if a doctor is present and able to assist a passenger in need of medical attention? I interrupted the flight attendant’s discussions with the two nurses and stated, “I have my hospital ID badge which shows I’m a physician.” The Delta flight attendant continued to look puzzled then stated, “We have two nurses here who came first. You can have seat now and we will let them handle it. If we need more help we will come and find you.” Wait a minute- stop the presses! What just happened?!?! I advised that I was a doctor who was licensed to provide medical care. Instead of being escorted to the passenger in need of help, I was directed to return to my seat and told that the two nurses could take care of the situation.

I pondered to myself the appropriate manner on how to handle this situation. Should I address the elephant in the room- 30,000 feet in the air in front that of all these passengers? I opted to comply. I turned around and walked back to my seat. As I walked back I scanned the cabin. I looked for someone in distress, unresponsive wondering who was this person who needed help? Roughly 4- 5 minutes had nearly passed and no one had addressed the passenger medical needs that was urgent enough for the flight attendant make an overhead announcement. As I looked through the cabin I was mostly greeted with stares and whispers. At that moment the gravity of the situation hit me like a ton of bricks. Apparently the nurses and flight attendants didn’t think I was a doctor. Why else were nurses being allowed to take charge in a medical situation when a doctor was present?  Surely it couldn’t be the color of my brown skin? Healthcare is centered around group efforts from various medical professionals but, the doctor ALWAYS serves as the leader making healthcare decisions. So here I was, the doctor with 11 years of training being asked to take a seat and not partake in caring for the passenger in need.

As an African American female physician, I am too familiar with this scenario.  Despite overcoming and excelling academically and obtaining the title of Dr. in front of my name, I still get side-eye glances when I introduce myself as Dr. Denmark.  Commonly, I’m mistaken for an assistant, janitor, secretary, nurse, student, etc even when I have my white coat on; I’m called these names more frequently than I would like instead of Dr. Denmark. In these situations, we are often taught to be graceful and smile in the face of adversity out of fear of repercussions such as being viewed as “hostile”, “too sensitive”, or my favorite “you are misinterpreting the situation.”

Being a doctor is hard work.  Your services are constantly needed, you have a never-ending stack of paperwork, very long work hours, you are constantly an emotional support for patients during their most trying times. But, being an African American doctor is many times harder with the adversity we face on frequent basis. We are constantly overlooked, questioned, doubted and find ourselves in situations where we are working twice as hard as other non-African American Doctors just to prove we are good enough to be called doctors. Well enough is enough. I feel it’s time to share the discrimination I have faced as an African American doctor.  I’m sure I’m not alone and there are many other African American doctors like me who have endured discrimination in silence. Often time we have to face this adversity with class and grace- never breaking a sweat and holding in our frustration as people treat us unjustly all because of the color of our skin.

But this is 2016 not 1960. It’s time for Americans who practice these kinds of behaviors to elevate their social consciousness and realize that African Americans are just as equally talented and capable of holding any job in this land.  This incident with Delta Airlines just shines the light on how often times African American doctors and other professionals like myself endure discrimination.  We shouldn’t have to suffer in silence and continue to ignore blatant discriminatory practices as “misunderstandings”.   Any discrimination at any level whether, age, race, sex, religion should not be tolerated. To Delta Airlines, which serves a major corporation providing service to people of all ethnic backgrounds, ages and genders, I hope you use this as an opportunity to change the narrative and be an example to the American society to promote fair and equal treatment for all.