Medicine Monday: Graduation!

I’ve officially been Dr. Melanie C. Watt, MD, for just over a week now. It’s great, really – having the title without the responsibility. Like everything else we do here in Louisiana, and in med school, graduation was a far larger to-do than just a graduation ceremony. To celebrate the week, some of our moms went in on a digital billboard auction and our faces were flashed over the streets of Shreveport for all the world to see. I’m not sure how many people noticed it, but we sure got a kick out of it being there!

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The party started on Wednesday, with cap and gown pickup, lunch, and the infamous White Coat Burning. It’s exactly what it sounds like – we burned our short student coats since we don’t need them anymore! I actually didn’t burn mine, but I wish I had. I don’t have any other use for it at this point.

On Friday, we had graduation practice early in the morning. For the first time, it was only medical students and PhD recipients at this graduation ceremony; physical therapy had their own. Since I was number 123 out of 128 graduates, there wasn’t too much need to pay attention. You just do what the 122 people in front of you do! Joking aside, it was a surreal hour – only my classmates and the deans who have guided us through all of this. The last time it would ever be just us in the room. We took a class photo at the end, and pretty much all headed off to brunch.

Friday afternoon was the awards ceremony, to keep the actual graduation ceremony from being even longer. Those of us receiving awards knew in advance and could tell our families, and I was honored to get my honor cords to wear for being a member of GHHS. My aunts and grandparents made it into town just in the nick of time and were able to be a part.

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Credit to the school photographer

Don’t worry – the party didn’t stop there! After a wardrobe change (because when you can wear five dresses in three days, why wouldn’t you?) and a much-needed nap, my parents and I gathered my grandparents for an adults-only reception at the East Ridge Country Club. The school put it on, and the classes of ’73 and ’78 had their class reunions there the same night. Those classes graduated about thirty students, with only two or three girls in each. Medicine has come a long way!

We had drinks and hor d’oeuvres and visited and took lots of photos. Thankfully, the party didn’t last too late, since the next day promised to be even longer.

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Graduation for the Class of 2018 was at 10 am at the Centenary Gold Dome here in Shreveport. We made a quick stop at the parking lot next to the billboard for that first photo and then headed to the ceremony. I had to be there forty-five minutes before the start in order to get our hoods draped properly and get in line and take selfies; all important things, you know.

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The whole ceremony is a bit of a blur, looking back on it. I remember it being warm in all the regalia, and waving to my family in the crowd when I entered in the processional. The place was full – everyone’s friends and family turned out in full force. Dr. DeSha, beloved anatomy professor who has taught here for forty-plus years, was the guest speaker. A couple more awards were given (which should have been given at the awards ceremony, in all of our opinion), and then they got started conferring degrees. PhD’s went first, then MDs. For the first time, they hooded us right before stepping on stage. More ceremonial, I suppose. I remember being hooded, then pausing until my name was called. Imagine – “Doctor Melanie Claire Watt” (in a lovely British accent).  I was a bit in awe of it and almost forgot to move until my name was done being called. At the end, all back in our seats, I recall having this moment of hugging each other and congratulating the people around us. No one ever told us to turn our tassels, so we simply decided to do it on our own.

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A photographer captured these photos right as we were waiting to walk across the stage. I scrolled through all those of my classmates photos and noticed something in common. We all have this peaceful, hopeful look on our faces. This great hurdle has been completed and we are ready for what’s to come.

You may notice the black ribbons pinned to our robes. They’re in honor of a classmate we lost late last fall. I don’t yet have the words to put to that loss, but I believe we honored him in the best way we knew how.

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The beloved Dr. DeSha came and shook every single one of our hands as we exited. That man is like no other. 

There is no great transition from that, but the ceremony ended, we took a few photos (we were all hot, hungry and cranky) and I returned my regalia (all rented, blessedly). Mom had organized a small party back at our house to celebrate both my sister and me. Olivia graduated cum laude from LSUS two weeks prior but opted not to walk in the ceremony, so this was our chance to celebrate her too. In miraculous timing, her degree was delivered to the front door just before we arrived!

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After the party was a small cocktail hour for one of my classmates, then some blessed downtime before my family’s fancy dinner out. My aunts and grandparents were only in town for a short time, so dinner with just the family was a must-do.

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And at the end of the four full days of celebration, I slept so good! It was a sweet, exciting time and a perfect final graduation.

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Medicine Monday: Prepping for ERAS

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It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year since I started working on ERAS! It’s the Electronic Residency Application Service and it’s a universal application for US residency programs. Let me tell you, it is a process. Many different working parts and pieces, and it feels like a series of hoops to jump through but there isn’t any other way around it. The application opens in June and isn’t submitted until September, giving plenty of time to work through it bit by bit. (That’s the way I chose to do it but I know some people who sat down at did it in one fell swoop.)  I made a mistake on mine and I think it cost me a little bit, so here’s my thoughts on getting everything in order so it goes off without a hitch.

-The first thing to know is that this costs monies – be ready to spent about $500; more if you apply to more than about 30 programs.

-Your CV and Personal Statement should already be done since you need them to ask for letters of recommendation. Congrats! These are the most difficult portions of the application.

-Have several eyes look at your personal statement – people who know you in and out of medicine. The key to a personal statement is that it is personal! Seems simple, but difficult to execute. I took my first version to a wonderful (and honest) attending. She read it and told me it was a nice essay but that was it – just a nice essay that didn’t tell her anything about me. That caused me to start from scratch and have something truly personal, and my interviewers noticed.

-Our library has a writing service, and I sent my final draft to them for a grammar and punctuation and spelling check.

-Arrange to get a good headshot! I chose to do mine outside, in business casual. My school also offered us our gown and hood composite photos to use. They have to be a particular size, so find someone who understands those things to make it the right size.

-Start with the easy parts of ERAS – your demographic and contact information. It’s like a little boost of confidence just having a little bit of the application done.

-Open your CV and use that to fill in the honors, awards and experiences.

-Copy and paste your personal statement.

-Don’t forget to spend a little time on the hobbies and interests page! Nearly everyone I talked to said that they were paired with an interviewer with similar interests. Flesh out the topics – instead of “reading,” I wrote “reading – historical fiction, romance, biographies, classics.” Makes it longer!

-Under languages, I put my Spanish fluency but nearly forgot to put English! Be honest, but put in every language you have fluency in.

-Spend some time considering the programs you want to apply to! Before submission, you can save as many as you want.

-Start assigning letters of recommendation as soon as you know them. An automatic email goes to the assignee which serves as a good reminder to them.

-Here’s where I went wrong: I gave USMLE permission to release my scores, but I didn’t realize I had to submit them to each individual program. Be sure to do this!! It was only thanks to my program director telling me that she couldn’t see my photo and scores that I realized this. My application looked incomplete and I wouldn’t have gotten interview offers. Thankfully, we noticed and solved the problem only three days after application submissions and not any later.

-That being said – getting everything filled in ahead of time is the way to go!! But when it comes time to submit, there isn’t just one giant “SUBMIT” button (I wish there were – way easier!) Go through every single section and make sure it is submitted. Check and double check! Triple check even!

-ERAS is the application and NRMP is the people who run the algorithm to give a match. You have to go onto NRMP and pay $50 to get a number. Be sure to take that number back to ERAS and plug it in. This is under personal information and can be done after submission of the application. (This and LORs are the only sections that can be altered after submission.)

Best of luck! There are many steps to this process, but give it some attention to detail and get it done. Congrats! Fourth year is an amazingly fun time!

Medicine Monday: Match Day Spotlight

You may remember that I posted about my time with in-Training a few weeks ago. My final project with them is one that I have so enjoyed doing! Both last year and this year, I interviewed graduating fourth year medical students in a Match Day Spotlight. I asked questions to pick their brains about The Match, the early years of med school and more. This year felt extra special, because I was included in the project, turning my questions back on myself to be featured in the project. Several of my classmates participated, as well as students I met along the interview trail. You can read all of them here and I’ll share mine below.

This post appeared first on in-Training.

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Melanie Watt, curator of the Match Day Spotlight series for 2017 and 2018, recently matched into Internal Medicine-Pediatrics at the University of Tennessee in Memphis. Read on as she shares advice for clerkships, the interview trail and more.

Tell us about yourself:

My name is Melanie, and I’m a fourth-year med student at LSU Health in Shreveport. I attended LSU for undergrad where I studied biology and Spanish. I’ve been part of the in-Training team since my first year when I joined as a social media manager. I spent two years running the Twitter account and transitioned to a student editor position a year ago. When not studying or tweeting, I’m either working out, reading, sewing, hiking or kayaking.

Looking back on your medical school experience, what would you say to the young and naïve “first-year you”?

Don’t wait until the third anatomy exam to celebrate with post-test milkshakes!

What tips do you have for USMLE?

Treat it like a job! I had the most structured weeks of my life while studying for Step 1, because I could have the same schedule every day. I started with a workout, then went to my designated study spot. I took about an hour to check email, schedule Twitter posts, and make coffee. Then I did whatever was on my schedule for the day! Some days were longer than others, but I was generally back home about 6 p.m. My best advice would be to take actual breaks instead of eating while studying or listening to pathology podcasts while driving. I studied with three other friends in an office space, and we often took lunch breaks together. At the end of the day, do the work, take the test and move on.

What advice do you have for the students going through clinical rotations?

Always have a snack and a pen. Maybe two pens. When answering questions, my motto is to be often incorrect, but never unsure! Be a willing and active participant, because no matter what specialty you end up in, you’ll need bits and pieces from every rotation.

What recommendations do you have for medical students to maintain their sanity?

Four things were vital to my sanity during medical school: living with my parents, exercise (I ran my fastest half-marathon ever during second year), my med school and non-med school friends and my church. Find something away from school that you enjoy, be it spending time with a pet, exercise, cooking or anything else.

How did medical school differ from your expectations?

I didn’t expect the depth of interaction that I would have with patients. I was given more autonomy with patient care than I ever expected and loved every minute of clerkships. That autonomy really allowed me to fall in love with medicine because I had time to laugh and cry and learn with patients.

What things did you do during your four years of medical school that you believe particularly impressed your residency program?

My projects here on in-Training came up quite often! Interviewers wanted to know about the curriculum book and what was involved in being a social media manager and student editor. My range of hobbies was also a frequent topic of conversation. I would get paired with a runner, or someone with whom I would spend the whole interview exchanging book suggestions. The fact that I had many interests outside medicine seemed to be an attractive quality.

What attracted you to your chosen specialty?

I went into medical school interested in Pediatrics and loved my Pediatrics clerkship. What I wasn’t expecting, however, was to get to my Internal Medicine clerkship and realize how much I enjoyed the complexity of disease and caring for adult patients. Ultimately, the broad spectrum and depth of training received in a Med-Peds residency is what sold me.

What is your biggest fear about beginning residency?

I think my biggest fear is the steep learning curve that will hit the first few months in each specialty! I feel like I’ve forgotten so much throughout this year and will have to revisit all the basics. I’m also nervous about the newness of everything — new state, new hospitals, new church, new gym, new everything. Thankfully, four other students from my class have matched to programs in the same city, so there will be a few familiar faces as we start intern year.

What advice would you give third year students about to start the Match process?

Enjoy it! The interview trail can be fun. You’ll get to see cities you haven’t visited before, so try to get at least a few hours to sightsee in each of them. As for the interview itself, be yourself. As clichéd as it sounds, if programs invite you to interview that means they already think you’ll be a good fit. Interviews really affirmed my specialty choice, because I realized I wanted to be friends with everyone I met on the trail!

I would also take some time to consider what will work best for you as far as traveling. I know some people who drove everywhere, no matter how far. For me, eight hours of driving was my limit. Anything further than that, I flew. It was also important for my routine and budget that I came home between every interview or two. Even if it was just one night in my bed, it really made a difference in keeping me sane in all the crazy.

My best advice for travel necessities are to have two phone chargers and to develop something of a “travel uniform.” With two phone chargers, I left one plugged in at my house and the second one was always in my backpack.  As for my travel uniform, I wore full-length leggings with either tennis shoes or riding boots, an oversized long-sleeve sweater and a blanket scarf.  The scarf made for a great pillow or blanket and I was grateful to have it even if my destination was to a warmer location. I wore the same clothes going and coming to keep my packing to a minimum.

And a fun bonus question! Please share an easy and quick recipe that got you through tough weeks in medical school:

I lived with my mother, an excellent cook, so I really only baked for fun. Here’s one of my favorites:

Cake Mix Cookies

1 box of your favorite cake mix (Funfetti and red velvet are excellent here!)
1/3 cup oil
2 eggs

Mix ingredients and bake for 7 minutes at 350ºF. Enjoy!

 

I made a table!

The title of this isn’t entirely true – I only made part of a table. I’m pretty proud of the results though, so I wanted to share the process here today.

In clearing out my grandmother’s house, my dad and I found a pile of these old wrought iron sewing machine bases. None of them had a sewing machine attached, and all but one were damaged beyond repair. The one that was in good shape, I brought home. A friend of mine had one of these, and her grandfather put a table top on it. The table looked so adorable in their living room that I knew I had to do the same.

It sat in the garage for nearly two months before I got to working on it. I started with hosing it off and drying it off, using a flathead screwdriver to get the dirt out of the nooks and crannies.

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After cleaning it, I headed to Home Depot to get the rest of the supplies. I got a rusty metal primer and black metallic spray paint for the base. For the table top, I got a 2×12 board cut into two 26in pieces, and Minwax Dark Walnut stain and clear gloss to finish the boards.

After getting over the alarm of the color of the primer, putting one good coat on went quickly.

I used a sander with coarse grit paper to rough up the edges of the boards and make them look a little more worn. I dusted it off and then used an old t-shirt to put on the stain. Pro-tip: wear plastic gloves to keep from staining your fingers!

Once I finished staining both of these, my dad helped me put them together. I did one good coat of gloss, since this will be a decorative table. If it was going to be used regularly, like a dining table, two coats would have been needed. After that was done, Dad showed me how to attach the base to the top with some sort of screw, the name of which I’ve already forgotten.

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I love the way this turned out! It’s heavier than I expected, but will look really cute with some flowers and a picture frame or something on it.

Recent Faves: Books, Podcasts and Music

I’m back, friends! There was no medicine Monday post this week because my sister unexpectedly had to have her gallbladder out on Sunday and I flat lost track of days. Today I want to share a few of my recent favorites in books, podcasts and music.  I go through phases where I’ll absorb several books a week and then hit other periods, like now, where I have to make myself finish the four books I’ve started reading but haven’t finished. All that to say – here are a few I’ve enjoyed in the last four months!

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Books:

  1. The Book Thief. This came out over a decade ago, but I just got around to reading it. A friend of mine had said more than once that it was her favorite book ever, so I picked it up when I was wandering around the library one day. It’s World War II fiction, but it’s not like anything I’ve ever read before. Told from the point of view of Death, the story follows the book thief, Liesel, as she navigates growing up in Germany during the second world war. It’s enchanting and mesmerizing and haunting, all at once.
  2. A Thousand Splendid Suns. This is from the same author that gave us Kite Runner, which I also loved. Set in Afghanistan, the story is often hard to keep reading. I remind myself to look at hurt and pain and weep with the characters, and that’s certainly what you will do here. It’s about love and loss and danger and female friendship.
  3. A Man Called Ove. This book has been in print in English for four years, but I feel like I just started hearing people talk about it this year. I read this in one sitting. It’s an endearing and delightful surprise of a book and I fell in love with all of the characters.
  4. Pretty Girls Dancing. I rarely reach for a suspense/mystery, but this was on Kindle First Reads and was free. When I get my monthly free new release from Amazon, I try to pick something I might not normally reach for, and it’s sometimes a total flop.  This was not that! It was dark and suspenseful and a page turner. I was completely captivated, and read it in one plane ride. It got mixed reviews, but I liked it.

Podcasts:

  1. Radiolab Presents: More Perfect, The Gun Show. An intriguing discussion on the emergence of the second amendment and what the NRA initially stood for (and what they didn’t.)
  2. Off Camera with Sam Jones – Mae Whitman. I loved Mae Whitman from the first episode of Parenthood, and have followed her career since. I had no idea she had been acting since she was a toddler, and enjoyed this candid, intimate conversation between her and Sam Jones.
  3. TED Talks Daily: My descent into America’s neo-nazi movement – and how I got out. I can listen to TED talks for hours, and this one grabbed my attention. After hearing of how this man both got in and then got out of the neo-nazi movement made me really think differently about the people shown in the media who are currently a part of that movement. I think we often forget that people cannot be put into the binary categories of good or bad, and we let hate and fear blind us. Give this a listen – it’s not very long but will certainly make you think.
  4. TED Talks: Can I have your brain? The quest for truth on concussions and CTE. Concussions and sports medicine are some of my favorite medical topics, but I had not heard about this man or his movement to study CTE, which we don’t know much about. It’s a disease that’s killing professional athletes well before their time, and we currently have no cure. So, he’s asking people to give their brains.

Music

  1. Johnnyswim: Ring The Bells. This song is catchy and has delightful lyrics. I already have tickets to see them in Memphis in August and I cannot wait.
  2. P!nk: Beautiful Trauma. It’s P!nk – what’s not to love?
  3. WALK THE MOON: Work This Body. Great for dancing in the car. Or the kitchen.
  4. Ed Sheeran’s DIVIDE. Yep, we’re a year in and this is still my fave. The entire album. Mom and I were driving back from Houston last October and the third time this played through she finally said, “How many times are we going to listen to this?!”

 

Hope this inspires you to find something new to listen to or read! I would love to hear what you’ve been loving lately.