Month: October 2014

‘Blorft’ and Stress Relief

I think it is somewhat of an understatement to say that with medical school comes a certain amount of stress.  We had our second anatomy practical last Friday and our fourth block exam this Monday.  I basically lived at the school that weekend.  My stress level was–to put it lightly–significant.  I think Tina Fey said it best (in her great American novel, Bossypants):  “I was a little excited but mostly blorft. “Blorft” is an adjective I just made up that means ‘Completely overwhelmed but proceeding as if everything is fine and reacting to the stress with the torpor of a possum.’ I have been blorft every day for the past seven years.”

Disclaimer:  I haven't taken up smoking, I promise.

Disclaimer: I haven’t taken up smoking, I promise.

Honestly, I don’t even expect you all to feel sorry for me.  I asked for this.  I was the one who decided to go to medical school, after all 🙂  But it did make me want to write a blog post about how to deal with stress.

The advice I was given the most often at the beginning of school was, “Make time for the things that you love.”  And I will pass on that advice to the first years next year because believe me, I wouldn’t be sane right now if I hadn’t taken it to heart.  I love science.  Spending all day learning about medicine is–and I am not even being sarcastic–fulfilling and exciting.  But there are times that if I have to spend any more time reading about biochemistry, or memorizing lists of antiviral drugs, my head would just explode.


I’ve got televisions shows that I keep up with.  I play ultimate frisbee twice a week.  I hang out with friends and talk with my family as much as possible.  I take frequent study breaks and make sure to get lots of sleep.  But guys, I have this deep, dark secret.  This one hobby that gets me through the hard times.  Are you ready?

I bake.

Ok, so its not all that intriguing.  But it is true none-the-less.  I loved to cook and bake before, but something about coming to medical school has made the simple act of creating food particularly cathartic to me.  Even when I am really busy, I go out of my way to make my own dinner rather than just eating out.  I’ve started baking my own bread; even just the smell of it calms me down.  After the first block I came home and made a whole batch of cinnamon rolls from scratch.   And I can’t tell you how many dozens of cookies I’ve baked since school began.

Which logically means that the answer to any problem is 'pie.'

Which logically means that the answer to any problem is ‘pie.’

Yes, I suppose that I could have taken the time I was baking (or watching TV or playing Ultimate Frisbee or whatever) and studied instead.  I might have better grades right now if I did.  But I think I can safely say I would also be miserable.  I would be burnt out on school, and probably seriously neglecting my personal relationships.  As a second year friend of mine once told me, “If I get higher than a 95 on a section of a block, then I either neglected another subject, or my husband and I have a problem I don’t know about yet.”

I’m already struggling to keep up with friends and family.  And many days I mess up the balance of work and play–I study until the words stop making sense, or I conveniently ‘forget’ to study and end up cramming later.  But overall, I think I’m doing alright.  My grades are fine, I still have friends and I talk to my family regularly, and–most importantly–I haven’t cracked under the pressure.

Everybody has something they do to relieve stress and keep sane.  Some people run marathons; others do some form of art.  I happen to bake.  What’s yours?


The Epic Fail

The first thing that I would like to say, is that despite the fact that I am writing about my “failures” in medical school, this is not a depressing post.  I am not sitting alone in my apartment, crying and feeling sorry for myself as I rehash occasions where I have fallen short.  Because ‘failing’ in medical school is very different from ‘failing’ in undergrad.

In college, I and countless other pre-medical students would loudly lament any  points lost.  Getting a ‘B’ on a test–or heaven forbid, a class–was unacceptable.  It was because we were all desperately trying to stand out to medical schools.  Any hiccup in our transcript could mean the reason that we would be denied entrance.  I may have had a higher GPA in undergrad, but I think my quality of learning suffered.  Many times, I simply crammed for tests, focusing on flash memorizing bits of knowledge rather than deeply understanding concepts.

Medical school is a whole different ball game.  You can’t binge and purge knowledge.  In anatomy I do have to memorize the names of all the structures, but my tests are not vocabulary tests.  Instead, the questions are critical thinking–if a patient is in a car accident and breaks this bone, what nerve is affected? What muscle attachment is severed?

Which brings me to my failures:  my friends, I (finally) failed a section of a block exam.  Try not to be too shocked.  As I described in a previous post, we have a single exam every 3-4 weeks that include all the subjects we have had during that time period.  Some subjects have lots of questions (like anatomy) and some have just a few (our first medical physiology section had just 6 points available).  So it can be easy to fail a section.  In fact, at least half of my classmates failed a section our first exam.  I lasted until the third, and I know there are people who have yet to fail anything.

The second years came and did a presentation after the first block exam.  The gist was this–everybody fails at least one section of one exam.  Most people fail more than that.  But you still get to be a doctor.  With the physiology example, you only had to miss 2 questions to fail the section.  So instead of freaking out because you missed two flimsy questions, you just do better the next time.  The only thing that matters is that, at the end of the semester, you have a passing grade.

This last exam I failed the physiology section–there were 15 points total.  Opps.  If I had failed anything in undergrad, I would have beat myself up about it for weeks.  But I can honestly tell you that I am not even bothered.  I would rather have passed, but I have more block exams and a final a head of me.  In this particular case, I got to make up the section and aced it.  But even if I hadn’t had that opportunity, I would have worked hard to make up the lost points on the next test.  Even in the future when (yes, I said when) I fail something, I won’t take it too hard.  Because I have two responsibilities in medical school.  First, to make sure that I understand the material.  Second, to get a grade above a 70.  As long as I am doing that, I am not a failure, no matter how many points I miss.



One of my favorite movies is “Meet the Robinsons” (seen above).  Not only is it absolutely adorable, but it has an incredibly meaningful message:  Failure is just another way to learn.  If I beat myself up every time I miss a question, every time I make a mistake, I won’t make it through medical school.  Because in that sense, I ‘fail’ everyday.  Yesterday, I gave a microbiology case presentation and in front of a professor and my peers I misdiagnosed the etiologic agent causing my patient’s illness.  I won’t lie, I’m upset about it.  I hate to make mistakes.  But I learned more from that mistake than I did studying the disease on my own.  And I refuse to make myself miserable over the fact that I am not perfect.

As Winston Churchill said, “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”  My goal for medical school–beside graduating–is to stay positive about myself and my future profession.  I don’t want to be one of those people that gets burnt out and bitter.  And an absolutely necessary part of that goal is changing my definition of failure and success.