Wednesday, April 9, 2014

5 Reasons I'm Glad I'm a (Penn) Medical Student

1. I can find Inspiration on short notice

In the past few months, I've become increasingly focused on classes and getting through the day with the same routine. Exercise (sometimes), food, sleep, a semblance of a social life, studying, rinse, repeat. I was never someone who operated with such mental blinders on. In college I was the girl who had her mind in about a hundred places at once. I was the girl who wanted to blog, start some company, make new friends, find mentors, take more classes, invent a drug, and change the world all at the same time; I would lie awake at night thinking of everything I wanted to do and how I could make my mark on the people around me.

Since coming to medical school, it's admittedly been hard to find motivation within me, and that girl took a break. But a couple days ago, I realized I needed some big-time Inspiration. I looked up the events the school was having, and one of the events that evening was Penn Pearls, Penn Med's annual teaching awards ceremony. I went and listened to residents, fellows, and attendings impart their wisdom on the next crop of graduating medical students and my mind woke up from its hibernation. I could hardly wait to get home to start emailing, writing, thinking, and doing. It only took 30 minutes of being around the wonderful mentors at Penn Medicine to find the drive in me to start creating again. If I weren't here, that couldn't have happened.

2. People tell you to laugh (actual medical school-sanctioned advice)

This was by far my favorite Pearl from the ceremony I mentioned. Turns out, courtesy of Dr. Andrew Baum, laughter is a great medicine.

Things laughter can do for you (if a doctor tells you it must be true right?--there are actual studies, though)
  • Reduces stress (and may play a role in boosting your immunity)
  • Helps you with pain management because it releases endorphins
  • Plays a role in lowering your blood sugar
  • Improves your blood pressure
  • Acts as a burst of exercise for your body each time you laugh (and cleans up your respiration too!)
I might be speaking for Dr. Baum here, but I think his advice goes beyond the physical act of laughing or finding things funny. To me, reminding myself to laugh means reminding myself to be happy and to find joy in what I do. And in life, a school that reminds you to laugh is a good place to be.

3. Emailing anyone and getting a response

Definitely not to be taken for granted in a powerhouse like Penn. It gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling when I email the director of some big center here at Penn with a life question and they get back to me. It shows me that I'm valued as an individual and as an intellectual. On a larger level, it speaks to the philosophy of Penn Med. Lecturers have constantly told us that they love learning from medical students, and every lecturer we've had has welcomed shadowing. The flat structure of the medical school and the enthusiasm with which faculty here approach their jobs is rare and a great honor.

4. Penn really cares about its students

Nowhere else have I seen weekly meetings between students and curriculum directors. And it's not just empty promises. If the student body has a complaint, it gets implemented the next week. We all have to fill our course evaluations on every. single. professor. to get our grades. Annoying, at times, but that means the course directors get some hundreds of pages of student feedback every year. Right now I'm sitting on a focus group to revamp one of our classes. Our team (composed entirely of students) is responsible for sifting through those evaluations, polling our students, and presenting a huge report on our recommendations for the course next year. The best part? The faculty members implore us to participate in these groups because it really matters to them. Medical education has historically been based on the tradition of generations before. Our curriculum is so dynamic it changes every week based on our needs.

5. Respecting the human body

Something I've learned in medical school is that the human body is an awe-inspiring machine. The things it is capable of minute to minute astound me. I remember one day, while sitting in biochemistry, I was struck with the thought -- gosh, I'm so lucky more things aren't wrong with me. That feeling's only been compounded. We're now in neurology, and I'm seriously considering the social acceptability of walking around all the time wearing a helmet. In the midst of stress, studying, and lectures, it's hard to take care of myself. It's hard to eat well and sleep enough or pass on that last slice of free pizza. But one of the great privileges and powers of medicine and the holistic teaching at Penn Med is knowledge. And before I start caring for other people with that knowledge, I have to start with myself.

About me: I'm Sneha Kannan, a current MS1. I hail from Potomac, MD and graduated from MIT in 2013 with a degree in Bioengineering. The next question I'm often asked is, "so what do you want to go into?" (which, by the way, is just the grown-up-medical version of "what do you want to be when you grow up"). To be honest, I don't know. Every day I discover some new interest of mine and I'm loath to try and pare that down so soon. I know I can't do it all but a girl can dream, can't she? The really important things, though: I'm inspired by people around me, probably addicted to chocolate, love tennis, and spend quite a bit of my time reading, traveling, singing, and crossword puzzling.

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