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New StudentSpeak blog voices ups and downs of student life

StudentSpeakThe School of Medicine has recently launched an OHSU student blog, called StudentSpeak. This blog provides a first-hand experience of the ups and downs of student life, and helps readers understand just what it takes to become tomorrow’s scientist, physician or health care professional. The blog is currently visible on the OHSU Intranet, but will be launched externally after the first of the year.

The StudentSpeak blog is available online; however, it presently requires an OHSU user ID and password.

Our current bloggers include: Kyle Ambert, PhD candidate; Yassar Arain, MS3; Dejeunee Ashby, MS1; Andy Dworkin, MS1; Rae Seltzer, MS4; and Katy Van Hook, PhD candidate




Katy van HookI recently had a friend describe getting a PhD as “like spending 6 years herding cats.”

I’m not sure a better analogy has ever been made. As you picture the mania and frustration that would accompany such a feline round-up I want you to add into it that at the end you have to stand up in front of a crowd and justify the feat.

As I presumably get closer to my nebulous endpoint I am getting a better appreciation for just how much I’ve learned over the years while chronically “failing” at science. I know it sounds like a I’m making excuses - and it is impossible to understand in the moment – but if all my experiments worked the first time I wouldn’t know nearly as much as I do about the actual science that goes in to each protocol.

I was reminded of this fact over the weekend while I was talking to a fellow grad student about the black magic art that is Western blotting. While we both shared that we still occasionally get blank films from the dreaded X-OMAT we agreed that at least now we have the ability to narrow the list of things that could’ve gone wrong down to 10 or so.

Again, some may claim that I’m simply justifying my short-comings while the productive grad students cheers to their successes in some champagne lounge of triumph somewhere, but I’m going to stick to my guns on this one. At any rate, I was reassured this week that I made the right choice in choosing to go to graduate school when I got arm-wavingly excited about my journal club paper about antitumor immunity…that takes a special kind of person…perhaps the same kind of person who really likes cats.

- Katy Van Hook, PhD candidate


Andy DworkinWhere I came from, “high yield” was something corn and soy farmers aimed for. I’d never heard the term applied to academics until August, when I heard some medical students discussing “high yield” ways to study. Once I figured out that they weren’t talking bean fields, I wondered why they didn’t say “efficient” ways to study, or maybe “good” ones. Turns out, “high yield” is a bit of medical student jargon, borrowed perhaps from a series of books like “High-Yield Embryology,” (which is a textbook, not a biography of Nadya Suleman).

I have a pet hypothesis that half of mastering any field or venture is learning its lingo. Medical school supports that idea. Much of my time is spent learning the special names that doctors call things. A heart attack’s not a heart attack but a myocardial infarction — or, to sound extra cool, an “MI.” The area between your colon and flanks is the “paracolic gutter.” The space between your eyelids is the “palpebral fissure.” Yes, it has a name. Anatomists name everything, partly so they can name things after themselves — like the annulus of Zinn, a round tendon in the eye that you should not confuse with the nearby zonule of Zinn.

This complexity has its good points. Naming every little thing allows precision. If your arm aches, a bevy of different muscles, nerves, ligaments, bones or joints might be hurt. You want to precisely locate the problem to ensure you get the right treatment. When I slipped on mud this spring and hurt my wrist, my primary care doctor worried about the scaphoid, a tiny bone with poor blood supply that usually needs surgery to mend well. X-rays showed I had a different injury: a fractured radius, a.k.a. Colle’s fracture, a.k.a. a “broken arm.” My doc set that in his clinic and I didn’t need fancy rehab. It was all one big pain in the wrist to me, but I’m glad he knew the difference.

But I’m not convinced medical argot is entirely helpful. If you had to look up “argot,” you know why. Precision’s great, but so is clarity, particularly when you want to communicate with normal humans, not other doctors. And telling someone they’re suffering an acute MI is probably going to make much less sense than saying they’re having a heart attack. Now that medical charts are open for patients to read, clarity will be as important in writing as in speech. Wouldn’t it be annoying to get doctors to trade bad handwriting for typing and still be unable to decipher what they write?

I’ve certainly had trouble understanding doctors, both as a patient and now as a student. So my big challenge is to learn this new language and all these fancy names and terms. And then, when I’m a doctor, to try really hard not to use them. Except when the yield is high.

*Ankyloglossia is the official doctor way to say “tongue-tied.”

- Andy Dworkin, MS1


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