review: talkspace

A few months ago, I changed health insurance plans and my new insurance was not accepted at my therapist’s office so I was being charged about $100 per session, which honestly isn’t even that high but I just couldn’t afford to keep going on a student budget. After months of neglecting my mental health and reaching somewhat of a breaking point, I started looking online for remote therapy alternatives to traditional in-person therapy and talkspace was immediately on my radar.

Disclaimer: everything I’ve written below is from the perspective of a consumer and not, in any way, medical advice. 

What talkspace is about:

Therapy for how we live today

Introducing Unlimited Messaging Therapy, affordable, confidential and anonymous therapy at the touch of a button. Your professional licensed therapist is waiting to chat with you right now, and help you make a real difference in your life. You can message your therapist anytime and anywhere, from your smartphone or the web, 100% safe and secure. Welcome to the wonderful world of therapy, re-invented for how we live today.

When you first go onto the website you go through a free initial assessment with the therapist on that ‘shift.’ The assessment honestly isn’t their strongest point – it feels a lot like the messages are just copied & pasted and that they’re just feigning empathy regarding why you’re pursuing therapy, if you’ve ever done therapy before, etc. Eventually this person sends you a form to fill out, a lot of which you’ve already said so you end up repeating yourself. There’s also a place on the form where you can write any preferences for your therapist (male/female, younger/older etc.). I believe that part of the reason it sounds scripted is because, legally, they have a very narrow set of language they’re allowed to use in their assessments.

After that, you select a payment plan – paying monthly, quarterly (for 3 month period) or annually (for the whole year upfront). The longer the period you pay for, the cheaper it comes out to be per week. Initially, talkspace started as just messaging therapy but they have now added a live session component and each video chat is about 30 minutes. The unlimited messaging only comes with a complimentary ten minute live chat as a way to ‘meet’ your therapist before starting your journey together.

These are the current plans that are available for one-on-one private chat:

  • $32/week of Unlimited Messaging Therapy (billed as $128 monthly)
  • $43/week of Unlimited Messaging Therapy + 1 Live Session (billed as $172 monthly)
  • $69/week of Unlimited Messaging Therapy + 4 Live Sessions (billed as $276 monthly)
  • Couples therapy is available for $189 per month or $499 per quarter (12 weeks).

Finally – after about a day – you are paired with your therapist and you start therapy. The first couple days are mostly your therapist reading through your initial assessment and asking questions to get a better idea of where you’re at in life and get an idea of what your goals are with therapy. Then gradually you’ll start working on specific issues and moving forward. Unless you have an alternative arrangement with your therapist, she/he will check your chat two times a day during the weekdays and not at all on the weekends. Initially, it may feel like you’re moving really slowly, especially if you’ve done the traditional 50-minute therapy sessions but one week of chatting on talkspace should be considered equivalent to a traditional session.

When I first started working with my therapist, I felt that the focus of our conversations was shifting from where I wanted it to be so I just talked to her about it. Initially, it felt like she was offended but we completely cleared that up during our introduction video chat. She actually stayed in touch with me during our first weekend working together because I started therapy on a Friday. Additionally, if you feel like you’re not meshing well with your therapist, you can simply request someone else. So far I’m really happy with my experience on talkspace and finally feel like I have a consistent source of help. Below I’ve shared the reasons I think this platform is absolutely perfect for young professionals, especially those of us in medicine.

  • Access. I love that I can literally text my therapist whenever I have an experience I need help processing or figuring out the best way to approach a specific situation. With my previous therapist, I would not be able to get an appointment with her until at least a month after I called. Right now – I’m going to be in Florida, away from pretty much my entire support system, studying for what’s probably the most difficult exam of my career. Having someone who can provide insight during trying times – literally in my back pocket – has removed a lot of the anxiety associated with living in a new place, surrounded by new people, overcoming this hurdle.
    During the clinical years of med school and residency, I will likely have several days when I start working before any therapists’ office is open and leave work after all therapists’ office close. Having the freedom to text my therapists at any time, day or night, makes it so much easier to get help when you’re working that ridiculous schedule – when you often need therapy the most but can’t access it. Additionally, you’re not limited by geography – even if I move to Vermont for residency, I can continue working with the same therapist remotely.
  • Time. When working or studying all week, the last thing I want to do is drive twenty minutes to my therapists’ office and talk to her for a whole hour about things that have added up since our last session. Sometimes I feel like a 50-minute session is too long and I don’t even have enough to discuss and other times it feels like the time just flies by and I have to wait until our next session in 3-4 weeks. I can start messaging my therapist about something and I’m able to say as little or as much as I want (or have the energy to) at my own pace.
  • Referring Back. Unlike with traditional therapy, unless you’re taking notes, you can actually refer back to exactly what your therapist said in your conversations, even after you’ve ended your subscription. So if something similar happens in the future, you can refer back to your conversations and regain that insight.
  • Continuity. I started using talkspace during a difficult time in my life when I needed help to best process and prioritize my life to set myself up for success on this exam. But after I’ve passed this exam, I may not need to work with a therapist for a few months or even a year. I can stop paying for my subscription with talkspace as soon as I feel I don’t need it and if I have another difficulty arise in my life, I just open talkspace back up and continue working with the same therapist. Those of you who have worked with multiple therapists know how exhausting it can be to repeatedly tell your story to someone else, over and over again so it’s incredible that I can just continue working with the same person!
  • Long Term. A career in medicine comes with many, many emotionally challenging times. The first two years are a marathon of constantly feeling like you need to prove your worth and taking test after test. The rest of medical school is that but also facing the realities of medicine: death, dealing with insurance companies and difficult patients, etc. It’s a life time of helping people through some of the most difficult times in their lives and we’re somehow expected to handle it all without seeking help ourselves. Talkspace allows you to stay with the same therapist throughout your years in medicine, even if you travel all over the country for your training.
  • Long Distance Couples Counseling. Many ‘medical couples’ or couples in which both people are pursuing rigorous careers often find themselves in a long distance relationship at some point in time. And while long distance comes with its own challenges on top of the challenges of learning how to ‘life’ with someone, traditional counseling is not usually an option because of said distance. We haven’t used this aspect of talkspace yet but if it’s as promising as individual therapy has been, it would be worth a try – especially for long distance couples.

You can read about how talkspace protects the privacy of their clients here and about how the select the therapists available to work with on the website here. In doing my own research about reviews on talkspace, I came across several that were concerned about the text-only basis of the therapy especially since a healthy connection is a vital part of working with a therapist. However, I do think that some of these issues are addressed with the availability of live sessions and ability to send voice and video messages to your therapist. Here you can read some pros and cons of talkspace from the perspective of both consumers and therapists working on the site.

Todd Essig, psychologist and a writer at Forbes, has shared his mistrust of talkspace here and more recently here. I do agree with some of the points he makes, especially the points he makes about the limitations in your therapist’s ability to respond in the case of an emergency. For that reason, I do believe that talkspace is not the best platform for those with acute mental illness in a current state of crisis. In that case, immediate and acute intervention should be sought at the nearest psychiatric institution with extensive follow up with regular in-person sessions. However, for those of us who have been managing our mental illnesses and need additional help in doing so, this can be a great and convenient option especially when there’s no realistic alternative.

If you do decide to try out talkspace, you can get $50 your first month by using my referral link. Full disclosure: I will also receive $50 off a month if you do use that link but that’s not at all why I’ve spent hours on this post and this post is not, at all, sponsored by talkspace. I’m truly passionate about future health care professionals taking better care of themselves and I believe talkspace is a great option that removes many of our barriers to mental healthcare.

Have you tried talkspace or any other online therapy platform? What has been your experience?

edit: here is a more current comparison of betterhelp vs. talkspace by zencare.

portland, pt. 2

Hubs and I went to Seattle and Portland a couple years ago and absolutely loved it! So when I was thinking of a place for a short self care trip before diving back into step one studying, Portland was high on that list. After doing a little research online, I found great deals for flights and a wonderful Airbnb (read my tips on finding great deals on airbnb here) so it was a done deal!

Day One: I stayed in the Alberta Arts District, which was so nice. It’s a fun little neighborhood with great restaurants, coffee houses, small shops – pretty much everything you need for a slow vacation. I got there early morning, checked into my house, rested a bit and then spent the late morning and afternoon exploring Alberta St. I went to several shops, had brunch at Tin Shed and iced tea at Case Study Coffee. I later met up with my high school bestie for dinner at Pok Pok Noi and then, of course, got ice cream at Salt & Straw. It was the perfect first day in Portland – delicious food, lots of walking, great conversation and time to slow down to read and journal.

Day Two: Last time we went to Portland was in winter so we didn’t have the chance to explore any of the outdoorsy sites but I definitely wanted to do that this time. I usually don’t like doing tours because it feels really artificial and then you’re forced to be on someone else’s schedule but since I was traveling alone this time, I didn’t really trust my navigation skills enough to venture out on my own. While researching the best ways to explore along the Columbia River, I came across Pedal Bike Tours. I saw that they had a bike tour that took you through the Gorge from waterfall to waterfall – it sounded perfect so I immediately called to book a tour. The meeting point was downtown, right around the corner from Stumptown so I stopped by there to have breakfast. We drove out to the Gorge, which took about 45 minutes in the van. We started at a couple historical site and then rode our bikes from waterfall to waterfall. It was such a beautiful experience, despite the fact that I had not been on a bike in almost a decade. My tour guide and group were super helpful and make sure that I was comfortable and didn’t complain too much about how much I was slowing them down heh. We saw six different falls and rode the bikes for about as long as traffic allowed. Our tour guide was a Portland native so we got to hear a lot about the history and ask her questions about the recent changes, etc. This whole experience was the highlight of my trip, as I’m sure you can tell by the series of photos at the bottom of this post.

We drove back to downtown and I was super hungry so I walked around downtown and bought the biggest (and most delicious) fajita burrito from a Mexican food truck. Our tour guide had mentioned that Salt & Straw had just started serving soft serve at Wiz Bang Bar inside Pine St. Market so I walked back to that area and met up with a fellow med student. I think I honestly enjoyed the soft serve more than the ice cream, mostly because of the chocolate shell over it. I’ve had cravings for that cone literally every day that I’ve been home since heh.

Day Three: I slept in a little because ya girl was out of shape and biking seven miles & hitting 10k steps really did its number on me. I spent the late morning at Blue Star Donuts, reading and sipping Stumptown Cold Brew. The donut wasn’t as great as I was expecting after hearing all the raving reviews but the staff at the Hawthorne location were so fun. After eating, I walked along Hawthorne St. and did a little shopping. I absolutely love how Portland celebrates and promotes small businesses. They also had wonderful secondhand stores in this area. I was planning on going to First Thursday in the Pearl District but honestly just got tired and lazy. I went back to the house and just hung out with my housemates for a while before walking to the food trucks around the corner from the house and got to sit outside and enjoy the fresh air. I spent some time reading Murakami in the living room and had some great conversations with my housemates.

Day Four: I was leaving Portland in the afternoon so I took the morning to try Barista Coffee and Waffle Window. It was really nice to get in a walk before spending the rest of the day sitting on airplanes and in airports.

Overall, it was such a great trip – exactly what I needed to slow down and recharge. And, as usual, I’ve included some of my favorite shots from my DSLR below.

med sisters series: Cassie Majestic, MD

The Med Sisters Series is a series of interviews of women in various stages of their careers in medicine: pre-med, medical school, residency, fellowship and attending physicians. As women, I believe we face unique challenges within any field, medicine included. As I’ve moved along on this journey, I truly believe one of the biggest support systems we have is each other. Society works so hard to pit women against each other in every situation you can think of but, as feminists, I think it’s so important to combat that urge to try to ‘beat each other out.’ There’s room for all of us on the other side of the glass ceiling. The goal of this series is to shed light on the challenges women face in the field of medicine and how they achieve a work-life balance that works for them. This blog has always been a place for me to share the realities of this journey, both the highs and lows. I thought of this series as a way to share the perspectives of the other extraordinary women on this journey too.


Dr. Majestic is an attending emergency medicine physician practicing in a community hospital in Orange County. She recently finished her residency and you can follow along on her journey at her Instagram.

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Q: Why did you decide to pursue medicine as a career? How do you stay motivated on the difficult days?

A: Medicine somehow spoke to me when I was very young. I remember knowing I wanted to be a doctor in 4th grade. I had no friends or family members in medicine. I simply knew that I wanted to do something great with my life that involved the human body and educating others. I was serious about school since I was little, and I thought it would be fun to treat diseases.

Staying motivated on the difficult days is truly a challenge, especially because there are so many difficult days in medicine. I actually let myself take a break on those days. Talking to my mom has always been helpful when I am doubting myself, and a nice long workout with my favorite jams (Journey- Don’t Stop Believin’) has always kept me inspired to finish what I started and reach my goals as planned.

Q: What has been the most emotionally difficult aspect of your career thus far? How did you cope?


A: The Emergency Department unfortunately doesn’t provide time for me to experience much emotion. It’s so fast paced, and I rush from one patient to the next delivering good and bad news without much time for preparation or mental emotion. The toughest situation for me however, is delivering news of death to family members and loved ones. This is the one time that I have to slow myself down, and really prepare myself mentally. In addition to this, I think the most emotionally difficult part of medicine and Emergency Medicine in particular, is dealing with making mistakes and missed diagnoses, especially when this results in a bad outcome. I think the only way to cope with these situations, are to understand that we are human, we make mistakes. I also believe that maintaining open discussion with patients and their families is helpful, and allows them to see that doctors are only human. I feel better being brutally honest with each patient and their family, and addressing my mistakes if there are any that occurred.

Q: If you could go back and do undergrad and med school again, what would you do differently? 

 
A: I would honestly cut myself a little more slack. I missed a lot of family and friend functions, because I thought that if I didn’t study a certain number of hours each day, I was doing something wrong. There were many days that I beat myself up internally, for not studying 12 hours per day. It took me a long time to realize that quantity does not equal quality. I would tell my younger self that it is possible to study well without spending every hour worrying about the amount of time I was putting in.

Q: What are some of your favorite medical apps to use while at work?

A: I love Epocrates for up to date drug information. The upgraded version also has an awesome section where you can plug in a condition and it will give you treatment and further recommendations, in case help is needed with a certain clinical scenario. PediSTAT is my favorite pediatric app and I feel much safer on each shift having it in my back pocket (literally). Uptodate is great as well, and is one of my most reliable and “up to date” resources for current guidelines on any medical condition.

Q: How did you decide on Emergency Medicine as your field? What advice do you have for people who are also interested in EM?

 
A: My interest in Emergency Medicine began as an undergraduate student at Arizona State University. Most of the volunteer opportunities were in the Emergency Department, so I received most of my early exposure then. The Emergency Medicine physicians that I have met throughout life were always enthusiastic, fun, and seemed to love their job. They made it tough for me to love another field of medicine.
That being said, I still planned to go into surgery all throughout medical school, up until it was time for me to apply for residency. I made a last minute career switch to Emergency Medicine when I realized I wasn’t excited about my lifestyle as a surgeon. Once I allowed that change to happen mentally, I was SO excited and happy for my future.

For those of you interested in Emergency Medicine, I encourage you to start early. There are lots of opportunities for shadowing/volunteering in the Emergency Department. This is really important to see if you can function well in a stressful, busy, and crazy environment. Be aggressive and up front about what your interests are, when gaining experience. Persistence and follow through is key in Emergency Medicine. It is becoming a competitive field; boards scores and medical school grades are very important.

Q: You have such a passion for educating the public about health care issues! Why do you feel that this is important?

 

A: I am concerned with the way healthcare in the United States is going. Now that the Affordable Care Act is in place, all physicians are seeing extremely high volumes of patients, especially in the Emergency Department and Primary Care offices. There aren’t enough hospital or Emergency Department beds to accommodate the patient volume. Part of this problem stems from the lack of preventative medicine in the United States. I feel American medicine needs to provide more education starting from a young age, to help with prevention of diseases. Social media is a huge part of peoples’ lives. Part of the reason I started my educational Instagram account, was to attempt to reach people that otherwise wouldn’t be reached, with medical, health, and wellness education. I see many financially poor patients, and most of them have a cell phone with Internet connection and access to social media. My hopes include using social media in a positive way (since it is very easy to use in a negative way) and provide education to everyone. Maybe in the future others will start doing the same, and there will be more health and wellness programs and education in schools that will improve our lack of preventative medicine awareness.

Q: Who is a woman in medicine you look up to and why? 

 

A: My program director at University of California Irvine, is a true inspiration. She is young (under 40), married, has two children, and is in charge of a residency program at a large academic institution. She happens to also be beautiful, fit, and so smart. I know that she is confident in everything she does, despite the criticism and challenged she faces as a mom and a physician everyday.

Q: As a woman in medicine, have you faced any discrimination (either blatant or more subtle)? What advice do you have for women who go through similar challenges? 

 
A: I haven’t faced any significant discrimination, thankfully. I grew up around men primarily, as my father is military, and I enjoy working with men in the Emergency Department.

I will say that it can be intimidating at times. In the past, I believe I made some of those intimidating feelings worse by allowing myself to feel less smart and confident. Women in medicine are not unusual these days, but it can still be common for women to have emotional feelings about themselves being less adequate at a job than a man. This is very well known. So my advice to all women out there who feel they are experiencing discrimination, is to remember how far you’ve come. Your mind is powerful and confidence is a necessity in medicine! Maintain the confidence and discrimination will not set you back. Speak with confidence, make decisions with confidence, and everyone (even the men you work with) will see that and respect you!

Q: What has been your favorite part of your journey so far? Where do you see yourself after residency? 

 
A: My favorite part of my journey has been the people I have met along the way, both colleagues and patients. I have the privilege of knowing peoples’ secrets, fears, and gaining their trust to care for them. I get to work with my best friends, who I identify with, and love. During residency, I feel like I have finally found “my people”. Even across various hospitals, most Emergency Medicine physicians share a similar personality type and I have so much fun at work.
After residency (3.5 short months away!), I plan to stay in Orange County and work in a community hospital as an Emergency Medicine physician. I am delighted to say that I will also still be working at my current academic hospital sporadically. It is the best of both worlds! I’m excited to work in a smaller hospital but also maintain affiliation with the residents and medical students in the academic world as well.
Update: Dr. Majestic has completed her residency and is currently practicing at a community hospital in Orange County!

Thank you so much for stopping by our corner of the internet Cassie! We wish you the best on your journey.

Past Interviews:

cancún

Finally got around to going through the photos on my DSLR from Cancun and wanted to share some of my favorites. Any votes on which one(s) I should print for our gallery wall, which I have yet to put up?

My main goal for our trip to Cancun was simply to relax. It had been a really tough couple months before that, full of studying and stress so it was great to just get away for a while and learn more about the culture of a country so close to ours.

We stayed at the Intercontinental Presidente Cancun Resort and we absolutely loved it! While a lot of the resorts were full of mostly tourists from abroad, the guests at ours were mostly from other parts of Mexico. It was wonderful to walk the halls and hear Spanish everywhere we went, even within the hotel. The view from our room was absolutely breathtaking.

The Mexican food in Cancun was actually really disappointing. Growing up in Southern California, Mexican food has always been one of my favorites. And there are so many places you can get authentic and delicious food here so I know what it’s supposed to taste like. But most of the food in Cancun was targeted towards tourists so that was definitely saddening.

My favorite part of the trip was visiting Chichen Itza and learning about the history of Mayan peoples. It was a really hot day so it took some effort to really enjoy learning but I’m so glad we went. We set the tour up with a company that was housed in the lobby of our hotel. The architecture of the pyramid was absolutely amazing. It still boggles my mind how they knew so much about astronomy, medicine, etc. with such limited technology. Part of the tour was also visiting and swimming in a sinkhole, under a mini waterfall. We also visited a Mayan village where we had lunch and shopped various small businesses featuring art my local artists. Being surrounded by that culture and truly learning about it was so wonderful.

We also went to Playa del Carmen one of the days, which was nice because of all the shops on 5th avenue. We personally thought that the beach in Cacun was nicer but some people think otherwise so if you’re going, check out both and form your own opinion. We met some really cool people who were in our van for the trip. We were all able to communicate in our broken english and spanish. Our tour guide grew up in Texas and was fluent in English so I was able to ask him a lot of questions about Mexico (about their healthcare system, the economy, etc.).

Overall, other than the heat & humidity, it was wonderful vacation. My favorite thing was definitely learning about the Mexican culture and getting to practice my Spanish. The next time I go to Mexico, I’d like to go to a less touristy area so that I can learn more about the culture and history.

 

on ‘failure’ and detours


Since I was a kid, I always did my best to do the ‘right thing,’ especially when it came to my education. I was never that straight A student but I always worked hard. I felt like I had to work harder than everyone else to be average and it was difficult to feel the imposter syndrome from such a young age but I found ways to push through it, with the support of my incredible parents and some of the most amazing teachers in the world.

In high school, I signed up for classes strategically to ensure a good GPA when I applied to colleges, trying to find the perfect balance between between taking enough IB/AP classes and having the time to do my best in them, while juggling ECs. I chose to go to UC Irvine over more prestigious schools because I was thinking ahead to applying to medical school. I didn’t want to get lost in a sea of overly competitive premed students and not reach my goals. I took my classes on a schedule that allowed me to do my best, not the ‘traditional’ one that most students took because I knew I couldn’t handle that. I took an even lighter load the quarter I was studying for the MCAT. My schedule was ‘nontraditional’ but also ‘traditional’ in that I went straight from undergrad to medical school. I got married that summer in between and, two years ago, started this new life adjusting to being a wife & partner and working towards my professional goals. I paid attention to where I needed extra help and did my best to arrange my schedule so that I could be successful.

But then came medical school, and we were back to our schedules being decided for us like in elementary school and I couldn’t adjust it to make it more manageable. Instead, I had to adjust my study style and do the best I could to set myself up for success. And for the most part I did. Out of the ten blocks that make up our preclinical education, I passed eight of them on my first try and two of them on my second (and knocked them out of the park the second time, if I may add). And I am so very proud of myself for making it through two academically, mentally and emotionally difficult years. Many times I thought about quitting, more often that I’d like to admit. I thought about taking time off to center myself and make a schedule that allowed me to succeed to the best of my abilities. But I didn’t because I didn’t want to ‘fall behind’ or be forced to take a path different than my peers. I often wondered why I couldn’t handle a schedule and plan that the majority of medical students go through. Why wasn’t I strong enough? Why wasn’t I smart enough? Why is it so much harder for me?

And then I failed step one. Part of me saw it coming and another part of me was just wishing for a miracle – ‘please God, just let something work the first time.’ I know I’ve done everything I was technically supposed to do, or at least what works for most people. But it didn’t for me, as it hasn’t for most of my life. And that’s so much more than okay. Because this is my journey and each detour I take helps me become the person I’m meant to be. And I truly believe that, at the end of all this, I’ll be a better physician for it.

I’ve taken a leave of absence from medical school until January. During that time, I will be doing some traveling, reconnecting with the people I love, with God and with myself, taking a class to help me prepare for step one and knocking this test out of the park – on my second try, because sometimes that’s what it takes. 

Thank you for your company on this journey. Thank you to my village that keeps me going – I’d be lost without you. And thank You for all the blessings, especially the ones I’m so privileged to not even be aware of.

lessons from pre-clinical years

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I recently wrapped up my first two years of medical school, essentially my entire pre-clinical education. I still have to get through step one before I officially move on to rotations so I’m not letting myself completely celebrate yet but I do want to share some of the lessons I’ve learned thus far on this journey. Most medical schools in the U.S. have two years in mostly in the classroom, learning the ins and outs of the human body and all the ways it can quit on us. The third and fourth year are done in a clinical setting: hospitals, doctor’s offices, etc. As with most people who want to go into medicine, I’m here for the interaction with patients and helping them to better their lives – not to sit in classrooms and at our desks for hours on end trying to cram as much information in our brains as possible. But as with anything worth having, we’ve all gotta struggle a little. So below are some of the lessons I’ve learned in the many, many hours spent studying and trying to get through the madness.

  • Remember why you’re here. So much of why I blog is to stay grounded and remind me of how far I’ve come and how much further I still have to go. I often read my personal statement to remind myself of my journey thus far. I have the oath we took the day of our white coat ceremony taped on our bathroom mirror to remind me what a privilege this is and what a huge responsibility I have to learn as much as possible.
  • Have perspective. Remember that you’re spending endless hours of studying because you will one day be the responsible for caring for people during some of the most difficult moments in their lives. This is a huge responsibility. You, of course, need to do everything necessary to take care of yourself but remember that people are depending on us to know what we need to know to care for them.
  • Maintain balance in your life. Your entire life cannot be about medical school, especially in the first two years when you actually have a lot of free time if you plan your days well. It’s important to do things to retain your sanity and take care of your own health. Eat well, exercise, read, watch movies, etc. Do everything you want and need to make sure you’re centered and ready to learn. When you invest time in taking care of yourself, your studying will become much more efficient and you won’t have to spend the entire day going over the same lecture.
  • It’s okay that every day doesn’t feel good. There will be (seemingly too many) days when you’ll question why you’re paying thousands of dollars to spend your days studying. But there will also be days when you’ll realize how amazing the human body is. Days when you see patients and they’re so grateful that you’re spending a little extra time trying to figure out what’s going on with them. Days when you learn something in lecture and then go to clinic later that day and see someone surviving, with great quality of life, the same illness because of the work done by those who came before you. You’re entering a noble profession but path to getting there won’t always feel noble.
  • Reflect on your intentions and your happiness often. While it’s normal to have days or maybe even weeks of feeling like you’re in over your head, make sure you check in with yourself every month or so and reflect on how you’re doing. If you’re feeling depressed or anxious or just plain unhappy with where you are, please talk to someone. There is absolutely no reason for you to continue feeling this way. Medical students are at much higher risk for depression and suicidal ideation than the general population.
  • Find mentors you trust. This is something that I’m still working on but you have to realize that in every professional setting, you will not click with everyone and that’s okay. Finding a mentor to talk to about a certain issue is kind of like knowing which friend to go to depending on what you need out of the conversation. If you want someone to tell it like it is, go to the person you know will be honest with you no matter what happens. If you’re looking for someone to remind you why you’re working so hard and that you can do this, go to the person who will be be supportive and compassionate. And if you’re really lucky, you’ll find a mentor (or a few) who can do both and know when you need which. Mentoring relationships should never start with the question ‘will you be my mentor?’ I’ve never asked that question of a single person I consider a mentor. Instead, ask a question regarding their life or work or something you need advice on and based on the way they respond, you’ll know if this person is a potential mentor. This type of relationship should unfold naturally.
  • Find your village, hold them close and thank them often. I’ve said this before and I’ll keep saying it: it takes a village to raise a doctor. It takes a village of people who love you, support you, remind you of why you’re doing all this – that the sacrifices are worth it, and understand why you can’t always be around. I truly believe that God puts something special in the people who support doctors in training. This, unfortunately, also means that you’ll likely lose some people in your life because they may need more attention than you can provide at this moment in your life and that’s fine. It’s difficult but it’s honestly a part of growing up. Not everyone is meant to stay in your life forever. But those who do choose to go on this wild journey with you, hold them close and make sure they know how much you love and appreciate them.

Medical school is no joke. So many people told me beforehand that the hardest part is getting in. And it’s completely true that I worked very hard to get to where I am today, but it’s also true that the ‘hardest part’ varies from person to person. Some people thrive in the first two years because they have studying and exam taking down. I’m not that person so the past two years have felt nearly impossible and I’ve thought about quitting more often than I’d like to admit. But I truly believe that all of this is worth it, that my aspirations will be confirmed next month when I’m back in clinical settings and spending the majority of my day with patients. And it’s entirely possible that I may be wrong but I’ve already put in several years towards this goal so what’s another couple months?

I’m taking step one early next week so positive vibes and prayers are greatly appreciated!

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r & r in redlands 

The past few months, pretty much since 2016 started, have been nonstop studying – exam after exam. And it also felt like the stakes were getting higher and higher as time went on. Now, I’m in independent study time for USMLE step one and the pressure is on. This exam is known to be the most difficult of many licensing exams and also plays a huge factor in what and where you’ll practice medicine.

I’ve always prided myself in understanding that test scores do not define me or my ability to be a good physician. When struggling with the MCAT, I knew that somehow things would still work out because this was my calling. But the step one boogie monster got to me and I started doing all the wrong things: not taking breaks, staying up too late to finish my study ‘to-do’ list, focusing on quantity instead of quality, comparing myself to others and making this test my life.

Earlier this week, I performed pretty terribly on a practice exam and after crying & wallowing and talking to one of my best friends, I realized that I was essentially setting myself up for failure. So I decided to take a couple days off and remind myself of the life I live outside of this exam. I went to a neighboring city and just explored. I dusted off my DSLR and just roamed around eating great food, shopping at local stores, hung out at a local coffee house and drank delicious coffee while reading and journaling.

Going to be back at it tomorrow, while fasting for Ramadan (which I’m nervous about but also excited that I’ll be taking this exam in such a blessed time). I’ll have even less ‘chill’ time between starting third year and taking this exam but pushing it back was just so necessary for my own well being. I’m committing myself to doing my best on this; I won’t sell myself short but I’m also not going to look at what others are doing (especially if they’re vacationing while I sit here stressin’ out).

This is my journey. It’s had a lot of twists and turns and loop-de-loops but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’m going to be caring for actual people one day very soon and I can’t wait. But this is just something I have to get through until then. Thank you all for accompanying me on this journey – you all push me to constantly renew my intentions and better myself.