med sisters series: Shannon, OMS3

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.

Shannon is a third year osteopathic medical student in Washington with her husband and adorable puppy. You can follow her journey at her Instagram.

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Q: Why did you decide to pursue medicine as a career?

A: I am the first person, let alone the first female, in my rather large southern-based family to pursue a career in medicine (other than a dermatologist uncle who married into the family, that is). My passion for the sciences started at a very young age, and it was not uncommon for my parents to find me downstairs in the guest bathroom “operating” on baby dolls and delivering stuffed puppies. Actually, much to my mother’s dismay, my imagination ran wild and I would use ketchup for blood, toilet paper rolls as leg casts, and even “hire” my younger sisters to join me as a medical assistant and receptionist. Needless to say, the passion never died. Although my original intent was to pursue a large animal veterinary degree and specialize in equine medicine, my allergies to all things with fur caused me to reconsider that dream. After shadowing multiple veterinarians in the local area, and struggling to stay hive/sneeze free, I finally gave shadowing people in medicine a go. Ever since then, the desire to be a healer has not dwindled, even when the journey as brought tears of frustration.
Q: How do you stay motivated on the difficult days?

A: There are many days when I have to remind myself of the advice I’m about to share. This learning process is too challenging to just breeze through without some sort of self-care routine. So for me, this comes in several forms: 1. I am an avid equestrian and have owned my baby girl, “Annie” (she’s a Morgan mare) for 13 years. My evenings or early mornings spent in the quiet of the horse stable, cleaning out her stall or lunging her in the arena, are some of the most rejuvenating moments. 2. Photography has been an interest of mine for several years, and just recently has also helped produce a small spending income for me as I enjoy capturing moments for other people. Using my free time to take pictures and edit images for clients is incredibly life-giving. 3. Quiet time with my hubby is key. This often looks different for us: watching a fast TV show before bed (we love Modern Family and Parks & Rec), having him sit on my [[tired]] feet while chatting on the couch, or making a meal together. He’s my confidant, encourager, and non-medical source of relief.

Q: If you could go back and be a premed again, what would you do differently?

A: Do better in organic chemistry! Ha. Just kidding. Well, maybe not… in all seriousness though, I wouldn’t change a thing. I attended a wonderful private school in the heart of Seattle called Seattle Pacific University. I obtained a major in human physiology and two minor degrees in chemistry and psychology. It was actually really nice having my psychology courses to balance out the hard sciences. I would highly encourage other pre-med students to consider thinking outside the box, in terms of a major or minor, and pursue something that fascinates them (as pysch did for me) and allows them to possibly stand out more during the medical school application process.

Q: How do you balance marriage and being a medical student?

A: I’m the first to shout from a mountain top that, I LOVE MARRIAGE! It’s truly no secret of mine. My husband and I met during the last semester of our undergraduate years, and dated for 2.5 years before sealing the deal December 2013. To be very honest, I remember thinking to myself that I would ultimately marry someone from medical school or residency and end up as a doctor-duo. But gosh, I am so glad that this was not part of my story and that my husband found me when he did. It has been the biggest blessing to do life with him on this rough and beautiful journey. His abundant support and non-medical perspective has been a breath of fresh air since the beginning. We take our marriage commitment very seriously and as such, we make sure that to set aside time for just us, at least once per week no matter the craziness of the calendar. These “date days” are the highlight of our week, even if they consist of just staying home.

Q: Does your faith play a part in why you chose to pursue medicine as a career and how you interact with your patients?

A: Absolutely. Faith is the cornerstone of who I am and what I stand for. My love for medicine stems from a place of awe as I see the intricate details of creation in every aspect of the human body. Not a day goes by that I don’t thank my Heavenly Father for allowing me the opportunity to pursue medicine and use my training to provide healing in a holistic way, both physically and spiritually.

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

A: Hands down she is the one and only: Florence Nightingale. I wrote an 8th grade English paper on this incredible woman and still have it tucked away to show my kids one day. Known for her stamina, grace, and compassion during the Crimean War, this gal earned the well-deserved title as “The Lady with the Lamp” because she would round on wounded soldiers at all hours of the night. No matter how exhausted I feel during a long on-call shift, or day on my feet, I always remind myself to emulate the attributes of Florence Nightingale. And most times, this reminder gives me the little extra pep in my step needed to finish the day strong.

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

Past Interviews:




not again, not again (and again) 

Today was supposed to be a good day.

I woke up around 8 and that felt too early. Anything before ten these days feels ‘too early’ but then I remembered that I was late to clinical skills last session and so I got myself out of bed – I thought ‘it’s okay, I can sleep in tomorrow.’

I got dressed, warmed up my coffee and woke up hubs so I could get a ride to campus. Today we were doing a male genitourinary exam and digital rectal exam. Most practicing physicians have probably done hundreds of these exams but being a medical student, I obviously felt nervous. I also felt really grateful to the standardized patients who allow us access to their bodies so that we can learn to be better healers for our future patients, who allow us to perform exams that most would shy away from even when there is something wrong.

The majority of the first year of medical school, you learn about how humans work. You learn about the various mechanisms that allow our tickers to tick, our liver to flush out toxins, how the brain controls so many of those mechanisms. And once you feel like you’re finally getting a grasp on how we work, you get to second year and learn all the ways that we don’t. You learn about the pathology of each organ system and you start to wonder… how are any of us still alive and functioning? Life and living start feeling miraculous. And other than the bouts of ‘med student syndrome,’ (where we start thinking we have any disease we’re studying at the time) you really start to appreciate good health more than you ever have.

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rights are rights

“The idea that some lives matter more than others is the root of all that is wrong with this world.”
– Dr. Paul Farmer

This past Sunday, I attended a training for the Prison Education Program at Cal Poly Pomona. The program is led by the amazing Dr. Renford Reese. After reading Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness and learning about the realities of the prison system in this country, I knew I needed to find a way to help. PEP aims to reduce recidivism rates in prisons by providing inmates with guidance and resources to pursue their goals after leaving prison.

At the training we, of course, discussed the logistics of the program, safety precautions, etc. But my favorite part of the training was when Dr. Reese brought up this idea of umbuntu. Umbuntu is the South African philosophy of ‘humanness’ and is ‘the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity.’ Many of the struggles people face daily are structural and money needs to be used to create infrastructure to combat these injustices, but as Dr. Reese said during our training ‘Words are free. And if we believe that words have the power to hurt people, we must also believe that words can heal.’ And that’s what PEP is all about – creating a sense of umbuntu and recognizing that if anyone in our community is hurting, we are all hurting and we must actually do something to help.

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finals + life update

The past week or so has been pretty hectic with my birthday, going to a talk by Paul Farmer and finals so I thought I’d just do a general update on all that. I’ve never been a big fan of making a big deal about my birthdays. I’ve just always felt like it’s more a day to celebrate my mom, because she’s the one who worked so hard all those years ago. But with the madness that is finals week in medical school, I wanted something to look forward to. At midnight, hubby gave me my presents and a wonderfully hilarious card. After class we went to this bakery/coffee house near campus. Other than the fact that it closes super early, it’s a really nice place to study during the week. It’s kind of hidden so doesn’t get too much traffic and they have big tables (and outlets!!).

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doctors make the worst patients

So as I stated in my previous posts, I’ve been really stressed about starting second year. The summer before I started medical school, between the wedding and moving three times, was so hectic that I never really had the time to stress too much about the future. I kind of just showed up to orientation and somehow a year passed without me even noticing. After remediating successfully, I was of course so grateful for the opportunity to move onto second year with my cohort but I’ve been really nervous too. Part of me still feels really unsure about whether I belong here or if I ever learned enough during first year to actually competently be able to take care of patients in the future. I know that self doubt can be really poisonous and I need to get all this negative energy out of me so I’m trying to put my best foot forward and move on.

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finals woes

Why does ugly crying have to be a part of every finals week ritual? I mean, I know it’s good for you and helps relieve stress because you’re not just holding everything in. But just once it would be nice to feel like “Yeah! I got this!” It’s the same story with every set of finals: a cycle of doubt, hope and more doubt. Doubt about whether I can do this or if I even deserve to be here. Hope that things will be okay because I’m doing all this with good intentions: to help God’s people heal.

“Inspire me with love for all Thy creatures. May I see in those who suffer only the fellow human being.” – Oath of Maimonides

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