Welcome!

Featured

IMG_3771Welcome back to the Corvias Connects blog! We have been working hard to  make a better blog for connecting our group.  We hope you find the posts to be interesting, helpful, and inspiring. Be sure to check for new posts each Thursday evening.  If you have suggestions or are interested in joining the blog project team, please feel free to use our contact pages.  Happy Reading!

Katie Newton, Blog Editor

Advertisements

College Stress and Mental Health

Have you noticed that Mental Health Awareness month coincides with the end of spring semester?  I hope that your finals went well; but, if you’re anything like me, then maybe they didn’t. Back when I was an undergraduate, it was difficult for me to be anything but hard on myself after a disappointing test…class…semester…  In hindsight, I was going through something more serious than I could acknowledge at the time; perhaps you are, too. College is brutal. Mental health suffers in the environment, where the stressors are many. Before diving into your summer plans, be they a new internship or some hardcore R&R, take some time to reflect on your semester.  Better understanding your stressors may help you to feel better about the semester and may even help you overcome these challenges in the coming semesters. Need some help getting started? See the inventory below.

There’s the workload, the reading assignments, the homework, the studying — none of this is new, but the volume and subject matter density seem to be growing exponentially.  This author had to completely relearn healthy study habits (because my old high school techniques were not cutting it).  Speaking of healthy habits, college is a lot of scheduling (hard) and self-discipline (harder).  “This is when I need to eat, and this is when I need to sleep.” Sleep! Dorm living, roommates, lack of personal space.  Friends eating up “free” time. Stressful romances. Diet and exercise? Oh right, and money. Some of us may be thinking, “That’s just life,” but our freshmen may be doing all this — alone — for the first time in their lives.  Overwhelming is an understatement.

stress comic 2

I’m here to say: rough semesters happen, and it’s alright.  Higher education may be the hardest four years of your life thus far, and you are doing your best.  Some days, your best may be better than other days. Sometimes, your best may not compete with your colleagues’ best.  It happens, it’s alright. College is brutal which is why it’s especially important to be forgiving of yourself. Once you forgive yourself for being a growing, learning human, then you can appreciate that what you learn in college is more than fact, theory, and practicum.  College is an immensely complicated experience, and what you are truly learning may not be apparent while you are in it. Yes, it can get messy, but it can be positive for those who learn to manage stressors and mental health (which is one very important lesson).

So what do we do now with this long list of challenges and new found appreciation for the capacity for growth in college?  Be kind to yourself and practice!. For many of us summer break is a low-stakes opportunity to practice self-care: at first it may feel scary, and it may feel silly.  In my experience, those were the two quickest ways that I talked myself out of doing something that I knew would be good for me. However, a little bit of self-care goes a long way, especially if you are (as I was at the end of spring) in a self-care deficit.  Start small and build up to lavishment. A bath, a gas station ice cream, a non-judgmental cry can be enough to be kind to yourself. Taking good care of yourself will not get rid of your stressors during the semester, but it may help you approach them and recover from them differently.  I suppose that’s what I learned about self-care in college: I did my best. It was all I could do, and it was enough.

stress comic 1

Scholar Spotlight: Ariana Melendez

Opening

Opening the Match Day letter.

2008 Corvias Scholarship recipient Ariana Melendez recently marked the culmination of her journey through medical school with a successful Match Day! On Match Day, thousands of medical students from around the country find out what residency programs they’ll be heading to for their first positions as doctors. Ariana matched with UC-Irvine’s OBGYN program and will be officially graduating from medical school in about a month! Ariana recently agreed to answer some questions from the Corvias Connects blog and share her experiences with our community.

All opinions and experiences represented are Ariana’s own and do not represent those of any institutions she is affiliated with.

1) Could you tell us a bit about your med school journey up to this point? How did you decide you wanted to attend med school, and where have you been studying so far?

This is a bit of a doozy – unlike a lot of people, I wasn’t totally set on medical school before, or even when I graduated from, college. It was something I had always considered, but I wasn’t sure it was the right path for me, and at the time of college graduation, I couldn’t iterate quite why medical school was a good fit for me. Having said that, I always loved the sciences, so I majored in Biology at the University of Chicago. As a part of that, I had the opportunity to take some classes on the ethics of medicine that really inspired me. Following college graduation in 2012, I served with Teach for America teaching high school biology and physics. While I absolutely LOVED my kids, I realized I missed being a part of the process of scientific discovery. Combining that with wanting to continue to serve under-served communities and being involved in advocacy, I felt like medicine could be a great fit. I started medical school in 2014 at the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Chicago.

2) How exactly does ‘med school’ work? What makes it different from, say, a university experience?

Alright, stick with me here – it’s a long process and I didn’t know how a lot of it worked until I got there. Most medical school programs are four years of training. Roughly the first two are classroom years – lectures on the basic sciences (think biochemistry, genetics, physiology) and combining that knowledge with medical basics (immunology, pathology) to begin to formulate a basis for making diagnoses. We also take classes on how to be good doctors – how to conduct patient interviews, write notes, and concerns specific to certain populations. At my school, we also spent some time involved in patient care during those first two years. Then, we take our first board exam – Step 1.

The third year, we start clinical rotations – essentially, we work at hospitals and clinics in a variety of fields – surgery, internal medicine, psychiatry, and my favorite, obstetrics and gynecology. During third year, we work a lot with residents – doctors who have graduated medical school and are onto their next level of medical training in a specific specialty. We also work with fellows (doctors getting additional training in a sub-specialty following residency), attendings (doctors who have completed their training), nurses, physical therapists, social workers, and everyone else who makes a hospital run. As students, we see patients, assist in procedures, and help the team function administratively.  

During our fourth year, we take our second set of board exams (Step 2 CK and Step 2 CS), do additional rotations – usually starting on rotations in whatever specialty we’re interested in, and ending on rotations we need to graduate and elective activities such as research – and interview for residency. Some people take additional time in medical school to get additional degrees – MPHs, MBAs, and more – and others take time to do research to help them be more competitive residency applicants.

Overall, medical school was pretty different than college for me. The last two years of medical school are much like having a job, and not like college at all. In college, all of my classes were mandatory, and most of them were small seminars. In medical school, many of our classes were large lectures for our whole class (~185 people) that weren’t mandatory. This meant I could stay home and watch lectures online at a speed that was better for taking notes or comprehending the material. Additionally, we do a fair amount of small group team-based learning in medical school, which helps develop our abilities to form diagnoses. My college experience was a lot more focused on understanding processes and having discussions based on specific topics, whereas my medical school experience was much more rooted in mastering a large volume of information. We often joke that med school is like drinking from a fire hydrant – a lot comes at you fast and you have to keep up! It’s hard, but it’s so worth it!

3) Could you explain how the “Match Day” process works?

The Match Day process is actually just a small part of the longer residency application process. Everything you do in medical school is part of your residency application, as can be experiences you had before medical school (work experiences, research), however, the application opens the summer before fourth year begins, and we can begin submitting our applications in mid-September. There are also separate earlier matches for people participating in the military match or applying to specialties like urology and ophthalmology.

Our application includes a personal statement, letters of recommendation, test scores, a CV, personal information, and a list of all the programs we’re applying to. Most people only apply to one specialty, but some people apply to two or even three, and some specialties require doing a preliminary year in surgery or medicine before starting their official specialty.

After we submit our applications, residency programs offer candidates interviews. The interview season goes from October-January, and can involve a lot of travel! It’s a lot of fun to see and meet different programs, but the process can be exhausting too!

In February, both applicants and programs submit a rank list. For candidates, that’s a list of the programs we interviewed at in the order we want to go to them, and for programs, it’s a list of candidates they interviewed in the order they want them. After our lists our submitted, an algorithm runs a matching process which pairs applicants with their top program that also ranked them. Then, we wait!

The Monday of Match week, we find out if, but not where, we matched. Sometimes people don’t match, and they enter a process called the SOAP, where they can try to match at programs that did not fill all of their spots. That Friday, or Match Day, we find out where we matched!

Reading

Reading to find out where she’d matched.

4) Does this mean that we get to call you ‘Doctor’ now?

Not quite! But after I graduate in May, yes! (Editor’s Note: It’s official! Feel free to refer to her as Dr. Melendez at the next summit 😀 )

5) How did you actually find out where you had “Matched”?

At my school, we have a ceremony where we’re all given envelopes containing our match results, have a countdown, and open at the same time surrounded by friends and family. Some schools have students go up one-by-one and open their envelopes at a podium. I was really anxious going into the match and could hardly speak after I opened my envelope, so that would have been really hard for me. Overall, it’s really interesting because some people are very excited by their matches (like me!) and others have more bittersweet experiences (like some of my friends who have to move away from loved ones, or who didn’t get one of their top choices.)

6) How did it feel to find that you had matched with UC-Irvine’s OBGYN program?

I was absolutely thrilled! The process had been very stressful for me, and I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out. UCI was my first choice, and I think it’s going to be a great fit! I had a lot of people rooting for me throughout this process, and they kept telling me it was going to work out, but the voice in my head was less sure. One thing I learned through this process was that I should listen to the people around me a bit better! Because I was going through this process with my husband, I knew he was also really relieved to be going back to his home state, so that made it even better!  

7) How are you feeling about moving to the West Coast?

I LOVE Chicago, but given that it snowed here a day ago (it’s April!) I’m ready for a change of pace! My husband’s family lives in California, and his job is based out there, so it works out well for both of us! Of course, moving isn’t easy, but as a brat, this is old hat. 😉

After 2

Feelings after a successful Match!

8) Now that you’ve matched: what comes next? When will you start transitioning towards your residency, and what will that process look like?

At this point, I’m just wrapping my last course of medical school, then graduation is in about a month, then we’re taking a vacation before heading off to our new lives in California. For now, it’s filling out a lot of paperwork, but once I start I’ll hit the ground running – full on doctoring – with support of course! Another point of clarification – a lot of people wonder if internship and residency are the same thing – interns are just first year residents. It’s kind of like squares and rectangles.

9) This is, in some ways, a culmination of your experiences in medical school. Have you been reflecting on the experience lately? If so, what has been coming to mind?

Yep, this is definitely the end, and I’ve been doing tons of reflecting. Overall, this experience has been hard and has taught me a lot about myself – how to take care of myself and my mental health better, what my identity is an adult, woman, and doctor, and how I can best help those around me. I’m also really grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to learn from those who have done it before me – I’ve had residents, attendings, other medical students, and patients serve as mentors and teachers. I’m so excited to finally be in a position to help others reach higher in the medical field!

Additionally, one of the biggest things that comes to mind is something I was told my first week of medical school – that I would meet some of my best friends here. At the time I didn’t think it was likely, but now I’m leaving with a tight-knit group of friends I couldn’t have done this process without! Even though we’ll be going all over the country, I know I’ve made friends for life – some of whom were even my bridesmaids – and I can’t wait to plan trips to see each other!

10) How did your experiences as an Army brat shape your experiences in medical school?

Resilience and compartmentalization both play huge roles in medicine. We’re often tired, but the world doesn’t stop turning and people don’t stop getting sick. It’s our job to be there when things go great, but also to keep patient care going when things take turns for the worse. It’s a real privilege to be able to be there during some of the most emotional (good and bad) parts of people’s lives. By being an Army brat, I think I developed a pretty strong sense of emotional maturity at a young age, and I think that’s served me well. Doctoring is hard, and experiences often come home with you. Having healthy ways to process strong emotions – whether success, failure, helplessness, or any number of other things – is really valuable.

I also think there’s a lot to be said for diversity in medicine. As a brat, you meet so many people from so many backgrounds, and as a doctor, the same is true. It’s so important to take the time to listen to hear people’s experiences and to know their perspective on their illness. As military kids, we have a lot of opportunities to move between communities. Medical school has allowed me to be a part of even more communities – not just as a medical student and future physician, but as an advocate for women’s health and for equitable treatment of people with disabilities – two things I always innately felt, but didn’t really have enough knowledge about to speak on. Growing up in a multi-ethnic family and having lived in Puerto Rico for three years as a kid has also helped with my Spanish, which is really valuable in letting Spanish-speaking patients know their concerns are valued too!

I talked to a lot of people throughout this process, and it was funny how many people compared the match to getting orders in the military – you bloom where you’re planted was a phrase that came up a lot on the interview trail and describes a lot of my life experiences pretty well. At the same time, from my perspective as a brat, I never got a choice of where we were going, so having a choice in my rankings was certainly a luxury, but also a really tough decision to make!

Finally, as military children, the statistics aren’t always the best in terms of pursuing higher education because there is so much transition. To be able to represent the perspective of someone from a military family as a medical student and future physician is really exciting, and I hope it motivates others from minority backgrounds to keep reaching for their dreams!

11) We know that many Corvias scholars are also working towards careers in the medical field. What advice would you give people who are interested in working in medicine or are already studying medicine?

I think the best advice I can give is to stay humble and actively try not to get jaded. It’s easy when you’re exhausted to take the easy road or not give 100%, but that devalues patients and leads to errors. Sometimes it’s a conscious effort to check yourself, but it’s an important thing to do. For people who are already in medical school, I’d say to keep doing your best – if you got in, you deserve to be here! There are so many rich experiences in medical school – friends, extracurricular activities, faculty, rotations, teaching, and patient experiences – treasure those!

To everyone, medical school isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay, but if you think it’s for you, don’t let imposter syndrome get in the way of your success! Take the time to take care of yourself – emotionally, physically, mentally – you can’t give to others if you can’t take care of yourself. It’s okay to step back and prioritize yourself and your health! Remember that while it can be hard, medicine is not the only hard thing in the world and we are privileged to do what we do. Finally, and I think this is true of all fields, the perfect “work-life balance” does not exist – work and life will never be in equilibrium, but they can be integrated.

After

Reaction after reading the letter!

 

Applying to Graduate School: M.Ed. Edition

I have spent quite literally the past year prepping to apply to graduate programs and most recently, traveling to those schools for interview weekends. This journey has filled me with anxiety about my future. Applying to graduate programs has so many moving parts that are hard to navigate. Now that I am done applying and have chosen my program, it may be helpful to share some of my experiences and suggestions. I am going to earn a Master’s of Education (M.Ed.) in Student Affairs, so this might not all be applicable to you but take what serves you and leave the rest!

Originally, I went into college hoping to study political science and then possibly teach the subject at the collegiate level. Higher education and the college experience had always been important to me but that passion intensified the more involved I became on NC State’s campus through our University Activities Board, Student Government and my sorority. My advisors in these organizations also played an extremely important role in shaping my outlook on the importance of student development, multiculturalism/social justice, leadership, scholarship and research. So, I changed my life path a little bit and decided to pursue Student Affairs and Higher Education as my career.

Choosing Your List of Schools

Choosing the degree you would like to pursue is obviously the first step in applying to graduate school. Once that decision is made, you can start doing research on schools you would possibly like to attend. There are a lot of ways to consider which school would be your best option but don’t let rankings alone dictate where you want to get your degree.

Personally, I considered the following benefits in no particular order:

  1. Location – I was not a fan of moving too far from my family but I knew that I wanted to get into a bigger city with more opportunity for personal and professional development. Thinking about cost of living, accessibility, and how I could advance my career in that area was definitely a determining factor.
  2. Professors – Considering the faculty’s research interests and how they could contribute to my experience was another key point for me. Based on my experience, I would say it is important to write about this in your personal statement. Sure enough, when I visited my school of choice I was reassured that I wanted to be taught by these faculty members.
  3. Affordability – Tuition remission was another important aspect of my decision. Not all programs/institutions have graduate assistantships, but they can be valuable for easing the financial burden by offering a stipend, professional experience, and sometimes tuition remission. There are also teaching assistantship opportunities that can offer the same benefits if that is more your style. Determining what you can afford is an extremely personal decision but there are plenty of options out there.
  4. The Feel – Everyone kept saying this to me, and I did not really understand what it meant until I visited a few schools. How you feel there is so essential! You can do anything for two years but I am sure most of us would rather be comfortable during that time. Visit the programs if you can, and if you attend a preview/interview weekend, being intentional in your conversations with people.  Their experience can help you navigate if you truly want to attend that program.

 

Application Costs and Materials

Applying to graduate school can cost a pretty penny and requires a lot of planning. This can be a little difficult if you are still in undergrad (like me). Just about every application will cost $75, and the GRE costs $200 for the test alone. Applying to programs and taking the GRE cost me about $700 in total. Whatever your financial situation, this is an important aspect to consider and plan for. There are exemptions for application fees if you live below the poverty line or are an AmeriCorps member   Considering this, your total expenses may look a lot different.

The spring before applications were due, I started researching programs, and in the summer I started my application. There were a lot of aspects to consider: I needed a handful of recommendations, a fine-tuned resume, an eloquent personal statement, and a GRE score. My advice is to get started as early as possible.

 

The GRE

I took the GRE two months before my first deadline. This gave me a small window of opportunity to retake the test if I needed to (which I did). Advice for the GRE is going to vary by institution; some programs don’t put too much emphasis on standardized testing, others may. My advice is to ask around and find out. I asked professionals in my field and other graduate students what their experiences were in applying to schools and what they might know about the application process. Luckily, the GRE was not heavily factored into my admission process so I studied off and on for four months. I’ll be honest, I did average on the GRE and still got accepted into my top choices. How schools value your test scores is completely arbitrary but I still encourage you to try your hardest.

Personal Statement

Personal statements can make or break your application packet. This is one of the only chances you will have to stand apart from the hundreds of other applicants. Each school will have a different prompt, character limit or format, so you will need to tailor your statement to each school.

I started my personal statement writing in July and my first application was due in November. This still did not feel like enough time, but every person will need to set their own pace. You will absolutely have to revise and edit several times.  I found it was best to ask multiple people what their thoughts were on my writing. Some people analyzed content and others looked for grammatical mistakes. While writing, I thought of the following things:

  • What led me to this decision? What could I contribute to the field? What makes me unique?
  • Has something happened to me that led me to this field? How did I overcome or learn from this experience?
  • Why do I want to go to this school? What about their program makes me want to go there?
  • What has academically/professionally prepared me to do well?

The key word here is personal. I wrote my statement almost like a diary entry in hopes that I conveyed myself in the most intimate way possible. My overall advice, get as many eyes on your personal statement as you can, but in the end, go with your gut because the statement is a reflection of you!

Applying to graduate programs is a complex task, and once you have been accepted there are only more questions. However, I found that this task fulfilling. Spending time reflecting on my professional goals, talking to mentors and family about these next steps, and visiting schools has been nothing short of amazing. With all this work behind me, thankfully, in the fall I’ll be attending the University of Maryland, College Park to work on a M.Ed. in Student Affairs. Go Terps!