Running Because I Can

Me, Emily , and Dad near the starting line.

The beginning of this year found me very frustrated.  After six and a half years in graduate school I still wasn’t finished, and the end only seemed to be slipping further away as my time was eaten up by being a teaching assistant and many failed experiments in lab.  The massive amounts of time on task not yielding results had me feeling very down.  I needed a win—something where my time would give the results I was looking for.  At the end of March, my younger sister Emily called me to tell me she had won a spot in the Marine Corps Marathon for this year.  Emily is a middle/high school math teacher in Texas and had taken up running to deal with the stress from work.  Within the past two years she had developed a love for running and had run several half marathons  The MCM 2018 would be her 2nd full marathon.  Emily knew I had been adding running into my exercise routine (I use that word loosely) to prepare for the coming summer hiking and climbing season.  I’m not sure what made her do it, but she invited me to join her for the marathon.

I was on the fence.  My dad was an avid runner when he was in the military, and I could remember when he ran the MCM when I was very little.  I remember riding in the car with my mom to meet him on early morning training runs.  Despite my dad’s influence, running was not something I took to naturally growing up.  I was a chubby kid who preferred to read.  I like playing softball and basketball but hated the running parts.  I was in college before running really attracted my attention.  Thinking about my dad’s accomplishments made me want to be a runner, and I tried many times to make running a regular habit.  Injury and other commitments always got in the way.  At best I was an on-again-off-again jogger with a marathon on her bucket list but no time on her hands.

My dad found out about my sister’s invitation, and then he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: “If you do it, I’ll do it too”.  After my dad retired from the US Army in 2011, physical conditioning became less of a priority and the comfy retirement pudge had set in.  He had celebrated his 50th by running a half marathon with Emily, but nobody suspected he would want to do a marathon again.  To run this race with my dad would be a once in a lifetime opportunity so I took it.  On April 5, I told Emily and Dad that I was in.

The Marine Corps Marathon is also known as “The People’s Marathon”.  It is the largest race in the world that doesn’t offer cash prizes to top finishers and is a very popular race for non-professional runners.  Participation is capped at 30,000 people each year and most of those spots are given away by lottery.  Dad and I had missed the lottery but could gain entry as charity runners.  This is a common thing for a lot of bigger races.  Charities are given or may purchase so many bibs and then attach a fundraising amount to them.  You coordinate to raise money for a charity, and once your goal is reached, you are allowed to race.  Dad and I spent a few weeks evaluating our options and settled on Team Red White & Blue, an organization whose mission is “To enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity”.  After my dad retired, my family moved from Fort Bragg, where we had lived since 1999, to Lexington, KY.  I no longer lived at home but still witnessed how tough the transition from military to civilian life and to a new community was for my dad, my mom, and my younger siblings.  My dad appreciated the impact of Team RWB’s mission, and their emphasis on making meaningful connections between people reminded me of the Corvias Foundation.  Choosing to fundraise for Team RWB was an easy decision.

Moments after the starting gun went off for “The People’s Marathon”

We dove into training with the primary goal being to develop a habit of running 3 or 4 times per week and a secondary goal of building mileage without injury.  I took to my books.  As I learned watching School House Rock as a kid, “Knowledge is power!”.  I read everything I could get my hands on to make sure I was going into training the right way to avoid injury, and I went to free seminars at my local running store to learn more about efficient running form.  Slowly as the information built in my brain so did my confidence and my new habit.

The second week of June my official 20-week training program and my summer of firsts began.  I had never in my life ran more than 5 miles so each new distance felt like an accomplishment.  I had only entered in 5K races before so each longer race I did while training was a new experience.  The pains in my hips and knees were new and different.  The hunger for post-run snacks and the post- long run naps were glorious!  Even getting up early to beat the California summer heat was new and enthralling.  Running and the lifestyle that goes with it had me feeling great both physically and mentally.  I was proud of what I was pushing myself to do, and I was proud that I was rising to the challenge.

My dad and I fundraised together as Team Neutron.  By mid-summer the initial excitement on our fundraising page had died down and I was growing concerned that we wouldn’t be able to meet our combined $1600 goal.  Inspired by a friend who was also fundraising as a charity runner, I decided to offer incentives for donors.  For a donation of:

  • $10, you could add a song to my race-day playlist
  • $25, I would dedicate a mile of the race to a service member of your choosing
  • $50, I would send you an autographed post-race photo
  • $100, I would send you batch of homemade cookies
  • $200, I would send you a personalized surprise

These incentives worked in surprising ways.  A cousin donated $50 just because she wanted the photo.  A close friend gave $200 because she knew “a personalized surprise” was code for “I actually don’t know what I’ll do but I’ll come up with something if I need to” and she wanted me to have to come up with something.  People were excited about being able to dedicate a mile and with each donation that came in, it was clear how much thought and care people were putting into their choices.  With each new name to run for, the race became more significant.  No longer was I running for myself but I was running to honor these people too.

Early in the race with the dedication ribbons pinned to my camelback.

By October 28, race day, we had met our fundraising goal, and my mom had embroidered the name of each servicemember on a ribbon for me to carry with me on the course.  There were 25 ribbons, nearly one for every mile.  I had the ribbons pinned in stacks of 5 on my camelback, and with each mile marker my dad and sister alternated reading the name from a new ribbon.  We then took a moment to share whatever we knew about the person and their service.  When the miles were getting tougher and we were getting more tired, reading each new name became a moment of reprieve from the race as we thought about someone else’s experience.  With each new name was one mile less to go.

Dad and me when things were starting to get tough.

Around mile 20 serious muscle cramps set in and we slowed way down.  We walked a mile and surrendered our goal time of 5 hours 30 minutes in order to cross the finish line together.  I hadn’t done any step of this process alone, and I certainly wasn’t going to start at mile 20 of the race!  We crossed the finish line in just over 6 hours and received our medals.  We met our spectating team in the Team RWB charity tent and spent the rest of the day eating and celebrating.  Dad, Emily, and I demolished a tub of Neapolitan ice cream after dinner and strategized on where it was and was not appropriate to wear our medals in the coming days.

The sweet finishers’ medal

Post-race and post-fundraising my life is not very different from how it was back in April when this whole adventure started.  I’m still in graduate school, uncertain when I will finish.  I am teaching a course this quarter, and things in the lab still don’t cooperate the way I’d like them too.  Thank you notes and photos and cookies will probably sit on the back burner until after Thanksgiving, and tomorrow will actually be my first post-race run.  How I feel about all of this is different now though.  I feel more accepting of the challenges in school and lab and feel less like these challenges are the result of some personal inadequacy.  Challenges are just part of a long road, and with a steady pace I can make it to the end.

Me, Emily, and Dad post-race

Corvias Regional Alumni Summit 2018

Somehow it has already been three weeks since our first regional Corvias Alumni Summit! Over the weekend of October 13-14, a small group of Corvias Alumni were able to come together for a weekend of networking and personal, professional, and philanthropic development. It is amazing to think that we could accomplish so much in only 2 days…but I mean, come on – we are Corvias scholars!

Our sessions started on Saturday morning with a group breakfast and our first session with Dr. Jermaine Davis. Our first task was to settle into our seats and get our bag of Grits to inspire us for the session entitled, “Gettin’ Gritty: Finish What You Start”. Prior to our gathering, Melissa sent out a packet for us to fill out that focused on our goals, whether they be personal or professional. Upon starting our conversation, we all went around and explained what goal setting looks like for each of us – and we had a mixture of people who love goal setting and marking things off of their list and people who do not like to set goals (though they ultimately came up with some!). Although all of our goals were different and personal, we were able to recognize similarities in effort, tasks to complete to get us to our end goal, and ways that we could utilize each other to ultimately achieve them.

While it is impossible to give a complete recap of Dr. Davis’ talk with us, I hope to include his main points and a few key quotations that he used to inspire our group. Our first session was focused on goal setting and setting yourself up in the best way possible to achieve your goals. After learning the “Good Job” song (ask a local Corvias member that attended the summit to teach it to you – you won’t regret it), we went straight to work. He stressed three points when setting and achieving your goals – the principle of slight edge, complimenting the effort, and practicing the knowing àdoing gap. In summary, it is important to do what you can to give yourself a competitive advantage, always celebrate reaching the small steps that make up your journey as they are happening, and making sure that we understand the difference between knowing what to do and actually doing what we know. All of these are essential to actually reaching the goals that we set in our lives both short and long term.

One piece of information that Dr. Davis stunned us with was the statistic that we have the majority of our conversations with ourselves, and that 77% of all internal dialogue is negative. This seemed to surprise every one of us – and gave us a realization that we need to change our mindset in order to change our lives. In order to view our goals as realistic and through a positive lens, we must have a greater percentage of positive internal dialogue.

We finished our first session with conversations about things that interfere with our goals and our fears. We have internal and external interferences and we identified some as money, negative relationships, imposter syndrome, and self-sabotage. We continued to talk about imposter syndrome as many of us had felt that in our lives – the feeling that you are where you are by mistake or that it is a fluke, and that you are unworthy of successes or accomplishments in your life. It was amazing to see a group of accomplished individuals identify so strongly at some point or another with this idea. Lastly, we talked about our fears; Dr. Davis put fears into four categories – fear of the unknown, fear of success, fear of rejection, and fear of failure. We all identified where our fears lie and how irrational they can sound when we verbalize them.

Our second session focused on debilitative vs. facilitative emotions, plate management, and the role of other people in your life. Debilitative emotions prevent effective performance and facilitative emotions contribute to effective performance. While debilitative emotions can be helpful in the short term, they become dangerous when they increase in duration and intensity. While we were speaking about this, Dr. Davis asked us to name as many of these emotions as possible – it was amazing how many debilitative emotions we could come up with in comparison to facilitative. When thinking of debilitative emotions, we talked about fear, doubt, disappointment, frustration, anger, etc. When we named facilitative emotions, the only one that came quickly was gratefulness. I guess that shows a little bit of proof for how 77% of our thoughts are negative!

Another topic was plate management – or rather, what do you put on your “plate” and how well do you manage all of your responsibilities. We found that many of us overload our plate to the point where we actually don’t end up doing the things that are actually important, while others don’t place enough on their plates. He asked us to identify 5 core values in life that we would like in order to live a values based life; from there, we identified that we have 168 hours in a week and subtracted our hours of sleep and work from that total. From the amount of hours that we had left, we were able to analyze our own lives and determine if we actually put proper weight on, and allotted appropriate time for, our core values and goals. If we looked at these hours and realized we didn’t place our time in those categories or used our time to reach our goals, we were able to reevaluate how we spend our time. I challenge each of you to do this – it can truly open your eyes to areas of personal improvement and illuminate areas of your life that you can take some hours from to better use for achieving your goals.

Lastly, we talked about how people in our lives can be adders, subtracters, multipliers or dividers. Adders push you forward, subtracters push you down, multipliers push you up, and dividers move you away from your goals. It is extremely important to identify the people in your life who fit in each of these categories. Once you identify who is who, you can re-evaluate your relationships with those who do not push you towards your goals.

Quotes from Dr. Jermaine Davis

  • A goal is a target where you aim your efforts and energy.
  • Information + Application = Transformation!
  • We don’t ask for help because we are weak, we ask because we want to remain strong!
  • Goals – Interferences = Success
  • When you know your why, you can withstand any how.
  • The opposite of motivation is not laziness, it’s complacency.
  • You can live a life by design or default.
  • The antidote to negative thinking is an attitude of gratitude.
  • All dreams and goals have a price tag.

For the rest of the day on Saturday, we spent time creating an agenda to reiterate what we had learned with the current scholars that would be joining us on Sunday, spent time “connecting or disconnecting”, and eating dinner at The Raleigh Times.

Sunday we were able to join together and learn from one of our favorite women, Maria! She led us in a conversation on financial identity and how to determine who we are from a financial standpoint. She stressed that though money isn’t everything, it is important and it is something that we need to think about. We came together and had a great conversation that we always wish could be longer!

One of our favorite events of our time together was our connect time with the current scholars in the Raleigh area. We were able to reiterate the information we learned from Dr. Davis in small groups where we could incorporate the scholars and learn from them while they learned from us. It was a great way for us to continue connecting with each other and show the current scholars what they will be joining when they eventually become alumni. They were inspirational to us and we learned a great deal from their perspective as current students, as many of us have been out of school for a number of years.

Our last group event of the weekend was a conversation about mindfulness and meditation led by our very own Kris Brooks. She led us through a guided meditation, taught us information about mindfulness including tips and tricks and how we could start, and sparked a conversation about how each of us interpreted the provided meditation. We all realized that we could use meditation and mindfulness as a way to center ourselves throughout every experience in our lives that may be stressful or difficult, or simply just to ground ourselves throughout our day.

Overall, our trip to Raleigh, NC and our first regional gathering was a huge success. We were able to chat and network with each other, learn from people who are professionals in their field, and realize just how achievable our goals can be if we continue to appropriately pursue them!

 

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!