MD/PhD Year 4: Uff Da

Uff Da is a phrase commonly said in Minnesota to signify exhaustion, weariness, resignation, and overwhelm. As I look back at all that I have done in my first 4 years as a MD/PhD student, this is the word that comes to mind. Yet, as I live day-to-day, it doesn’t seem that bad. In fact, I LOVE what I do, and I am so excited for what’s to come!

You may have noticed that my blog posts have severely dropped off as I’ve progressed through this program. Why? It’s hard to write about things that are so drawn out! I started this blog to help undergraduates survive the med school application process and learn about MD/PhD programs. I’ve written a decent amount about my med school application process, but this was so long ago I dare not write much about it anymore! As for sharing about MD/PhD programs, I feel that I have settled into a routine over the past 4 years such that I don’t really have that many new and exciting things to talk about.

I could tell you all about the failed experiments or few successful ones (I ran a gel today! Just like yesterday!) But I don’t because I’d rather wait to tell you the full story of my research that gets published (whenever it does). Furthermore, classes and teaching are such a normal part of my life that they don’t really stand out as something to write about (beyond how to do well in anatomy). I have done a few other pretty cool things that I’ve wanted to tell people about (like some mentioned below), but I’ve had enough other things to rush off and do immediately after that I haven’t committed time to do them justice.

I really want to share what I’m doing and connect with others to learn about the cool things they’re doing as well. I’m glad that new people continue to find my blog and value its resources. It really warms my heart to hear that my writing has been of help! I promise I will continue to write when I can. 🙂

So, to make up for a year of silence, here’s some of the cool things I’ve been up to during the past year:

I planned a conference!

I didn’t realize how much time this took up until the conference was over and I was back to doing deep cleans and organizing in lab. I wondered to myself, “Why haven’t I been doing this? How did I let it get this bad?” And I realized that I’d normally be sending emails during that time!

Of course, I didn’t do it alone. In April 2016, my good friend and fellow MD/PhD student at UIUC, Mariam Camacho, and myself were elected the Events Chairs for the American Physician Scientists Association (APSA). APSA is a national trainee-run organization for physician-scientist trainees that holds an annual meeting with the Association of American Physicians and American Society for Clinical Investigation each spring. It was our job to oversee the planning from the APSA side of things, including inviting speakers, coordinating the planning of panels, and taking care of all of the nitty gritty details that are required for planning a conference. I am happy to say it was a success!

Source: American Physician Scientists Association

There were many other great people that helped us with this endeavor including Alex Adami, Jillian Liu, Allyson Palmer, Lillian Zhang, Jason Siu, Michelle Caunca, Teddy Mamo, Jeremie Lever, and the staff at McKenna Management. We couldn’t have done it alone!

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2016-2017 American Physician Scientists Association Events Committee. Missing: Michelle Caunca

APSA is a wonderful organization for physician-scientist trainees! If you’re a trainee (whether in medical school or undergraduate) and you’re interested in becoming a physician-scientist, check them out!

I finished my first year of medical school!

And it only took 4 years!!! As my peers who started medical school with me were graduating and preparing for residency, I was taking my last exams of my first year of medical school. We have a unique MD/PhD program at UIUC where we gradually integrate the first year of medical school curriculum into our PhD training as to not greatly hinder our research time. To help you better understand how this works, I’ve listed my schedule for M1 courses:

Year Fall Spring
  • Immunology
  • Brain, Behavior, and Human Development
  • Physiology I
  • Physiology II
  • Anatomy
  • Cell and Tissue Biology I
  • Embryology
  • Anatomy
  • Cell and Tissue Biology II
  • Biochemistry
  • Foundations of Clinical Medicine I
  • Medical Genetics
  • Microbiology
  • Biochemistry
  • Foundations of Clinical Medicine I
  • Medical Statistics
  • Neuroanatomy and Neurophysiology

I presented my research and traveled across the country

Literally. In November, I gave a talk at the AASLD Liver Meeting in Boston, Massachusetts.


At the End of March, I flew to the other side of the country and presented a poster at the American College of Physicians (ACP) Internal Medicine Meeting in San Diego.

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Instagram: @MDPhDToBe

In May, I went to Washington, DC to advocate with the ACP as I have done in 2014 and 2016.

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Instagram: @MDPhDToBe

I was elected to the ACP Council of Student Members (CSM) this year, so I just was in Philadelphia for a CSM meeting. As the Vice President for APSA this year, I spent a weekend in Atlanta this summer for our annual leadership retreat. I also visited my college roommate in Montana over spring break. I’m ready to take a break from flying. 😫 However, I am so thankful for these opportunities to travel the country, connect with others, share my research, and help organizations more effectively help other trainees and patients!


I earned a teaching certificate

My graduate department requires that all PhD students teach. I’ve gone beyond the teaching requirements to teach 4 semesters. Since i had spent that much time in the classroom, I thought I might as well attend a few more workshops and reflect on my teaching skills so that I could earn a certificate. I’m a little biased, but I really do believe taking this extra time to focus on my didactic skills has made me a much better teacher.

I have been a teaching assistant for an anatomy & physiology lab for 3 years. The fall semester, which I teach, covers histology, bones, muscles, and the nervous system. The first time I taught this class, I was overwhelmed with how much there was to know! Shout out to all of my students who have worked their butts off to take on this class while carrying a heavy undergraduate workload. The second time, I was taking my medical school anatomy class at the same time and was starting to pick up on a lot more things and was a much better teacher. The third time, having completed M1 anatomy and in the process of my teaching certificate, was even better. This was a particularly fun semester to teach because my classroom had the same cadaver that I had dissected the previous year!


Between having a much more in depth understanding of anatomy and attending teaching workshops, I feel that I have really grown as a teacher. As a result, I was given an excellent teaching rating by my students for the first time for this class (I also earned one when TAing a microbiology lab). Teaching does take quite a bit of time away from my research, so I’m done for it for now.


I’ve missed out on a lot

I think it’s important to point out that while I have been able to do a lot of great things that I am incredibly excited about, I have also missed out on a lot. For example, I’ve only made it back home to see family a few times in the past year. My niece was born in July 2016 and I’ve seen her at 2 weeks, 6 months, and 11 months. I’ve been able to facetime a few times, but it’s just not the same.

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I’ve missed weddings. And birthdays. And home Gopher football games (an important part of my undergrad).  So I’d like to thank all of my family and friends for dealing with me and being ever so patient with me when you don’t hear from me for extended periods. I’ve had to let a lot of friendships fade out over the past few years, but I promise you all still mean so much to me! I’d especially like to thank my partner for dealing with my craziness and considering working together at a coffee shop a “date.”

Now that I’ve covered quite a bit, I’m going to get back to everything else. I have a paper to write, events to plan, websites to design, policies proposals to draft, personal statements to write, experiments to plan, and so much more! As always, feel free to contact me, I’ll try to respond as soon as I can. But no guarantees when that’ll be… Here goes year 5!!!


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