Why Medicine?

Q (from ask.fm): Why do you want to become a doctor? Did you ever consider any other profession?

For a time in my life (primarily during the med school application and interview process) I HATED this question simply because I was asked it oh so often. But really I LOVE this question. I love it because it makes me sit back and think about why I’m doing what I’m doing.

I’ve seen the quote “Medicine is for those who couldn’t imagine doing anything else.” by Luanda Grazette spread throughout twitter and time again by premeds and med students alike, and I simply do not agree. At least with respect to my own situation.

Since I have begun seriously considering my future (which started in late elementary school since I have always been nearly too obsessed with planning out my future), my career goals have consisted primarily of medicine, pharmacy, and research though at a younger age interior design and architecture were also top candidates. During this time, politics and business leadership also drew my attention briefly because I felt I could make a difference in those positions.

Making a difference. That’s the source of all of these career goals (minus architecture and interior design… I just wanted to make pretty houses). In medicine and pharmacy, I could make a difference in individuals’ lives through improving their health. In research, I could potentially discover something that would make a difference in our fundamental knowledge that could be applied to making a difference in many lives. In politics, I could make a difference by instituting policies that had a larger benefit for the nation with special interest in healthcare policy. And in business leadership, I could help bring a company success and target the goals of the increased revenue to giving back to others with particular interest in nonprofit charitable organizations.

As I explored these career options, my interests became more refined but I took something from each one. My interest in pharmacy holds true as I hope to have my research relate to the development of therapies. My interest in politics holds true as I am still particularly interested in healthcare policy and hope to be able to use my position as a doctor to educate others and make a difference in the way our healthcare system is set up. My interest in leadership holds true as I take the leadership skills for business and apply them to some day running my own lab. In fact, it is pursuing these other interests that I believe will make me a stronger doctor.

So why medicine specifically? First of all, the human body is beautifully complex and it is an amazing challenge to understand and seek to control its processes and especially its pathology. It is a challenge that I find absolutely invigorating and I believe it will keep me enthused about my work until the day I die. Second, it connects me to others and gives purpose to my work. It allows me to help others achieve their most basic need – good health.

I can imagine myself doing many things, but I have CHOSEN medicine because it is simply the best choice for me.


Time Balance as a MD/PhD Student

Q (from ask.fm): As a MD/PhD student, do you have any time for yourself? For family and friends? To just take a break? I would like to do a MD/PhD program, but I want to enjoy my 20s…

A: Of course you have time! I fully want to enjoy my 20’s as well so even if I don’t feel like I have time, I MAKE time to enjoy it. When you’re in the graduate portion of your PhD, your free time is really based on how much your PI will push you (or how much you push yourself). It is an important consideration when you pick a lab. If the PI is understanding and aware that people are not robots who just work 24 hours a day to produce data, then you should be granted the time that you need. In fact, I’ve had PI’s tell me to go home because I’m in lab too late or I’m there on a weekend!

I actually just read a blog post today about this culture of pushing scientists too far (in response to a sad situation), and a particular quote from it stood out to me:

“The best (and more importantly, happiest) scientists I know are people who are interested in many things, who approach all aspects of their lives with engagement, purpose and openness.”

There seems to be a cultural shift away from pushing students too hard, which makes me glad. Obviously, we want to be successful and have a lot expected of us (which only increases as we progress through our careers), but we have to appreciate our own limits as well.

As someone who enjoys writing for fun, watching sports games, enjoying my weekend nights out with friends, going home to see family and friends (which requires an eight hour drive one way for me right now), playing musical instruments, and many more leisurely activities, I believe that doing so makes me better at what I do by keeping me happy and healthy. I believe that everyone can make time to have a life if they work hard enough to do so. Not only that, I also believe that they all SHOULD. It may take a little work to figure out how to balance everything, but it can be done and it is definitely worth it. As long as you find a program and an advisor that understands that you need to have a life outside of school, you will have the time that you need.

I went to Washington, DC, and all I got was this…

…amazing opportunity to represent my state and medical students to speak with staff of various members of congress and advocate for healthcare policy.

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While the idea of advocating for change in policy that could affect more people than I ever could one-on-one has fascinated me, I never thought I would actually be able to do anything about it. I figured that by going into research and medicine I would have enough on my plate and I would leave this kind of thing for people who are more well versed in political science.

Then this year I found out about an opportunity with the American College of Physicians, a 137,000-member-strong organization of internists, internal medicine subspecialtists, residents, and medical students interested in internal medicine as a specialty (which I am because it will lead me to a fellowship in oncology and because I am simply drawn to internal medicine.) This opportunity would help finance a trip to Washington, DC so that I could participate in the College’s annual Leadership Day. I applied for the opportunity and luckily, my state’s chapter was so kind as to offer some funding to help make this possible.

This year’s Leadership Day was this past Wednesday. It started with just medical students and residents seated by state so that we could be briefed on the issues and given a little bit more information about how to advocate for our top priority issues.

But first, each state had to take a selfie.

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There was an emphasis on using social media, which I was glad to see, and it started by having this picture posted on Twitter. Perhaps if you follow me on Twitter, you noticed me saying a lot of things with the hashtag #ACPLD, which stood for American College of Physicians Leadership Day that we used to track the experience.

We then were joined by our more experienced counterparts as we delved a little deeper into how to speak about these issues as we critiqued and learned from the communication style of some examples of how a conversation with a staff member may go. We listened to a talk titled: “To Boldly Go: How Will Congress Influence the Trek to Health Care Reform? And How Can You Help Chart the Course?” that was chocked full of Star Trek references (winning) and, of course, inspiration. After some more panels and presentations, we were done for the day and we were able to meet as a chapter to discuss the next day’s events, the medical students/residents were able to attend our own reception, and the Downstate Illinois chapter representatives went out to dinner.

Thursday was then to take what we learned the previous day and put it into action. Each group had meetings lined up with various members of congress from their state (or more likely staff for those representatives). We split up our priority issues so that the medical students really focused on Graduate Medical Education (GME) since that is the most immediate issue we face. Other issues of interest were getting rid of the Sustained Growth Rate (SGR), continuing the Medicaid Pay Comparability program past the end of the year, and enacting medical liability reform through a bipartisan bill proposed by both a lawyer and a doctor, the Saving Lives, Saving Costs Act that would crease a “Safe Harbor” protection for physicians who document adherence to clinical practice guidelines. I won’t get into these issues now, but look forward to some thrilling articles about them in the future!


Throughout the day, my group of ACP representatives met with staff from the offices of one senator and seven representatives both Democrat and Republican who represented constituents of downstate (southern) Illinois. I was apprehensive at first to give my spiel about GME as many of us other first-timers were, but throughout the day our whole group became much more comfortable with talking to these Congressional staff members.

After all of our meetings, we went our separate ways with most leaving that night for home. Since my flight wasn’t until the morning, I took the time to walk around the city and see some of the sites that I had seen almost exactly 10 years before on my first trip to Washington, DC including the White House as you can see below. While a brief trip, it was a great opportunity and I look forward to having more opportunities to advocate for healthcare in the future!

White House

For more about my experiences with ACP Advocacy, see:

Fitting in a week in DC (May 2, 2016)

What it’s like to advocate for healthcare (April 29, 2019)

If you want to see how I wrote about my ACP advocacy in my residency personal statement, see:

Residency Personal Statement (June 21, 2022)

It’s been a while

Did you miss me?

While you may follow me on twitter and see my day to day ramblings, it’s been quite some time since I’ve done a real update here on my beloved blog.

This post is to tell you why.

I last posted about my experience with school at the end of fall semester. Then a few things happened. And suddenly, spring semester is almost gone! What’s really helped time fly is that I’ve lived up to motto quite well this semester: Do All The Things Here’s the jist of what my semester has been like:

Medical School Classes

Our program has us take our M1 courses spread out during our PhD, so I got a start on mine by taking immunology and brain, behavior, and human development. I had to race back from Minnesota soon after new years to beat the oncoming winter storm and be back on time to start medical school courses on January 6 – two weeks before the rest of the university’s courses started. While the immunology class ended at the beginning of March, the brain, behavior, and human development course goes until mid May.

Graduate School Classes

My program has additional graduate school course requirements, so I took the undergraduate/graduate immunology course as well as a tumor targeting journal club this semester. I *may* get to TA the immunology course at some point so that was another reason to take the second immuno. The journal club is a more chill class requiring a single presentation on a paper each semester as we all take turns presenting. It’s also a multidisciplinary group of graduate and undergraduate students which means we learn about targeting tumor therapy from a variety of perspectives!


I think I have a problem because I love seminars. Like I go to all of them. Not just for my own department (physiology) but many others like the microbiology, cell and developmental biology, and biochemistry departments (and sometimes neuroscience/others). My department began the semester with job candidate talks twice a week and has at least relaxed to just one seminar per week now. I’ve also spent a day at the College of Medicine’s Annual Research Symposium and will be enjoying the weekend at the American Physician Scientist’s Association Annual Meeting in Chicago, IL.

Being a Teaching Assistant

I got to stand on the other side of the classroom for the first time as I had my own section of introduction to microbiology lab for non-majors. While the concepts weren’t necessarily hard, figuring out how to teach them to people who weren’t science majors and getting them interested in it was the real challenge. Overall, it’s been a wonderful experience – my students are great and helping others learn feels great. There’s just a few more classes before the end of the semester, and I just *might* miss it this summer (though I’ll enjoy more time for other things!)

Clinical Practice Preceptorship

I may not be doing my clinical years for quite some time, but I did get to spend a little time in the clinic this year. We have a program that matches up M1s with physicians to shadow and really learn about patient care. I opted to do this so soon since I had never actually shadowed a physician before, it helped balance out my other basic science endeavors, and I hoped to make a lasting connection with a physician mentor. As an aspiring academic medical oncologist, I lucked out and was placed with a medical oncologist who also happened to be director of cancer research at the local hospital. While I only shadowed a few times, it was a great experience to have early on.


While I wasn’t writing for here as much, I was still writing. Most of my attention has been on writing articles for The Almost Doctor’s Channel, though I’ve also started writing for Doc Check and contributed to Lean On‘s blog.

Oh, and research

Wait, is that why I’m in grad school? I really started work on my project this semester after doing A LOT of reading and planning this fall to start to develop my own project. After working with primary mouse cells for a while, I got the dendritic cell line that the lab had been trying to get for quite some time, which was infinitely better (until recently when they just decided to stop growing). I managed to get enough data to make a poster for the College of Medicine’s Annual Research Symposium and I’m looking forward to being able to devote much more time to it once the semester is over.


And that’s spring semester in a nutshell! I’m hoping to write more about some of these experiences more in depth when I get the time. As always, if you have any questions or want me to address anything specific on here, feel free to shoot me an e-mail at mdphdtobe@gmail.com and I will do my best to respond in a timely manner.


Featured photo source: “Time” by JD | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Cribs – MD/PhD Student Edition


Sup y’all! Welcome to the MD/PhD student edition of cribs featuring yours truly! Thought I’d give you a tour of my new apartment here at UIUC so you can get a feel of the place where I will likely spend endless hours studying in the next year.

Cribs 1

The awesome thing about the building is that there are just three apartments on bottom and three on top with our own private entrances. It’s a nice transition between living in a large apartment building with a front desk and hundreds of other tenants and living in a house on my own. Plus, it’s located just a block from one of the hospitals on campus and just a mile from the medical science and associated buildings where I’ll be spending lots of my time.

Cribs 2

Well, let’s enter the apartment. Right away, you meet a staircase leading up to my living room. You can see my flower pictures hung along the stairs and my bike at the top. It’s a pretty fun ordeal to get the bike down the stairs, but even more to hold it up a few stairs while trying to open the door. I’m sure I’ll get better at it in time.

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Now here’s the living room. It has a vaulted ceiling with fan and light in the center. Since I’ve spent the past four years in Minneapolis, I’ve grown accustomed to having a skyline. Unfortunately that is something that Chambana is lacking, so if you notice above the bike, there is a puzzle picture of the New York skyline as my replacement. I also have brought nearly all of the text books that I own as well as many other books to fill my bookshelves. While I have maybe read half of them, they still make me look smart, which is clearly the most important thing. Also, being the mature adult that I am, my pictures mostly require picture frames, but that hasn’t stopped me from letting my obnoxious Minnesotan self be fully expressed on my walls. As my mother says, I will likely make enemies of Illinois fans if I ever have people over. I also have a swell view of some random house’s back yard through my window. Luckily they haven’t been annoying… yet.

Cribs 5

The living room transitions into the kitchen with a big peninsula, which is perfect for spreading out all of my study materials and is a good replacement for a desk. This is a very important area of the apartment since my paddle from marching band and my coffee maker are both located here. I even have a shelving unit dedicated to coffee-related items just below the peninsula. Oh and I have a pantry, which is pretty dang awesome!

Cribs 6

Every girl, even if they intend to spend most of their time in a lab, needs a quality bathroom area. While I was concerned about the lack of counter- and cabinet-space when I moved in, I made up for it with my super awesome shelf. Most importantly, there is a closet with a washer and dryer. Yes that’s right, a WASHER AND DRYER! As someone who has had to pay for laundry the past three years this is one of the glorious things about the whole apartment.

Cribs 7

And finally, the most important room, the room with all of my clothes and where I may be able to catch a few hours of the ever-so-elusive sleep every now and then, my bedroom. I nearly had a freak out when I saw all of the closets in this place. It was so messy when I toured it in May that I didn’t realize that there wasn’t just one closet in the back corner, but that there was another wide closet along the wall and a linen closet, which is SUPER MEGA AWESOME!!! I no longer have to climb to get into bed as I’ve had a loft/top bunk for the past four years and even better yet it’s a queen size bed! I don’t even know what to do with all of that space! In case you were curious, the super cool cow quilt was made by my grandmother so it is a highly sentimental piece rather than just there because I really like cows or something. And of course I must have an Aragorn poster near my bed as I have for… pretty much ever. Now that he’s framed, he shall be with me forever… Okay, ending the Lord of the Rings weirdness, I also put up a white board in the room for studying in case it would help me to write things out. I wasn’t going to put it on the wall, but then I figured having to stand to use it would help me stay awake and focused. 

Well that’s the place! I think it is set up pretty well to help me be a super productive student! After living in dorms and apartments that are just a step up from that for the past four years, I am so fortunate to have my own furniture again and my own space. Surely it would be much more sparse had I not received much of this from my grandparents and I am blessed to have such caring relatives. I am looking forward to spending at least the next year in this apartment and getting the rest of my life settled here in Chambana!

Featured image: Instagram | Hanna Erickson (@MDPhDToBe)

Making the move

This past weekend, I loaded up all of my stuff into a car, truck, and trailer back home in Minnesota and moved it all into my new apartment in Champaign, Illinois, just blocks from campus where I’ll be starting school in just a couple weeks!

I had been working to pack up my things since the beginning of the summer, slowly taking over my parents’ basement as I brought things home from my grandparents’ house and my apartment at school. I was fortunate to be able to get so many things handed down from my grandparents that I didn’t have to buy much for the apartment.

On Friday night, my brother borrowed his mother-in-law’s truck and we picked up a UHaul trailer. It was a much longer process than necessary because it wasn’t at an actual UHaul store and the guy didn’t know how to check out the trailer. Nonetheless, we finally got it an brought it to my parents’ house where I had brought all of my boxes and furniture out to the garage. With the help of my brother, his friend, his wife, my father, and my mother, we had all of my stuff loaded in less than an hour!

Later that night, I picked up my boyfriend, Tim, and brought him back to my parents’ house so that we could get up and leave early the next morning. We got up at 6, went to McDonalds to pick up breakfast for the traveling group, and returned to find that my brother had arrived. My brother drove the truck with trailer and my mom rode with him while Tim rode with me in my car.

A little over eight hours and a few stops later, we arrived at the realtor where I needed to pick up my keys in Champaign, Illinois. While my mom had been pestering me to call and make sure that I could pick up my keys when I got there, I never got around to it, and we faced locked doors to the realtor office. This was bad news since my brother and mother had to leave the next morning to head back home. I frantically called the emergency number for the company and as I was talking to someone the owner opened the door and gave us the key. It was a close scare that will surely never happen again!

We quickly got everything into the apartment from the trailer so that my brother and I could return it. We then went to find the nearest liquor store since beer is an essential part of unpacking, naturally. I was happy to find that liquor stores are open on Sundays here, a nice change from Minnesota. We took a break to go eat and I found that there was many more shops in the area than I had seen when I came to look for apartments earlier this year, another nice find. By the end of the night, nearly everything was unpacked. Just a few boxes remained and pictures needed to be hung up, but that was pretty much it for work that needed to be done!

The next morning, my brother and mom got up at 6 to head back to Minnesota. It was hard to say goodbye, but as my mom had to tell herself, it was as if I lived on the other side of Minneapolis and was just too busy to see them. Surely, the time until I’m home for Thanksgiving will fly by.

Tim stayed with me and we shopped for the few remaining things I needed for the apartment and drove around to explore the city. We went to the mall and I bought my first actual Illinois clothing! The only other shirt I’ve owned is a hate shirt that simply says, “Illinois, do you even have a mascot?” Not that much hate, but a hate shirt nonetheless (they don’t have a mascot anymore because it was an Indian and the NCAA found it inappropriate). We went to the movie theater near the town that night. Although it’s only been a couple days, I already felt like I knew my way around.

The next day I had my first meeting with my graduate department to sign my stipend agreement. Unfortunately it hadn’t been sent to the department yet but I did get my picture taken for the graduate school records! Later in the afternoon, I met with the professor that I’m most interested in having as a thesis advisor. His lab is a large chemistry lab focused on development of small molecules as anticancer drugs. I got some papers from him to read and I’ll let him know in a couple days if I for sure want to rotate with him. Now, I just need to line up 5 more professors as potential thesis advisors that a committee will choose from to pick my 3 rotation labs.

The rest of Monday and Tuesday, Tim and I just enjoyed spending time together. He had been waiting for the package with my Xfinity internet starter kit on Monday while I was out but we apparently missed it because my doorbell doesn’t work and surely the delivery man tried that and with no answer just left a note. After some struggle with an unfriendly UPS employee at the customer service center, we got the package via will call. Unfortunately it didn’t have a modem, so we still had to find a Comcast customer service center to get that Tuesday morning. We later walked around campus so he and I could get a better feel of the place and get out of the apartment a little bit. I dropped him off at the airport later in the afternoon and finally had to say goodbye. It was rough, but we’ll see each other later in September in Madison, so at least we have something kind of soon to look forward to!

Now I’m all alone here in Chambana, but I have plenty to do to keep me occupied. I need to contact more professors and hopefully meet with them. I need to get my I-Card, my student ID. I need to get other things set up like car insurance and car registration. And grad school orientation starts this Friday! Looking forward to what’s to come!

Featured image: Hanna Erickson