My Residency Personal Statement

Raw an unedited, I reveal my Residency Personal Statement.

Like the personal statement for medical school, the one for residency is vital in securing a spot at the residency of your choice. The emphasis of the personal statement shifts from why you want to be a doctor, to why a particular specialty fits you best. I chose Family Medicine as my specialty and had to craft a personal statement to let residency directors know why. Below, you’ll find that statement, unedited. Enjoy!

My Personal Statement

“Only two more miles until we reach our campsite.” I looked up at him, sweat stinging my eyes. Two miles?! We had already ascended to 6000 ft. over the past three hours. At our current pace, we would make it to camp in another hour. My friend and I were the last two in a group of four hiking the Tahoe National Forest on a four day excursion: one day hiking in, two days relaxing at the lake, one day hiking out. I grumbled to myself about over-packing only to be cheerfully reminded by my friend about the wonders of getting away from the city. Thirty minutes later found us one mile away and my determination was not going to be trampled like the dirt under our feet. Pain was taking over my left gut and my sweat-soaked t-shirt was evidence of the hot sun and rigorous battle I was fighting. I had the resolve to overcome and I was glad I was fighting it with a friend. We had endured much together over the last five years.

I had many other friends along the way, but four years after this encounter with the mountain I first met and began developing a friendship with my wife. We opened our souls to each other, allowing the other in to see beneath the surface. We probed deep into each other’s lives to determine why the other was the way they were, what had shaped them and what made them tick. Today we are still inquisitive of the deeper meanings behind each other’s actions. This search will never end; I am glad it won’t. This expands beyond my wife, family and friends to my patients. When I have had continuity of care with patients, I have enjoyed developing deeper bonds beyond the doctor-patient relationship.

Ever since deciding to become a doctor, I knew that primary care was my destiny. Developing long-lasting relationships has always appealed to me. The idea of being somebody’s “doctor” gives me a joy that is humbling and carries a great responsibility. As their doctor, I am accountable to look out for their best interests, treat them with respect and be their gateway to the medical field. This can only be accomplished effectively through personal relationships with patients.

Family Practice is the best amalgamation of all that I want in a career. Family Medicine combines the procedural tasks of orthopedics and minor surgery with the care of mental health in psychiatry and vast knowledge of internal medicine, all of which I enjoyed throughout my third year rotations. I am excited to treat men and women, young and old and to span all cultures, social status and income levels. This specialty champions honesty, reliability, compassion through altruism and a strong work ethic with lifelong learning. Through the teachings of my parents and my own personal commitment, these characteristics have become a pattern in my life.

Growing up I wanted to do something that would positively affect people and give meaning to their lives. This desire led me to becoming a doctor and manifested itself outside of my medical pursuits. Throughout high school and college I engaged in acts of service that were beneficial to friends, family and strangers. In Medical School I immediately became involved in church and looked for opportunities to serve. Perhaps the most rewarding experience is my involvement in my church’s youth group. As a leader of a junior high boys’ Bible Study, I have been a role model and am able to talk with young men on a deeper level about virtues that I cherish and my experiences when I was their age. Many of them have grown spiritually and emotionally thanking me for my influence in their lives. This experience reflects my deeper dedication to compassion and altruism. Through this act of service and others I have found that serving in itself is a reward because it provides a context for what I do in the medical field.

We turned left and started our descent into a valley. I could see the lake from here. Ross, my high school buddy, slowed down and I caught up to him. “All downhill from here,” he said. A bit cliché, but I let him have the remark. It was all downhill from here and I was excited. I thought about the mountain I was climbing on my journey to becoming a doctor. At that time I was just beginning my ascent. There would be rest stops along the way: high school graduation, college graduation and medical school graduation, but I would continue up the mountain until I reached my destination. Now as I reflect back on my journey thus far, I am excited. I have endured the side aches and the sweat and look forward to the next milestone of graduation. But from where I am on the mountain I can see ahead of that stop to the next leg in my journey, residency. My life experiences and medical education have adequately prepared me for this new path where I will finish my residency training but only begin my continued learning. I am confident that my commitment to honesty, kindness and lifelong education will give me the strength and resolve to realize my dreams and overcome the next leg of my expedition.

What do you think? Personally, I like this much more than my medical school personal statement. Four years in medical school must have had more effect than I thought in my development. If you enjoyed this and need to write a personal statement or know someone who does, I’d love to read it. Feel free to pass this on.

My Medical School Personal Statement

Raw and unedited, I reveal my personal statement for Medical School.

Getting into medical school is a long and arduous process.  I wrote an earlier post on my experience here.  Part of this experience includes completing a long application which includes a personal statement.  I’m sure most are acquainted with a personal statement as many colleges require them.  When writing one for medical school, it seemed different however. All of my dreams seemed to be hinging on this succinct statement of intention to become a doctor.  Here it is, unedited.  Enjoy!

My Personal Statement

It slipped away too easily to be love. It was a typical day and my mom stopped at Chevron to fill up on gas. I, being the big toddler that I was, accompanied her into the mini mart. I was left to roam the endless aisles of candy while she paid the bill. Then I spotted her; there she was beckoning me. The snickers bar was all I wanted on this afternoon and more. I went and asked my mom if I could have it. “I don’t have money to spend on things like that,” was her reply. Distraught, I walked back to the aisle to bid my newfound love goodbye. Then an idea popped into my head: I could still pursue this love affair, only undercover. When I got in the car I thought we could get acquainted, so I took it out and started to unwrap it. Before I could, my mom turned around, seeing me in the rearview mirror, and demanded to know where my new love interest had been abducted from. She knew the answer and turned the car around. I slowly walked back into the mini mart to my impending doom, following my mother’s orders. I gave the candy bar back to the attendant and told him I was sorry. Early in my life my mom taught me the value of honesty. Being honest doesn’t only apply to what I say, but to what I do and how I live.

My parents educated me while I was young about the importance of being a man of integrity and living up to a standard in life. I have always set my standards high and have dedicated my life to loving others and working hard. At times it’s hard to be motivated, but I find my strength in my faith as a Christian and my dedication to family. Both serve as my basis for loving others. My parents support has allowed me to realize my dreams thus far and will continue to do so in the future. They taught me to live a life worthy of my potential. The moral qualities taught to me by my parents have prepared me to be an honest, trustworthy doctor.

Similar to my moral education, my desire to become a doctor came at a relatively young age. I was a tall uncoordinated young man, having my fair share of accidents, and found myself visiting the doctor repeatedly. Seeing my family doctor work with empathy for his patients and later having an uncle who went through medical school served to spark and build my interest in the field of medicine. I later did my senior project in high school on shadowing an emergency room physician. My qualities as a sincere, compassionate man have affirmed my desire to become a doctor.

Here at Point Loma Nazarene University I joined a local group of aspiring students with career interests in medicine and went on several trips where we were able to help out with children. Perhaps the most memorable and rewarding experience from this group called Healer’s Hands was when we went to a children’s convalescent hospital to spend time with debilitated kids. While I was unable to do anything to physically help these children, developing relationships with them and seeing the smiles and joy that it brought them was gratifying and served to show me that love for others is probably the best medicine there is. Compassion for patients and looking out for their wellbeing is a quality that every doctor should have and exhibit behind their practice. My experiences with friends as well as strangers have bolstered my compassion for others.

While in college I was selected to do research with one of my professors, Dr. Shellhamer. This was an esteemed honor because only two people a year are asked to do this with him. He saw my hard work and determination and wanted me to be on his research team. While researching, I have experienced elation through my success and have had to learn to overcome the adversity of failure. Determination to figure out the correct solvent system or concentrations of reactants was the impetus that drove me to continue. I learned that persisting through struggles and having the strength of mind to overcome reap rewards over time.

I now turn to pursue a different love affair in my life – a love affair that accompanies my journey in becoming a doctor. This one is full of compassion for other people. I believe that my life experiences have educated me and made me better both emotionally and morally guiding me to this point. The determination I have learned has prepared me to succeed in any endeavor, and the values of honesty and love will allow me to do well in the future. My commitment to my faith and to delivering the well being of others through compassion will give me the strength to realize my childhood aspirations of becoming a doctor.

So, would you have extended an admission to medical school based on that statement? Reading it definitely brought back memories and even some of the stress associated with the medical school application process. Check back next week for my residency personal statement.

How to Hack Your New Year’s Resolution

A list of ways to make your resolution stick this year.

Happy New Year!  By now you have probably already made some resolutions.  Often these include changes that affect one’s health including losing weight, working out more and quitting smoking.  Unfortunately, we are all too unsuccessful at achieving these goals.  According to Statistic Brain Research Institute, only 9.2 % of people who made a resolution felt they were successful. This is dreary, but if you have made a resolution, take heart!  Below I have compiled a list of “hacks” that can make your chances of success much greater.

Understand Habits

First, we must understand habits and how to form or break them.  According to The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg, every habit consists of a cue, a routine and a reward. This loop starts with a trigger that tells your brain to go on autopilot through a routine and is then rewarded at the end. For example, a person wakes in the morning and brews some coffee (the cue) which then triggers them to smoke a cigarette (routine) and they feel calm and ready for the day (reward).  Duhigg also has a “Golden Rule of Habit Change” that will help people stop their addictive habits.  It states that if a person keeps the initial cue and reward but replaces the routine, change will occur.  Lastly, he states you need to believe in wanting to change and be properly motivated for it to occur. This can’t be understated.  You need to buy in to the change or it will not happen.

To develop a habit, you just need to institute the habit loop around your goal.  Develop a cue and reward for what you want to start doing and eventually it will become habit.  If you want to start working out, then first get a cue such as hearing your alarm clock or something as basic as lacing up your tennis shoes.  The reward can be as simple as the feeling you get after working out or you can set an external reward such as a punch card to treat yourself to something every 5 or 10 sessions. Once you understand the habit loop and see it in your life, you can use it to your advantage.

Focus on the Process not the Outcome (Be Specific)

Often when we make our resolution for the year, we make general statements such as “I want to lose weight” or “I want more money.”  These unfortunately are too broad and will easily fall by the wayside.  You need to be more specific (and realistic) and not just state the end goal.  Determine the the process by which you are going to attain that goal and make that your objective.  So, instead of saying “I want to lose weight,” you should say, “ I plan on getting cardiovascular exercise for an hour 3 times a week” or “I am going to increase my fruit and vegetable intake to 50% of what I eat.”  These are specific and attainable processes.  In doing this you are making yourself go through the process which you have more control over.  You can’t always control the outcome but by controlling the process you can make the outcome much more likely.

Focus on One Small Attainable Goal at a Time

All to often when we are making our New Year’s Resolution(s), we get very excited and shoot for the stars.  While the intentions are admirable, this unfortunately sets us up for failure.  We make the resolution too lofty or we make multiple resolutions which we cannot handle.  First, you need to start small.  Make a resolution which you will keep.  If the hour 3 times a week of exercise is something you cannot see yourself doing, then start smaller at 15 minutes three times a week.  After 1-2 months of success, you can increase the amount.  If the 50% of fruits and vegetables frightens you, then scale it down to something you feel is attainable and slowly increase it later.

You should also avoid making multiple resolutions and focus on one goal at a time.  The brain can become overwhelmed from the increase in stress from working on resolutions.  Following through with resolutions requires multiple decisions a week (sometimes a day) and this can cause decision fatigue if there are multiple resolutions being pursued.  Decision fatigue causes you to eventually make a poor decision which will be the downfall of the resolution.  So pick one behavior you want to modify and focus on it. Don’t try to quit smoking, decrease your alcohol, start exercising and eat right all at once. Pick one and focus on it, when you have conquered that one goal, then you can move on to the next (even if it’s not New Year’s Day).

Write it Down

Once you have decided on the one, small, attainable goal that focuses on the process, you need to write it down.  Putting pen to paper solidifies your commitment to the task. Seeing it in black and white can also be a reminder when things get tough.  You can go back to this notation and read back your goal. This can be done in a journal or something as simple as a sticky note.  Lastly, once you have written it down, put it somewhere to remind you of your commitment (Hint: this can be the cue in your habit cycle).

Tell Someone

After you have done all the above “hacks,” make sure you tell someone about your resolution.  The benefits of this are twofold.  First, it will again solidify the goal in your head as it is verbalized and secondly, it will create accountability.  Once another person hears your resolution, they can check up on you to see how you are doing.  This will also motivate you more because you will then have an external standard to live up to.  This can also be done through joining a group such as a running club or alcoholics anonymous.

Roll with the Punches

This last part will be tough to hear.  You WILL have a moment of failure with your resolution.  This is normal!  When (not if) this happens, you need to see it as a bump in the road and not a roadblock.  Roll with it, it’s okay.  When you hit a bump in the road, you get over it and keep going.  You don’t need to start over.  You pick it up where you left off and resume your new routine.

In light of the above , I’ll tell you my resolution.  I plan on reading at least a chapter of a book every night before going to bed (see how this is small and specific).  As above, I plan on hacking the habit loop to make this stick.  My cue will be plugging in my phone which will start the routine of picking up a book and reading.  My reward will be internal as I mostly read non-fiction and self improvement is a big motivation for me.  

With that, I hope that you have success in your New Year’s Resolution. By taking your resolution and running it through the hacks laid out above you will definitely increase your chances of success. Let me know what your resolution is for the new year in the comments below.  Feel free to pass this on to any friends who need it through any of the social media links below. Good luck and keep me posted!

Recapture the Wonder

She was full of wonder, amazement and whimsy.  How and when had I lost this?

I sat there staring at my daughter.  She was now 9 months old and just learning to stand and interact with her environment.  She was playing with a small green wire container that had a ball in it and would slowly lift up a side of the container to watch the ball roll to the other side.  A soft “clack, clack, clack” would sound as the ball rolled over the parallel wire tines.  As soon as it reached the other side she would switch and pick up that side so it would roll back.  This interaction with her environment amazed her.  She continued the action for 10 minutes in astounded wonder.  I sat there and stared, a huge smile across my face listening to her laugh at the sounds she was producing. She was full of wonder, amazement and whimsy.  How and when had I lost this?

A quick inventory revealed that there was little wonder in my life.  Somewhere along the way when responsibility and worry entered, the fragile whimsical wonder of a toddler had been shattered.  It probably started early with worry about school assignments and getting good grades.  Later, responsibility wound enter with a paper route in high school and then being on my own as I went off to college.  Taking time to watch the sunset, walk barefoot through the grass and talk about deep spiritual issues faded and gave way to studying, paying bills and trying to be “cool.”  

There were a few things along the way that erupted a sense of wonder within me: holding hands with my wife, watching her walk down the aisle at our wedding, witnessing my children’s births. But I had lost the wonder that comes with the simple things. I didn’t stop and watch the rustling of oak leaves as the wind picked up. I didn’t float a boat down a stream just to see what happened.  I didn’t run out in the rain without a coat just to feel the soft droplets pelt my skin. I had become numb to the simple things in life.

Looking at my older children, I saw that some of it had already slipped in the oldest.  My second, who is 4, was completely amazed when he found out that we could make our own bagels.  “And we could add blueberries to make blueberry bagels!” he exclaimed with an ecstatic look on his face.  He quickly ran to tell his older brother who is 6 of his newfound discovery.  “I already knew that,” my oldest somberly claimed.  No!  I thought as I wanted to grab his head and shake it.  Don’t lose it; keep your sense of wonder!  

Having children has helped reignite some of the wonder.  At times it can be like discovering things again.  Just recently we went on a rollercoaster with the boys, their first time doing so.  It was a worn out experience for me but seeing my boys feel the joy and fear that come the first time on a roller coaster was amazing.  Their wide-eyed wonderment was priceless. Other things come to mind: watching them eat ice cream or catch a ball for the first time and learn to ride a bike.

I think this is what Jesus was referring to when he said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” He was referring to their child-like faith, their wonder.   So how do we find this? Through life we get exposed to so much that slowly erodes away the sense of wonder we had as a toddler.  We become calloused, cynical and skeptical. Worry and distrust become natural.  I want to focus on two areas that have recently been unearthed in my life that affect this.

The first is technology. I must say that I enjoy being on the cutting edge of new technology.  While this can convey convenience and connectedness, it actually breeds a shallow life of distraction and discontent.  The constant barrage of push notifications invades our life and removes the ability to focus and do something meaningful.  We are unable to stop and take a moment (or much longer) to enjoy the wonder of the small things in life.  It’s impossible to sit and pray or meditate uninterrupted. We are unable to focus on deep work that may produce something we never thought imaginable.

The second is the need for “stuff.” In America, our consumerist culture is like a virus infecting our lifestyles, manifesting with symptoms of discontent and envy.  We need to keep up. We are constantly getting the newest iphone or biggest house or in-style clothes. This preoccupies our mind looking for the next dopamine hit to give us a high after a purchase. It quickly fades and we are left feening for more. Often we can find more wonder in living a more simple life.  This pushes us to be more creative. We can spend our money on more meaningful tasks like trips and paying off debt (yes even this).  We can save to free up time to take a break from work and spend time with people we care about.  

We don’t have to give in.  We can control what we let affect our life.  Join me in regaining the wonder.  So what’s my prescription?  First, take some undistracted time to pray or meditate.  Turn off all forms of communication for 30 minutes and focus on something that brings you wonder.  This can be prayer focused on God.  It can be meditation or mindfulness to become more aware of your surroundings or inner thoughts.  The biggest thing is it must be uninterrupted. Second, be more intentional about buying “stuff.”  Ask yourself if it is a need or a want.  If it is a want, ask yourself if it will serve a specific purpose and if it will bring your life more joy (Notice I wrote joy here and not happiness.  Happiness is fleeting; joy is more lasting). 

Another way is to look for and participate in the wonder around you.  If you have children or grandchildren this is easy.  Children are constantly finding joy in the little things and discovering something new. Just today I decided to put this into action and I have already joined my 9 month old in chasing a balloon around the house and had a race with my two boys to see who could drink the most milk from the same cup. If you do not have children, I would suggest taking time for a long walk.  Walk slowly and be more keenly aware of your surroundings.  Look, listen, smell and feel.  You will be amazed of the small things you normally miss out on. Lastly, give!  Give time.  Give money.  Give “stuff.”  Find a charity or person in need and fill the void in their life.  By doing these things you will see beyond yourself to a world that has been here the whole time.  One that is full of beauty and whimsy.

Loan Repayment: Worth the hype?

Medical school saddled me with an enormous amount of debt.  I wanted to stay in California close to family to study medicine and decided to do my training at Loma Linda University.  I am grateful for my time there and feel I received an excellent education.  I would highly recommend it to anyone pursuing a medical career.  That being said, it is a private medical school and with it comes a premium price tag.  I escaped undergraduate school without any debt but medical school was fully financed leaving me a six figure debt anchor.

Through residency I received a paycheck but decided to defer my loans until I was making a better income.  This allowed my loans to compile much more interest and when I graduated residency I was looking down the barrel of about $225,000 I owed.  A local community clinic had offered me a position and with it came the added bonus of loan repayment since it was a “Federally Qualified Health Center.”  

I spoke to the CEO and other doctors and they all stated the repayment plan was very attractive.  The government would pay $60,000 for the first 2 years and then $20,000 each year after for as long as you stayed with the clinic.  I was guaranteed that everyone from this particular clinic had received the repayment and they had never been rejected.   I agreed to a 2 year commitment with reassessment at the end to see if I would continue.

My troubles started early.  I started my position on August 1.  I quickly learned that the loan repayment application cycle ended on July 31.  Are you serious?!  I would have to wait until the application cycle opened again which wasn’t for a few months.  When this came around I was ready.  Everything was in order on my end but something had changed on the payment program’s end.  

The amount to be repaid had been decreased to $40,000 for the first 2 years.  No sweat, I thought, this is still a sizable dent in my debt and anything would be helpful.  The only downside would be extending my commitment another few months.  I submitted my application and waited.  And waited.  And waited.  Something was up.  I had talked to the other doctors who had applied in previous years and they stated that they had heard back with a decision in a few weeks.  It had now been a few months.

I decided to call the government program myself and see what was up.  I soon learned the reason.  Not only had the amount been changed, the way the applicants were prioritized had also changed.  In previous years it was first come, first serve.  Now it had changed to place those at a clinic in an area of higher need first.  This was calculated based on a HPSA score.  The higher the score, the more the need.  Ours was apparently low.  So low in fact that the repayment program ran out of money before they even got to my application.  I did not get the repayment.

I later learned there was a state based program.  I did my research and found that this one was not based on the HPSA score and I would actually have a chance.  Only one problem: While I was waiting to figure out why I didn’t receive the federal repayment the application deadline had passed.  I gave up.  I decided I would complete my 2 year commitment and then move on.  That landed me where I am right now.  I have continued my loan payments on my own and will complete them on my own.

I’m not writing this to be political or as an attack on that clinic.  While this sounds like a very clear “bait and switch” I am sure that the clinic had no knowledge of this.  I just wanted to parlay my experiences to allow you to again see behind the curtain, but on the financial side.  Yes, I do harbor some bitterness about this.  But it portrays an important point.  Most people think of doctor’s and quickly make the assumption that we’re rich and have it well off.  While I am not hurting financially, I am not rich by any means.  Just a few months ago was when my net worth first crossed into the positive.  

Most doctors do not get into the profession for the money.  It is an attractive incentive, but it doesn’t drive our decision.  We wanted to help people.  At our deepest core, this is what drives our daily medical activities, not a paycheck.  This is what makes us wake up at 3 AM to go into the hospital to deliver a baby.  This is what makes us drive to a patient’s house to check on them.  This is what makes us work 60 hour weeks.  We care for you and we want you to be healthy.