Boonshoft Blogs

A Letter to My Future Self
Claire Dolan, M.D. ’16
May 16, 2016

Dear Claire,

This letter begins as fourth year winds down. In less than two months, the dream you had as a seventh grader will finally come true. You will become, at long last, an MD. Shortly after graduation, you will start an internal medicine residency at University Hospitals at Case Western Medical Center, and follow a special Leadership in Academic Medicine track. Congratulations for matching into your top choice and for finally becoming a doctor!

You were inspired to write this letter by one of Boonshoft's faculty, who told you to write it at the start of medical school. You thought that sounded cheesy and ignored his advice. Now, as you reflect on the changes you've made over the last four years, you understand why a letter like this is important. The first two years of medical school flew by in a daze of long hours, high stress, and little sleep. You entered third year burned out, exhausted, depressed, and uncertain of yourself. It's hard to feel connected to yourself when you're too busy to shower. In that process, though, you learned how to focus in the face of many distractions, realized your drive exceeded your own expectations, improved your average test scores almost 10%, and mastered complex material. Residency will likely be similar to those first two years of school, filled with hard work and little sleep, but this time I hope your experience will be more positive.

You will enter residency still shaking off the burn-out of medical school and (of course) terrified by the new responsibilities that await you. I expect that you will handle that fear and mental exhaustion well, and embrace those responsibilities with eager excitement and the commitment that medicine deserves. On the personal side, I hope you will dedicate time for self-exploration, for reading, for journaling about your impactful patients, for developing new relationships, and for fostering old ones.

I expect you to find time to connect with patients. Remember what you learned in medical school:  patients are more than anonymous people in a hospital bed. They are other humans sharing the experience of living on this planet with you. They are in a dire time of need and stress when they are in your care, and they will likely remember the hospital visit they have for their entire lives. Being in the hospital is not a benign life event; rather, it is one people remember 50 years later. I trust you will take time to acknowledge that and respect your patients every single day. I also trust you will find new ways to empathize with your patients, because it is in that action that you will feel most fulfilled in this profession. I hope your patients will feel the love you had for each and every one of them, even when they are only concerned about their next dose of pain meds or when they are waking you up at 3am after you have had 2 days without sleep. I believe that you will deepen your respect for others, your open-mindedness, and your capacity for love, and in doing so find joy in your career that you can carry with you.

When it comes to academics, I know you will develop and improve your teaching skills. I see from where I stand that some of your most fulfilling experiences in medical school have been through tutoring and teaching your peers, and I am confident that will hold true through residency. Your students and your co-residents will benefit from the time you spend teaching them. Seize the chance whenever you see it to teach your students, to encourage rather than discourage, and to show that sometimes the book isn't where the learning occurs. You have the capacity to inspire others to truly care for patients, and I will be thrilled beyond measure when you help to develop empathy and perspective in your students.

All in all, future Claire, I do have big expectations for you. I have those expectations because you have worked so hard to get where you are now, and because you owe it to those who believed in you to continue to work hard. I also have those expectations because I understand your capabilities, and because you deserve to find fulfillment in this self-sacrificial, awe-inspiring field. Congratulations on your accomplishments thus far, and keep pushing for success.

With love,


The Ones I Remember
Claire Dolan, M.D. ’16
May 16, 2016

After spending two years in the clinical setting seeing new patients almost daily, one thing continues to hold true: some patients stick with me. This theme is one I've heard about throughout all of medical school. Attendings tell stories of conversations with a patient from 30 years ago that they still remember, and many of my more humanistic teachers have told me to try to remember the patients that seem to mean something more to me. This post is for some of those patients, in hopes that I continue to reflect on them, their stories, and the lessons they taught me.  

Most recently, I met a female patient with a ten year history of IV heroin use but had been clean from heroin for 3 years. If you have been living under a rock and have not yet heard, opiate abuse, including heroin abuse, is a huge problem across the country and especially in Ohio right now. I've seen many patients with complications from their IV drug use so far, but I'd never had the chance to sit down with someone and understand why they used it. To a certain extent, I understand using mind-altering substances. If caffeine were illegal, I'm sure most of us would all still use it for that wide-awake feeling it can provide on a dreary, tired day. I've never quite been able to understand, though, how someone gets from drinking, smoking, or snorting a substance, to using a syringe to inject that substance into their veins.

When I had a free minute, I went to that patient's room and asked her if she would mind sharing her story with me. She told me that she first got into opiates after dealing with some chronic back pain. She was unable to afford her prescription opiates and learned by word of mouth that heroin was a much cheaper and more accessible source. She began buying and snorting the drug, but over time she required more and more heroin to get the pain-alleviating, and now also mind-altering, affect that she desired. So, she started injecting. She told me that the next 10 years were a blur of trying to protect her children from her behavior, but being unable to really do so. Of injecting again and again because the withdrawal was so severe she literally felt like she was dying. Of how her husband, who also became an IV heroin user, would make sure she always had a little bit of leftover heroin so she didn't have to get withdrawals as bad as his. Funnily enough, I don’t even remember why or how she stopped using, other than knowing she stopped cold turkey and hasn't looked back in 3 years. I most remember two things from our conversation: the patient never thought she would inject heroin, and she was thrilled at the chance to share her story. She told me she wished she could stop other people from using heroin, but that she couldn't get people interested enough to listen. I told her that her story had me listening closely, and that I would try to remember it whenever I had a patient who did IV drugs-or any drugs for that matter. When I left her room, two things stayed with me. Firstly, no one sets out in life to be a drug addict. No one. Secondly, sometimes what helps a patient most is someone willing to listen to their story. Ultimately, we're all just people living in this world. No matter what we look like, where we're from, or what we've gone through, we just want someone to care about our story.

The memory of another patient sits with me. I was working in the ED when an older gentleman came in via ambulance, severely ill. He was violently shaking and non-stop vomiting. When I walked into the room, the patient had just vomited on my resident's arm, who was holding the patient's vomit basin since the patient was shaking too hard to hold it himself. I quickly grabbed gloves and grabbed the vomit basin, trying to ignore my own increasing nausea as the man vomited over and over again into the basin I was holding. As I mentally counted down the hours and minutes left until the end of my shift and wondered whether I, too, was going to vomit, a break in the emesis occurred. I looked at the man and began to wipe his face as he suddenly said, smiling through puke-stained lips, "You're a pretty thing to look at." My resident and I glanced at each other, then erupted in laughter as the man smiled and began vomiting again. This was a man who was likely dying, and who likely knew it, but chose to find a bright moment in his dark situation. I hope in as dire circumstances as his, I, too, would be able to find the light.

I met the last patient I wish to remember here while doing a hematology/oncology rotation. I had met a variety of patients who were battling cancer, but this man stands out beyond the rest. He had been battling lymphoma for more than a decade and was in the office after his neck mass, which had been stable for a couple years, began rapidly growing. The moment I realized how sick he was was the moment I asked him which medications he was currently taking. He began listing medication after medication, knowing both brand names and generic names. After he listed a variety of complicated chemotherapy agents, he added, "Oh, and I'm taking that metoprolol for my heart, too." He pronounced the world mee-toe-PRO-lol, rather than meh-TOP-roh-lol, as it is correctly pronounced. To this day I clearly remember this man, with a huge, cancerous neck mass and years of being seen by far too many doctors, repeating, "Mee-toe-PRO-lol." I left that room brought to tears by the fact that this man, sitting in the chair, reciting medication after medication better than I could, knew all too much about cancer and medicine in general. For the first time in my medical student life, I realized that medical knowledge isn't always a good thing.

These three patients in particular stand out so clearly in my memory because of the lessons they taught me, both individually and as a collective. Ultimately, I recall these memories (even the memory of nearly being puked on) with fondness because it was in these experiences that I was able to see life through the eyes of my patients. Attempting to understand the perspective of others and learning to appreciate what life has taught them molds me into an empathetic physician and a better human in general. The bonding conversation with an older woman, the painful memory of seeing a man battle a horrible disease, and the disturbing recollection of watching death take hold on a vomiting gentleman all share one similarity: appreciating the perspective of each patient brought meaning to me as a physician-in-training. Relating to patients as fellow human beings, as individuals with pasts and stories to share, allows me to feel more like a participant in their life rather than a stranger in a white coat. This empathy brings me personal and professional fulfillment, and I am overwhelmed with gratitude that my patients share their lives with me. 

Choosing Internal Medicine
Claire Dolan, M.D. ’16
May 9, 2016

Just about three weeks ago I found out that I matched at University Hospitals/Case Medical Center for a residency in internal medicine. I genuinely couldn't be more thrilled: this was my number one choice, and to make matters even better, I matched into the specific "Leadership in Academic Medicine" track I wanted. I hope to use residency to greatly expand my knowledge base, but also to improve my teaching skills to pursue a career in academic medicine. From where I stand, this match is thrilling. If you would have told me this match was my number one choice 4 years, or even 1 year ago, I would have looked at you in disbelief.

Ever since I committed to a career in medicine I've pictured myself as a surgeon. The factors contributing to this are innumerable. My parents, who work or worked in medicine, have told me since the start of my medical journey that I have the personality of a surgeon. I am efficient, steady with my hands, hard-working, and no-nonsense, which all make for a great surgeon. After hearing this, I of course imagined what non-surgical physicians looked like. I pictured lazy, slow-moving people invested with less serious tasks, like using medicines to slowly lower blood pressure. After watching Grey's Anatomy, I became even more convinced that a surgical field was one where I belonged. I liked the intensity and fast-paced lifestyle that I saw on TV. I also saw surgeons as some of the smartest people in the hospital, as evidenced by the TV show. My beliefs about surgery, based on stereotypes I had heard, seen, and personally created, were reinforced during my first three years of medical school. It seemed to me that the top kids in my class wanted to become surgeons. The students with the most motivation and drive were staying late in the OR, scoffing the "kum-bay-yah" parts of medical school, and studied more than the other students. That ideal was one I liked, so I believed I was meant to be a surgeon. Man, was I wrong.

My doubts first began on my family medicine rotation, which started about 2/3 of the way through my third year. Frankly, I loved it. The knowledge I used every day was common medical knowledge that truly impacted lives. Understanding how to control blood pressure meant my patients were less likely to die of a stroke or other vascular complication. The best over-the-counter treatment for a cold was something I immediately memorized: I knew someone in my family would have a cold soon, and I could help them with that knowledge. My love and appreciation for medicine deepened even more when I began my internal medicine clerkship. I quickly saw how IM combined everything I had meticulously learned during my second year of schooling and compounded on it, making it clinically applicable and useful knowledge. After that medicine rotation, it took only 2 hours of standing in an OR to realize I had sincerely missed my calling. I switched, with 2 months left before applications for residency were due, from a career in plastic surgery to one in internal medicine.

Once I had gotten over the shock that I would never be a Grey’s Anatomy, intense, stereotypical surgeon, I was able to take a step back and wonder how I had gotten so off-track. I've always been an intellectual: thinking through problems newly is something I do every day, and something I will do daily as an internal medicine physician. I've been surprised to find that some of the top students in my class are also pursuing residencies in IM, and that IM doctors aren't the lazy, inefficient physicians I once believed they were. I now see that kum-bay-yah medicine is actually something I love: truly taking time to bond with my patients is an experience I cherish and value. In the end, it makes sense that I am where I am. My journey to internal medicine reminds me that it's ok to change your mind, that believing and creating stereotypes can lead to poor judgment and decisions, and that frequently, the future is unpredictable.

Who I’m Becoming
Claire Dolan, M.D. ’16
May 3, 2016

Four years ago during medical school orientation, one of my new teachers told my entire class to write ourselves a letter. In that letter we should tell ourselves why we wanted to pursue a career in medicine, and also how we identified ourselves. "Write down the things you like doing for fun. Your hobbies, your goals, how you handle stress, things like that." I remember rolling my eyes at the teacher’s kum-bay-yah mentality and promptly ignoring him, choosing instead to focus on the assigned, not recommended, class work. What I didn't expect was regretting that I had never taken the time to write that letter.

Somewhere during my second year of medical school, I lost myself. Apparently this is something that happens to most med students. Administration warned us and our families before medical school began that we students would likely find ourselves more burned out and tired in medical school than at any other time in our lives thus far. They were right. The business and stress of my daily life forced the "me" out of myself, replacing it with stamina, drive, and required priorities. At one point during second year, I went over 3 months without a single weekend "off." I had a test or quiz every single Monday for 3 months of consecutive Mondays, so for 3 months of weekends all I did was study and sleep. When every moment of your day could be and should be dedicated to studying, something changes. Personal enjoyments get replaced by an added hour of study time. Being stressed became my baseline. My hobbies turned into sleeping, showering, and exercising, the three best ways I learned how to deal with stress. I finished second year proud, accomplished, and learned, but also empty, confused, and burned out.

I spent the following two years, the second half of medical school, rebuilding the "me" that I lost. No longer "working" (studying) 16-18 hours a day, I finally had time for simple things, like watching TV, exploring Dayton, and cooking. Eighty-hour workweeks seemed hectic but still left adequate time for interests and activities outside of medicine. As I slowly rediscovered things I enjoyed in life, I couldn't help but reflect on who I was before the hell of the first 2 years of medical school. What did I like to do? What would I have written in that letter? I remembered that prior to medical school I liked to read, dance, watch indie films, travel, and explore new cities. I remembered that I went into medical school because I wanted to understand exactly how the human body works. I remembered I stressed about everything, planned everything, and worried constantly. While the woman entering medical school and I have many similarities, we also now have many differences.

Claire today is a planner who loves food and films and yearns for deep relationships and memorable experiences. I enjoy medicine in part because I now (somewhat) understand the miracle of the human body. But much has changed. I'm no longer the stressful worrier I once was. After surviving the stresses of medical school, it takes A LOT to phase me. This change is one that has definitely been for the better; peace comes much easier to me now than before. I still am a "planner," but to a less exorbitant degree: I understand and accept that the future is unknown for every single one of us, and there is little we can do other than accept that. On the more disheartening side of changes, I find it difficult to get excited about reading. I've loved reading my entire life, but now I see books and immediately associate long hours of studying, stress, and frustration with them. I hope I’ll soon become interested in reading for leisure again. Travel still excites and motivates me, but I've remained quite Dayton-centered over the last four years. This is largely due to financial restrictions (aka I'm a broke med student), but I'm hoping to re-discover this passion as I begin earning a salary. Shockingly, I've found that I now love to exercise. In college exercising was a task I didn't particularly enjoy but did occasionally for my health. Now, I look forward to exercise because I understand how stress-relieving it is, and, moreover, how rare it is to be able to commit time that is totally selfish in its intent. Exercising only helps me, my physical and mental health. I love it for that.

Beyond changes in personal traits, my appreciation for medicine has changed. I used to scoff at humanistic physicians who emphasized cheesy rituals like writing letters to themselves and talking about "the profession" of medicine. Now, I understand that humanism is why I'm here. At some point during my stress-filled and exhausting time in medical school, I began to appreciate the fact that life gets hard. Some days, all my effort was spent simply surviving the day. During my clinical years, I saw an even greater struggle in my patients. I saw patients who were powerless against horrible diseases, who felt isolated in a strange and scary environment, and whose stress outweighed anything I had ever experienced. Through my own stress and exhaustion, I was better able to understand the experiences of my patients. I grasped the reality of hardship, and I remembered that the love my friends and family showed me was enough to get me through my worst days. I harnessed my own compassion and applied it to my patients. I began taking time in the mornings to ask how my patients were doing and what they were looking forward to that day. I allowed my patients to vent their frustrations to me, even when they and I both knew nothing could be done to fix the cause of their upset. I started to treat my patients with empathy and love. Rather than causing me to feel more stressed or more tired, my compassion for my patients rejuvenated me. The simple act of loving others made me feel like I was treating more than a medical condition; rather, I was embracing the hardships of life and addressing them the best way I knew how. Learning to love my patients helped to heal my burn-out and restored my faith and joy in medicine itself.

After years of stress and hard work, I now know that by embracing the humanistic aspect of medicine, doctoring transforms from a demanding job to a fulfilling profession. By taking the time to think about our patients as other humans living the shared human experience, by appreciating their journeys and stories, and by reflecting on the difficulties we personally encounter in this work-driven, remarkable field, we can begin to learn why we made the sacrifices we did and understand that those sacrifices are greater than ourselves.

Claire Dolan, M.D. ’16
September 15, 2014

I am currently three months into my third year and all I can think about is how different this year is compared to last year. Whenever I have these introspective moments, of course I want to share them with you (This way, I get to look incredibly deep and pensive.). Trouble is, I updated you very little on MS2, so let's get that established first: studystudysleepeatstudystudyspringbreakstudystudystudySTEPONE. Aaaand that about sums it up!

Ok but seriously, I tried very hard to write a post about second year once I had finished my classes but struggled with reflecting on such a big year so close to its fall-out. MS2 was the most challenging year of my life. Wow, it’s crazy to read that so definitively, but it is absolutely true: the course load and pressure of the year prevented me from really feeling very human; I spent at least 15 hours a day studying for my classes, mostly studying alone (with the exception of my faithful cat Scarlet, of course); I had a quiz nearly weekly and a test every 1-4 weeks. If that doesn’t seem overwhelming enough, on top of studying for regular classes, I had to cram in as much Step 1 studying throughout the year as I could*. Turns out sedentary, near-solitary confinement coupled with lots of stress can wear you down, and all that alone time and anxiety is something I’m still recovering from. However, all this in mind, I feel incredibly blessed that no major crises (other than school-related ones) occurred last year. I say no major crises occurred for a reason: I know many of my classmates struggled with family issues, health issues, and financial issues on top of the overwhelming work load, and I feel incredibly lucky that school was my major focus and that the real world provided few distractors otherwise. I have such immense respect for my peers knowing we all got through that challenging year together in spite of all the obstacles we encountered.

*Did reading the words “Step 1” strike you to the core with terror, anxiety, and weird excitement? No? Well then, let me explain (insert evil laughter here). At the end of MS2, all medical students take Step 1, which is an eight-hour (yup, you read that right) exam that serves as a final for the first two years of medical school. Passing the exam is required to continue your medical education, and the score you get on that exam correlates to the type and quality of residency for which each student is competitive. In summary: it's a super important final over the foundation of medicine. NOW do you feel a bit more terrified? Good, then I’ve explained it adequately.

I will remember a lot of stress, anxiety, and sleepless nights from MS2. But with bad usually comes good, and what I will also remember with pride is how much I learned every single day. To go from basically no knowledge regarding an organ system to understanding its physiology and pathologies in a matter of weeks is truly impressive. I also hope I'll never forget how much I surprised myself last year: when the going got tough, I got going. And in spite of all the times I wanted to give up, I never, ever did. That is something I'll always be proud of.

So, enough about the past. Let’s discuss the now, aka life as an upperclassmen: it's awesome. I mean, I hoped it would be considering that I finally get work with patients and physicians and see all the things I've been studying for 2 years, but LAWD is it amazing. My first rotation was in pediatrics, and now I'm in surgery. I'm loving the constant stimulation, the hands-on learning, and the interactions with other humans (no offense, Scarlet). Every single day I’m reminded how the hard work from the last two years was definitely, definitely worth it, and every single day all I want to do is keep learning. As of right now, I’m not 100% certain which part of medicine I like best-for now, I’m relaxing and enjoying the ride. I can't wait until the day that I decide what I want to be when I grow up. Let's both just keep our fingers crossed that that day comes sooner rather than later!

Claire Dolan, M.D. ’16
November 18, 2013

It has been only a few months since my last post, but can I just say that I feel about fifty years older than I did in July?

Second year of medical school is in full swing. By full swing, I mean this is literally the first day since the beginning of August that I have laid on my couch and watched TV all day long. This school year has been CRAZY. I remember the good old days of first year where we only had an exam every third week and I could spend the weekend following that exam relaxing. Ladies and gents, those days are gone.

At Boonshoft, our MSII classes are much shorter and faster than first year classes. To put that into perspective, by this time last year we had only covered anatomy and a small portion of biochemistry. So far this year, we have had an entire overview of the year, our neurology course, our psychiatry course, and a hematology and chemotherapy course. In other words, I’ve had a significant exam, final, or quiz about every five days since the beginning on August. YIKES. I don’t know how else to emphasize the stress, mental and physical strain, and utter insanity of the past few months other than to describe the changes in myself that I’ve seen.

For starters, I’m usually a pretty high-stress person. I was told in second grade that I was a worrywart and that pretty much stuck my whole life. Until now. During our foundational course for the year that took place in August, called PB&T (Pathobiology and Therapeutics), we had an exam covering over 500 net pages of new material EVERY. WEEK. People, that is insane. As you could imagine, I had a great (horrific) time worrying over and stressing about the material, how I could study that quickly, when I was going to shower, etc. On week three of that course, I basically hit the limit of my stressing capability. This will come to anyone who knows me as a big surprise, because usually I can muster up a good amount of fretting over just about anything. On that particular pre-test weekend, though, I quite frankly ran out of stress. Since then, I find that I am significantly more pleasant before exams, I’m pretty sure my blood pressure is lower, and I’m even sleeping better. Nice work, medical school.

Speaking of physiologic changes (don’t worry I won’t get super nerdy), I think I LOOK older. Not necessarily in the best of ways (as in I now have wrinkles underneath my eyes), but regardless, the stress of the past year and a half is definitely beginning to manifest. Before our white coat ceremony, we get pictures taken for a “baby book” that administration kindly compiles for us. This book has our picture, our interests, our undergraduate information, and the like. The running joke at our school is that by the time we graduate, we really WILL look like babies in those pictures. I already believe it.

Of course, all these crazy personality and physical changes didn’t happen without a bit of medical school fun. This year, having hardly any time to do anything outside of studying, I’ve begun to enjoy studying quite a bit more. I realize that sounds insane, but let me explain. The material we are learning this year directly applies to hospital work. I can now call my dad (who is an anesthesiologist) and talk to him about some of the drugs he uses on the job. My clinical vocabulary has significantly expanded: I can reason through nearly any medical word I encounter simply because I’ve become so familiar with all the roots. I’m learning more advanced clinical techniques like the female pelvic exam, and we are practicing focusing our patient interviewing skills around specific symptoms. I am finally starting to feel like a real medical student! Sure, it means I live at school (I literally just spent 18 hours a day at school for the past four consecutive days), but the fact that I’m finally starting to really learn medicine is amazing.

Aside from the thrill of feeling like a physician-in-training, I’ve gotten more enjoyment out of learning because of a group of people with whom I now study. Every pre-test weekend we live at White Hall as a sleep-deprived, over-caffeinated, mildly psychotic family and it’s just precious. I’ve spent more time with that group of people this year than I probably have alone (Wow, typing that makes me realize how true that is.). The connections we make, the knowledge we gain, and the late-night shenanigans that we experience together makes all the studying bearable. We are definitely all in this hellish but amazing world together, and we help each other get through it.

The next two weeks are the only two weeks of the entire school year thus far that will not include any graded activities. For me, that means taking time to sleep, cook, relax with my family and friends and cat, and shop around for some good anti-ageing cream (oh boy). I think I’ll celebrate by kicking it all off with a nap.

Claire Dolan, M.D. ’16
August 8, 2013

Guys. This post isn’t very medical school related, but I needed to document this summer and this feeling. I figured you’d forgive me for writing a post like this. Right? Thanks, you’re the best.

Summer and I have a very tumultuous relationship. By tumultuous I mean that, until very recently, it was my least favorite season. I used to hate the heat, hate how dry everything was, and hate how my summer birthday was always casually ignored because I wasn’t around my school friends. The past few years, namely since my stress level has drastically increased, I’ve started to love how ALIVE summer feels. I love the thunderstorms, how early it gets light outside, how the heat feels like a release. This summer, though, is one for the books.

This summer hasn’t been flashy by any means. I haven’t traveled abroad like I have in the past. I haven’t been saving lives on medical mission trips, or researching cures for cancer. Instead, I’ve spent more time lazing around than I think I have since eighth grade. I’ve been reading constantly, sleeping forever, and spending every second possible with my family. I’ve been sweating to death in hot yoga, in my parent’s garden, and on runs in the trail behind my house. I’ve seen movie after movie and spent hours on the couch at the apartment of my two best friends. And I’ve loved virtually every second.

For the first time in a long time, I feel sure of myself. Sure of my beliefs, my mentality, my everything. I’ve never been more myself than I am at this very instant. I am more excited about living, less stressed about the future. I feel confident, empowered, certain of my decisions and my priorities. And guys, it’s a really good feeling.

After four years in undergrad constantly worrying if I could get into medical school, worrying that I was going to be at the right place at the right time, rushing and stressing and fruitlessly planning everything, this sense of calm assuredness is the hugest blessing I’ve ever felt. I only wish I could have gotten here 23 years sooner. But I’m going to hold onto this feeling as long as I can and hope it can get me through the rough year ahead.

I thank my first year of medical school, God, new and old relationships, yoga, and especially my family for guiding me into adulthood. Today, in this moment, I feel vast, brilliant, powerful, young, wise, beautiful. I hope you join me here too.

Claire Dolan, M.D. ’16
June 19, 2013

Hey, guys. So it’s now almost a month into the last real summer break of my life, and I finally feel like I can write a reflection post that isn’t super depressing.

What, you ask? Claire, writing something depressing? Yeah guys. I literally HATED the last class of first year, so basically I was raging for the last three weeks and finally yoga’d myself out and stopped being so mad.

A lot of people hit a “dark place” during their first year. For most people, I feel like that comes during CaTOS, a very challenging course between Christmas and spring breaks. You never see the sun so you feel like a vampire, you’re staring into microscopes all day, you have to scrape frost off your car every morning making yourself even later for class, etc., etc. Me, always the weirdo, absolutely loved CaTOS (and, apparently, never seeing the sun and being late to class), so I was totally with it that whole course. Our final class of the year, though, called POD, just made me want to throw things. Every day. It was nice outside the weekend before every exam then MISERABLE the days following our test (our free days), I couldn’t study the way I like to for whatever reason, my personal life was basically a roller coaster, and I got really REALLY tired of never having time to cook a real meal. AHHHH.

OK, I just had to literally take a break because I got all raging mad again. Long story short, I’ve gotten over the stress of that last class and feel like I can breathe (and exercise and not eat freezer meals and sleep) again. That being said, I thought I’d share the major thing that helped me survive my first year: the realization that sometimes, a LOT of the time, I have to come first.

This applies to so many different things for me. Firstly, I had to learn to prioritize self-care. For me this meant getting away as frequently as possible to visit my family, to prioritize sleep over school sometimes, to clean my apartment when I was stressed (because I am a neat freak), and more. At the beginning of the year, I thought that all these things were frivolous and would no longer seem important: little things that took up time that I could eliminate to be more efficient in medical school. I was SO WRONG. Doing things for myself, even as small as taking an extra long shower, literally helped me survive. When I went too long without shaving my legs or reading something other than a textbook, I felt drained, depressed, and kind of like a (hairy, boring) robot. Taking time for myself over the past year has undoubtedly helped me feel like a human and helped me from getting too cynical or burned out. It has not, however, kept me from becoming an even bigger nerd than I was before med school. Sigh.

Secondly, and just as importantly, I’ve learned a lot this year about toxic relationships. I hate using that phrase because it makes me feel so Oprah, but I mean, it’s true. I believe relationships should be pretty much 50/50. I’m not naïve enough to think that there won’t be times when relationships are more like 100/0, but on average, if you’re not nearing 50/50 in a relationship, there’s a problem. Plenty of times this past school year I felt drained because of certain friendships, and during those times, as selfish as it sounds, I just had to completely remove myself from the situation for a while. Luckily, that was usually as simple as turning off my phone (for like a week) or avoid using any social media sites*, but I cannot even BEGIN to emphasize how much this realization saved my sanity. Guys, in medical school, you DO NOT have time to tolerate a draining relationship. You have to get a little bit selfish and a little bit critical. It’s an act of survival. That being said, there will of course be a multitude of times where YOU will be the drain on a relationship, and you will be giving 0 and the partner will be giving 100. Just ask my mom or my sister or my best friends or my cat. It happens. Just try to acknowledge that and give back whenever you can. WOW that got preachy really fast. Sorry bros. Just trust me, this realization saved me a lot of sanity, time, heartbreak, and sanity. Yes, double sanity.

*Saying social media makes me feel really old/really professional, neither of which I am. But also, I’m getting so tired of having a facebook/twitter/instagram. Like, I am addicted to all of them and obviously use them routinely, but it super creeps me out when people I don’t want knowing my bidness are all over them. Ugh 21st century problems.

Since this post is getting lengthy and emotional, I’ll wrap it up here. Just remember, it’s okay to be selfish and to prioritize YOU, and doing so will make your life over here in medical school a heck of a lot better. Also,

NOLA, Baby
Claire Dolan, M.D. ’16
April 22, 2013

While most of you are probably already on or about to begin your summer vacation, we here at Boonshoft are still reminiscing over our spring break. About a month ago, over half of my class (about sixty students) went on a spring break road trip to New Orleans, Louisiana.

The timing of our spring break and vacation was impeccable: we had just finished a two and a half month class called Cells, Tissues, and Organ Systems (CaTOS for short). This class was…brutal. Our second exam covered over 1100 pages of material and the final (yes, cumulative, FML) was over almost 2000 pages. Needless to say, we all basically looked like pale, unhappy zombies walking out of that final: some fun in the sun (and on Bourbon Street) was exactly what we needed.

The NOLA trip is one that is organized entirely by our school. It’s a service trip that runs Monday-Friday of our spring break. Our class is split into groups of three and put into three different service projects on a first-come, first-served basis. I was lucky* enough to get into the smallest service group, at a site just outside the French Quarter called Project Lazarus. Project Laz is a halfway-home for people who are HIV+. Basically, if you are living in New Orleans with HIV and find yourself with nowhere safe to live, you can be accepted into this house (I believe there is a sort of referral/application process). While the residents live in the house, they participate in programming like book clubs, therapy groups, addiction counseling if they need it, and earn an income that is put into a savings account. While no residents are ever forced to leave the house, most spend a few months there, then move out on their own. It’s a really cool project, and the residents and workers there are super incredible and kind.

*When I say lucky, I mean incredibly well-planned. There were only twelve slots to be in this group and sixty med students trying to get into it. I refreshed my email every thirty seconds for, like, ten minutes and had “Project Lazarus” saved into my copy-paste. Sorry for being such a nerd but this project was too cool to act calm and collected.

While working at Project Lazarus, our group helped create a composting system for the house, tore down an old shed, cleaned one of their facilities and socialized with the residents. Obvi, socializing with the residents was the best part (but it was definitely nice to be outside in warm weather no matter what we were doing). The residents loved talking to us about our career aspirations, telling us about their past, and discussing their favorite festivals and Bourbon Street memories. They also gave us tons of food, restaurant, band, and drink recommendations and begged us to tell them if anything embarrassing had happened the night prior. They were so great.

The service work was definitely a highlight of the trip, but it was also nice that we had every evening to spend doing whatever we wanted. My group ate so much good food-like, SO MUCH FOOD-and spent a lot of our evenings at jazz clubs on Frenchman Street. (I loved the oysters and the gumbo, but my favorite meals were at a West African/Nigerian restaurant. If you have never eaten West African food, go get some. STAT. You’re welcome in advance.) I also got to go on a haunted tour which was awesome and definitely terrifying.

It was wonderful that our school planned such a cool, fun, but relaxing service trip for us after the most intense medical school class so far. Spending so much time with so many of my classmates was incredible: I loved getting to hang out with people I usually only see in class. And of course, being in one of the most fun cities in America doing work for an amazing project made it all even better.

Pretty Romantic
Claire Dolan, M.D. ’16
March 26, 2013

This year I had the most love-filled Valentine’s Day of my life. Please keep reading: I will not be boring you with tales of dozens of long-stemmed red roses, a romantic dinner, or other inappropriate things. I actually spent February 14 in the Labor and Delivery Ward of Miami Valley Hospital. No, I did not bear any children of my own, but I did get to watch four other people deliver babies.

The OB/GYN Club here at Boonshoft set up a wonderful shadowing opportunity that allowed one medical student at a time to spend about five hours in L&D at Miami Valley. Although I haven’t the slightest idea what I’d like to specialize in when I’m a grown up MD, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to witness the miracle of childbirth. In the days leading up to my shadowing, my two main hopes were that 1. it would be a busy night so I could actually see a delivery and 2. that the medical students and residents wouldn’t think I was a huge loser for voluntarily spending my Valentine’s Day in the hospital. I shouldn’t have worried though*: the minute I arrived (it only took me one secretary, one janitor, and two nurses to find the resident’s lounge), I was ushered into a C-section. Literally seconds after I arrived, the attending pulled a baby out of a uterus. Like, I walked in and BOOM! there was the baby. It was insane.

*Please note that I did not mention whether or not the residents/medical students thought I was a loser for spending VDay shadowing. They probably did even though they didn’t show it because, I mean, come on, even I felt kind of lame.

I wasn’t sure how I would react to seeing a delivery; I didn’t know if I would think it was cool or gross, if I would get emotional or be unimpressed. Even after only being in that OR for five seconds, it was impossible to not be moved by what I had witnessed. When the attending delivered the baby, my jaw dropped. Once the baby started crying, my eyes filled with tears. I just stood there in shock, in awe that I was one of the first people in the world to see this little human. It was absolutely incredible.

The rest of the evening did not disappoint. I was able to see two vaginal live deliveries, another C-section, and watch blood clots get scooped out of a uterus via ultrasound (the last one was mildly gross but super cool). The team I was with was incredible. The intern answered all my questions and let me watch everything I could possibly watch. The attending on service made sure I could see every aspect of one of the vaginal deliveries I witnessed. The MSIII working with the team, incidentally also named Claire, taught me so much and was very patient with my childish excitement. It was honestly the best shadowing experience I have ever had.

One thing I cannot help but mention about Boonshoft is that virtually every physician I have met or shadowed thus far is incredibly excited to teach. Their love for their jobs is made apparent in their enthusiasm for working with students. I have learned so much from so many physicians here already, largely because they earnestly love educating. It’s so rewarding to learn from individuals who view you as anything but a nuisance (because, in actuality, medical students can definitely be just that, especially when they are freaking out in a busy L&D ward about how cool moms are).

I’m so glad I got to spend my Valentine’s Day doing something incredible. Medical school can change your priorities when it comes to what you find meaningful. I wouldn’t change my night spent in L&D for a thousand romantic dinners. Probably.

Claire Dolan, M.D. ’16
January 23, 2013

Hey readers! I’m Claire Dolan, a (lowly) first-year medical student at Boonshoft School of Medicine at WSU. I’m just going to go ahead and preface this post (and all my future posts) by saying that you and I are both going to enjoy my blog better if we agree to think I’m funny.

Now that that’s settled, we can begin.

This month marks my sixth month of medical school. Six months at Boonshoft means I’ve dissected a cadaver, learned how to take vitals, memorized the Citric Acid Cycle (for the billionth time)(How do I still not know that thing?!), and heard families talk about how genetic disorders have changed their lives. Six months at Boonshoft also means I’ve developed a sincere love for the instant coffee machine in White Hall, found a group of friends who are a lot like me, cartwheeled through the atrium on late Saturday study nights, and become an expert at finding free food at meetings.

About a year and six months ago, I was a very stressed undergraduate at The Ohio State University, positively freaking out about where I was going to be in a year. As a classic pre-med (read: Type-A, OCD person), I was terrified not knowing where, or even IF, I would be going to medical school. Eventually, I interviewed at three different schools, one of which was Boonshoft. During my six hours here, I pretty much fell in love. I was honestly shocked-I had never really heard of BSOM and applied just knowing it was one of those Ohio schools you apply to. I never expected to actually like a medical school, I just wanted to get into one! At Boonshoft, I got the feeling that the administration was sincerely proud of my accomplishments and that they really wanted me to succeed. (I got this vibe after my interviewer blatantly told me, “You’re an awesome applicant. Congratulations on all your hard work!” Who says that during a med school interview?! Someone from Boonshoft, that’s who.) Once I was accepted here, I rejected interview offers from two other schools because I knew here is where I’d be happiest.

Now, six months into my medical education, I can honestly, sincerely, in a non-propaganda way say that I’m thrilled with my decision. Moving from Columbus (aka the greatest city in Ohio) to a suburb of Dayton (…) was a bit of an adjustment, but I’ve come to love it here. Not worrying about getting towed or fighting hours of traffic is incredible. The education I am getting at school is amazing. Our professors are incredible and genuinely love interacting with us, our physicians beg us to shadow them, our administrators hand-deliver our course packets well before every new class beings, and we students are seriously (SERIOUSLY) not competitive with each other (Try to name another medical school where a student would email his outline of 1,000 pages of material to the entire class voluntarily. I dare you.). Sorry for being a walking billboard, BUT I LOVE IT HERE.

Sure guys, medical school is hard. In these past six months, I’ve been expected to memorize more than 300 pages of solid, dense text in a week. I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had time to shower, let alone shave my legs (Apologies to my clinical skills partner during that lower extremity exam class.). I’ve gone DAYS without seeing the sun. I’ve had those moments the night before the test where I start laughing and end up crying (TMI? Probably.). And apparently it’s all going to get much, much harder. But I love my school, and it’s a lot easier to deal with sleep deprivation and caffeine jitters when you can call your classmates your friends and when the admissions committee gives you their leftover food.