Sometimes I look in the mirror and hate my body

This is my 100th post on this blog and I wanted to dedicate it to something important. I confess: I struggle with body image issues. Medically I am considered healthy and within the healthy BMI range set by the United States. I really hate sharing my weight and my height, but for the sake of being honest I will share it here. I am about five foot two inches and weigh anywhere from 112 lb to 118 lb. I bloat easily and ‘losing weight’ is an uphill battle. The heaviest I’ve ever been was 125 lb back in high school. I exercise fairly regularly, so I don’t think its a lack of movement that is my problem.

In my head I think most girls around my height should weigh around 105 lb. When comparing reality to my ideal, it is easy to see why I sometimes feel like I’m fat, chubby, heavy, etc. I’m not trying to perpetuate the ideal of super-skinny women, nor am I trying to make people who are actually overweight feel worse about themselves. What I am trying to say is that girls who are at a healthy weight (from a medical standpoint) can also struggle with body image. I think it’s bogus when girls are put down for having body image issues when they are perfectly ‘skinny.’ Those kind of comments are not helpful and they tend to make those who are struggling ignore the fact that they were struggling in the first place. For example, it’s not really ‘kosher’ when I’m talking with my peers to say, “Sometimes I feel really fat,” or, “I really struggle with not nitpicking things about my body that I hate.” Mostly I just get comments like, “Are you serious?” and “You’re so skinny! How can you say that?” I often got rebuked and it is exactly this type of reaction that put me in self-denial and guilt these past few years. While it’s nice to get the confirmation that I am perfectly normal, but it’s not very conducive of a deeper conversation. Sometimes I just want someone to really dig into the problem with me and for someone to understand that perfectly body-normal people can struggle.

Recently, in a New York Times article, it was discussed how outside appearances could perpetuate or exacerbate female aggression toward other females. When a stereotypically scantily clad female walked into a room other females in it quickly turned toward passive-aggressive and plain aggressive behavior. Interestingly, it mentioned that as a gender, we perpetuate the pressure to look beautify, stay thin, and dress desirably. It cited a study that showed that multimedia (such as magazines and TV) did not perpetuate nor pressure girls into perusing society’s definition of beauty. We put pressures one each other to remain competitive for males. It argued that in actuality, the media is a reflection of societies changing values and ideals. Media plays off the idea of what is popular in order to appeal to the masses. If media portrayed unpopular views it would be unsuccessful. Personally, I do not doubt the persuasive power that media has over the masses (there have been plenty of examples of media powerfully swaying public opinion), but the article does put an interesting argument forward.

“Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” 1 Peter 3:3-4

There are lots of articles on finding strength in my inner worth. I believe that. The stuff that is on the inside carries a lot more weight than what is purely appearance. A beautiful person is never truly beautiful unless they also have a good heart. Even the Bible advises us to adorn our hearts with beauty, not just the outside. I have experienced the strength that comes from knowing that I am a capable, smart, young woman with plenty of gifts. I believe that as a human being, I have value. If you’re religious, you may also understand that a lot of this value comes from understanding that I am a child of God. I am worthy of beautiful things just like any other creation. But none of this has eliminated my struggle. It took me a long time to admit that I was struggling. For the longest time I had convinced myself that I was above worrying about my body or resorting to fad diets, over exercising, starving myself, and other stereotypical things. I felt disgust for myself when I pinched my ‘fat rolls’ and wished I was bone thin. Every time I looked in the mirror I had to pep-talk myself into being thankful for what I had. Don’t misunderstand me. I am so, SO, thankful for what I have and who I am, but being thankful for the body that I have didn’t come naturally and was often forced and anyone would agree that forced thankfulness is not the same as true, heartfelt, thankfulness. I entered a lot of fad diets and worried about calories all the time. I justified it all by pinning my reasons on other things: counting calories is healthy, this new liquid diet will be a good cleanse, cutting meat out is more humane, etc. I was actually lying to myself to make myself feel better. I got really good at it. Once I realized how much I was lying to myself, I realized how utterly exhausting it was. Body image is a legitimate issue, even for perfectly healthy women. It gets better, but it is slow progress. I trust that thankfulness will eventually come because the guilt over feeling terrible about my body is slowly going away. In the meantime, I encourage those with body image problems to talk about it. Find a good friend, a good counselor, and explain. Stewing in your own problem is not going to make it better. Denial is even worse.

Learning to be a good sister

I really used to think that I was a great sister. Probably not the most perfect nor the best one out there, but I thought I wasn’t too bad. I don’t put my brother down, I am there to help him, I let him hang out in my room, etc. Taking a gap year between graduating from my undergraduate degree and starting medical school has put a lot of things into perspective, particularly how awful of a sister I have become.

I am about 7.5 years older than my younger brother. I grew up helping my mother watch over him, feed him, play with him. I would hold him when my mother was exhausted from a full day of work. It was like it was the two of us against the world. As a result we are really close. My mother jokes that if she tells him to do something he would take forever to begin, but if I called him for something he would come running.

Being at college changed our dynamic. My brother didn’t have a cell phone, so a lot of our face-to-face interaction suddenly disappeared. He avoids Facebook, so that method of contact was out of the window. We were still close and we would be glad to see each other on breaks, but worrying about him had been put on the back-burner. I was more focused on school, making new friends, adapting to a new environment across the country, and trying to figure out how I was going to get from being an undergraduate to going to medical school.

As a pre-medical student, I was more worried about where I could make my mark. How would I shine? How do I show that I am interested in helping people? Where in my life can I utilize my passion for helping and actually put actions to my words? I joined a wonderful program that worked with inspiring an interest in science among elementary school students at an intercity school. Their budget made it difficult for them to provide very many after school programs. On top of that, their State test scores were showing that the kids were clearly suffering in the science section. This program was perfect for me. Having grown up with a younger brother had me invested in other young children and I found enjoyment showing other why science was a beautiful thing.

I joined cultural clubs and mentored freshmen, I enjoyed sharing my Hopkins experience with high school students, and I always had words to say for the younger pre-medical students looking advice. I gave a lot of myself away to others and somewhere along the way I forgot what it really meant to be there for my brother. Continue reading

The Medical School Process (part 2)

Yesterday, I was once again confronted with the astounding reality of paying for applying to medical school. I was trying to finish off another application when I had to hold off on submitting it because I wasn’t sure if I could cover the application fee and my rent this month. Recall: This is not the cost of being in medical school, but just the mere action of the whole application process. I’m working full time during my gap year doing some hospital administration for a non-profit. It’s great work and I get paid a decent amount (more than some lab techs even), but money flies out of the bank. In my last post I gave a brief generalization of how much applying to medical school can cost, but I’ll break it down some more in this post because I really need to rant.

I shelled out about $80 for the pre-application. My school has a pre-medical committee and for them to put together your packet and compile your letters of recommendation you have to shell out $80. The nice thing is that this is a one time fee.

If you’re applying to MD schools, the AMCAS application will cost you $160 (which includes one medical school). If you’re applying to additional medical schools, that will cost you an additional $35 each. I’ve heard from my pre-professional adviser that the average applicant applies for 15-20 schools. If you’re at my undergraduate university, the average pre-medical student applies for 20-25 schools. Maybe you’re also being charged for transcripts. Lets just say that’s about $20. That’s a whooping total of $670 – $1020 right from the get-go.

Secondaries will depend on school to school, but I’ve seen some schools charge $50 and others charge near $100. If you complete 15-25 secondaries that’s about $750 – $2500 (though not every one of the 25 schools will be a $100 application, so realistically it’s probably around $1875 on the high end).

If you’re applying to DO schools the application is $195 (including one medical school) and an additional $35 afterward for each additional school. I’m not sure what the average number of DO schools each applicant applies for, but I’ve heard that it is about two to five. Again, you’ll need transcripts (approximately $20). This is about $250 – $355. It’s not as ouchy as the AMCAS application, but if you’re applying to DO and MD schools this is another huge hit to your budget.

Then there’s the interviews. No one knows how many interviews you’re going to get, but I’ve booked my first one and it cost $180 for a roundtrip plane ticket, $160 for the car service, and $175 for a two night stay at the hotel. That’s just one school. What am I going to do when I have to fly to the opposite coast? That’s easily a $300 ticket! Optimistically you’ll interview somewhere close to where you currently live and maybe your expenses will only cost you $300 total, but that’s still $300 for a single school. Ridiculous. If you’re lucky you’ll already have an outfit for your interview, but if you don’t? A well fitted suit will cost you $300+ and girls could easily spend $300+ on a nice interview set.

Conclusion: Good luck.

At times it’s like playing a game of: how much do you want this. The answer has to be: a lot-a lot-a lot because if you’re applying, shelling out this money, and you’re just only mildly sure that you’re interested in medicine, then you must be crazy. Monetary costs aside and all, this is also your career.

As sucky as all this is, it is great for reflecting on why you even want to go to medical school in the first place. Who knows, maybe you’ll think of something amazing to write on your secondaries.

Advice for pre-meds: What would you do if you never got into medical school?

What would you do if you didn’t get into medical school this cycle? Next cycle? If ever?

Yeah, I know. Dumb question. My friends and other pre-medical students have always joked around that the answer to the question of all questions is: “I would keep trying. Not getting-in is not an option.”

It sounds like a bad punch line, but I joke you not. An MCAT course instructor also instructed us to respond this way if we were ever asked that question in an interview. It is the optimistic answer. The answer of a go-getter and the one who can’t take no for an answer. It sounds like a success story. Right?

In my opinion, it is important to have a healthy dose of optimism. It is hard to get into the medical field and most students have a hard time getting in since the applicant pool has only getting bigger over the years. It is a nail biting experience for most and if you have an easy time then you are a dime in a dozen! As a pre-medical student you have to understand that if you don’t get in this cycle, then you need to pick yourself back up and re-apply the next cycle (or the one after that). If you want it, you will go for it with all you’ve got.

However, when do you know when to stop? Or when to take a hiatus? The doctors that I’ve shadowed tell me that it’s not uncommon for an older nurse to sudden decide that they want to enter medical school (and most of them succeed!). I’ve met students who have decided to travel the world before they re-apply. Then there are the students who go complete at two years masters program before re-applying. There’s several combinations out there.

It is my belief that when you are approached with a question like that you have to show your earnestness in applying for medical school. They want to know that you know what you’re getting yourself into, it’s a gauge of how much you want it, but at the same time you need to show that you can be an adult. Make secondary plans. Think of it as if you were an aspiring actor. What would you do in the meantime if those Hollywood dreams don’t come when you first snap your fingers? Not everyone’s got the magic touch, but if you want to keep pursuing your dream you’ve got to make sure that you’re not being a burden on your parents in the meantime. Sure, it’s all dandy and fine when you’re 22 or 23, fresh-out-of-college, but you’re also a young adult and you’ve got to start thinking about your life in the long term. Your ‘future.’