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Archive for January, 2010|Monthly archive page

HBCUs…My Rant

In applying to med school, Rants on January 24, 2010 at 11:47 pm

Without getting into a discussion about URM-status (one of the most highly debated topics in this crazy admissions process), I do want to use this forum to rant and vent a little about the necessities of medical HBCUs.  And why not? I might offend some, which is not my intent, however, this is my blog!  So I suppose if you disagree you can leave, comment, or start your own. Hmph! Lol  Let me start with my personal history with HBCUs…

While I did not choose to attend an HBCU for undergrad, I have several family members who did so and it is that confidence instilled in them which prepared them for their successful futures.  In particular, Howard University was their alma mater, something I did not know until I was in college (both are deceased now).  Had I known beforehand, I might have been persuaded to seriously consider them for undergrad (to say the least, HU’s correspondence even back then was comical…hmmm, some things never change).  However, my take on undergrad was that I wanted an institution that mimicked the real world. That meant no all-girl’s school, nor an all-Black (or majority Black) school – that’s just not real life.  Plus, I grew up in a very diverse neighborhood and in a very diverse church (300+ nationalities!). I thought it would be rough for me to acclimate to such a drastically different environment, especially in light of other adjustments that come with starting college. In the end, I am 100% certain I attended the institution God had in-store for me, and I have absolutely no regrets in that regard.  Now, to my rant on my more recent history with HBCUs…

I applied last application cycle and, in retrospect, had a poor choice of schools (not enough and not a diverse range of schools). Among schools I applied to were 2 of the 3 HBCUs, Howard and Morehouse.  [aside: the 3 HBCU med schools are Howard, Meharry, and Morehouse. Personally, I think Meharry and Howard are in the same leaky boat, with Morehouse doing just fine].  Any re-applicant out there knows the pain of waiting through an entire application cycle for a good word from just one school, so there is no need for me to rehash the stress I lived through in 2009.  At the time, Howard was at the top of my list.  My father’s alma mater, a med school committed to training physicians to serve the under-served, and it seemed very much like one large family – appeared to be a natural “top choice” to me.  Looking at their average stats, I saw that I was above average and figured I actually had a decent shot at at least getting an interview.  Little did I know that they use that clause about wanting “students committed to serving the under-served” as a rouse for choosing URM students that probably don’t stand a chance elsewhere…

Last year, I applied with HU at the top of my list.  In short, they “accidentally” left my application on hold the entire cycle instead of taking it off hold when I submitted my fall semester grades.  I found this out after many phone calls to the admissions office, during which I was spoken to rudely and even hung up on. (they really make some applicants jump through hoops)  By the time I actually got through to the dean of admissions, we had a lovely conversation, after which she said they were basically done interviewing, she’d “see what she could do,” and that if she couldn’t make things happen that year, I should be fine if I re-applied next year. Straight from the dean’s mouth. Said oh so nonchalantly too, which really irritated me. No apology, no remorse as to how this would affect my life, nothing.

Lo and behold, I didn’t even get a rejection letter last application cycle.  Then, I joined SDN and re-applied. I’m not going to dilute my feelings like I do on that website. I (and many others I know in similar situations with HU or Meharry) am genuinely offended! Especially after being on SDN and seeing who received “first round” invites. Absolutely ridiculous. Granted, I’m not speaking about everyone here, but when you have perfectly acceptable applicants that have above average stats for your institution, a strong expressed desire to attend said institution, as well as years of service confirming their want to medically attend to the under-served who are turned down by the bunch, there is a problem.  When you have first round interviews going mainly to low-stat applicants from other HBCUs or who clearly have a low probability of getting accepted elsewhere, there is a problem.  I can name numerous URM females with good stats and ECs to support this school’s mission statement who were denied even an interview last year, all of whom would have gladly attended either school and so raised the stats for these institutions.

But no. Let’s be real. In my mind, HBCUs are not reaching their full potential – they are not doing what they are supposed to do. (I suppose that’s debatable, as they are increasing the number of URM doctors in America, they just chose to draw heavily from the bottom of the pool)  Shoot, the complete and utter disgust that institution has left me in would have my father and my godmother rolling over shamefully in their graves right now.  I blame these schools for the stigma attached to URM applicants.  As has been stated time and time again, I would LOVE to see the stats for accepted URMs at non-HBCUs as compared to those at HBCUs. My guess is that they wouldn’t be as low as many claim URM stats are…

And I’m not saying that stats are everything, HOWEVER, you’re telling me that you can’t break a 25 on the MCAT and a 3.00 GPA, yet you deserve just as much as the next guy to go to med school?!? Get out of here. What does deserve mean anyway? You worked “hard” and therefore your efforts should be rewarded? False. Many people “deserve” to become a doctor, but many have to re-apply due to limited seating. And trust, I know many book smart people that will not make great doctors because they lack social skills and are otherwise dumb, however, I think the “deserve” argument is complete gutter.

So what is the purpose of HBCUs in the new millennium?   Is there even one?  Hmmm…to be honest, I have very mixed feelings on this. I think that if HBCUs are to exist, there is no reason for them to have such low stats. Every time I read their stats I shake my head and, as a URM, am a little bit embarrassed.  Contrary to popular belief, there are many URMs re-applicants with decent stats that could have occupied some of these HBCU seats that were not chosen because, let’s face it, these schools feel that the applicants will chose another school over them.  These students would have gladly accepted a seat in the class and raised the schools’ expected standards of excellence, however it is apparent that these schools are in no way concerned with that.  I am also choosing to believe that a majority of their applicants are also considered “disadvantaged” which introduces a whole new confounding variable.

Le sigh. I could keep bringing up points, but I’m tired, it’s a complicated issue, and a highly flawed and imperfect application process.  So, I’ll just end with “I am DONE with HBCUs and think very lowly of them.”  [ends rant and steps off soapbox]

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Death has a Face…and comes with Responsibility

In health insurance, medicine, Rants on January 9, 2010 at 10:49 pm

I naturally wake up every morning at 7:06 am on the dot – random time, I know, but that’s my Circadian rhythm for ya!  However, this past Monday was a morning seemingly straight from hell.  I unexpectedly awoke to the screeching screams and weeping of my mom coming from behind her closed doors.  From the intensity of the volume, I would’ve sworn that both of our doors were open.  Panicked and in a daze (I hope you never need to wake me while I’m sleeping…I am nonfunctional for a good 15 minutes, usually unable to talk) I stumbled over to her room and paused in her doorway to see her slumped over her desk, on the phone, with her entire body heaving up and down, nearly convulsing.  Usually relaxed and soft-spoken, I had only seen her in this state a few times before, and that was when close family members had unexpectedly passed away.  I waited for the right moment to interject, but unable to find one, I opted to hop in the shower and hope that she had gained some sort of composure by the time I got dressed for work.

Fortunately she had calmed down a bit by the time I went to check on her again (I hate interrupting people, especially when I feel that time to themselves is what’s most beneficial, but there was no way I could spend the next 9 hours of my life focus on what I needed my attention on if I knew she was home in this state with the reason unknown to me).  She told me that her dear friend had been found dead in bed early this morning.  Apparently, her leg had been bothering her for a while, and was acting up the night before.  Her husband, being the loving, caring man that he is, decided to give her a nice message before she went to bed, hoping that would help relieve the tension and stress she was feeling.  He woke up to her unresponsive in bed with him the following morning.  Yes, most likely his loving message had dislodged a blood clot that wound up being her untimely demise.  She leaves behind a husband and two young children.  According to my mom, she was one of the kindest souls on this planet.

So, why do I mention this story on this blog that usually pertains to medicine? A: Because this was a woman who had had a double mastectomy when the doctors had found a lump in one breast, out of fear and as a precaution as a middle-aged woman with a history of breast cancer in her family. She was the first one to run to the doctor when something was wrong – just to err on the side of caution.  Yet, she had to endure months upon months of pain and discomfort because…you guessed it – she had gotten cut from her job, couldn’t find a new FT position, and was without health insurance.

I know so many are against health care reform, and are specifically against a public option.  Many physicians, pre-meds, and medical students, if they are honest with themselves, are mainly against it because they think it will be a drain to the economy, and more specifically, a drain to their own pockets.  I, like many others have mixed feelings on this whole debate (I’m not really going to delve into it now, just give a quick run-through on where I stand). I do believe that this health care reform might lower the income for some physicians. And, I wouldn’t think that would be such a bad thing until you factor in costs of obtaining an MD and things such as malpractice insurance.  The only way I could justifiably see lowering the wages for physicians would be to likewise lower the cost of education in the US.  With undergraduate degrees costing $45K+ per year and medical school education costing $70K+ per year (assuming private schools here), are we expected to mount debt that we might not be able to climb out of for 20+ years? That’s ridiculous. Especially when you consider how highly respected this profession is.  People are quick to point overseas to health care systems that are “better” than ours, yet hesitate to look at other aspects that factor into those societies that enable those systems to work (i.e. their doctors aren’t coming out hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt!).

That argument aside, if everyone were required to buy-in, it really would not be a drain on our economy.  Shoot, other countries spend 6% of their GDP on health care and are doing just fine. Meanwhile, we’re spending 16%, as is, and we are clearly struggling.  Our economy is failing, over and over again, morbidity and mortality rates are increasing …something’s got to give! (ok, that last comment I have no empirical evidence to support, but I’m just taking a guess…increase unemployment, increase uninsurance rate, and increase untreated diseases).  And yes, I said everyone must buy-in. Pardon me this one time, but I am going to say screw freedom of choice!  The first ones screaming “Freedom of Choice!” will be the first ones up in the ER when something unexpected happens to their health and they don’t have the means to cover it.  Then what? We’ll wind up spending far more in late, emergency treatment than if they had been treated when symptoms first arose.

All this to say, I believe in the public option. It is long overdue. Shoot, I haven’t had health care since September. I’ve been missing my medications and have been in knee-pain for 5+ months now. I’m already tired of my current quality of life.  I can’timagine living indefinitely like this.  Fortunately for me, as soon as I’m officially a student again, I can have insurance factored into my bills (i.e. student loans). But what about those that don’t have that option?  It is my honest opinion that those against a public option have yet to lose anyone close to them due to something as simple and silly as lack of health care insurance.  Because, once you start putting faces and individual stories to the statistics, you start to interpret the data a bit differently – with more of a heart.

Brrrrrr…Get Me out of Here!

In Rants on January 3, 2010 at 11:13 pm

It is cold.  Let me rephrase.  It is bitterly cold!  I admit I have been spoiled in recent years by attending undergrad in the South.  I remember laughing at my peers from Florida who would go out and buy a peacoat in 50-degree weather.  I laugh a lot, and personally, I find those unacquainted with cold weather and snow highly entertaining when the temperature drops below 40.  It’s like all common sense sprints right out of the door!  People start to panic, forget how to drive, start dressing a hotmess in some vain attempt to keep warm – in sum, they quickly lose their minds.

You know that saying, Whenever you point your finger at someone, 4 fingers are pointing back at you ?!?  Well, that’s exactly how I feel right now.  Granted, I feel justified feeling this cold and panicked when I’m out in the elements, however, I feel like God is paying me back for laughing at my friends not too long ago.

Don’t get me wrong, I love cold weather.  I like being bundled up, getting prepped to go out, seeing my breath as I walk down the street.  The cold makes me feel more alive and more aware of every inch of my being…that is, until I start to lose feeling in my extremities.  I remember all the snow storms we had growing up and the sheer awesomeness of a snow day – waking up early, lying in bed waiting for your school to be named on the radio, only to go right back to sleep under your warm sheets and out to play with your friends later, building snowmen and forts, going sledding, and making snow angels.  Gee, seems like we never got cold back then! I absolutely love snow and the way it mutes all the commotion of my everyday life.  Have you ever experienced the aftermath of a blizzard?  Suiting-up to go shovel-out, only to find yourself panting after a good 25 minutes of hard labor to hear near silence all around you.  It’s one of my favorite experiences of nature on Earth.

However, for all the loving memories cold and snow conjure up within me, there is nearly an equally long list of negatives that pops into my mind.   As an older, more mature individual with increased responsibility, snow is no longer a best friend.  Of recent, snow has meant being late for work attempting to shovel-out after an impromptu winter blast.  Or, it has meant starting my day at home in frightful anticipation that my car will just keep turning over and not start, leaving me stranded at home…or even worse, that when I get off at midnight, I will be stranded at work – yikes!  While snow still can mean a snow day, what comprises that term has changed.  Now, snow days mean studying and fearing a revised syllabus that will cram lectures together to compensate for lost time (granted, I’m not currently in school, but this was my experience last year).

Let’s face it, now that I’m older, I feel the cold that my sensory neurons were once able to ignore.  And, it hurts!  I can deal withcold, but this winter has been ridiculously windy. I can’t stand the wind basically whipping my body around at its pleasure. I feel like nature’s ragdoll, used and abused.  That’s not fun.  The temperature with the wind-chill the other day was 3! 3!!!!!! That’s not fun either.  Makes you want to not come out of hiding until we reach near freezing levels.

All this recent intense wintry conditions have had me re-evaluating my medical school choices.  Why did I apply to so many schools in cold regions??? Yes, I know, because I love being near family and I love the changing of the seasons. However, every time the temperature dips into the teens, I can’t help but take a peep on weather.com to see what the weather’s like in New Orleans.  Then, I get very jealous and eager.  I know their summers are oppressive, however, in the cold of the moment, I think I am willing to trade stabbing bitter pain for sticky hotness and mosquito bites…I think.