Interview with Maggie: Medical Student in Buffalo Interested in Adolescent Medicine

As a second year med student, Maggie talks about the stresses of non stop studying and ongoing debt and shares her views on the new healthcare bill, the importance of insuring everyone and equalizing doctor’s salaries. Although she is a firm believer in healthy lifestyles, her busy schedule does not always allow her to follow her own advice, but she did find a way to relieve stress that works for her: stress baking before exams and drinking after.

Age: 25

Places where you live/have lived? Buffalo, NY; Somerville, MA; South Hadley, MA; Fairport, NY (outside of Rochester, NY); Lowville, NY (including smaller towns as well)

Places where you want to live? Move back to Boston, MA; Providence, RI; Chicago, IL; Baltimore, MD; Portland, OR; Anchorage, AK; London, England; anywhere in New Zealand

What do you do? 2nd Year Medical Student at SUNY Buffalo

What type of medicine would you like to practice?

Right now, I’m leaning towards something within the primary care field. I wanted to go into medicine so I could have long-term relationships with patients and spend more time talking with them than performing procedures. I’m thinking about the possibility of pursuing a fellowship in adolescent medicine. Kids between the ages of 12 and 18 are a separate subset of patients whose needs are not necessarily met by a typical pediatrician or an adult internist. I think it’s important that they have doctors that are better equipped to deal with issues of identity and sexuality that are specific to them.

What do you think of the new healthcare bill?  Were you concerned that it might negatively affect doctor’s salaries?

I feel very strongly that everyone should be able to afford health insurance; the disparity in access to care between those who have private insurance and those who don’t is shocking. While I have no issue with taking a salary cut in the future, my only concern is that without more primary care physicians, the influx of newly insured patients will have difficulty finding someone to treat them. Rather than focusing on solely on creating more residency positions I think the focus should be on equalizing salaries among specialties. One of the major reasons so many graduates go into specialty fields upon graduation is the huge amount of debt we accrue as students. With more incentive to enter primary care fields, there may be a corresponding increase in applicants.

There has been a lot of talk about the dangers of having tired over worked medical residents in the hospital. There have also been claims that the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, the organization responsible for accrediting American medical residency programs has not been enforcing the rules with respect to the number of hours a resident should be required to work. Is this something that concerns you? What do you think you will do in a situation where a doctor needs you to stay longer on shift but you feel you are too exhausted to function?

I think that overworked residents are something that should concern everyone. Exhausted doctors are much more likely to make errors and while their attendings are there as safeguards against any serious mistakes in patient care, tired people have slower reaction times and have more difficulty making decisions.

It’s hard to predict how I’ll react in those situations. I’d like to think that I’d ask an attending to take me off a case if I wasn’t able to perform the tasks that were required of me. At the same time, I know many people in situations like who think that they can continue- if other people are still going they will too; it’s not so bad, etc. There is a feeling of toughening up and getting oneself used to the demanding hours as a right of passage.

How much do you worry about loans?

That’s my sole source of income at this point. I had to take out extra loans to be able to take a summer class on medical history in London.

Applying to schools, what did you think they looked at the most when considering applications? Did that help or hurt you?

Test scores and GPA are huge. My MCAT score was low, so it automatically threw me out of the running for some larger, big name programs. At Buffalo, they make a point to read everything you send them, so my recommendations helped me a lot.

Do you think med school leads to a sedentary lifestyle with all the studying and sitting in class? Being in the health profession, how important is it for you to exercise and remain healthy and how feasible is it in reality?

Absolutely. We spend a lot of time just sitting with books, not to mention having little time to eat properly. I try to exercise 2-3 times a week. It can be a little bit more on weeks without exams, and a little less when I’m in the library more. As a medical student, I promote healthy living but I tend not to exercise as much as I should during exams. I drink too much after an exam is finally over. It’s something I need to work on. If I’m asking patients to do something, I need to be able to do it myself.

Entering the medical field, do you feel that male doctors have better opportunities than their female colleagues? Do your supervisors, patients and their families treat you as they would your male counter part?

I think it depends on the person. Some older patients and families think I’m a nursing student or aide when I go in to talk to them, and there can still be some condescension when I try to explain that I’m a medical student. Supervising doctors I’ve worked with have treated me just the same as my male counterparts, but I know that one of my classmates had a male supervisor give more responsibility and guidance to her male medical student partner.

Given how busy you are with your studies, how close are you to the other students in your department? Do you mostly hang out with them or other people in or out of the University?

I pretty much only hang out with people in my program here in Buffalo. Many of my classmates are dating; two just got married this fall. I can head out of town maybe once a month or so- once we got into systems based modules, we only focus on one class and have some weekends off from studying.

What role do you think your friends would say your play: the joker, the leader, or the caregiver?

I’d probably say caregiver. I find that I’m the person a lot of my friends confide in, or call for a ride when they’ve been stranded somewhere.

As you come from a large family, do you all get along well and are able to do things together?

My maternal grandfather recently died after having treatment for lymphoma and some other health complications/conditions. As a family, my mother and aunts took turns going down to stay with him and my grandmother during his treatment, sending out daily e-mail updates to the rest of us. After he passed, we all gathered together for the services. My family functions really well as a unit and we found strength together. I describe growing up among the 29 of us as happy chaos, but when we all have a goal we divide up tasks and get things taken care of. Whether it was writing eulogies, or making sure everyone ate, everyone (down to my seven year old cousins) helped.

Who are the women you that inspire you?

My maternal grandmother. She worked as a nurse-anesthetist and raised seven girls–her youngest was still at home when her oldest was married and had a child. After retiring, she focused more on art- she loves to paint. She even went back to school to take art classes. I’m kind of in awe of her being able to juggle so many aspects of her life for so long. Plus, she has amazing taste in books.

What is the most random bizarre thing you like to do?

I really like to stress bake. Right around an exam, I’ll often bake dozens of cookies, cakes, or tarts while drinking a glass of wine/a beer and rocking out to cheesy dance music.

As you’ve had a string of random side jobs when you were in college, are there any random funny or horror stories you can share?

At a bookstore in Harvard Square, we had a fair numbers of eccentric customers. Several different customers came in to drink their beer (always Budweiser) and were shocked when we told them they had to leave. One even started running from security and tried to hide in the restrooms. It didn’t occur to her that security would just wait for her to come out. One woman called in often to find books on different animals with color photos. She always asked what the animals were doing in the photos- she wanted to see if there were ones with pictures of monkeys cooking, or a book on menopause with color photos. There were also plenty of Harvard affiliates who didn’t have a lot of common sense: one woman wanted me to order a $250 reference book on grant writing. She asked me if I could just order it so she could look at it, when I said no- she would have to purchase something like that, she was at a loss. I asked her if she had looked in a library yet, and she had the ah-ha moment. It hadn’t even occurred to her to check there first.

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