Sunday, July 14, 2013

Summer Draws Toward a Close

First and foremost I won't keep you in suspense - the beer I brewed is pretty darn good. It's no Killians, but it is an Irish Red, tastes like and Irish Red, and looks like an Irish Red. I know you were as concerned as I was about the outcome of this beer. Now that I have confirmation that I can produce something potable, it's time to start learning more about how to craft and design my own beer. I'm hoping to kick out another batch before classes start.

My typing speed drastically reduced pace at the end of the last sentence. I didn't realize that telling you that my classes start soon would actually make it come true but it has. Before I get into that whole bundle of joy, how about a real update. It's not that I don't trust you to be interested in my brewing, it's just that if I tried to introduce it later in this post after I throw down some actual life updates you might not care about the beer as much as I think you should.

So here we go - I absolutely loved my first rotation in Hershey. I got to learn so much about the shoulder joint, learn some new software for taking patient image data and converting it to shapes and materials that you can push and pull on in computer simulations, meet and impress my prospective PhD adviser, and establish connections with my colleagues in the MD/PhD program. The shoulder joint is extremely complex. In fact, it is comprised of 3 joints - not just one! That makes it especially challenging for biomechanics folks to characterize and ultimately simulate its function. (If you find that fact interesting, I recommend you check out the webpage on wikipedia - if you read that, you'll know more than I do about the shoulder joint ). So by the end of the rotation I had learned to take a patient's MRI scan, parse that data into 3D point clouds that define the outer bounds of the bones and implants, assign material properties to those materials based on the image intensity, construct 3D solid models out of the point cloud data, and apply loads to the materials in a computer (FEA) model to simulate the amount of load the fixation screws on the glenoid implant experience during daily activities like pushups. The outcome of the work could lead to more stable implant or screw designs that would reduce abnormal loading conditions and preserve the longevity of the implant.

In hopes that I still have your attention and your eyes haven't rolled up into the back of your head as you exclaim "I can't take another line of this boring science-y garbage" I'll shift gears to talk about normal things. At the end of my Hershey rotation I moved to State College, the place everybody  thinks of when I tell them I go to Penn State. State College is a pretty great place. It rains every day but don't that that discourage you - it only happens when you go outside. The dorm rooms are prime candidates for historic restoration groups making them very...... unique in their ability to deny graduate students of wireless internet. In all honesty, I do like State College - the campus is enormous which has made for some great exploring! There are restaurants and bars here that you can walk to which is a huge step away from the overripe bananas, browning lettuce, and daily sandwiches I left behind in Hershey. Also, the Penn State chapter of my undergraduate fraternity is THE building next to my lab building. Being in State College has reminded me a lot of my undergraduate days (complete with a game of Edward 40 Hands) and has also introduced me to the huge research resources that will be available to me during my tenure at Penn State. Gah - I started this paragraph wanting not to say anything about science but I couldn't resist that one.

My adviser here in State College, Dr. Stephen Piazza, has been truly fantastic to me. He ensured that there was a workstation with my name on it and 2 (that's right - 2) monitors. In fact yesterday was Saturday but I went into lab anyway because the monitors there (individually) are larger than my laptop screen, the chair is comfortable, and I had the whole place to myself to watch Netflix movies while the world of computers continued to laugh at my futile attempts to produce something useful for the knee-modeling community. Back to Steve though, he actually SENT me home to Buffalo for a long weekend. Literally he came in on Wednesday, had a meeting with me and before I left that meeting he told me that he didn't want to see me in lab again until Monday. I had not been home with my family since New Years and it was a much needed visit.

I must say that, so far, I have been nothing short of amazed and thankful for this MD/PhD program. There's a catch though..... There's always a catch.... Oh right, I remember now.


Yeah - those things. They're gonna start up way too soon and then they will consume way too much of my time. My mood about them changes from excited, to anxious, to terrified every 15 seconds. I bought a stethoscope, required for classes, which reminded me of my Dad telling me about the tools he had to pick up to start day 1 of his apprenticeship. His stories continue onto the next few years during which he was constantly hounded and bested by the skilled craftsmen who did all they could to prevent anyone they deemed 'unworthy' from entering the trade. I anticipate a similar experience and at least for now I am looking forward to it.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

A lot has changed

As the title of this post suggests, I intend to fill you in on what I've been up to and why I haven't been blogging for a little over a year. Yes, I had to go look that up and yes I felt disappointed. However, that vast gap in time will give me a lot to write about in this post. Grab some snacks - I've got plenty of time to make this one long and informative (boring).

Ok so where I left off was explaining that I had decided to throw my head against the med school wall in one last hurrah before giving up the life dream of becoming a physician. What an exhausting and familiar process that sent me off on! Firstly, I had to obtain letters of recommendation for school from my employers, former lab bosses, and the surgeons I had been working with. This meant that they had to find out that I was intending to leave my job one year later. Seeing as how I had been there for a year, I had established a nice reputation with a lot of great people so actually getting the letters was easy but I played it up in my head as if I were declaring myself a traitor because I was leaving the lab. However, rather than trying to convince me otherwise, my boss, Dr. Timothy Wright, recommended that I apply for combined MD/PhD programs because he thought I would be well suited to such training. I didn't take much convincing and ended up applying almost exclusively MD/PhD to schools.

Unfortunately, my medical college admissions test (MCAT) score from my sophomore year of college had expired and I had to retake the test. This wonderful 6 hour test presents wannabe students with the opportunity to demonstrate their retention of biology, chemistry, physics, and organic chemistry in attempt to prove their worthiness to the medical school gods (admissions committees). Being 4 years removed from the courses that taught me these things meant that I was going to have to put myself through MCAT bootcamp if I was going to perform well enough for the gods not to laugh at my application as they sent it sailing through the air after folding it into a replica of a crashed airplane and lighting it on fire. So I got a hold of a Kaplan test prep book and began spending 8 hours every Saturday studying for the test. With 3 months to go, a friend of mine gave me a set of audio lectures geared toward preparing students for the MCAT. I listened to them every day on the 45 minute commute each way to work, whenever I was walking around anywhere, and before I went to bed at night. With 2 months to go, I started studying for no less than 1 hour every day in addition to the audio lectures. When I hit the 1 month remaining mark I started doing a practice test every Saturday and Sunday. I took 5 days off work the week before the test and continued to cram. The test came and went and my score ranked in the top 7th percentile, despite my fears that I had not performed well!

Armed with a great test score and letters of recommendation from 5 orthopedic surgeons at HSS, 3 from scientists, and a personal statement that had been reviewed over a dozen times by each of 4 people other than myself I sent out my applications and promised myself that I would never go through that wretched process again. The rejection letters started hitting my email but one of them stood out. It read something like: Congratulations! You are cordially invited to interview at the University of Kentucky for admission into the MD/PhD program. Having never before seen a rejection letter that looked like that, I reexamined and realized that this was no rejection letter! I was so ecstatic that after 2 years of rejection and one year off all of my hard work had finally paid off and I had been accepted!!!!.... to interview......

It didn't take long to realize that although getting an interview was a huge accomplishment, this process had not yet released its death grip on me. I threw together 6 powerpoint slides detailing my research efforts, publications, presentations, and professional connections in an attempt to make sure that my interview stood out and when I left their office they still had a physical reminder of who I was and how badly I wanted this acceptance. My interviews went extremely well, with a majority of my interviewers asking me what I had done so wrong to get rejected in previous years.

A short time after the Kentucky interviews I get another rejection letter except this one invited me to interview at Penn State! The Penn State interview was scheduled for mid January 2013. On the last business day before Christmas Day while I was sitting at the center island in my parent's kitchen I got an email to inform me that I had been accepted to the MD/PhD program at the University of Kentucky. My world stopped turning as I broke down crying hysterically in front of my father because I knew no other way to react. My efforts and perseverance had finally brought me to my goal. 2 weeks later the Penn State interview went equally as well as the one at Kentucky. A few weeks later I got my second acceptance into a MD/PhD program. This process had quickly turned from me expecting disappointment to allowing me to choose between schools! Shortly after getting accepted to Penn State I received an invitation to interview at the University of Buffalo. In an extremely difficult decision I respectfully declined the invitation to interview at UB because I knew that their research was not strong in biomechanics. Similarly, I discovered Kentucky's biomechanics department to pale in comparison to Penn State.

So here I am, at my HUGE two-bedroom apartment in Hershey, Pennsylvania, having spent a majority of the day beginning a batch of homebrewed Irish Red ale and exchanging my New York driver's license for a shiny new Pennsylvania one. I have made friends with the current MD/PhD students (affectionately referred to as "the Nerds" by me and as "the mud-phuds" by everyone else) in the years ahead of mine because nobody else in my year has arrived in Hershey yet. I am 2 weeks into a 4-week research rotation in which I have been developing computational finite element models for assessing glenohumeral implant fixation as affected by osteoarthritis. The rotation has been very educational and I am thoroughly enjoying the experience.

Leaving HSS was difficult for me. For the 3 months leading up to my move to Hershey, I began devoting myself almost entirely to work. I held very long hours and did not spend much time at home. In exchange for my efforts, I have published 3 papers all of which I am second authored on, and am writing 2 on which I will be first author. There are others that I have authorship rights to due to my efforts, however, I think it will be challenging enough to try and get even two out while going through research rotations and med school.