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Oct. 23, 2013

Kim Peck: Medicine in mind

Oct. 23, 2013 

Kim Peck is an academic and professional development advisor in the College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Every June, a fresh crop of students arrives at Fee Hall, ready to begin medical school at MSU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine (MSUCOM). They are excited and enthusiastic with the realization of a dream that has been years in the making: long hours of studying, extensive volunteerism, preparing for and taking the all-important medical school admissions exam, the MCAT. It has all led to this. Many will think, “I have arrived.” They will quickly realize, however, that the journey has just begun. 

At MSUCOM’s orientation that first day, the students will hear Dean Strampel’s infamous “I am not your father”speech. They will also be told that a percentage of their classmates will not even make it through the first semester. They will be told medical school is like drinking from a fire hose. They will be told to keep up. They will be told medical school is hard, and it is. It is really, really hard.

This will be the first time that some of these students get a poor or perhaps even a failing grade on something they have never studied harder for in their lives. 

As a member of the advising team at MSUCOM, my job is to provide support to students and to help them successfully navigate medical school. Very quickly, I will have new students come to me: “Am I good enough? Am I smart enough? Can I really do this? I am so overwhelmed.” I will see many tears.

My answer to these questions, “Yes, you can do this. You were not given admission to MSUCOM; you earned your place here. You have gone through a rigorous admissions process. You have proven you have the capacity to be here and now we just have to work on the rest of the skills and behaviors that will help you thrive.” 

Osteopathic medicine is a philosophy of caring for people, not just treating individual symptoms. Using their eyes, ears and hands to determine the best treatment, osteopathic physicians, or D.O.s, consider all of you—mind, body and spirit. I, like many faculty, counselors and staff at MSUCOM, adhere to this philosophy and holistically care for our students and strive to support them not only in their academic endeavors but also in their personal and mental well-being.

The Joy Initiative led by MSU psychiatry resident, Miko Rose, is a program that complements the osteopathic philosophy. In order to combat burnout and the repercussions of the accompanying negative emotions, sessions are conducted for students focusing on happiness, mindfulness meditation and cognitive therapy. Stress will always be part of a physician’s life but teaching medical students how to reframe and deal with that stress are vital skills that will translate into more effective, compassionate physicians. 

Until you are in medical school, you cannot truly understand what it is like to be a medical student. The volume of knowledge the students are required to learn is daunting and unrelenting. It is a marathon, not a sprint. When you have placed so much hard work and hope into this dream, the pressure to succeed can be overwhelming. 

The most satisfying part of my job is when a student has a breakthrough moment and they step over the line of self-doubt and uncertainty into the belief that they can really do this.

One of my students recently summed up the first two years of medical school as, “It is the best, worst time of my life.” Will it be a lot of hard work? Absolutely. But you will be on an amazing journey with a group of amazing individuals. 

And the key word to remember is that this is a journey. There will be times of unremitting, grueling study and there will be those light bulb moments when all those pieces of knowledge come together and you begin to understand how it all fits together. There will be stress but there will also be laughter. In the Music Man, Harold Hill espoused "You pile up enough tomorrows, and you'll find you're left with nothing but a lot of empty yesterdays. I don't know about you, but I'd like to make today worth remembering." 

In the pursuit of medical school admission, test scores, board exams and residency, don’t forget to be mindful of today. What can you do today to make your day worth remembering? I advise students to take pride in their hard work and to be disciplined in their studies but also to take care of themselves and do something they love every day. Take a walk and enjoy the beauty of the season. Play catch with your dog. Make someone you love laugh out loud. Put your favorite song on in the car and sing at the top of your lungs. Take a moment to realize how truly privileged you are and to be grateful for what you have right here and now. 

I feel grateful and privileged to be a part of the arduous, rewarding journey MSUSCOM students undertake. If I can make even a small, positive difference for each new crop of students by teaching, encouraging or listening, perhaps they will begin to see the wonder each day of this long, amazing journey presents.