Monthly Archives: January 2009

Thank You For The Music

My SSM is off to a slow start and there’s not much I can really do with it yet, so I’ve been spending most of this week making notes on and revising Block 7.

At some point, I’m going to do a post on studying with music. I’m a study-with-music person. This morning, I spent a few hours on childhood nutrition with Tomas Luis de Victoria’s The Mystery of the Cross coming through my earphones. It’s a gorgeous piece of music and perfect for me to listen to when I’m working, but it’s a late(ish) sixteenth century setting of the Holy Week lamentations and afterwards I felt that I needed some time with something a little… bouncier. I put on the Mamma Mia soundtrack.

I hadn’t realised, but it’s the first time that’s been played since before Christmas, when I sang a lot of it at the Royal Concert Hall.

That was absolutely the most fun I’ve ever had on stage.

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Posted by on January 28, 2009 in Blog


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The Longest Mile

Yes, it’s a cheesy title.

I know of no other medical school that has anything remotely similar to the Medical Independent Learning Examination (MILE). It’s a bit like deep-fried Mars Bars and snow in July — nobody else wants it, and we don’t really blame them. So, a little background: it’s a first year assessment, it works like a really big PBL scenario, and it lasts for 24 hours. There are no prizes for guessing which part we all remember.

I took my MILE on Pancake Tuesday/Ash Wednesday last year (and I know that because, for reasons that are about to become clear, I got no pancakes last year). At 9am, the seventy-odd people who made up Group B were herded into a seminar room and given an exam paper, an answer book, and an attendance card, and turned loose. The exam paper is a clinical case — we were given a 24-year-old woman presenting to her GP with abdominal discomfort, weight loss, and pale, watery, difficult to flush stools, and told that she’d had a blood sample taken and was being sent for a biopsy of her small intestines. We had until 9am the following day to come up with four or five pertinent questions, research them, write them up, and evaluate our work. It was supposed to evaluate how good we were at doing PBL, except that my PBL notes don’t need to be given in, have only rarely been written by hand, are only less than 500 words when I haven’t done it properly, and never include a hand-written and critically-appraised list of references.

But none of that was going to become an issue until many, many hours later.

I was in group that had decided a few weeks earlier that we’d work together, and once the staff had set us free, we headed for our project room, stopping on the way to collect any books that looked as though they might be even a little bit connected to intestines, poo, or biopsies. It seemed that the easiest way to do this would be to treat it just like any other PBL scenario, and that’s what we did, right down to choosing a chair and a scribe. It took longer than it normally would, because we had marks depending on how good our objectives were. In a normal PBL, you can have an objective like, “discuss disorders of the GI tract,” and it doesn’t matter because everyone in the group knows that that doesn’t mean every single disorder of the GI tract. In the MILE, we ended up with, “What are the common disorders of the small intestine that may cause this patient’s signs and symptoms?” It was followed by research — two people to a question and lots of explaining things in feedback and lots of photocopying. The part of the research that took the longest time was standing in line at the photocopier!

The writing up started at 5pm, after group feedback and a very much needed coffee. This was the part that took the time. It’s also the part that has to be done individually, so a few people went home. I didn’t. I knew that if I went home, I would want to go to sleep, and a few members of my group felt the same way. It took time because it meant collating and evaluating every single reference that had been used, getting thirty-odd pages of notes down into as short a report as humanly possible, doing a manual word count, tearing my hair out, editing and rewriting it into a shorter report, doing another manual word count, and again, and again.

At 11pm: “Hi, is that Dominos? Are you still open for delivery? Good. Yes, to the medical school building on University Avenue…”

As the wee small hours rolled around, there were only twelve or thirteen people left in the SL. We started wandering in and out of different rooms, taking breaks, checking on how everyone was doing. I was glad I had stuck around — entirely apart from not wanting to have spent the whole night looking at my bed and wanting to get into it, I wouldn’t have wanted to do it without company.

I finished a draft report with an acceptable word count at two o’clock in the morning, and finished writing and diagramming and referencing and critically appraising and cleaning just in time for me to catch the first bus home at 6am, where I rinsed away the twenty-one hours of unventilated project room stink and fed myself before turning around and going back for hand-in. And VS. If you finish the MILE and have to go to a three hour class on the same morning, you are a very unlucky person and will probably nosedive into your coffee, as I proceeded to demonstrate for the benefit of my VS group.

The MILE is brutal, and I remember being tired right down to my bones when I finally crawled into bed on the Wednesday night, but the thing I remember the most about mine is that it was a bonding experience in the deepest and most true sense. It’s nothing like the ridiculous bonding activity we had foisted upon us in September, and it’s not quite the crisis mentality of pre-exam weekend in the SL, but that night was the first time we’d ever seen each other at our collective messiest and most exhausted. It makes a difference. So, it’s been a year and maybe I’m blocking out the little things (like nosediving into my coffee in VS, or how that afternoon I fell asleep in church and nearly tilted right off the pew), but, while I absolutely understand why nobody else does it and why people might flee a mile from this, it was one of those things that I’ll never forget and that I wouldn’t have missed for the world.

Do you know any triathletes? I think this is kind of how they feel about Ironman.

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Posted by on January 27, 2009 in Blog, Medicine


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“You Have Ninety Minutes. You May Begin.”

Yesterday, we had a mock exam that was oddly comforting. I know that’s a really odd thing to say, but I was expecting it to be utterly terrifying. I thought that I’d be walking out of the Bute Hall at the half-hour mark and leaving many, many blank sheets of paper on my desk — and that would have been okay, it was a mock, and one afternoon of getting scared shitless might have been a good motivator for the next four-and-a-bit months of studying for the real thing, but it turned out to be quite a friendly paper.

It was divided up into one question for each of the three blocks we’ve done since September. Block 7 started out with the advantages and disadvantages of breastfeeding, and went onto growth in children and the influences on it. Block 8 was all opthalmology and visual field defects, including the names of the muscles that move the eyes in different directions and the nerves that supply them, and Block 9 was a gorgeous question about angina pectoris and risk factors for CHD and the classes of antihypertensive drugs. Now, I’m not suggesting for a minute that I could have passed it. The only thing I made a proper stab at was the Block 9 question, and that was mostly because almost all of it was covered in the coursework that I handed in four days ago. I know very little about the eye, and I am not joking when I say that my answer to the eight mark question on factors affecting endochondral bone growth was, “Mother’s height. Father’s height. Environmental. Use of growth charts?” I left after 35 minutes, but everything I was asked was something that I know I should know. It’s calmed me down. I feel like there’s a lot of work to do, but that it can be done and that second year is not an unpassable thing, and maybe that’s going to be a better motivator than scared shitless would have been.

Next week, I start my SSM on Drugs In Sport. It wasn’t my first choice, but it looks interesting and my timetable looks like I’ll have a decent amount of time for studying, and I might not have actually got much of that done if the post-mock mantra in my head had been, “OH MY GOD, WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE.”

It’s just a shame that I can’t persuade myself that the real paper won’t involve at least one instance of the word ‘syncytiotrophoblast’, but there is a point where realism needs to prevail, and, in second year, embryology is it.

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Posted by on January 25, 2009 in Blog, Medicine


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Reflecting on 18 Months of Not Blogging.

I’ve had this blog since August 2007, just a few weeks before I started medical school. I wanted to keep a record of my five years in Glasgow, something that would keep safe all of the lessons and memories and laughter and tears, and the daily and weekly experiences of this fantastic, insane journey I’m on. It didn’t quite work out like that. I wasn’t trying to be a person that I’m not, but I was trying to be the kind of writer that I’m not. I felt like I had to be funny or insightful or wise, all the time. I’m self-critical of my writing at the best of times, but putting those kinds of expectations on myself meant that I posted barely anything at all, and in doing so, I lost what had been my reasons for blogging in the first place. It’s time to get back to that.

If you have been around since the beginning, you might have noticed that my first year posts disappeared over Christmas. I’m making a fresh start. I’m in the middle of second year, and I’ll be writing about that as it happens, as I’ve been trying to for the last ten days or so. But buried deep on my hard drive are jottings and scribblings about some of the things that happened in first year and just never made it quite as far as the internet. I’ll be organising those into something with sentence structure and putting them up, too.

First up, this weekend, will be the MILE.

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Posted by on January 22, 2009 in Blog, Medicine


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I Didn’t Like Physics When I Was At School, Wither.

This PBL — which is due tomorrow — is all about pressure gradients and gravitational forces and gas exchange, and a few minutes ago there was something about Boyle’s Law.


I’ve not been so uninspired by a PBL since the huge glucose metabolism thing in Block 5.

We’ve got one objective that isn’t about physics, on the diagnosis and management of thromboembolism. I’m saving that until I’ve done the rest of it. So that I’ve got something to look forward to.

Ah, well, I suppose there’s no chance it’s going to do itself, so. Back to work.

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Posted by on January 15, 2009 in Blog, Medicine


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Back To Work…

Sort of.

At the beginning of this year, the Glasgow curriculum was semesterised. The medical faculty use this word with the same kind of distaste that I normally reserve for words like ‘vomit’ and ‘poo’, but, in practical terms, all it means is that our term dates have been shuffled around. In the past, first and second years had two terms of ten weeks and one term of three weeks plus exams, and, as our teaching was broken mostly into five week blocks, this worked out well and presumably the people who organised the whole thing were quite chuffed. Now, the term dates have been replaced by three terms of seemingly random length (although I suspect much of the rationale behind it involves, “how close to Christmas do you think we can keep them before actual riots break out?”). The system has… well, not quite descended into chaos, but close enough.

The start of a new term used to mean the start of a new block — on the first day, everyone would turn up and collect their FRS notes, and then, normally, we’d all freeze under the air conditioning in the Boyd Orr while someone made a point of telling us that the forthcoming five weeks was going to be be the hardest and most important block we would ever do. The messing around with terms means that we’ve come back from Christmas and gone straight into the middle of Block 9. The only thing on my timetable for today was a one hour plenary on “How Do We Investigate The Lungs?”.

I dragged myself out of my lovely, warm bed and inhaled some caffeine and trudged the half-hour from Partick.

I sat in a lecture theatre with my colleagues for twenty minutes, waiting for a lecturer who didn’t turn up.

I turned around and walked back home.

There are days — most of them, if I’m honest — when I absolutely love what I do. There are days when I need to prop my eyelids open with matchsticks and coffee. There are days when the matchsticks and coffee don’t work quite as well as I’d like them to.

And then there are the days when all I can think is, “But I could have stayed in bed!”

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Posted by on January 12, 2009 in Blog, Medicine