New Year Resolutions

The “clean slate” of a new year almost always leads us to think of resolutions … things we could change to make our lives better.  This is a great time for reflection to realize what you have accomplished, where you’d like to be in a year, and what changes you need to arrive at that goal.  I just finished reading Making Habits, Breaking Habits: Why We Do Things, Why We Don’t, and How to Make Any Change Stick by Jeremy Dean which provided some useful ideas about making resolutions.

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Know why you want to make the change

“There has to be an ultimate goal that is really worth achieving or the habit will be almost impossible to ingrain.”  Jeremy Dean

Let’s take one example – losing weight.  It’s fine to say you want to lose weight… but why?  Wanting to fit into your clothes is not a trivial reason, but will it really motivate you when it gets tough as much as these?

  • Being able to “walk the walk” when you talk to patients about losing weight
  • Reduction in your risk for diabetes, heart disease, cancer and a variety of other health problems
  • More energy, better mood, less pain…

What’s important is that you find reasons that resonate for you.  Do a little research and write down why you want to make the change.  Plan to review this, and revise it when needed, on a regular basis.

 

Make the resolution then make a plan.

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To continue the losing weight example, what are the specific new habits you want to develop?  Are they “SMART” changes?   (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-Based).  For example…

  • I will eat 8 servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
  • I will set the alarm clock 15 minutes early to do push-ups, crunches and squats before I go to the hospital.
  • I will plan my meals and shop once a week so I can take healthy food with me to work.
  • I will schedule my workouts every weekend so I can attend at least two spin classes a week.
  • I will cook one healthy dish on the weekend that I can eat for at least 4 meals during the week

 

Develop the “what if” plan.

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The next step is to imagine all the things that might derail you and write down a specific plan for each of them.  This will be an ongoing process… as you come up with new excuses to not follow through with your new habit, add it to the list.

Back to the example of losing weight….

  • If I forget to bring fruit/veggies with me to work, I will go to the cafeteria or lounge to get at least 2 servings to eat at work.
  • If I walk by MacDonald’s and feel drawn in by the smell of the fries, I will remember that I’m trying to set a good example for my patients
  • If I hit snooze on my alarm clock, I will move it across the room.
  • If I think I’m too tired to go shopping for the week, I will remember that this is the key to having healthy food at work.

“Making healthy habits should be a voyage of discovery.” Jeremy Dean

 

Keep track.

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Self-monitoring is critically important to maintaining a new habit.   It doesn’t matter if you use an app like My Fitness Pal, a calendar, a spreadsheet or a system like the Bullet Journal… stay accountable by keeping track.

 

As the habit becomes engrained, change it a little to keep it interesting.

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Working out with exactly the same routine quickly becomes boring. It’s one of the reasons people love group classes like spin classes  – the instructors are always changing the routine.  Be mindful and creative… but stay out of ruts!

“Making or breaking a habit is really just the start. To develop a truly fulfilling and satisfying happy habit, it’s about more than just repetition and maintenance; it’s about finding ways to continually adjust and tweak habits to keep them new; to avoid mind wandering and the less pleasurable emotional states that accompany it. There is great enjoyment to be had in these small changes to routines. When life is the same every day, it gets boring.”  Jeremy Deans

 

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Looking for inspiration?  Here’s a list of New Year’s Resolutions for medical students, residents and busy docs.  Pick 1 or 2 and start working on your plan, your what-ifs and how you will monitor them!

  1. Learn to meditate and spend at least 10 minutes every day meditating with HeadSpace. (Here’s the TED talk that introduced me to this great app.)
  2. Eat fruits and veggies with every meal.
  3. Walk 10,000 steps per day.
  4. Take the stairs instead of the elevators.
  5. Learn the names of all the people you work with… the guy who mops the floor, the clerk at the desk, the person who works in the blood bank.
  6. Write down three things you are grateful for every night before you go to bed.
  7. Log all cases (if this applies to you) the same day and finish medical records within 24 hours.
  8. Use a system like the Bullet Journal or Remember The Milk to become more organized and never miss a deadline (including the birthdays of your family and friends)
  9. Cook your own meals at home (take a class if you need to).
  10. Be on time to conferences, rounding, meetings, classes, etc.
  11. Spend at least half a day a week “unplugged” and use it to play.
  12. Keep a journal to remember the important events of the day, vent about things that upset you, and make plans for the future.
  13. Read something that is not medical every day.
  14. Stop eating fast food.
  15. Drink less alcohol or stop all together.
  16. Get at least 7 hours of sleep any night you are not on call. (and have a plan post call to sleep more)
  17. Cut out all added sugar.
  18. Drink more water.
  19. Keep your house neater… or at least a part of your house!
  20. Stop texting while driving.
  21. Learn about motivational interviewing to help your patients.
  22. Read a major textbook in your field in one year.
  23. Learn something new from every patient you see
  24. Try a new way to exercise every month
  25. Set your intention for the day every morning.
  26. Eat breakfast every morning.
  27. Set limits on checking email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media sites.
  28. Practice mindfulness.
  29. Plan your meals for the week on the weekend to make sure you have great food on call and at work.
  30. If you have to sit a lot at work, come up with a plan to not be so sedentary.

 

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Advice physicians should follow. But don’t.

This is a truly wonderful piece from Emily Gibson, re-posted here with her permission from her beautiful blog, Barnstorming.  Enjoy!

octevening298As we drown in the overwhelm of modern day health care duties, most physicians I know, including myself, fail to follow their own advice. Far too many of us have become overly tired, irritable and resentful about our workload.  It is difficult to look forward to the dawn of the next work day.

Medical journals and blogs label this as “physician burnout” but the reality is very few of us are so fried we want to abandon practicing medicine. Instead, we are weary of being distracted by irrelevant busy work from what we spent long years training to do: helping people get well, stay well and be well, and when the time comes, die well.

Instead, we are busy documenting-documenting-documenting for the benefit of insurance companies and to satisfy state and federal government regulations. Very little of this has anything to do with the well-being of the patient and only serves to lengthen our work days — interminably.

Today I decided to take a rare mid-week day off at home to consider the advice we physicians all know but don’t always allow ourselves to follow:

Sleep. Plenty. Weekend and days-off naps are not only permitted but required. It’s one thing you can’t delegate someone else to do for you. It’s restorative, and it’s necessary.

Don’t skip meals because you are too busy to chew. Ever. Especially if there is family involved.

Drink water throughout the work day.

Go to the bathroom when it is time to go and not four or even eight hours later.

Nurture the people (and other breathing beings) who love and care for you because you will need them when things get rough.

Exercise whenever possible. Take the stairs. Park on the far side of the lot. Dance on the way to the next exam room.

Believe in something more infinite than you are as you are absolutely finite and need to remember your limits.

Weep if you need to, even in front of others. Holding it in hurts more.

Time off is sacred. When not on call, don’t take calls except from family and friends. No exceptions.

Learn how to say no gracefully and gratefully — try “not now but maybe sometime in the future and thanks for thinking of me.”

Celebrate being unscheduled and unplanned when not scheduled and planned.

Get away. Far away. Whenever possible. The backyard counts.

Connect regularly with people and activities that have absolutely nothing to do with medicine and health care.

Cherish co-workers, mentors, coaches and teachers that can help you grow and refine your profession and your person.

Start your work day on time. End your work day a little before you think you ought to.

Smile at people who are not expecting it, especially your co-workers. Smile at people who you don’t think warrant it. If you can’t get your lips to smile, smile with your eyes.

Take a day off from caring for others to care for yourself.  Even a hug from yourself counts as a hug.

Practice gratitude daily. Doctoring is the best work there is anywhere and be blessed by it even on the days you prefer to forget.

 

It’s the First Day of Medical School – What Should I Do?

I’ve written before about what to do before medical school starts, how to study in medical school and strategies for succeeding in the basic sciences. But how do you put this information about organizing your studying and your day into a system that works?   Everyone will have variations on how they do this, but there are some fundamental principles that apply to all.

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Don’t get behind

From day one, the material matters and, from day one, it is voluminous. If you get behind, it’s really hard to catch up.

Study, don’t just read and reread.

You have to actively engage this material and review it (multiple times) to really learn it. You are no longer studying for a test, you are studying to take care of other people. The SQ3R method is used by many students, but there are other systems as well. What is important is to develop a system that works for you.  One tool used by many students is Anki, software that allows you to create electronic flashcards to review key points.

Tips on active studying from UCSD

Tips on active studying from the University of Utah

 Use going to class as time to “study”

One of the important components to active learning is to review the lecture material before it is presented.  This is the opposite of what most of you experienced in college, but it’s key.   Survey the handouts or slides and make a list of the important points to be covered. Stay actively engaged.

p.s. You can’t learn medicine if you are on Facebook in class.

Create a summary page for each lecture

Include the big concepts, and key points. Include specifics that are stressed by the professor, but avoid listing all the details. You may choose to hand write this, but most of you will come up with an electronic format and will organize the class notes, and your summaries using One Note, Growly or an equivalent software. Although your personal notes are fine on the cloud, don’t put copyrighted material or your professor’s slides where other people can see them (it’s illegal).

Begin with the end in mind

In the long term, what you are learning (yes, all of it) will be applied to taking care of patients. In the slightly less long term, you will be tested on this information on the USMLE Step 1, a high stake exam and the first part of your medical license.   Although some dedicated time to study for Step 1 is important, having a system to really learn the material in your basic science courses is by far the best way to do well on this exam.

Don’t sacrifice sleep.

If you don’t sleep you don’t learn as well. Organize your schedule so you get at least 7, but preferably 8 hours of sleep every night.

Eat well, play hard and stay connected.

Clay Goodman,MD the Associate Dean of UME at Baylor, tells our first year class that the first year of medical school is a 60 hr/week job. They need to get up in the morning and “go to work”, using the afternoon and evening to study. He then points out that if they work 60 hours and sleep 56 hours (8 hours a night) they still have 52 hours to work out, spend time with family and friends and do whatever else they want.

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So, what should you do the first day of medical school?

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Here’s what your schedule might look like…

The night before – pack your breakfast for the morning break and lunch for the next day. Review any posted slides – survey them to understand the “big picture” and use them to start your summary of the lecture. Write down what you don’t understand from the slides (yes, at this stage it may be every line… but that will get better!).

7am – wake up (If you prefer morning workouts, you can get up earlier and workout before class)

7:30 Grab a piece of fruit or a smoothie if you don’t like to eat an early breakfast. (If you are ok with it, eat the full breakfast now, but whatever you do, don’t skip breakfast)

8-12 Attend class – Stay engaged. Take notes, make sure the questions you asked yourself in the review are answered, raise your hand and ask questions if they weren’t. Eat your breakfast or a snack at the 10 am break.

12-1 – Lunch with your classmates. Play foosball, talk, or just eat, but take a real break.

1-5 Study. One hour of studying for each hour of class is about right for most people.   This may need to go until 6 or 7 if you have afternoon labs.

7 – Workout and then make and eat dinner. Working out is an important part of self-care. Exercise is essential to decrease stress and also will help you avoid the “freshmen 10”. Your dinner should be healthy, not processed, and definitively not Ramen noodles. Make sure you have fruits and/or vegetables at every meal.

9-10 Look over tomorrow’s lectures and start your summary pages for those lectures. Once you are a week or two into this, you’ll be adding in reviews of material from previous weeks on a schedule.

10-11 Read a novel, watch TV, decompress.

11 Go to sleep!

You are starting on one of the most amazing journeys any human being can have… enjoy it! Don’t forget to keep a journal and take photos (but not of patients). The first time you actually interview a patient, put on your white coat, hear a heart murmur or take a test in medical school are just that … the first time. Write about the experience.

Let me know in the comments what other advice you have for the students starting medical school this summer!

 

 

Top 10 Holiday Gifts for Physicians and Physicians in Training

The holiday season is rapidly approaching.   Here’s my top ten gifts for medical students, residents and physicians…. or any busy friend!

  1. Mark Bittman’s new book How To Cook Everything Fast.

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This is an amazing cookbook and it is perfect for busy people. The recipes are interesting, delicious and healthy. The instructions are easy for a novice without being simplistic and the layout of the book in innovative and makes it really easy to use.

 

  1. An electric pressure cooker.

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Slow cookers are often suggested for medical students and residents but I don’t think they are as good as a pressure cooker.   You have to be there when slow cookers are (slowly) cooking, which is usually your rare day off. Also, it’s hard to cook vegetables in a slow cooker. Pressure cookers on the other hand cook broccoli in 2 minutes (perfectly!).  I’ve been told that the electric pressure cookers take a little longer to come up to pressure, but it seems a small downside for a device that also lets you slow cook, steam, sauté, and cook rice.

 

  1. Coffee or Tea

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There are several options to consider if they are a serious coffee or tea drinker. A Starbucks or Teavana gift card in a cute “medical” coffee mug? A Starbucks Verismo coffee brewer? Nespresso? Keurig?

 

  1. A FitBit

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Anyone in medicine loves gadgets and loves data. The fitbit has become a socially acceptable piece of “jewelry” in the hospital and it unquestionably changes behavior to increase activity. Having washed three of the “clip on” Fitbits with my scrubs, I would recommend one of the wristband Fitbits!

 

  1. A maid or housecleaning service

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Doing housework has to be on everyone’s lowest list of fun things to do on your day off, but it’s especially true for people who are studying extensively or taking call in the hospital. My parents helped finance someone to come occasionally to help clean my apartment when I was an intern. It was without a doubt the best present I’ve ever received.

 

  1. Anything that helps make it easy to get more exercise

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Another great gift is anything that will promote more exercise… a bicycle to commute to school or work? Yoga classes? Spin classes? A gift certificate for new running shoes? Resistance bands for the call room? A membership to a YMCA or a gym close to where they live? Certificates for post workout massages?

 

  1. “Date night” packages

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Whether they are single or have a significant other, being able to socialize is an important part of stress reduction for busy people.   Create combinations of gift cards to movie theaters and restaurants to support “date nights”. If they love art, music, or sports think of season tickets (or ticket packages) to museums, music venues or professional sport teams.

 

  1. An “over the top” alarm clock

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It’s not easy getting up at “dark thirty” to make it to rounds, but being on time is important.   The snooze button is not a good idea… but it’s so easy to hit. This alarm clock is my personal favorite to make sure you get out of bed. After a few hits of the snooze button, it rolls off the table and around the room until you turn it off!

 

  1. Great books by, for and about doctors.  

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If they are a serious reader, think about a Kindle (or other eReader). The Kindle paperwhite is small, lightweight, back lit and has a great battery life – which makes it great for the occasional times on call that you can find 30 minutes to escape into a good book. You can also read it outside in bright sunlight (unlike tablets like the iPad) On my list of great reads for doctors (in no particular order)…

Cutting for Stone by Abrahan Verghese

How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman

House of God by Samuel Shem

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukheries

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Guwande

William Osler: A Life in Medicine by Michael Bliss

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures by Anne Fadiman

 

  1. The always appropriate gift of money

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If you are going to give gift certificates or money,  “package” it with some humor (in a pill bottle with a “prescription”) or a context (this is to help you buy good food for times you are too busy).

Please let me know (comment or email) anything else to add to this list!  Happy Holidays to all!

 

 

What happened to my workouts?

I’m just went through a particularly busy time and, once again, I didn’t find/make time for exercise.  I could give you the list of tasks, travel, call nights, etc that led to blowing off my workouts, but it wouldn’t be different from yours.

I know better.

If you haven’t seen it, this is a remarkably persuasive “lecture” (with very cool animation) on why we should make time to exercise.

 

Here’s what I’m going to do, based on previous experience and a lot of good advice from people who know more than I do:

1.  Put exercise on a calendar.

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Schedule exercise as an appointment – every day.  I personally think call days and post-call days should be exempt (if you are up most of the night).  Sleep trumps exercise if you are really sleep deprived.  It’s understandable there will be a day, maybe even two, when something comes up that you can’t control …and you miss your workout.  But the end result of having a plan for everyday is that you’ll work out 4-5 days a week (instead of 0-2)

2.    Put your shoes on.

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For most of us, it’s not doing the exercise that’s so hard, it’s getting started.  I think the “10 minute rule” is key.  Put your shoes on and start your workout no matter how bad you feel or how much you don’t want to do it.  If, after 10 minutes, you still feel that way – stop.

3.    Just do it.

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Self explanatory.  Sometimes you just have to make up your mind that the benefits outweigh your desire to sit on the couch.   If you don’t like to work out – talk yourself into it.

4.    Keep track

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Watching yourself improve is a great incentive to keep going.  Set up goals for slow and steady improvement and then log what happens.  We’re all good at science – think about approaching this as one big “experiment”.  When things don’t work out the way you expect, log it.  Buy a notebook or find an app you like.  Use your log to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

I’m in.  For the next month I’m going to set and meet a goal for 150 minutes/ week of real exercise.  Join me?

Why you should run (even if you hate it) – and how to stay safe when it’s hot outside.

Running is one of the most efficient ways for busy students, resident and physicians to stay in shape.  If you are looking for the best way to meet your “MED” (Minimal Exercise Dose) to stay fit, you really can’t do better than running. It’s cheap (but don’t skimp too much on the shoes and clothes you need), easy (we are born to do it) and incredibly time efficient. You don’t have to plan to run a marathon to gain amazing benefits from a running program.  20-30 minutes, 3-4 times a week, will keep you fit, reduce stress, and prevent the weight gain associated with residency.  If you are a beginner, check out Runner’s World 8 week to start running.

I work with a remarkable runner, Carlos Campos MD, who wrote the following for the Texas Children’s Hospital Department of Surgery wellness newsletter.  Given how hot it is in most of the country right now, I thought the following advice was important to pass on!

Training in hot weather can be challenging, and without the proper precautions it can be dangerous. But a few easy guidelines can help you beat the heat.

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Get the Data

Before stepping out on a hot day, make sure to check the heat index. The heat index combines air temperature and relative humidity to determine how hot it feels. The National Weather Service offers heat index alerts when it becomes dangerous to exercise outdoors.

Your body cools itself with perspiration which evaporates and carries heat away. When the relative humidity is high, the evaporation rate is reduced and heat is removed from the body at a slower rate.

One way to get through those hot and humid days is to avoid them. When the heat index reaches dangerous levels consider taking that well deserved day off.

If avoidance is not an option for you, try running in the early morning or early evening when the heat index is typically lower.

Another option is to do your workout indoors. A climate-controlled indoor track or treadmill can serve as an alternative to running under the scorching sun. However, not everyone has the luxury of an indoor facility so you need to plan accordingly.

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Wear the Right Clothes

You’ve probably heard the saying “there’s no bad weather just bad clothing.” Whether or not it’s true, you should always wear temperature-appropriate gear, especially when running in the heat.

Avoid dark colors since they tend to absorb heat rather then reflect it. Find clothing that is made of high performance technical materials. These materials wick or pull moisture away from your body while allowing air to flow through the material. Wicking materials are a great improvement over cotton, which tends to absorb moisture and can contribute to chaffing.

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Find a Cool Course

Temperatures tend to be a few degrees cooler in the shade, so look for a running route that offers lots of it. It’s also a great excuse to get off-road and do a little cross-country training.

If you are lucky enough to live near the coast, you may want to consider a beach run. Temperatures are cooler along coastal areas, and you can always go for a quick dip to cool down.

Consider looking for an athletic facility that waters their fields with sprinklers. Running through sprinklers serves a dual purpose: It helps keep you cool and makes you feel like you’re 12 again.

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Protect Your Skin From the Sun

Wearing sun block is a must. The occurrence of skin cancer is on the rise and without protection, you increase your risk. The higher the sun protection factor or SPF, the more effective the sun block is in protecting your skin against harmful rays. For example, sun block rated at SPF 30 filters out about 96 percent of ultra violet rays.

The sun’s rays are strongest between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., so avoid training during these hours. It is recommended that sun block be applied about 30 minutes before going outdoors and every hour after.

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Wear a Cap With a Wide Brim

The first women’s marathon was introduced at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. As you can imagine, summers in LA are hot, and the morning of the marathon was no exception. To make matters worse, most of the course was on freeways that offered no escape from the sun.

To compensate for the conditions, Joan Benoit Samuelson wore a white cap with a wide brim. The cap served the dual purpose of shielding her from the harmful rays of the sun and acting as a cooling device. Periodically she would pour water on the cap. She finished a minute ahead of her rivals to win the first women’s Olympic gold medal in the marathon.

Today’s running caps are made of high-tech materials that are both light and vented. Just add a little water to help keep cool.

If you don’t like wearing hats or want additional protection for your eyes, wear sunglasses. Make sure you find sunglasses that come with UV coating.

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Stay Hydrated

Runner’s World has a great summary of how to stay hydrated in the heat.  To summarize, drink something before you go out and replace what you are losing.  For 20-30 minute runs a good drink of water before you go should be plenty.  It’s important not to go overboard by drinking too much or adding salt.

 

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Running in the heat can be a challenge, but when met with a few common sense rules you can beat the heat!

Gifts for Medical Students, Residents and Physicians

The holidays are quickly approaching and it’s time for my annual list of gift suggestions for medical students, residents and physicians.

  • Top of the list this year (for good reason) is the iPad mini.  I started rounding with an iPad several months ago and was instantly converted. The iPad mini is even better because it fits in my white coat pocket!  I am able to pull up my patient list on our EMR and access lab values and images as I’m walking from room to room.  I can also use it to show families the images, or pull up images from the web to help explain complicated concepts. For students (and all of us) an iPad gives you instant access to information to help in decision making. Most hospitals (if not all) have wi-fi, so the “starter” (i.e. least expensive) version is fine.  There is a big advantage to have 3G capability if you aren’t around wi-fi (just like your phone), but it will add a monthly fee.

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  • For avid readers (of non-medical works), consider a Kindle, Nook, or other electronic reader.  (If you are considering an iPad, it can be used as a reader, so this would be redundant).  These devices can easily go into a backpack or call bag and make it easy to take 5-minute breaks from studying or work.

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  • A new suitcase.  This is particularly important for medical students or residents who will be facing a round of residency or fellowship interviews in the in next year or two (but will be appreciated by anyone!)
  • A maid or housecleaning service once a week.  No one in medical school or residency has time to clean (or likes it)!  This will be one of the most appreciated gifts you’ve ever given someone. Along the same lines, consider a certificate for cleaning or doing laundry once a month (if you are inclined to do it yourself for them.)
  • Ties are usually required on the wards for men.  Good, professional ties will always be a welcome present.  Consider interesting medical ties like the human cell tie, x-ray and ortho themed ties or a human genome tie.    I’m not about to get into the (often heated) discussion about bow ties in medicine, but if you are considering a tie as a present, you might want to ask about bow ties before you buy. No matter what kind of tie you choose, pick one with a subtle theme that you have to look at twice. Don’t get a tie with a caduceus or that’s really blatant (stethoscopes, etc).

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  • All students and residents need good, professional clothes – a gift certificate to a big department store is a good way to let them add to their wardrobe.

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My personal favorite – it rolls away and you have to chase it!

  • Membership to a gym for a year.  Working out is important both for physical and mental health during medical training.  But – unless you know which gym is the closest to where they live (or most used by their friends), it might be better to create a homemade “gift certificate” and let them decide.
  • Anything to help promote more exercise.  A bicycle to commute to school or the hospital?  A gift box with exercise equipment?  Yoga classes? New running shoes?
  • Electronic speakers for their computer to listen to music while studying. Along the same lines, add in a subscription to Pandora One to create and listen to internet radio stations without commercials.
  • Appliances to help with fast, healthy cooking.  Top of my list would be a pressure cooker – either stovetop (which is what I use) or electric.  Another great choice for the money may be the Krups multicooker that is a rice cooker, steamer and slow cooker all in one.
  • A gift certificate to Whole Foods (or any grocery store that makes take out food), or a healthy prepared food service.  In Houston, we have My Fit Foods, Snap Kitchen, Diet Gourmet, Real Meals 365 and several other services.  These types of businesses exist in almost every major city and can be easily found on the internet.

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  • Plush anatomy dolls – particularly appropriate for those who have already chosen a specialty.

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