Top 10 Holiday Presents for Medical Students, Residents and Physicians: #COVID19 edition

Every year about this time, I create a list of presents I think busy healers (and healers in training) would appreciate. I don’t have to tell you that this has been a year that for all of us, but especially for everyone in medicine, has brought a new level of stress and sadness. The healers need healing… and in that spirit, here are some ideas of what you can send your friends in medicine for Hanukkah, Kwanza, Christmas, the Winter Solstice… or to celebrate the end of 2020 and beginning of a new year of hope.

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#10.  White coat, jacket and/or scrub “bling”.  Everyone who works in a hospital has a badge that must be worn all the time. And we all need pens (except for the attendings… we just “borrow” pens that students and residents keep in their pockets for us … just kidding … mostly). Here are some suggestions: Find a lanyard or badge holder from their favorite sports team or that will otherwise have meaning for them. Buy a box of cheap pens (that can be given away to needy attendings)  + a great pen that will remind them of you every time they write with it. For white coats, find a meaningful or humorous pin that could be worn on other clothes as well.

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#9 Happy Feet.  Think about putting together a “happy feet” box – include things like warm slippers, good socks, a certificate for a pair of shoes to wear in the hospital, compression socks, toenail clippers, and any other foot care products that sounds right. 

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#8 Better sleep. Sleep can be hard if you have had a really hard stretch at work. It’s especially hard if you’ve worked all night and have to sleep during the day. You can put together a combination of gifts like new high-count sheets, eye covers and ear plugs for sleeping after a night shift, a certificate for a new mattress, a white noise machine or a weighted blanket.

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#7 Work food. Busy students and residents frequently miss meals. Think about creating home made “snack packs” for the hospital by combining options like nuts, dried fruits, and high quality candy into small zip lock bags. Or buy healthy meal replacement bars in bulk. Make sure they are high quality, real food bars. My favorites are Kind bars but there are many other bars that are healthy and delicious.

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#6 Gift cards. When you ask students and residents which gift cards would be most appreciated it’s pretty consistently these three:  Amazon, Trader’s Joes, Whole Foods or other grocery stores, and Starbucks.

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#5 Digital upgrades. A high-quality phone is a critically important tool in the hospital. Everyone in medicine spends a good part of the day texting each other, looking up patients on Haiku (the Epic phone app), checking UpToDate for the latest treatments, finding other medical information in many other places and – of course – staying in touch with our teams, friends and families. Up to date computers, iPads, and AirPods (or equivalent) are also great gift options for any student or resident.

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#4 A cleaner house. Pre pandemic, I recommended someone to help clean as the number one gift for medical folks. But, even with the limitations imposed by COVID, there are still gifts that can help! Number one on this list would be a Roomba so they don’t have to vacuum.

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#3 Healthy meals at home that don’t take time. The Instant Pot has been my top recommendation as a gift for students, residents and busy healers for several years. Another wonderful gift I’ve recommended before is How to Cook Everything Fast: A Better Way to Cook Great Food by Mark Bittman. This year, I would add a certificate to meal delivery plans. The one I use is Clean Creations (because I like to have vegetarian options), but many of my friends swear by Freshly. Every city has companies that are similar, so do some homework and you’ll find several to compare. If you are a good cook, you might consider creating your own “meal deliveryservice” for your loved one, especially if you live in the same city.

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#2 Caffeine. This comes in different forms for different people, but unless they avoid caffeine for religious reasons, almost every healer and healer in training I know has a go to form of caffeine they love. For most people, it’s coffee. The number one gift on the list (my opinion) for coffee lovers is a Nespresso machine (and some pods to go with it). You can also get them a metal “pod” for their own coffee rather than the Nespresso pods which will save some money. There are other options for pod coffee machines, so you might want to read about them all before deciding. Having tried coffee from a variety of machines, I personal think Nespresso makes the best cup of coffee, but I am partial to espresso. Another great gift option for serious coffee drinkers is programmable coffeemaker so their coffee is ready when they get up at “dark thirty” to get to work. For tea drinkers, there are many options for teas, brewing systems, and pots. For all healers, regardless whether they are coffee or tea drinkers, a gift at the top of the list would have to be a Yeti or Contigo tumbler. These tumblers keep coffee or tea hot for hours… so your drink is still there and still hot when you get pulled away from that first sip.

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#1 Money. Students and residents, with rare exceptions, don’t have money for special things. Some don’t have enough money after rent and loans for things most of us would consider essentials. Giving money may seem a bit impersonal, but you can make it personal with a letter, a card, or creative packaging.

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p.s. If you want to check out my pre-quarantine lists for other ideas here are the links to last year’s list, and the year before.

p.p.s Thanks so much to my Twitter friends for helping me with ideas!

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas….

Did you ever wonder why Christmas is on December 25th? … or why we decorate pine trees if Jesus was born in the Middle East? To make the long story short (while begging forgiveness from my theology professors for the oversimplification), it has to do with the Roman Empire adopting Christianity as the state religion in the 4th century. When the Romans moved to conquer what is now England and Germany, the people they were conquering were more than a little reluctant to give up their celebration of the solstice and their understanding of the wonder of trees…. so the two religions “merged”, allowing these symbols to become part of the Christian tradition.

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And what about the 12 days of Christmas? Christmas (the religious holiday, not the shopping season) starts on December 25th and ends twelve days later on January 6th (Epiphany)… hence 12 days.

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As I thought about the holiday season, and the 12 days of Christmas, I came up with a different idea to celebrate this season… What if we all started a new tradition of donating a small amount to worthy groups for twelve days?  

I’ve listed twelve of my favorite charities below, but feel free to come up with your own. Even if you donate a few dollars to each one, you are celebrating the season of Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza and the Solstice in a powerful way.

  1. Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontiers). This amazing group takes medical care into parts of the world where no one else will go. Their entire charter is worth reading, but they live by “observing neutrality and impartiality in the name of universal medical ethics and the right to humanitarian assistance.”
  2. Your local food bank. Whatever preconceived notion you might have about hunger in America is almost surely wrong. So many families, Seniors and disabled folx rely on food banks. Make this year a time to learn more about hunger in America and donate to feed your neighbors.
  3. A local animal shelter. Kindness to animals is the mark of a compassionate heart.
  4. Neighborhood initiatives. Regardless of your own religious background, or lack thereof, mosques, churches, temples, and synagogues seek to help those in need. Find the places of worship in your neighborhood,  look online to see what good works they are doing, and donate to help them. Better yet, take your donation in person to meet your neighbor and thank them for their work.
  5. Donate to help fight discrimination and oppression. There are so many important groups working for justice, a particularly important mission during this time of conflict and division. Consider donating to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Human Rights Campaign, RAICES, Human Rights Watch, the ACLU or other groups focusing on justice for all.
  6. Action Against Hunger.  This group spends 94% of the money they raise in 47 countries to “take decisive action against the causes and effects of hunger.”
  7. The National Alliance to End Homelessness. You can also donate to local shelters for the homeless, or programs like Healthcare for the Homeless in your town or city.
  8. Prevent Child Abuse America. As someone who works with abused children, I would also encourage you to donate to the chaplain program at your local children’s hospital. The chaplains see the specific needs of these children – but more often than not don’t have resources to provide meal vouchers, toys or clothes to help a family during these moments of tragedy and pain.
  9. Consider donating to a group that is working to stop climate change, or other groups that advocate for and protect our natural resources such as the American Bird Conservancy or the Nature Conservancy.
  10. Make sure an isolated senior has a visitor and food by donating to Meals on Wheels.
  11. Time. If you don’t have money to donate, make a commitment to volunteer with a local group to help others. “You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.” ~Winston Churchill
  12. I am personally involved with FAM Houston (consider this my COI declaration!), a group that inspires me through their mission of “working for justice by building empowered community among refugees, immigrants, and local Houstonians.” Through building friendships and creating community they show that any light, no matter how small, is a miracle of love. If you are in need of a worthy group for your twelfth day of Christmas donation, please consider them!

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Last minute holiday gifts for busy people in your life

There’s still time!

If you have a medical student, resident, physician or anyone who is super busy in your family, here are few last minute gift ideas for you….

A Letter

I’m starting with this one because even though it’s obvious, we forget the power of stories in our lives to heal and support each other. Consider writing a long letter with stories about how they inspire you, when they decided on their career, funny events, etc.  Stress joy, humor… and gratitude.

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Spotify and/or Pandora without commercials

Many of us study with music, and most of us work (at least sometimes) with music in the background. These two platforms are currently the most used in the hospital. Being able to listen to the music of your choice without commercials is a great gift!

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InstantPot

Of all the cooking appliances and gifts, this one is the best for people who want to eat well but don’t have a lot of time. Even if you have to wrap the “IOU” (i.e. a picture of the InstantPot), it will be a very appreciated gift!

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A clean home

No one likes to clean their home, but all of us need this!  Even if it’s a deep clean every 3 months for a year, this is a great gift for anyone. Although there are professional services you can find, consider contacting local places of worship or non-profit organizations who may know responsible individuals who need the work.

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A subscription to Headspace

This one might seem a little strange, but you’ll have to trust me. For anyone who is “too busy” this is an easy way to really stop – even for 10 minutes a day – and “refuel”. BTW, get yourself a subscription (or at least try the first 10 lessons which are free). You’re welcome 🙂

Link to Andy Puddicombe’s TED talk (the founder of Headspace)

Other ideas for gift certificates

  • A healthy grocery store
  • A smoothie or juice shop
  • Their favorite restaurant(s)
  • Car wash
  • Starbucks (or even better, a local coffee shop near them)
  • Prepared healthy meals from one of the many companies that do this now
  • Membership to the YMCA or a gym near them
  • A new bicycle? (we never get too old to love this!)
  • “Date night” certificates for movies, plays or music and a meal
  • A favorite museum

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Holiday Gifts for Medical Students, Residents, Physicians and Other Busy People


Every year I try to post gift suggestions for the family and friends of people in medicine (and all other busy professions).  Here are this year’s suggestions!

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Listen.  A great friend of mine told me once that human beings heal by telling stories. There are lots of stories in medicine that go untold, but I promise you there are stories. Listen mindfully, without judgment and without trying to “fix” anything. Start with “Tell me a story about something that amazed you”… and then take it from there. 

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Write a letter.  Write a “letter of recommendation”. Yes, I’m serious! Not a letter to “get” or be elected to anything, but a letter that shows you know who they really are and how amazing it is that they have dedicated themselves to something so important. Make it a love letter, a letter of support, a letter with family history to encourage them… but a real letter. Write it on a computer and then print it, or use some beautiful stationary and a pen, but create a physical letter that will sit on their desk. Put the letter in a special box (something you might add to from time to time with other short letters?). 

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Instant Pot. There are kitchen conveniences, there are fads, and then there is the Instant Pot. This has taken on almost cult like status among users for a reason. It’s a 6 in one device (pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, saute, steamer and warmer) that makes it easy to cook healthy food. For students and residents, the 6 quart basic Instant Pot does everything you need it to do, but feel free to choose one with more bells and whistles if you want. 

A cleaning service. No one likes to clean toilets. And, if you are working 80 hours a week, housework takes away precious personal time to socialize, exercise or restore your batteries in other ways. If you are in a position to do so, see if you can make this a win-win by working with a church, refugee placement group or another social justice group to find someone specific who really needs this kind of work. Whether it’s a one time “deep clean”, a monthly clean, or weekly cleaning and laundry, any help will be a deeply appreciated gift. Another approach is to do a little “sneaky” homework – your loved one may have a friend who has already found someone wonderful who might need more work.

 

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The Gift of Organization.  I have become a huge fan of the Bullet Journal. It is incredibly easy, very versatile and, I believe, a perfect system for medical students, residents and docs. (especially when paired with a list on your smart phone when you are separate from your Bullet Journal). Choose a good Moleskin journal and the new book by Ryder Carroll, who developed this technique, and wrap them together as a perfect gift. If you want to really make their day, include a package of good (but not too expensive) pens

A gym membership (and other related gifts).  It’s really hard to find time to exercise if you are busy, but it’s critical for mental and physical health. There are a lot of options here, but they need to be specific to the likes and dislikes of your loved one. If they are a runner, maybe a gift certificate for new shoes? Do they like spin classes? If so, check out where the good classes are near them. Same for yoga, dance, ice skating, tennis, swimming, etc. A membership at a YMCA ( if there is one near them) will give them access to weights, classes and often a pool. Would they commute to school/work if they had a good bicycle? Can you get them a new watch or fitness monitor that will help count steps and flights of stairs? Would an “on the go” exercise kithelp them? 

A Meditation App.  I tell my students that if they can only pick one thing on the self-care list to choose, that this would be it. There are plenty of data that show the stress-reducing benefits of meditation. What is amazing is that if you have a meditation practice the other self-care is easier, too. This is a great tool to help meet the goal to be better and happier physicians. 

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Your time.Can you cook some meals once a month and put them in their freezer?  Do laundry? Bake cookies and mail them? Get their car washed every once in a while? Make an elaborate certificate with something you could do for them and wrap it as a present?

 Need other ideas?  Here are links to some previous lists: 201720162014,

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.

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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