Top 10 Holiday Gifts for Busy People (including medical students and residents)

What’s the best gift for a medical student or resident (or any really busy person)?

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Seriously, anything that frees up time for them is the best present you can give them.  If it supports their health or decreases stress, it’s even better!

Here are my top ten choices for best presents for medical students and residents – or any really busy person:

  1. A service or person to help clean their home.  Once a month?  Once a week? Any time they don’t have to vacuum or clean the bathrooms is a true gift.

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  1. An Instapot. I’ve long been a fan of pressure cookers, but the Instapot takes it to the next level.  This is my new favorite kitchen tool and it’s high on my list because it both saves time and increases healthy food consumption!

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  1. A subscription to Headspace. This might seem counter-intuitive since it adds a 10 minute task to their day… but there are data (and lots of testimony) that a daily mediation practice “expands time” by decreasing stress.

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

 

  1. If they live close enough to walk or bike to school/work, think about something that might help them combine that commute with getting some exercise. How old is their bicycle?  How about panniers to store gear on a bike? Would a great backpack help if they are likely to walk?  How about a gift certificate to a bicycle shop?

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  1. A gift certificate for Whole Foods or any place near them that has good, healthy prepared food.

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  1. Cookbooks with quick but healthy recipes like Thug Kitchen or Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Fast.

 

  1. A Roomba vacuum cleaner. Plus, they may go viral with a cat on a Roomba video if they have a feline roommate.

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  1. A gift certificate to have their car washed and vacuumed every few months.

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  1. If they are a coffee drinker who spends time stopping at Starbucks, think about a really good coffee maker. I prefer Nespresso because the pods are recyclable (and the coffee is delicious).

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  1. 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? Make an elaborate certificate with something you could do for them and wrap it as a present.

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What’s for dinner? How to eat well if you are too busy to cook….

I wish someone had taught me this when I started medical school.  Seriously, I would have loved it…  Let me walk you through what I did today to prepare for my week, and I think you will understand.

So, first… it’s summer… In Houston.

The weather makes a difference in how this unfolds, since I’m talking about cooking… i.e. (usually) adding heat.

So here’s what I did today..

  1. I spent about 20 minutes looking through what is my current favorite cookbook for three recipes that a) I liked b) were easy and c) were summer appropriate.

2. I entered all the ingredients I needed into GroceryIQ, … plus stone fruit (that is so ripe and delicious right now), a watermelon (because it’s summer and I love them), bread and ingredients for sandwiches for lunch.

(how can you not love a cookbook that says “Heat a big glug of olive oil in a skillet”?)

3. I went to the grocery store and bought everything on the list. When you have a list, it’s really fast, so you make up the time you spent looking up the recipes and making the list. Also, you are much less likely to buy more than you need (which leads to interesting microbiology experiments in your refrigerator) or things you really don’t need (i.e. junk food).

4. I took a nap. (I was on call Friday, up all night, so I’m still catching up). Plus, Sunday          naps are amazing… so don’t think you EVER have to justify them!

5. I spent about 20 minutes preparing the ingredients for Joshua McFadden’s recipe for the tuna melt “casserole” and for one of my summer favorites, ratatouille. Every time I make ratatouille, I think of Maryvonne, Monique and Maddy, my French “mothers” who taught me this recipe when I lived in France as an undergraduate.

6. Here’s where the Houston weather comes in. To minimize stove top and oven time, I roasted the squash for the tuna melt and the vegetables for the ratatouille at the same time – while they were cooking, I sautéed the onions and garlic for the ratatouille and added the tomatoes (canned). (In case you were wondering, the sweet potato is for snacks or something else TBD.)

So, we’ll have the tuna melt tonight, with some store made coleslaw (Brussel sprout and kale), and there is enough for the same meal another night, or lunches if we choose.  The ratatouille can be sides to our sandwiches, or can be another meal with a protein (we are mostly “pescetarian” so probably fish… but you can choose what you want).  Ratatouille is also delicious cold on it’s own or with cottage cheese, or you can add it to broth with chicken meat and make a great soup/stew.Bottom line… maybe an hour today for a week’s worth of amazing food… which is what I wish I’d been taught when I started medical school.

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 p.s. Since you were wondering…  The other two recipes for this week are cooked seafood salad with fennel, radish basil and crème fraiche (p115) and crunchy mixed bean salad with celery, tarragon and soft boiled eggs (p260).

p.p.s Do not get intimidated if you don’t know how to cook. YOU CAN LEARN.  (and you should).  Find someone to help you.

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Good advice I have gotten over the years…

Dr. Jennifer Dietrich, who is the Chief of Pediatric Gynecology in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Baylor College of Medicine recently showed me a list of advice she’d been given in the past. It’s a great list, so I thought I’d share it! 

  • Give important emails 24 hours for a well thought out response.
  • Say yes to the things you want to do and that make a difference in your career.
  • Find time to protect yourself.
  • It is ok to say no sometimes.
  • Ask for help if you have reached your limit.
  • Try not to bring work home or at least confine work to the weekdays and weekends you are assigned to be on call/on service.
  • Make an appointment with yourself to exercise, relax, go out to dinner, etc.
  • Plan each year to go to the dentist, doctor, address medical needs and protect that time.

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Top Ten Tips on Starting Medical School

Starting medical school is one of the most exciting moments in a physicians career… but it can be a little daunting!  This talk is one I gave recently to the college students in the Baylor College of Medicine Summer Surgery Program.  In addition to talking about how medical school is different from college, I also included my top 10 tips for successfully making this important transition.

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We All Need a Compass

I was delighted to be asked to be the AOA visiting professor at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine this week.  The following is the speech I gave at the induction banquet.  For those who are not in medicine, Alpha Omega Alpha is the “Phi Beta Kappa” of medical school, an honor society that recognizes students who are at the top of their class… but who have also demonstrated service, leadership and professionalism. 

 

What an honor that I have been asked to be here tonight for this celebration!  I am in the company of superstars and great friends, both new and old … what could be better?

I want to start by congratulating the junior AOA, resident and faculty inductees.  For the junior AOA inductees, you are clearly on a strong path to excellence which will serve you well.  Although I’m going to address my remarks to the graduating seniors, please know that I haven’t forgotten you or what it took for you to be here tonight.  For the resident and faculty inductees, you have been singled out for this very particular honor because you are amazing clinicians, educators and role models.  Thank you for what you do.

I thought I’d start with a short description of what it means to be inducted into AOA from the AOA website.

“Election to Alpha Omega Alpha is an honor signifying a lasting commitment to scholarship, leadership, professionalism, and service. A lifelong honor, membership in the society confers recognition for a physician’s dedication to the profession and art of healing.”

Induction into AOA is a major milestone in your career and, based on your predecessors in the organization, it also represents the beginning of a remarkable journey.  It’s a journey that you won’t take alone.  If history is a guide, you represent the future leaders of medicine, which means you’ll be guiding others on this journey as well.

That’s the reason I decided I should talk about how to use a compass.

 

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I suspect that you have all used a compass before but, like me, you probably haven’t given it much thought.  A traditional compass works by aligning a needle to the magnetic pulls of the north and south poles.  Although we really could use either north or south as a reference point, by convention we use north. I’m not going to get into the differences between true north and magnetic north*… suffice it to say that because a compass lets us know where north is, we can calculate the difference between “true north” and where we are heading, which in nautical terms, is called our “absolute bearing”.

So where am I going with this?  Why is it important to have a point of reference, a “true north”, as you start your journey through residency into the practice of medicine?

I know you’ve already been on services where the focus seemed to be more on checking the boxes on the scut list than on caring for the patients… and you had the feeling that there was something missing.

That’s why you need a “true north”.

You’ve also been on committees or in organizations that seemed to worry more about policies and procedures than how to use those policies and procedures for the better good.

That’s why you need a “true north.”

And I know that you have experienced days where you manifested one or more of the three cardinal symptoms of burnout, days when you lost enthusiasm for your work, felt that patients were objects rather than people and/or decided everyone around you could do a better job than you could.

That’s why you need a “true north”.

Unless you know where your “true north” is, you can’t navigate… you can’t make the adjustments that keep you on course.

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The single most important piece of advice I can give you as you start on this journey is to make sure you know where “true north” is for you.  As each of you define your own personal “true north”, you will share things in common.  For example, loving your family and friends, being kind, and trying to make a difference.  But even though there will be common themes, “true north” will be a little different for each of you.  This is not as abstract a concept as you might think. It is not only possible to articulate your goals, what gives you meaning and how you define your own integrity, it’s important to do so. And, yes, I mean write them down, think about them, and revise them when necessary.  When you hit the inevitable days of stormy weather, having a compass that it true is critically important.

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In reading about compasses, I also learned that the traditional compass has to be held level to work.  I learned that “when the compass is held level, the needle turns until, after a few seconds to allow oscillation to die out, it settles into its equilibrium orientation.”

What a great image.  You have to be still to let the compass equilibrate.  You have to be mindful to look at the needle to calculate your absolute bearing.  And then you have to take that information and apply it to correct your course.  And to do so, you have to hold the compass level, which I think is a great metaphor for taking care of yourself – physically, emotionally and spiritually.

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There is not a lot in the day to day life of an intern, resident or practicing physician that teaches us the skill of focusing on that still point, on getting our bearings to make sure we don’t veer off course.

It’s not a trivial problem.  Veering off course can result in doing something we don’t want to do or, more importantly, becoming someone we don’t want to be.  More importantly for those of you just starting on this journey, a small error in navigation at the beginning of a journey results in a very large error when you arrive.  That’s why, as you start this journey, it’s so important to know what “true north” is for you.

As you articulate what your “true north” is, I would also urge you to translate it into something that is easy to remember for those times that you are making a decision in a difficult moment.   For me, my “true north” as a physician has been distilled into three rules that I try to follow and that I teach my trainees.

Rule 1:  Do what’s right for the patient.

Rule 2:  Look cool doing it.

Rule 3:  Don’t hurt anything that has a name.

Let me expand just a little…

Rule 1 means always do what’s right for the patient.  Even if you are tired, even if others disagree, even if you don’t get paid, even if it’s not technically “your” patient – do what’s right.  It also means developing an life-long method to deliberately read and study so you know the right thing to do.  And it means doing all of this with compassion and integrity.

Rule 2, “Look cool doing it”, means practicing your art until you look cool.  If you are surgeon, make sure your movements look like Tai Chi and that you have no wasted motion.  If you are a pathologist, learn all the variations on the themes that cells can create. No matter what your specialty, read about each of your patients, prepare for all cases, procedures and conferences deliberately and diligently. “Look cool doing it” also means don’t lose your cool.  Be professional, which at its core is just another way of saying kindness and integrity matter.

Rule 3, “Don’t hurt anything that has a name”, certainly means don’t cut the ureter if you are doing a colectomy, but it means more than that because…

You have a name.

Your significant other has a name.

Your institution, your friends, your family all have names.

You are about to embark on the amazing and challenging journey of residency… I know you have a sense of trepidation and also a sense of incredible excitement.  Everyone in this room who has been there remembers and, to be honest, is probably a little jealous. What an amazing time to start a career in medicine.

Congratulations on all you have accomplished so far. I wish you smooth sailing and a compass that is true.

 

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*Because I am using “true north” as a metaphor, the scientists will have to forgive me.  There is a difference between “true north”, which is the actual north pole and “magnetic north” which is what a compass shows.  Here’s a great link that explains this further:  Magnetic North vs Geographic (True) North Pole

 

 

 

Sometimes it hurts…

A few years after I started as an attending in pediatric surgery, I was called to see a little girl who had been with her father at a construction site. For whatever reason, a wall under construction had fallen and she was caught under it. Her injuries were severe, with massive blood loss from a crushed liver. We opened her chest, packed the liver, transfused her massively but to no avail…

I vividly remember what happened next. Instead of the usual quiet moment of reflection, the team started talking about our week, carrying on a conversation as though this was just one more event in a busy day. It hit me how unusual this was as I was driving home. It was the middle of the night and, as I drove into my neighborhood, I noticed that I wasn’t feeling anything, that the sadness and other emotions I usually felt when I lost a patient weren’t there.

A cat darted in front of my car. I got out of the car, looked at the cat and burst into sobs… which continued for a good 30-40 minutes.

The loss of a patient, the loss of a pet, or even the loss of a dream related to your career leads to grief. Granted, the depth of grief may be, and should be, less than the loss of a family member, but it is grief nonetheless.   Because these losses are often viewed as “less serious”, people may feel that it’s somehow “not normal” to feel true grief when they occur. This is particularly true for physicians, who often have to suppress these feelings to be able to treat the next patient.

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Here’s the single most important message…It’s ok to feel the loss.

The ability to cry over a tragic injury or loss of a patient is the sign of a compassionate physician or provider, not a sign of weakness.   For all of us who experience these losses, It is important to allow ourselves to grieve, if that is what we are feeling. Although this will mean different things for different people, here are a few ways that might help…

Share your thoughts with someone you trust. Talk to your friends and, in particular, senior colleagues.   It is important for your future patients that you are allowed the space to grieve. It is also normal to worry about returning to work if you’ve experienced a particularly traumatic loss.  If you have a colleague who has lost a patient, let them know in direct or indirect ways that you are there for them if they need to talk.

If you are the team leader, talk to your team. It’s important to debrief with your team (and anyone else who was there) immediately afterwards and a few days later.   Make sure you acknowledge how hard this is and ask if people are ok. Remember for many of your learners, this may be their first time to experience the loss of a patient… how you respond will be remembered as their example for the future.

“Good models teach us to handle the experiences that change us.” Thomas J. Krizek.

 Communicate with the family. Immediately afterwards, just be with them. It is human nature to avoid “bothering them” in their time of grief but try to go. Bearing witness to their grief by sitting silently with them is a powerful way to help. Write a condolence letter. Call, email or write a note 3-6 months later to let them know you are thinking of them and to ask if they have any lingering questions. Offer to meet with them if they would like.

Go to the visitation and/or the funeral. Even after a hard journey together, even if you question if you could have done something different, go to the funeral if it feels like you should. Not just for the family, who will be very appreciative – but for you. There is closure in ceremony for everyone.

Take care of yourself. Focus on self-care by being with family and friends, eating good food, exercising, sleeping and doing the things you love.   It is both the burden and privilege of our profession that we experience these moments of intense and tender transitions…. but sometimes it hurts.

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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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