hanna-erickson

Hanna Erickson, "Almost" MD/PhD

Hanna is a MD/PhD student at the University of Illinois and an aspiring physician scientist who aims to specialize in hepatobiliary cancers. She is also passionate about teaching, leadership, and advocacy. The energy she once used to pep up crowds as a college marching band member is now directed toward exciting and educating others about science and medicine, especially through her tweets at @MDPhDToBe and her blog at www.mdphdtobe.com.

http://www.mdphdtobe.com

How One Woman Pioneered Breast Cancer Research

The BRCA1 protein is a caretaker of the cell. When DNA becomes damaged, BRCA1 helps restore the DNA to its proper form or initiates program cell death if it is beyond repair. This ensures that cells maintain their intended function. However, if BRCA1 itself becomes damaged, it can no longer perform its essential role. Its importance is highlighted by the finding that when this occurs, there is a greater risk for developing cancer. Discovery of BRCA1’s relevance to cancer in 1990 was groundbreaking because it established that there is a genetic component to cancer, not just viral as commonly thought at the time. More so, it has allowed for screening for mutations in BRCA1 and the related BRCA2 gene that can identify at-risk women so they can receive life-saving treatments. These mutations are thought to be responsible for approximately 3-8% of breast cancer cases in the U.S. and up to 25% of inherited breast cancer. What may be even more remarkable than this discovery is the woman who discovered it, Mary-Claire King. Dr. King identified the BRCA1-cancer connection at a time when the idea of genes playing a role in cancer was radical. As a self-described “stubborn person”, she persisted and continued to push the idea forward. At the same time, she took on a leadership role as a scientist, despite training at a time when independent female scientists...

What It’s Like To Advocate For Healthcare

Make your voice heard. With the ongoing healthcare debate, we are told again and again how valuable our voices are as docs and almost docs. But how do we make our voices heard? One way is to call your representatives. Another is to visit them. A number of medical organizations coordinate annual advocacy days on Capitol Hill for their members to attend. The benefit of meeting in person with Congressional representatives and their staff is that it can help us put a face on the healthcare workforce and establish ourselves as experts in the care of patients. It can create lasting relationships with these representatives that gives us the power to speak for our patients. This year was my third time attending one of these advocacy days held by the American College of Physicians. Yet, I can still remember the uncertainty I felt as I arrived at Washington, DC as a first-year student. Who am I to speak on what ails our healthcare system? What if I don’t know the exact policies? Luckily, the first day was designed to get me up to speed. I received outlines for each issue we were advocating for, including current related bills we should ask our representatives to support. I listened to policy experts speak about the issues and how to best speak about them. I watched example discussions with representatives so that...

Tips For Mastering Anatomy From Both Sides of The Classroom

The human body is beautifully intricate. A rite of passage for medical students, mastering anatomy lab provides an opportunity to explore and appreciate how nerves, muscles, epithelium, and connective tissue come together to form a living being. However, the sheer volume of testable information makes anatomy one of the hardest classes in the first year of medical school. I have had the pleasure to experience anatomy from the perspective both of a medical student and of a teaching assistant for undergrads. I started by tackling the mountain of information alongside my undergrad students as they studied the bones and their markings, muscles (their origins, insertions, actions, and innervations), and nerves. Then I began my own class and from the initial cut to the final dissection, I vastly expanded my knowledge that in turn helped my teaching. In the process, I developed my understanding of how to mastering anatomy, which has made a world of difference. As another school year approaches, I’ve compiled my best tips to help all incoming medical students take on this great challenge. Tip #1: Use the right resources Your professor will likely assign a textbook for the class. Use it. We had Grey’s Anatomy for Students, which was helpful because it had an overview section in the beginning of each chapter that was a good place to start understanding the material. The book also has highlighted...

How Much Medical Education is Actually Necessary?

A common theme to many of my posts here on The Almost Doctor’s Channel is the idea that we are at a point of great change in the medical field. I’ve covered such topics as how our healthcare system falls behind that of other countries, how the match can be improved, and how we can improve science literacy. Another area of my interest (and one that is readily apparent to those of us who are currently in medical school) is the design of medical training – notably its excessive length.     Currently, after four years of undergraduate education, one must complete four years as a medical student followed by three to six years as a resident before being able to independently practice medicine. If no gap years are taken, this puts a person at 29 to 32 years of age when they are first able to contribute to the physician workforce – or even older if their specialty requires further fellowship training. If they decide to go into medicine later or circumstances prolong their education, this pushes them back even more. Because of this, some are hoping to shorten medical education.   As we look to shaping the future of medical education, though, it is important to note that this excessive length is a modern phenomenon, one that arises out of a desire to bring regulation and excellence...

8 Life Hacks To Help Busy Students Do It All

It’s hard to get everything done, I know. What with studying, going to class, seeing friends, remembering to shower, eating sometimes, and saving the world from villains, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Wait, we’re not superheroes. No one can do all of that, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try. Here’s some hacks from my own experiences to help you get all that you want out of life.   1. Use an agenda. Seriously, use a really, really big agenda. For the first 20 years of my life, I had no appreciation of what a glorious tool an agenda can be, but now I have seen the light. Having an agenda can be so essential that you just may not know how you were able to function without it. Top it off with a variety of highlighters, and you’ll never forget to do something ever again.   The secret to getting the most out of your agenda is writing everything down. EVERYTHING. Have a regularly scheduled class? Write it down. Want to study specific book sections on a certain day? Write it down. Have a bill due? Write it down. Getting lunch with a friend? Write it down. EVERYTHING. WRITE IT DOWN. Highlight each event with a coded color scheme for easy identification and cross it out with a single line when complete so you can still refer back...

The Ultimate Guide to Picking a Research Lab

Whether you’re a pre-med who wants to build your resume for medical school, a medical student who wants to fill a free summer, or a graduate student, you’re probably going to be doing research. Before you jump into trying to join a research group, I am here to warn you that not every research environment is equal (as I’ve learned the hard way, which sort of makes me an expert, so you probably heed my warning). If you do it right, there is a lot to consider when finding a research advisor that is best for you, which is ultimately what’s important. If the thought of picking a research advisor makes you feel a little like this:   Then this list of considerations is for you. 1. What area of research do you want to be in? First things first, you need to narrow down your options. Often this will be in your major or graduate program area, so hopefully you’ve already had a chance to reflect on this. Do you want to do biology or engineering, chemistry or anthropology? Whatever it is, look for professors who are doing research in that area. 2. Does your personality fit with that of the Primary Investigator (PI)? Before asking to join a lab, it is essential that you reach out to the PI (or the professor in charge of the lab,...

10 Reasons Why Being a Medical Student is Awesome

In a recent medical school class, one of my lecturers told us, “The best days of medical school are the day you get in and the day you graduate.” We all laughed, but it was sort of a painful laugh as we hesitantly looked around the room to see how others reacted to the thought… The underlying message of that statement that we all know too well is medical school is hard. It’s way more work than you’d ever think you’d handle, which means a lot less sleep and a lot more stress. It separates you from your friends and family. The time you once had for things you enjoy seems to be sucked away. You may even find yourself in the wee hours of the night after weeks of sleep deprivation cramming for a few exams and questioning why you’re putting yourself through all of this. And yet, it’s awesome. It may not seem that way when you look around at your piles of books, notecards, lecture notes, empty energy drink cans, ramen packets, and building debt, but in comparison to other things, it’s pretty great. Not convinced? Here’s 10 reasons to make you believe otherwise.   1. You never have to worry about finding something to do.   Your to-do list is never ending, but it’s so much better than sitting around twiddling your thumbs. If you don’t...

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