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

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...

Here’s How A Social Media Medical Community Can Help You Through School

I didn’t know much about MD/PhD programs as an undergraduate. I found some resources online and met with the program director at my school, but I didn’t really have easy access to any current MD/PhD students to go to for advice as I was preparing to apply to medical school. I also didn’t know many pre-meds or join any pre-med clubs. I hadn’t planned on going to medical school until late into undergrad, so I didn’t have a supportive group that would be going through the same grueling process that I was about to undertake. Therefore, I went to social media to find my community. The summer I applied to medical school, I made a Twitter account specifically for connecting with the medical community. Twitter was an ideal platform for this purpose because of the short character limits for posts, the ability to make public posts and follow others who do not necessarily have to follow you back, the easy ability to retweet (or share) another account’s post on your own timeline, hashtags to connect posts to those of related content, and handles that allow you to establish your identity while also maintaining anonymity if desired (for example, I started being known as only pre-MD/PhD Life). While other social media sites have incorporated some of these aspects, Twitter remains the best site I’ve found for a robust discussion within...

A Day in the Life of a MD-PhD Student

Physician-scientists are medical doctors who contribute significant effort toward scientific research and play an integral role in the advancement of medical knowledge. They provide a unique perspective to the research community through first-hand experience with patients and the problems they face, but they also have the research skills to directly address those problems. Examples include Edward Jenner, a physician who created the smallpox vaccine, and Frederick Banting, who isolated and discovered the therapeutic potential of insulin. Modern physician-scientists continue to carry on the tradition of excellency established by these earlier physician-scientists, though they are becoming a smaller part of the biomedical workforce. Being a MD/PhD student looking to become a physician-scientist is a time-consuming process that requires both medical and research training. Research training can be done at various times such as during fellowship, in a research year during medical school, or by completing a PhD. The latter is frequently offered in a dual-degree program in which research and medical training are integrated over approximately 8 years. This is an ideal route for those people interested in effectively translating basic science findings into the clinic. Over the past 4 years, I’ve often been asked by undergraduates interested in a career as a physician-scientist to describe my daily life as a dual-degree MD/PhD student. Yet, I have not because my days are so variable that I’ve found it difficult to...

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...

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...

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