mary-barber

Mary Barber

Mary Barber studies Chemistry and English Literature at Belmont University in Nashville, TN. An average day for her includes running from microbiology lecture to having discussions on the writings of Nabokov to designing experiments in the lab – she says it’s a little crazy but always fun. Her passions (currently) include studying cardiovascular disease caused by cancer therapies, writing, and monthly dates baking cupcakes with cancer patients. One day when she grow up Mary hopes to be a physician researcher, treat patients with heart problems, write books, and do yoga every day.

http://www.musedwithmary.wordpress.com

Cancer Immunotherapies: Changing Lives and Science

Sometimes, trying to learn all the different cancer therapies out there can feel a bit like drowning in a sea of big, complicated names. There are seemingly infinite number of “-inib”s and “-umab”s used to treat cancer. My work in the division of cardiovascular medicine at Vanderbilt is focused on understanding the mechanisms of how cancer therapies cause heart and vascular disease. As I am knee-deep in experiments and projects, I find it important to step back and remember the awe I have for some of these cancer therapies. One project in the lab is assessing the immune-related adverse effects of cancer immunotherapies. A paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine highlights an adverse cardiovascular effect of immune checkpoint-inhibitors that initiated a cascade of questions on the safety of these drugs. While we are still trying to profile the safety of immune checkpoint inhibitors, it is undeniable that these cancer immunotherapies are amazing from a scientific, medical, and patient perspective. To marvel at the nature of immunotherapies, it helps to have a basic understanding of how they work. As an undergraduate student, I have developed a valuable skill at taking concepts that are very complicated and breaking them down by asking, “What is most important for me to know?” I apply this approach to understanding cancer immunotherapies as well. There are many visuals out there for understanding...

Why Sharing Your Medical School Story is Important

This semester, as I endure the long but exciting application process to medical school, I’m taking an upper-level English writing class that is appropriately titled “Writing in the Community.” This course is designed to liberate stories, both within ourselves and within our community. My community placement choice is with Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, and I hope to have the honor of connecting with pediatric cancer patients to share their stories and give a voice to their fears, joys, worries, and smiles. I think there is immense power in telling stories, especially as I peer into my future career where I will meet people daily that have interesting and important stories to share. One of the reasons I chose to become a physician is to meet people from every background and every situation and get down and dirty with them in their biggest fears, mistakes, worries, and concerns. To get to this point, though, I must be able to effectively share my story and even more importantly, listen to someone else’s story. In a society that is fogged up with noise from ourselves, social media, and a busy schedule, taking the time to stop and listen is an often-neglected skill. In this class, I’ve learned that to tell someone else’s meaningful, honest story, I have to tell mine. Everyone has a story to share, even if it is buried under layers...

The One Thing You Must Do After Taking The MCAT

RELAX. I took a two-week vacation right after my MCAT. Taking time to not think, or speak, about the MCAT is important for self-renewal. Once the exam was over, I went through the questions I was unsure of in my head and made a declaration to never think about them again. This is important both for your sanity and for the binding-non-disclosure policy you sign when you take the MCAT. What happens during that day is between you and the MCAT lords and never to be discussed or spoken about again. So, after your MCAT take a moment to go through everything you questioned (if you remember those questions like I do) and then flush them away for good. While relaxing, catch up with friends, family members, emails, Netflix shows, exercise, or anything else you’ve put on pause for the past few months during preparation. The night before my exam, my boyfriend surprised me with a family dinner to calm my nerves. Seeing my family and having their support reminded me of the confidence people have put in me and my abilities to succeed. So, after you complete what you consider the biggest exam of your life (right now at least) call and thank those that have battled this journey with you. Relax – but not for too long. If you are applying this cycle, the AMCAS application opened...

Three Things To Remember When Studying for the MCAT

Studying for the MCAT is truly a marathon, and there are great challenges if you approach this exam like a sprint. I began my MCAT preparation in January of this year, and after waves of triumph and defeat, I had to reevaluate how I was studying and the mindset I had towards doing well. This is because marathons are not as easily affected by things like mindset, weather conditions, opponent capabilities. These are the qualms of a sprint – the short-term, rapid onset of results. Approaching the MCAT must be steadier and more constant than this. You have to be resistant to waves of triumph and defeat, flexible in your training, and open-minded. While I’ve learned a lot about science while preparing for this exam, I’ve learned even more about myself. Be flexible to change. This is applicable to anyone preparing for an exam or in school. I had strategically planned exactly how I would study, when, where, and what content. I learned early on that the way I had designed was not the most suitable way for my learning and that I was worried more about marking something off my checklist than actually reviewing and learning the material. So, you must be open about changing your study plan and constantly reevaluating if what you are doing is most suitable for you. For me, this meant transitioning from mostly...

The Best Biomedical Research Journals for Staying Informed

In medicine, things are always rapidly changing, and the influx of research often leaves most of us toppling over data, articles, and new ideas to comb through. It’s important for the future healthcare professional and medical scientist to stay up-to-date on the latest advances, changes, and revolutions in biomedical science. For example, the boom of cancer immunotherapies over the past two years has overwhelmed the scientific literature and has been a hot topic of discussion in popular media outlets such as the New York Times. While these articles are often easier to read, highlighting anecdotal stories among interviews with important physicians and scientists involved in the research, they often fail to include primary research and the details of mechanism behind the science. Consequently, reading these articles featured in the media are intellectually interesting, yet lack the “meat” of the primary research. Instead of blasting a search on PubMed to find the latest news in research, I’ve compiled a list of the most relevant, highly esteemed, and trustworthy journals that are necessary in the arsenal of the future doctor and medical researcher. Most of them have highlights sections, editorials, and reviews as well to keep you informed on relevant topics without becoming tangled up in the depths of the original research article itself (though sometimes that is worth it and necessary). This is not a comprehensive list and is influenced...

Three Ways To Stay Healthy For The Year, Even During Exam Week

I begin MCAT preparation in a few short days and have been told overwhelmingly the importance of mental, physical, and social health as this intense period of study begins (along with classes, work, and leadership involvement starting back as well). In an effort to be healthier, I’ve refocused my efforts and considered exactly how I hope to implement a lifestyle of balance throughout this season! While some of these are specific to me, I think they are universal enough to be shared. These are some ways I hope to stay healthy in the new year! Eat a healthy breakfast Breakfast has always been important to me! I have never been one to skip breakfast, but sometimes I do find myself running out the door and grabbing a granola bar and banana along with my prized and cherished morning coffee! However, I find it better for my energy throughout the day and overall start to the day whenever I have a healthy, filling breakfast in the mornings. Some examples include whole grain oatmeal with bananas, Greek or French-style yogurt with granola, avocado toast or toast with a low-sugar spread such as almond butter or jam, or cereal with nut milk and fresh fruit. These are some of my favorites that are filling, full of nutrients and most importantly, delicious to eat! I’ve always been a morning person, so waking up a few...

Your Guide as a Medical Student Next Summer

It can be tough to decide what you want to do as a medical student next summer. For me, the natural choice has always been research internships, for a few different reasons. First, I like that you get paid to work and that you get to experience what it’s like to be in graduate school. I also genuinely like research and find that the lab is a very fulfilling place to be (even when everything goes wrong). So, I have always done research. But this summer I am contemplating a few different options and the struggle to decide is very real! There are many considerations whenever deciding how to spend your time as a pre-medical or medical student. There are important considerations and not-so-important considerations. It can be challenging to decide what is important, both to you and to your future, and what is not important. This upcoming summer will be my last one while in undergraduate and last one before applying and interviewing (hopefully) for medical school. Here is my thought process for deciding what to do when there are too many wonderful options out there for students to choose! The important decisions are those that revolve around your own satisfaction and happiness. Will you be happy with the day-to-day expectations that your plans involve? Are you doing this for yourself or for someone else? If you received nothing out...

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