Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Some things about leap years are widely known. Everyone knows that leap year comes every four years and that it tacks on an extra day to February. Most people know that the extra day has to do with astronomy and is necessary in order to keep the years aligned with the stars.

Somethings, on the other hand, are not well known. Have you ever wondered how it came about? Well the earth takes 365.2422 days to complete a rotation around the sun. Before leap years, the roman calendar was 355 days long and every 2 years, an extra 22 days were added to make up for lost time. This was a really messy system if you ask me. Apparently Emperor Julius Caesar though so too because he ordered his astronomer to fix the mess. Thus, the leap year system was born. 

Have you ever wondered why February was selected to receive the extra day? February was picked because it is the shortest month with only 28 days in a normal year. The answer is somewhat obvious, but it also poses another question. Why is February abnormally short while all of the other months either have 30 or 31 days? During the reign of Emperor Caesar Augustus, the month of August (named after his highness) actually had 29 days and February had 30. Being an emperor Caesar Augustus ordered two extra days added to August so that it was at least equal with July (a month named after his predecessor Julius). In order to do so, two days had to be stripped from another month. Guess which one lost out? You got it, February.

Another bit of leap year trivia is about when it occurs. While it is assumed leap year happens every 4 years, that is not always the case. Any year divisible by 100, but not divisible by 400 is not a leap year. So, 2000 was a leap year, but 2100 will not be one even though it will be a fourth year. This rule was made because the every 4 years concept wasn't that mathematically exact.


Astronomy compels the soul to look upwards and leads us from this world to another.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Do your research

Every pre-med student is told that they must do certain activities in order to be considered a competitive candidate for medical school. One of these activities is research. Now, every school has its own requirements and its own rules when it comes to undergraduate research. Some schools may make it very easy for an undergraduate to join a lab. Others, however, may make it difficult. 

Whatever your schools requirements, make sure that you are willing to undertake a research project. Picking up a pipette and transferring some solutions everyday for six months is not really what medical schools are looking for. The schools are really looking for dedicated scientists who are fully engaged in a research laboratory and have their own projects. If you say you have done research, you will be asked about it during your interview and if you cannot provide the finer details about your research, the interviewer is not going to look favorably. 

It is my recommendation that you start thinking about research early in your academic career. The longer you wait to start research, the less you are going to accomplish. Starting early will also allow you to pick the research lab that will interest you the most. Some labs have a hands on focus, while other labs, have a more observational focus. In my case, I picked an immunology lab that was very hands on. 

Make sure you make the most out of your research experience. The more you put in, the more you get out. The more time you dedicate, the greater the chance that you can get published. While not a requirement, medical schools love to see student publications.

Most importantly, remember, research has its ups and downs. One week you will have amazing results and then the next week, all of your cell colonies will be contaminated. Do not get discouraged. The most seasoned researchers have bad weeks and trust me, they are not afraid to let you know about them.


If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?
-Albert Einstein

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Cancer Fighting Robots

Science fiction has showed us that anything is possible in a novel and that anything can be created on the movie screen. What if the concepts once thought to be unrealistic were actually possible in real life? What if the microscopic nanorobots that appear in Star Trek and other sci-fi plots were a reality. Well now they are. Researchers at Harvard University have created a nanorobot constructed of DNA. That's right, these robots are made from the same material as our genes. Unlike some sci-fi concepts, however, these robots were made to help us. These microscopic beings were designed specifically to fight cancer. 

Now for those of you that don't know, cancer is a group of our own cells that our bodies have lost control of. These cells have lost the ability to keep their own growth in check and essentially replicate out of control, causing major problems for us. Usually, our immune system has no problem keeping cancer at bay. In fact, our immune system destroys cancerous cells every single day. It is when our immune system is weak, or cannot fight a particular type of cell that we end up with what is normally called cancer. 

The nanorobots created at Harvard have been designed to mimic our own immune cells. These robots are essentially mercenaries for our immune system. Each robot is created out of folded DNA and hold antibodies that when released, cause the cancerous cells to essentially commit suicide. The robots are programmed to only release the antibodies when they come in contact with the cancer. This safety measure ensures that the robots do not release the antibodies on the healthy cells in our bodies. 

What are the health hazards your may ask? The researchers state that the robots do cause toxicity in the body, but this toxicity is estimated to be far less than the toxicity seen with chemotherapy and far less invasive than radiation therapy. 

This nanorobot technology is new and exciting. While years away from wide-spread implementation, this could very well be the new era of cancer treatment. Harvard researchers are working on testing these robots in mice and once those tests show promise, they will turn their focus on human studies.    


I take nothing for granted. I now have only good days, or great days. 
-Lance Armstrong

Monday, February 20, 2012

Student in Distress

Stress is the number one killer of college students... 

Well, no, not really, but most students will tell you it is. Stress is a term that is thrown around loosely. Every time we are overworked, overtired, or in any sort of predicament, we say that we are stressed. The word has such a negative connotation that you may be hard pressed to convince anyone (especially the college student) that stress can actually be a good thing. But, in reality, it is a good thing. Stress is the thing that keeps us on time, it is the thing that makes us study for exams, and  it is also the thing that motivates us the most. This type of motivational stress is called eustress.  

This is not to say that stress is never a bad thing. Quite the opposite. While you have your motivational eustress, you can also have your negative stress, or distress. You find yourself in distress when you work yourself up so much that you can't focus, you can't relax, and it feels like you can hardly breathe. When you find yourself distressed, it is time to take a step back from whatever is causing you angst. At this point, it may be wise to shift gears and do something mundane, or something you enjoy. For me, this is exercise. Exercise, in my opinion, is the perfect relief of distress. Not only does is help you stay in shape, but it also causes the release of endorphins in the brain. These chemical signals make you feel happy, they make you feel relaxed, and make you feel in control. 

People have a range of excuses for not exercising. Either they don't have time, they can't get into a routine, or they don't have the money for a gym. I too had these excuses. I am not a fan of weight lifting, and monotonous cardio workouts get boring very quickly. My solution was a video based workout program. The program I use is called Insanity. Now I know what you're thinking, Richard Simmons, but Insanity is nothing like that. This program is a cross-training program that contains an excellent balance of cardio and resistance training. The best part about this program for me is that there are no weights and you don't need anything except yourself and some water. I highly recommend this program for anyone who struggles finding time or finds it hard to get into a routine.     

If you are looking to start a workout routine, make sure you are up to the intensity that each program offers. Choosing a program way above your level can be detrimental. Also remember that nutrition and hydration are important parts too. I recommend taking a daily multivitamin to ensure that you are getting all of the essentials nutrients. Shaklee is a great source to find supplements as well as information. I personally use the workout drink called Performance and the post-work out formula called Physique

If you are looking for a workout blog, I also recommend looking at Dig In Dee. This blog contains some good workout advice and provides commentary on other performance products.


Adopting the right attitude can convert a negative stress into a positive one.
-Hans Selye

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Interview Experience

An interview is something that always makes a person nervous. I believe this is because it is something that is different for everyone. It is an unknown and no one really knows what kind of curve-ball questions are going to come there way. After my interview at Umass Medical school, I was asked what it was like, what kind of questions I was asked, and were the interviewers pleasant. Some of these questions came from my peers who were also preparing for their medical school interviews. To them, I give this advice:

9:15 AM: Start of the day in the admissions office. 

I got to the admissions office about 20 minutes early. In this time I was able to meet the other applicants and find more about where they went to school and about their backgrounds. We were given access to the student lounge while we waited for everyone to arrive. 

Once all of the applicants arrived, the admissions secretary gave each person their interview locations and provided directions to each site. Some of the interviews were conducted close by while some required a 10 minute walk across the campus to other buildings. 

The secretary also provided the information that the interview committee was comprised of 24 voting members and that they were broken up into teams of two. Each team reviews application packets and decides which applicants to invite for an interview. Only about 50% of applicants receive an interview. For Umass Medical, that is about 500 interviews that are conducted per year. She also told us that the committee was comprised of faculty and six students. It was noted that each interviewer has a different style, but all interviewers have complete access to all application materials of their interviewees. Some interviewers review each application packet prior to the interview while some choose to interview first and then review the packet. 

10:00 AM: First Interview. 

My first interview was on the fourth floor of the medical school building in one of the conference rooms. The room was very comfortable with a great view of the campus. My interviewer was a general hospitalist and was very nice. She made it well known that her interview style was informal and personal. I was asked about my general background and my experiences. I was also asked how I spend my free time and what I did to relieve stress. My interviewer then asked about my research experience and what I worked on in the lab. She then wanted to know where I saw myself in ten years. I told her where I thought I would be, but I made it known that I was receptive to new opportunities and I was well aware that some other branch of medicine may interest me. I was then given an opportunity to ask my own questions. I asked about the new expansion of the medical school and when it was going to be completed. This prompted a discussion on the new building and what kind of opportunities it held. This discussion lasted until the end of the interview. 

As far as structure is concerned, my interviewer had a list of prepared questions that she constructed from both my personal statement and my extracurricular list. She adapted and modified her questions as the interview progressed and chose not to ask some questions she found unnecessary. She took detailed notes of my answers. Upon completion of the interview, the interviewer directed me to the location of my next meeting. 

10:45 AM: Second Interview. 

My second interview was located in the basement of the hospital and not in the medical school itself. It was conducted by a pediatrician who specialized in emergency medicine. The room was a bit cramped, but she said that there was some flooding and that was why everything was somewhat disorganized. My interviewer again asked me about my general background and what brought me to medicine. She also wanted to know how I approached schoolwork and what kind of study habits I had. I was then asked what I thought health care would be like in ten years. Following that question, she asked me what I thought some if the problems were in the current health care system. Following the same trend of questioning, my interviewer then asked me what I thought of personal responsibility in relation to emergency medicine. At the end of the questioning, I was again given the opportunity to ask my own questions. I took this time to ask about student research. My interviewer happened to be in charge of hiring student researchers in her department, so she was more than happy to elaborate on the opportunities available. 

The structure of the second interview was moderately informal, but it was a little less personal than the first interview. My interviewer had looked over my application packet beforehand, but she neither prepared any questions, nor did she take notes during the interview. At the end of the interview, I was shown the way back to the admissions office. 

11:30 AM: Orientation. 

At this point, all of the applicants met in the student lounge again. We then traveled as a group to the orientation site. In my case, the orientation was conducted in the research building, but we were told that it was not the usual site. During orientation we were given quick presentations by representatives of the administration, the financial aid office, and the office of medical education. We then were given a free catered lunch and met with second year medical students. The medical students gave a quick presentation on the student lifestyle and then gave us a tour of the medical school. The medical students were really helpful and were open to any questions. At the conclusion of the tour, the applicants who had morning interviews were allowed to go leave. This was at 1:45 PM for me. 

General Notes 

The atmosphere at Umass Medical is very relaxing and inviting. Everyone on campus was really nice and helpful. 

Each interview only lasts 30 minutes. This time flies by. 

All of the applicants wore suits. 

You will be there with applicants from Yale, Harvard, Notre Dame, etc. Do not let them intimidate you. You have as much of a chance, if not better, as they do. 

Do not be afraid to ask questions. The more questions you ask, the more interested you seem. 

I stayed at a local hotel the night before the interview. This worked out extremely well because I was able to find the room the night before and it was only a 15 minute walk versus an hour and a half drive. 

Do not appear arrogant. I was with an applicant from Harvard that thought he walked on water and could turn water into wine. No one liked him.


I don't know if it was much of an interview. We just shot the breeze.
-Richard Petty

Saturday, February 18, 2012

MCAT 2015

The standardized test that you take in order to get into medical school is called the Medical College Admissions Test or the MCAT. The format of the test has been relatively unchanged since 1991. It includes a physical science component, a biological science component, a reading comprehension part, and a writing section. Altogether, this test takes about four and a half hours to take and months to prepare. Ultimately, the score you get weighs heavily on your medical school chances.

Starting in 2015, the MCAT is going to be changed dramatically. After meeting for three years, the 21 person advisory panel has approved a new MCAT, calling it, "A better test for tomorrow's doctors." The new test will keep most of the content of the old test with the exception of the writing section. Apparently, the committee finally realized that being able to write a persuasive essay on the merits of studying abroad did not necessarily correlate with your ability to practice medicine.

However, the writing section is not being eliminated without a replacement. A new testing section called "Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior" will replace the writing section. This component is set to include topics of psychology, sociology, and the biological implications associated with each topic. The goal of this new section is to create doctors that are knowledgeable of the socio-economic and mental status of their patients. 

Much to the dismay of most pre-meds i know, the reading comprehension section is not going anywhere anytime soon. It is, however, getting a makeover. The section is going to drift away from random passages that require you dissect them and find the inner meanings and focus more on topics such as ethics, philosophy, the humanities, and cross-culture. 

Overall, the new 2015 MCAT is bittersweet. The loss of the writing section will not be met with tears, unless they be tears of joy. However, the MCAT advisory panel has replaced a mosquito with a leech. In my mind, the new sections create a big problem for pre-meds. Traditionally, pre-med students must take a wide variety of science and core courses to satisfy the MCAT content including, but not limited to:

Two semesters of Biology with lab
Two semesters of Inorganic Chemistry with lab
Two semesters of Organic Chemistry with lab
Two semesters of Physics with lab
Two semesters of Math (Calculus Preferred)
Two semesters of English
While a good pre-med candidate will take ethics, humanities, and maybe a philosophy course, these were never courses you needed to know like the back of your hand. According to the new MCAT, now you do. So adding to our list of MCAT required courses, you now need to take Ethics, Philosophy, Psychology, a course in cultural diversity, and Sociology on top of the courses mentioned above. Oh by the way, you need to take all of this before your junior year so you have enough time to take the MCAT. 

The real kicker is that with the changes to the MCAT, the four and a half hour exam is now estimated to take 6 and a half hours to complete. That's about a quarter of your day without eating,  without water, and without using the restroom. Taking a break from the exam to indulge in these luxuries will only make you run out of time. 

Reportedly, there is a shortage of doctors in this country, I can't foresee this new exam helping much.


I was thinking about how people seem to read the Bible a whole lot more as they get older; then it dawned on me - they're cramming for their final exam.
-George Carlin

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Norovirus, Worms and the Immune System

In case you haven't heard, there is a nasty virus going around called the Norwalk virus, a member of the Norovirus genus. For those of you interested, it is a single-stranded RNA virus that lacks an envelope. While this virus is not likely to cause you long term harm, its short term effects are less than pleasant. This is your stereotypical stomach-bug and it will cause all of the nasty symptoms that pepto claims to cure. However, if you do happen to contract this circular guy (as can be seen by the picture above) your symptoms will pass in a day or two and you can once again keep your three meals a day where they belong. The joy of the human immune system is that it has little tolerance for bugs such as the Norovirus and it knows how to deal with them quickly. Just a few ideas to keep in mind: wash your hands frequently, wash and cook your food properly, and stay away from anyone who is pale, clammy, and looks like a yard sale. 

By the way, as it was brought up to me by one of my peers, antibacterial hand-sanitizer is just that, antibacterial. Lathering up twelve times a day will not protect you from the Norovirus, as it is a virus and not a bacteria. 

If you are interested in the immune system at all, you should definitely read this article from the Wall Street Journal:

In a Squeaky-Clean World, a Worm Might Help Fight Disease

The immune system is a curious thing and when it gets bored it creates problems. With our tightly regulated food system and parasite-free diet, we have brought the recession to our immune system and now part of it has been laid-off. Like a displaced worker, our immune system has found something else to do. Instead off dealing with internal parasites like it did for our ancestors, it has found a new calling and now attacks our bodies. This is the reason we have such a high occurrence of auto-immune diseases in our world today. It appears, with the ingestion of a few well-selected bugs, such as the whipworm, our immune system can once again practice its trade and can leave the other parts of our bodies alone.

Thank  you for reading!


Concealing an illness is like keeping a beach ball under water.
-Karen Duffy


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Beginning

So I guess I should start by getting everyone up to speed...

I am a senior Biology major at Umass Dartmouth and I am on the pre-med track. I work in an Immunology lab on campus and I work as a dispatcher for a local fire department. Now I don't want to bore you with a long list of details, so if you're interested, you can check out my LinkedIn page here.

The application process for medical school is a very long one and it is definitely not something you can just decide to do last minute. At the very latest, you should probably make up your mind about medical school by your junior year of college unless you really like playing catch-up. For me, I decided that I wanted to be a physician during high school. 

You may be wondering about the application itself. What does it entail? How long is it? What do you need for it? Well, the application is through an online service called AMCAS. For the application, you need a transcript from every college you every went to, a personal statement, all of  your MCAT standardized test scores, at least three letters of reference, and most importantly, a lot of patience. In addition to all of those materials, you also need to fill out form after form about yourself, your family, and about your education. You would think that the testing service would be content with having your official transcripts, but this is not the case. You are required to type in every course you have ever taken exactly how it appears on your transcripts and assign your grade to each course. To me, this seems slightly redundant. AMCAS then makes you promise that you were ethical and truthful and that all the information you entered was correct. They then compare what you entered to the information on your transcript to make sure you really weren't lying and that you didn't spell out the class "Advanced Immunology" when your transcript lists it as "Adv. Immuno." 

After a good few weeks of filling out the application and waiting for AMCAS to verify it, I was finally able to submit my application in July of 2011. If you were thinking that I just had to wait to hear yes or no, you are mistaken. After each medical school received my primary application I was required to fill out secondary applications for each and every school and in the case of Umass Medical, I was required to fill out a tertiary form. These applications varied in length. Some schools wanted simple information while others wanted me to solve world hunger in 500 words or less. Needless to say, the latter was less than pleasant.

After I managed to get through all of the paperwork and managed to get my letter writers to submit their parts on time, I am now at the stage that many medical school applicants call "the longest wait of your life," and I'll tell you why. I went on my first interview at Umass Medical School in September, so not too bad right?. At the interview I was told that they would make a decision sometime between October and July. Wait, rewind that, July? While such a long waiting period is not typical for all medical schools, for Umass it is the standard. So, doing some quick and simple calculations, this entire application process could take a solid year! As you can imagine, these past few months have been stressful and I don't think my E-mail will let me refresh it anymore.

Now you are up to speed and you know exactly where I am at in the application process. I have tried to give you a snapshot of what the application is and what it requires. Again, thank you for your interest and please follow this blog by clicking the icon over to your right!


Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson


Hello everyone!

So this is my first attempt at any sort of blogging and I am going to do my best to keep it updated. I decided to start this blog because, throughout the week, a lot of people ask me questions that I don't feel I can answer in one short conversation. Some of the questions focus on what I do in school, how my medical school application is going, and what kind of doctor I want to be. None of these questions are easily answered and frankly, the answer I give someone is usually only part of the larger picture. For this reason, I am going to talk about these various aspects of my life here. This way, all your questions will be answered and you will get my opinions along the way.

If this blog gets a good response I plan on keeping it active through medical school. This will give me a chance to convey my experiences to my family and friends. Also, it may become a tool for anyone else looking at medical school, going through the application process, or just wondering what it is like.

Thank you for your interest and thank you for your patience. I hope you enjoy and follow the blog and I certainly hope you find that my life is Far From Boardinary


The place where you made your stand never mattered. Only that you were there... and still on your feet.
 -Stephen King