Medical Why a Hands-on Approach to Patient Care Is Important to This Aspiring Physiatrist

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Learn how real students navigate their way through the medical school admissions process and med school itself with our What Is Medical School Really Like? series.

Meet Becca, a hiking enthusiast and OMS3 who hopes to dispel misconceptions about individuals with disabilities.​

Thank you, Becca, for sharing your story with us!

Was there a particular person or event that helped you to decide medicine was the right path for you?​

Becca: My little brother was born with spina bifida so a large part of my life growing up was going to doctors’ offices, physical therapy, occupational therapy, etc. So I was always somewhat interested. However, I still was unsure about medical school until my junior year of college, and honestly had zero plans of pursuing it before then. It was too hard, too expensive, too terrifying. But during my junior year of college, I went on my first medical mission trip with an amazing group called Global Brigades. From our first day of seeing patients, I knew that was what I wanted to do the rest of my life.

What do you love about osteopathic medicine?​

Becca: When I applied to medical school, I only applied to DO schools. As a premed I shadowed both MDs and DOs. I shadowed some wonderful doctors who were MDs, but I noticed that many of them that I shadowed, never touched their patient. Maybe they would listen to their lungs real quick, but they didn’t spend much time with the patient overall. Sometimes they would barely even look up at the patient. After a few quick minutes in the room, they were done. From my own personal experience, I found that the DOs I shadowed tended to spend a lot more time with patients (sometimes up to 15 or 20 minutes) and spent more time teaching patients about their diagnoses and management. Both groups of doctors were great at what they did, but I really felt that being a DO would fit my personality better.

Before applying to medical schools, what types of volunteering experiences, paid work or shadowing did you do, in order to test the hypothesis that medicine was the field for you?​

Becca: Before medical school I volunteered with ABLE Youth, an organization that teaches persons aged 3–22 in wheelchairs how to live independently. They also teach kids adaptive sports (sled hockey, wheelchair basketball, cheerleading, etc). I also volunteered with a local chapter of Nathaniel’s Hope/Buddy Break, another organization for kids with disabilities. I took 2 years off between undergrad and medical school. During that time, I worked as a care partner (patient care tech) at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in order to gain some hands-on medical experience.

What was it like applying to medical schools with a partner? How did you find a school situation that would work well for both of you?​

Becca: I am very blessed to have such a supportive husband. We got married a couple of months before I started medical school. While we were engaged, we talked extensively about what we would do if/when I got accepted. I really wanted to go to a DO school, but there was only one DO school in my state, which was 4 hours away from where we lived at the time. We ultimately decided it would be best that we live apart while I started school so that my husband could continue his job where he was at, since there weren’t any job opportunities available to him where I would attend school. We lived apart for my first 2 years of school. It wasn’t always easy, but we definitely made it work. I still believe it was the best option for both of us during that time.

What do you wish you had known before starting medical school, that you know now?​

Becca: Man, that’s a tough question. There are a lot of things I wish I had known, but one of the first things that comes to mind is that the doubt, the fear, the feeling like you don’t know anything, and the imposter syndrome is actually pretty normal. Don’t let it overcome you though. Push through. You’re stronger and you definitely know more than you think you do! Also if your school offers free mental health counseling like mine does, USE IT! Also exercise! It helps a lot!

How was your school experience different as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?​

Becca: I actually took a year off of school in between my second and third year of medical to do an OMM teaching fellowship at my school, which ended up being during COVID. I did have to give a lecture during COVID, but I was able to pre-record it and post it for the students to watch. I also did a lot of tutoring over Zoom! At our school most lectures don’t have mandatory attendance and all of our lectures are recorded so you can watch them online. Most students watch the lectures online already instead of going to class, so I don’t think COVID changed too much for them.

Can you share a bit about your OMM fellowship?​

Becca: Prior to medical school I had no experience with OMT, but as a DO student you will learn OMT (which stands for Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment). One thing I’ve really enjoyed about the OMT courses is that they help you learn anatomy better. Every week you are in the lab with a partner learning how to screen or treat a region of the body. It also helps the students to not be afraid to touch their patient. I have had preceptors in my third year mention that they notice a difference between DO and MD students, in their knowledge of anatomy and hands-on approach to the patient in physical exams. Another thing that is nice about OMT is it gives you the ability to give quick relief to your patient, whenever it’s indicated.

The fellowship I did was an OMM teaching fellowship offered through my school where Iand a few other students helped teach the OMT courses for OMS1s and OMS2s. They also offer an anatomy fellowship at our school where you can be a part of the anatomy course. The great things about the fellowship for me were: it gave me a chance to get better at and learn more OMT and review anatomy, it allowed me to go to conferences, allowed me to see how courses are planned and executed, and allowed me to gain teaching experience at a medical school. I had the opportunity to give 4 lectures during that year to OMS1 and OMS2 students. I love teaching and hope to teach at a medical school one day so I was very excited to be able to do that. The fellowship year is also a great time to do research or other things you might be interested in. It also gives you something interesting to talk about during your residency interviews!

As a current third-year student, which rotations have you enjoyed the most, or are you most looking forward to?​

Becca: My favorite rotation so far is PM&R (Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation). I have also really enjoyed my general surgery and urology rotations.

What do you find attractive about Physical Medicine and Rehab?​

Becca: Before medical school, I knew I wanted to work with patients with disabilities in some capacity. I love working with that demographic of people. I had not heard of PM&R prior to medical school. As I was going through my first 2 years of school I kept hearing people mention it. As I began to learn more about it, I began to realize it was exactly the specialty I had been looking for. Prior to medical school, I had seriously considered going to school to be a physical therapist and spent time shadowing PTs. I had always enjoyed going to physical therapy and occupational therapy visits with my little brother growing up. It was so much fun seeing my brother and other people reach new goals each week and do things they weren’t able to do prior to starting therapy. Ultimately though, I shifted and decided that medical school was the correct route for me, but I still had a deep appreciation for PTs. As a PM&R doctor (Physiatrist), it allows you to work closely with physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, and a whole host of other groups of professionals – all of which have the same goal of working to improve the patient’s quality of life. Being a part of a patient’s care as they go through rehab and for some, even after rehab, is something I would be honored to be a part of.

The views of hiking trails on your Instagram page are breathtaking! How do you make time to pursue your passion?​

Becca: I love hiking. Especially when I get the chance to visit somewhere new. It is super important in medical school to find an outlet that will allow you to recharge your batteries. It’s so easy to get sucked into medical school to the point that you stop doing things you enjoy. When that happens, however, people tend to not do as well in school and feel less happy overall because they have exhausted themselves. Find something that recharges your batteries and MAKE TIME FOR IT. Whether you do that thing once a week, once a month, every other month, etc. Whatever it is that you need to feel recharged. You will sleep better. You will study better. You will test better. And you will feel better overall. (But don’t neglect your studies either. It’s all about balance.)

Why is spina bifida awareness an important cause for you, and has it influenced how you hope to practice medicine?​

Becca: Spina bifida awareness is important to me for many reasons. My younger brother was born with spina bifida and we know a lot of families who have had children with spina bifida. One of the reasons it is important to me is because there are a lot of misconceptions about persons with disabilities of any kind that I hope to dispel for people. An example of what I mean is when we would encounter situations growing up where a person would see my brother in a wheelchair and ask my parents or me and my sister questions about him, right in front of him, instead of just talking to him. People would sometimes assume they couldn’t communicate with him or he wouldn’t understand them because he was in a wheelchair, so they just didn’t try. In some cases they just didn’t know how to speak to him because they assumed they couldn’t relate to him. I would really like to help people learn to not be afraid of people with disabilities. They are people just like you and me. I think it will influence how I practice medicine in many ways. For one, it is my hope that this will help me relate to or be more understanding of my future patients who are a part of the handicapable community. I believe this will be especially helpful as I plan on applying to residency for PM&R.

Do you have questions for Becca? Questions for us? Do you want to be featured in our next “What Is Medical School Really Like?” post? Know someone else who you’d love to see featured? Are there questions you’d like us to ask our students in this series? LET US KNOW!

You can learn more about Becca by following her on Instagram.

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