I’m just shy of working a year as a GRA (Graduate Research Assistant) and I absolutely love the job. Keep reading to hear about what I do and if you’re given the opportunity, why you should too!
What is a GRA?
A GRA, or Graduate Research Assistant, is a graduate student, Masters/Doctoral, assigned to a college or department to assist in research projects. Several tasks include (but not limited to): organizing & collecting data, completing various paperwork, analysis, and updating databases. Often, universities offer pay in the form of a stipend to help students pay for graduate school. GRAs’ role is to take some of the burden off the researcher by completing tedious behind-the-scenes tasks.
What do I do as a GRA?
As a GRA, I work for our College of Nursing and Professional Disciplines which includes nursing, social work, and nutrition/dietetics. In my years time, I began with updating faculties’ CVs, organizing and filing papers, and collecting data. After Christmas break, I began collecting contact information for a study done by a nursing PI, and most recently, working with social work in drafting a survey and now organizing the results in SPSS (statistical processing software).
Why do I love being a GRA?
I have never been involved in research – clinical or social or beyond – and enjoyed getting a taste of the behind the scenes of it. The entire process is tedious and requires a lot of background work for anything to get published.
I particularly enjoyed this job as I had been used to working in a fast-paced hospital job that was physically and emotionally demanding for 8-12 hours at at time. My mother would often mention that not having a break is illegal, and yes, Mother, you’re right. But that’s healthcare. ANYWAY, this job has been a wonderful change of pace for me. I can mindlessly enter data while listening to my favorite podcasts and taking time at the end to check my work. Being a GRA has helped me build strong relationships with our faculty and learn more about the research process. It has allowed me to work from home during a pandemic and expand my experience as a graduate student.
Why YOU should take this opportunity if you can:
Pay. This job can offer excellent supplemental income for a budget-conscious graduate student.
Flexible hours. I could choose between 10 and 20 hours per week when I was hired. At the time, I had another job and consequently chose 10. I choose to work two hours/weekday, but a person could work 5 + 5, 4 + 3, or when busy, work more hours one day, and less the next. It is for project completion rather than working “just to work.”
Enhancing your graduate student experience. As mentioned above, I love working with faculty & staff and getting to know them through this experience. It has been enriching to become a reliable and trusted member of the research team.
Easy resume-builder. This exposure no doubt makes a person more employable – regardless of your field. It shows you can follow instructions, work both independently and collaboratively, and timely.
With that, I hope you have learned about the role of a GRA and why it is an invaluable experience to add to your professional endeavors if offered. 🙂
A year ago, I said I would never run more than a 10K. In fact, I said I would probably never run a 10K again. My story of how I got here fully expresses how proper training and diet wins. Every. Single. Time. The human body is amazing. This is my story of getting from the beginning of my running experience – where running made me feel sick – to finishing my first half marathon feeling great 😀
12 Weeks Out:
I registered for the race and began the Hal Higdon’s “Novice 1” Half Marathon Training plan. My runner friends gave me advice throughout this process and I cannot thank them enough. The most important piece I retained was to never skimp on long runs. They are the most important in conditioning yourself for the endurance you will sustain. Since the race was in my hometown, my hospital offered a 50% off discount for employees – making it that much more worthwhile.
The Training Process:
The runs themselves continued getting easier, but were never easy. My training plan started out with 2 miles 2x/week then 4 mile long run on Sunday. That occured for 2 consecutive weeks, then the following week, add half a mile, and a mile to the long run (again for two weeks). I did this with a combination of 2 days of cross train/week and 2 rest days/week. Each week, the mileage was increasing – where I was reaching 7, 8, 9, and closed it off with 10 before the race. I stuck to the plan as closely as I could keeping in mind taking more rest days if necessary. One thing I can pride myself on is listening to my body and not exerting it. If I needed an extra rest day, I’d take one.
My crosses were either gentle rounds of tennis, or cycling. From my understanding, the purpose of cross training is to keep the heart rate up while giving your body a break from the repetitive physical nature of running.
I loved this training plan and I think it was the perfect starting point for myself as an extremely novice runner. In fact, it is formulated for newbies like myself. The next half I run, I plan on doing the novice II plan.
I tried to run in either the morning, before it got too hot & humid, or in the late afternoon/evening, knowing full-well that I do not tolerate heat well. As a whole, this worked well. The only aspect I think I would’ve changed is being able to run in the morning more often, when races are held, but it is difficult when you’re a student, an intern, and you work. 😀
Throughout this training process, I discovered what to eat, when to eat, and experimented with different foods. For me, and knowing full-well that every human body is different, it was a process. Before most of my runs, I simply ate a package of fruit snacks. Yes, they’re highly processed, have a ton of corn syrup, and have slim to none in terms of nutritional benefits. However, because they are simply sugar, they make for quick energy that is readily available for the body and doesn’t usually upset the stomach. After my long runs were starting to get longer, I tried Bolt energy chews – much better ingredients, maltodextrin, green tea extract (a small caffeine boost). They consistently worked for me and I would recommend them to other athletes both personally and professionally. After getting down to the end, on my 8, 9, and 10 mile runs, I tried Clif’s “shot” energy gels after mile 6 consistenly. These easily dissolve in your mouth and realistically, do not require any chewing – making it easy to “eat” mid-run.
As a whole, I tried keeping my diet as “clean” as possible, especially throughout the month of September leading up to the race. This included avoiding alcohol, fried foods, pizza, and eating less dairy. I consumed a lot of carbs – bagels, bread, rice, and starchy vegetables as well as lean protein (chicken, fish, beans), and plenty of other vegetables. I usually ran 2 hours after eating a full meal and tolerated this well.
The Two Days Before:
I ate a lower-fiber, higher carbohydrate diet consisting of a lot of white grains, less vegetables (and thoroughly cooked vegetables). Fiber is crucial to a balanced diet, as it adds roughage to the GI tract, ferments in the large intestine, and helps maintain a balance in the digestive tract. But if you are preparing for a race, especially with a sensitive stomach (like myself), reducing fiber can help TONS. Because that fermentation of the high fibrous foods takes more than 24 hours to digest, which can lead to GI upset and cramping. I had experienced both of these two things throughout my training process, so low fiber leading up to the race worked well for me.
I also upped my water intake as well and started adding Nuun electrolyte tablets to 16 oz of water. I rotated between water and electrolyte water. I also had plain black coffee (obviously).
The Day Before:
I drank 64 oz of water with 32 additional ounces of electrolytes + water. I ran one mile, and my roommate made roasted potatoes and white pasta. Nothing has ever tasted so good. I went to bed at 10 pm and slept through the night.
It was 29 degrees F. I woke at 6:00, drank 16 oz of water + electrolytes along with a tortilla with peanut butter. I also ate a pack of Bolt energy chews. I met up with my coworkers who were also running, and we made our way to the start.
I got to run with Alex & Matt until about mile 4, where they turned off to finish the 10K. After that point, I do not remember much. The neighborhoods were familiar, the streets I’ve driven on my entire life, but it is difficult to describe the thoughts and scenes you recall in those moments.
Reaching mile 7 was approaching a large incline on the Greenway of Grand Forks; I knew it was the turning point of the race, meaning more had been ran than there was left to run. Approaching mile 8, I slowly finished an energy gel and kept going.
At mile 9, I wished I had gone to the bathroom before the race started. Pausing my watch, I used the bathroom and got back on track. This set my time back more than I had planned for, but all I can attribute to this is knowing for the future. Oh well. What did I learn? Always use the bathroom prior to starting a race. Even if you think you it’s nervous energy causing the urge. Just go. 🙂
Approaching mile 12, the very last full mile of the race, was perhaps the most difficult part of the entire race. Not even because it was the last, not because I was gassed, not even that I had never ran this distance before. I had trained, I was conditioned, I was ready for this!! It was however, the ever-so-slightly above freezing temperature, the wind chill, running south against a northern wind. I cranked up my music, (I believe Make Me Proud by Drake), and pictured my dad at the end waiting for me. Finally coming within sight of the finish was relieving, yet so far away.
Again, it is hard to recall the rest of what occured. I have never felt so relieved, energized, and proud. Seeing my Dad’s face at the end made me so happy. I was congratulated (and wished a Happy Birthday) from a large group of my ER coworkers volunteering as medics at the end – it made it so much better.
The Next Few Days:
The day following the race, my quads and hip flexors were incredibly sore as predicted. But alongside the physical symptoms after having just ran 13.1 miles for the first time, I felt so many emotions. Is post-run depressions something real? In short, I felt like I needed to go for a run; what I had been doing for the past 12 weeks in training. It is difficult to come down from such a high after completing such a self-fulfilling feat. I laid low and took it easy that day which was exactly what I needed.
The Monday following, my friend and I signed up for another half. But do not worry. It isn’t until June. 😀 The only reason we registered so early is it fills up within the first few minutes!!
Technically speaking, now that I am scheduled to run another race, I have an extra drive to stay in “running” shape. This is greatly hindered however, due to the weather in North Dakota. I still plan on running 3 miles (indoors) a few times a week along with strength training, and cross training through playing tennis and cycling. I also would love to incorporate more yoga into my fitness routine for mobility and strength.
A Special Thank You:
With everything I have accomplished so far (I am extremely blessed), I have realized how much support it takes to get to each these milestones. My parents, simply believing in me with each of these feats, and my Dad specifically waiting for me at the finish line of this race. My friends: Koryn, for making me dinner the night before, encouraging me throughout the process. Shelby, biking alongside my Sunday long runs (in the bitterly cold sometimes), Jenna, for giving me advice & encouragement throughout the process, Rachel, for your perspective and your experience. And everyone else along the way – your advice and positivity has helped me get to where I am now!
A year ago, I said I would never run more than a 10K, and here I am. I ran a half marathon on my 23rd birthday – and this is not the end!
Thanks for reading and following along with my journey!
It is difficult in our country to decipher what different food labels mean or what they can cause you to think about food in general. Health claims on food tend to offer you enormous benefits that are not necessarily backed by science, nor do they necessarily provide you with the benefit they claim to give.
Afer having analyzed labels in a variety of nutrition courses over time, I have created a list of these terms and labels and what they really mean – in hopes for you to reference them – whether they’re good, and informative, or…not that way. 😀
GLUTEN FREE: a food is only allowed this label if it contains 10 parts per million or less of gluten. This is often certified through the Gluten Free Intolerance Organization (GFIO) which is regulated with the USDA’s labeling standards. This label helps those with Celiac’s Disease spot “safe” foods, and others who are avoiding gluten by choice the same. Does gluten free mean “healthy?” Foods labeled “gluten free” are not necessarily healthier or more nutrient dense. There are plenty of cakes, cookies, pastries, crackers, and other processed foods now certified gluten free, offering those with an allergy or sensitivity, or Celiac Disease an option to enjoy their favorite foods too without gluten that causes them problems. If you see this label, you can safely assume is that there is NO GLUTEN in the product.
KOSHER: Probably the least known and recognized, Kosher foods are those that are deemed pure according to the Jewish law. Click here for all the standards for meat, fish, and other foods (koshercertification.org). This symbol above shows Americans that the food product is suitable to consume if one is observing dietary Kosher laws.
NATURAL: there isn’t a specific label that is associated with this nutrition claim simply because the term itself is misleading and ambiguous. The Food and Drug Administration, as well as the United States Department of Agriculture do not provide federal regulation as to what constitutes a “natural food.” This claim is misleading, vague, and cannot promise any benefits. Some food will be labeled as “natural” with other promised claims such as “no MSG, no preservatives, and no hydrogenated oil” which can be helpful to some, but remember, read the label, and that this claim is not regulated.
NON-GMO: a product with this label means that it does not contain any genetically modified organism (GMOs). The certification is based on the Non-GMO Project whose “commitment is to preserve and building sources of non-GMO products, educating consumers, and providing verified non-GMO sources.” If a food contains this label, you can be assured that your food has not been genetically modified. Beyond this, non-GMO food may or may not have other significant health benefits.
ORGANIC: This label is regulated by the United States of Agriculture as clearly observed by the label. For a food product to earn this label, it has to be produced by approved methods: “cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that fosters cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used.” Similar to the “gluten free” claim, you can be assured that food with this label IS organic, but does that necessarily translate to “healthy?” No. There simply isn’t enough research to conclude that products labeled as organic provide more benefits than those that are not.
VEGETARIAN: vegetarian products in the United States are not regulated by the FDA or USDA. Therefore, independent organizations in our country have pridefully labeled their food as such – promising the absence of meat or meat products in their food items. If you purchase something with the vegetarian label (often a green symbol with a plant on it), chances are, that company takes great pride in their product and ensuring their product does not contain meat. Does vegetarian mean “healthy”? Something labeled “vegetarian” simply means the product does not contain meat. Though a plant-based diet does have plenty of benefits, there are plenty of other factors to consider when determining if a vegetarian product is deemed, “healthy” such as if the product saturated fat, sugar content, whole grains, and processed ingredients.
VEGAN: Similar to vegetarian, this label isn’t regulated by a government branch, but it is regulated by private companies such as Vegan.org which promise that there is zero amount of animal product in compliance with vegan standards. Does vegan mean “healthy?” Again, as mentioned previously about vegetarian products, eating a plant-based diet has benefits backed by research, however, did you know Oreos are technically vegan (though they might be cross-contacted with milk in some countries) ? Oreos are made from high fructose corn syrup, and other food additives; so overall, just because something like an Oreo is vegan doesn’t necessarily mean it is “healthy.”
As with anything, it is important to be a well-informed consumer by reading labels thoroughly, and understanding what they mean. I hope that by reading this, you are able to make more educated decisions about choosing foods when shopping and what you choose to purchase!
Wherever I go, whenever I travel, whenever there’s a new place in town, I cannot wait to try it. Tell me that being a “foodie” hasn’t influenced my decision to study nutrition as an undergrad! My point here, is that as much as I love cooking and creating new recipes, I equally enjoy eating out and trying new dishes as well as revisiting my old favorites.
Food is the center of culture: in many communities/ethnic groups, and consequently, offering food or sharing a meal together shows that one is welcome in that community. Going to eat is often a social outing simply shared around good food. With this social benefit of going out to eat together, the concept of eating out often gets a bad rap – this is due to our food culture in the U.S., not you!
Why, though? Portions are often out of control, dishes are loaded with excessive calories, and the meal can get expensive pretty quickly. Keep reading to learn how to eat out with more intention and to hack the food system while enjoying good food and company!
Soda and other speciality drinks can be more than three dollars per drink which are high in sugar and extra calories before your meal even begins. The easiest solution?
Order a water.
Free drink, free refills, no calories, and helps your stomach and body prepare for the meal you’re about to enjoy! What if everyone is ordering drink, drinks though? I suggest ordering one and drinking it slowly to enjoy it and not spend more than you had initially planned on.
Though salads usually are thought of as “the healthier alternative,” as you’re getting greens and vegetables in, you’d be surprised to see that at some restaurants, salads can be higher in calories and saturated fat than some burgers. What? How? The dressing is usually the culprit. Solution?
Ask for the dressing on the side.
You are then able to control the amount you want to put on your own salad and you’ll probably find yourself leaving some dressing behind. Restaurants often give WAY more than the recommended serving size alots for.
Many restaurants are accommodating and want to help make your meal the best way you’d enjoy it; it’ll bring you back in! After long tennis practices followed by weight lifting in college, my teammates and I would go to Noodles and Company to refuel. Now, not only does Noodles provide minimally processed fast food with fresh ingredients, they are one of the many restaurants happy to help customize your dish. After tennis practice, I would order a pasta dish (hello post-workout carbs), and in addition to whatever vegetables came with that dish, I would add broccoli and sauteed peppers for a few cents more. That way, you get even more vegetables and consequently, more nutrients, from your meal. Mac and cheese sounds really good? Spaghetti with meatballs? Chicken alfredo as a treat? Add some vegetables!
You will get to enjoy your favorite dish, but also enjoy the benefits of getting more nutrients in one meal. Yay!
4. Portion size too big?
If you go to other countries, and I’m thinking of European countries specifically, you’ll note that portions sizes are much smaller than that of ours in the US. This portion size isn’t your fault. But there are two different things you can do about it.
One: Share your dishes.
When you have someone to split your dish with, you’re eating half the calories, half the fat, half the grossly portioned size the restaurant often doses out. This alone will decrease your chances of overeating and getting a stomach ache, and you will likely not regret your decision to eat out. If you order dessert, too, ALWAYS share. 🙂 The other option is…
Two: Get a to-go box when you get your food and put half in the box.
Boom, two meals for one price and immediate portion control. This will prevent you from overeating from the start and give you another meal for the next day. Two meals for one price! What’s better than that!
Sure, a big burger is a treat for many to have as a “cheat meal” but what usually accompanies that? French fries, onion rings, you get it. If you want to opt to get some nutritional benefit from a meal like this,
Request a different side dish.
Swap french fries for steamed broccoli, onion rings for grilled vegetables, a cornbread muffin for corn on the cob. Most restaurants offer a variety of sides that you can pick from, only it’s up to you to make the change! Check out the menu of Famous Dave’s sides for example.
6. What comes on that?
As mentioned with dressing (see #2), restaurants tend to smother and load things on their meals such as mayo, cream-based sauces, barbeque sauces, alfredo sauces, mustards, ketchup, butter, or other unwanted or unnecessary additives. The solution?
Ask what comes on the meal you’re about to order.
The clears up any confusion, alerts you to any potential allergens, and gives you a heads-up as to what you’ll be consuming. If any of the ingredients listed are not something you want, as if you can skip that item, like the salad, ask for it on the side, or request a healthier alternative. This way, you are eliminating unnecessary cals or fats or sugars, and YOU are controlling how much you put on your meal.
*Bonus tip, my brother’s tip is to skip mayo and add avocado. You get the creaminess you desire [on a sandwich] without the processing, fat, and calories, and you get healthy (monounsaturated) fat from a plant source – woo!
7. Protein source?
Grilled or crispy? Chicken, steak or pork? Broiled or fried fish?
We’re often faced with a lot of options when it comes to choosing a protein source; especially at restaurants. Solution?
Choosing a lean, grilled or broiled protein source.
Choosing grilled chicken, black or pinto beans, roasted turkey, dishes with lentils or peanuts (legumes), or those with nuts such as almonds, pecans, or walnuts give you the leanest, and minimally processed protein sources. Avoid fried foods. Though they are better than nothing, they offer minimal nutritional benefits and pose potential health risks if consumed all too frequently.
8. What’s fresh?
Restaurants are often proud to disclose what they have on-hand. Some restaurants have partnerships with other local companies and will disclose where they get their honey, eggs, chicken, and produce from. If you’re looking for a healthier option when you go out to eat, eating at local, independently-owned restaurants are more than likely going to offer you higher quality ingredients and more flavor in your food.
Now, if you are enjoying a meal that’s a treat or going out is a treat for you, don’t feel guilty about your food choices. If you go to a specific restaurant a few times a year and go there specifically for their homemade baked mac & cheese with breadcrumbs (my weakness) and Moscow mules, don’t make food swaps. Enjoy your meal. What you can do is also get a water to drink with your favorite cocktail, and bring half of your mac & cheese home so you don’t eat too much, and you have more to eat later. Never follow a “diet” that deprives you from indulging every once in a while. Eating your favorite foods (though they might not fit into your every day “diet”) is good for the soul – trust me! As long as we aren’t eating this way all the time.
With that, I thank you for reading and I hope this helps when you choose to eat out at your favorite restaurants, trying new ones, and when you travel!
What does this featured meal have to do with today’s blog post? It is vegan, gluten free, and relatively low in calories, but packed with nutrients and will give you zero dietary cholesterol as an added bonus 🙂
Shawn Brokke, a friend, and plant-based foodie sat through the most frequently asked questions about veganism and answered them with delight. To contact Shawn, find him at @palegoon + @nutritious_goon on Instagram! He really knows how to get the conversation started! I have compiled some questions regarding his experience and life as a vegan.
Let’s start with the million dollar question(s): How long have you been a vegan? Why did you convert?
I’ve been a vegan for almost two years. I had been dieting before and was not happy with the food I was eating and the density of that food. I had been eating the stereotypical “bodybuilding” diet [consisting of chicken and rice and the occasional vegetable]. I wasn’t satisfied. The reason I looked into veganism was because of my mom’s chronic illnesses including thyroid issues. I discovered the vegan diet, and I’ve never thought twice about it!
Wow, just like that! How did you transition? How did you know what to do? That’s a drastic change!
Overnight, actually. I strongly considered have that “one last meal” of all my favorites that are not part of the vegan diet, but I decided not to. I figured if I did that, it would just prolong the process of transitioning. I gave my food to my brother and the rest was history. However, because I did this overnight, it didn’t come without challenges. I relied on YouTubers and trial and error. The key was not to get mad at myself if I ate something that wasn’t vegan friendly and I wasn’t aware of it. It’s a process and you learn as you go.
Now that you’ve been a vegan for a while now, what do you eat?
“My go-to is stir fry with all the vegetables – rice noodles, soy sauce or usually tamari.”(pictured above) others include:
The most commonly asked question for vegans (or so it seems), is getting adequate protein. Most people believe it simply isn’t possible to get enough protein from plants alone. You’ll see things on the internet regarding vegan bodybuilding and it is indeed possible to achieve physical goals with a vegan diet. If you are eating enough calories (based on individual dietary needs), you should not need to supplement protein or make any extra effort to meet the RDA for protein. It’s fairly simple! 🙂 Especially knowing foods like broccoli and snap peas [green vegetables] have “bonus” protein in them. Most people think of vegetables to fit in the “vegetable” food group, and fail to recognize that there are other either macronutrients or micronutrients that may be contained in that vegetable.
Do you take any supplements since your food is not sourced from animals anymore?
Yes! Vitamin B12 (a necessary supplement for those who follow a vegan diet). By taking it, I have noticed increased energy, and a better sleep cycle, and a decrease in symptoms of seasonal depression. I also take a vitamin D3 supplement.
Your experience sounds phenomenal so far. Have you had any challenges with this lifestyle?
Yes, of course. The major problem I have is that food I eat is so good. It is definitely possible to gain weight if you enjoy the vegan “junk” food such as cookies, cakes, sweets, and other indulgences too much. Though this can be seen as a negative, eating this so-called “comfort” food, can help you transition to eating more plant-based; as long as one is aware of this and can practice self-control while transitioning!
What about eating out? What would you tell someone who wants to go eat with friends?
It’s not as hard as one may think!
Noodles & Company: Japanese Pan Noodles with tofu.
Paradiso (in Grand Forks): offers burritos with vegan chicken and beef.
Olive Garden: minostrone soup!
Qdoba: no meat, and all the black beans.
Little Bangkok (Grand Forks): I really do miss sushi, but get the sweet potato rolls!!!
Chains usually have better options and are more aware of their ingredients than some of the smaller, locally-owned restaurants. Always ask!
You seem to like tofu and soy protein! What about people who tell you soy isn’t “good?”
Bodybuilders are often against the concept of soy protein because literature has stated that soy can mimic estrogen in the body and decrease your strength capacity. I feel that soy is the scapegoat in the world of veganism; people are so apt to believe that you can look and feel well when adapting this diet. It is interesting because mammalian estrogen is found in dairy milk and isn’t as accounted for as the plant phytochemicals that mimic estrogen (isoflavonoids) in soy.
Most bodybuilders follow diets that are high in chicken, beef, eggs, and other protein-rich animals sources. However, just because they are buff and look good on the outside does not mean that their arteries are not going to pose a health risk down the road.
What would you tell someone who wants to start adopting a vegan diet?
BE PATIENT WITH YOURSELF. Don’t get discouraged. It isn’t a transition that can’t usually [successfully] happen overnight.
Do not be mad at the world with concerns of ethics, frustrations with how food is produced, or people who just don’t listen. This will get you nowhere and nearly defeat the purpose of being that “one person” who is doing good for the world! The
You’ll need to eat a lot more. Plants are less calorie-dense than animal products; you will need to eat more, yes more, to maintain a calorie input and stay healthy. Perhaps download an app to help track calories to ensure your intake is adequate.
Any step is a step in the right direction. If you start narrowing things down, you’re making progress. If you have a slip-up and your intentions are still good, you’re still moving in the right direction! The ball is in your court!
And with that, I conclude my questions for Shawn. I personally learned a lot about the overall vegan diet and some of the resources that are available. If you considering adopting a vegan diet and need a resource, again, check out Shawn’s instagram or message him or myself with any questions you might have.
Thank YOU for reading, thank you to Shawn for sitting through an interview, and thank you to those who are considering eating more plants! Your body will thank you!
Just a few short days ago, I asked the surgery residents at work if I could put on a cap and mask on and shadow a sterile procedure in our department. I quickly made myself a fly on the wall and remained out of their way.
One of the residents then asked, since I was in the room, to help hold the patient’s arm out of the way of the procedure underneath the sterile field so her arm would not tire and get in the way. I was a very minimal part of this procedure overall, but the role I held came with standing in the same position for over 30 minutes, and included holding the weight of the patient’s arm up.
I now have even more respect for surgeons who perform lengthy operations and endure gruesome shifts. I am also extremely grateful for the opportunity to have a job that allows me to experience these types of things. Not many people get to go to work and help with sterile procedures every day. It is a privilege to say the least!
But what does this have to do with sweat?
Why do I hit the gym? Well, let me tell you!
1. Stress relief. Feeling good. Endorphins.
Having a busy lifestyle requires some form of stress relief. Lifting weights or hitting tennis balls gives me a a sense of clarity and helps me focus on the tasks I have to complete after I’ve gotten a good workout in. It’s been proven to facilitate good overall mental health and stress relief. If this alone was the only reason, I’d still be exercising.
2. Leading by example.
When we tell our patients to make lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise, we better be doing those things ourselves. I want to be the physician that can help guide patients with proper lifestyle habits by doing them myself.
3. I want to play with my grandchildren.
Whoa. That is a bold and profound statement. Not only does exercise increase longevity, but it improves quality of life. There are chronic diseases that have a strong autoimmune component to them (such as arthritis), but many other well-known chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity can be prevented with lifestyle medicine.
4. Lastly, to do my job and my future career.
Helping the surgeons reminded me again, I don’t have trouble doing the physical component of my job. Being physically fit helps me to better help transport my patients without worrying about not being strong enough. It helps me make it from point A to point B with ease in an emergency scenario.
It helps me help others and that’s exactly what I hope to keep doing throughout my current job and future career.
Think about this: why do you work out? And if you don’t, why should you?
I’ve never been a runner. In fact, when my high school tennis coach had us run up the hill for conditioning, I despised it. With extensive tennis training over the last ten years, specifically the last three, I was always advised not to run distance because it counter-acts the fast-twitch muscles that are desired to strengthen in tennis training. Running distance was completely foreign to me – even when I had signed up for this first race. So here’s the story that got me to finishing a 10K!
I joke that you could find me throughout the entire summer either doing chemistry, in the emergency room, or running – which is true to an extent. I wouldn’t have had it any other way given the option! I gained shorts and sock tan lines, streaks of white-blonde in my hair, and my watch looks like it’s painted forever on my fair skin.
I signed up for the race in May, giving me the entire summer to train. Being a conditioned athlete from three years of a college sport, I began by running one mile at a time. Yes, ONE MILE. And when I say I was a conditioned college athlete, I played two hours of tennis 5-6 days a week, did speed and vertical mobility workouts, and strength-trained to a total of about 20 hours/week.
But I quickly learned that there is nothing like training to run. I struggled to run a mile straight at first, even despite my physical training I had withstood in the past!
To train, I continued to add more and more distance at at time being mindful as to not over-do it. I ran consistently (or close to) every other day, and would attempt to add 1/2 of a mile each time. I cross-trained by playing tennis and lifting weights and taking at least one “active rest day” per week.
When September came, I was running more than the distance of the race – which I couldn’t fathom! Looking back, it is amazing to think about what the human body can do. I knew I was capable of doing the distance I had ran, but when you actually do it, you feel amazing. But this was not easy. In fact,
IT. WAS. HARD.
The hardest aspect of training for me was learning how to pace myself. I was used to sprinting (and trying to beat all my teammates in conditioning drills 😉 ) and one learns pretty quickly that giving your all fatigues your body in no time. I became nauseous throughout my runs and had to learn when to eat, what to eat, and to stay hydrated prior to running.
To overcome this, I went painstakingly slow at first (yes, it killed me). I adjusted to going slower and maintaining that near-constant speed rather than tiring out a few minutes in. Gradually, I built up a better endurance, and was able to go faster, but as mentioned, this is difficult to learn!
One Direction, Justin Bieber, and Taylor Swift. Need I say more?
Apple watch. It tracked my distance, pace, time, and route all summer long.
GOOD RUNNING SHOES. I’m talking ones that don’t hurt your feet or other areas of your body. I am a huge fan of Nike, but not their running shoes. After I switched back to my Asics, life was better. Running is logging a lot of miles over time!!!!
having a friend that is experienced. Shout-out to my girl Jenna for giving me advice and training with me.
On race day, I woke up, brewed black coffee, and read my bible about 2 hours prior to the race. I had two pieces of plain whole wheat toast, and slammed a bunch of water. It was a balmy 45 degrees here in North Dakota that morning. I prefer wearing shorts and a sports bra when I run, but the conditions were not right for that specific attire on race day.
When getting to the site, Jenna and I got our race tags and gear, and started our watches to track our distance, pace, and time. Before I even could conceptualize what was happening amongst the crowd of excited runners, I heard the race gun saying, “GO!”
The route went through many residential neighborhoods and was part of several of my training routes. It was comfortable and beautiful; from the people outside cheering, and the midwestern hospitality of serving water and some alcoholic drinks along our route – though we politely declined. :p
Everything went smoothly, by mile 5, I felt drained. I tried my best not to look at my watch in attempts to keep my mind off the distance left, but I was feeling those five miles! I asked Jenna if we could slow down, and she continued to talk to me, carrying out a conversation. I thought nothing of this and kept going.
When we got to the origin, or the finish line (displacement of zero 😉 ), I FELT AMAZING. Jenna said, “we kept the entire race under a 9 minute mile. I wasn’t sure if you wanted to go that fast, but we did it.” I will never forget that profound statement. Jenna distracted me from thinking about the “temporary misery” that I thought I was experiencing. That alone proves how mental the sport is. And there is nothing quite like making it past that finish line. It screams, “YOU DID IT!”
After we got our finishing medals, Jenna and I headed to Bully Brew Coffee House to get some carbs and caffeine. About an hour after the race, each of us felt uneasy and I personally faced strong abdominal cramping. I lost my appetite and began to feel sick. This seems to be a common theme among distance runners when scanning internet forums, and I had experienced this in a much milder form when training. But by dinner time, I ate 3/4 of a pizza from Blackbird and was the happiest girl on the planet. I have to remember to be mindful of what and when I eat, and caffeine consumption prior to running in the morning. You live and you learn!
Tennis, my predominant sport throughout my life, requires skill and a great deal of athleticism that one learns over time. This is true to some extent with running, but the difference is that you do not have to be good at running to run successfully; you have to have the mental drive to finish. Sure, you get better at it over time; your physical and mental endurance outdoes the voice in your head telling you you need a break, but if you have the willpower to keep going you will be good at it!
Running in itself is its own category. You are out, alone, experiencing the beauty of nature. Just you, your music, and the details of the world around you. It challenges your mind and body, and crossing the finish line is a feeling like no other.
You want to give it at shot?
DO IT! Be patient with yourself. There are good running days, and there are not-so-good ones. Thrive from the good ones, and don’t let the bad ones get you down. Run a little bit at a time. Stop if you don’t feel well. Keep going if you’re feeling great. Carry pepper spray when you run alone. Run in safe areas. Don’t run in the dark. Treat your body well. Drink a lot of water and at a well-balanced diet. Invest in high-quality running shoes and break them in by wearing them around the house. Appreciate your hard work.
Thanks for reading!
Push yourselves and step outside your comfort zones – your future self will thank you!
I was asked to write on the topic of being a pre-medical student and being discouraged throughout one’s time as an undergraduate student. I was asked how I remain motivated and keep my mind in the game despite trials associated with being a student in a intense program of study – that won’t be getting any easier throughout this journey. 😀
That’s just it.
Every career path experiences trials throughout, but what is the difference between the people that succeed and those that feel defeated?
The secret is that there isn’t one. I personally am not consistently ready to conquer the world; it’s not humanly possible. There are days where I want to take week off from school and “catch up” on sleep. There are times where I wish I was out with my friends instead of studying, and even days where I wonder how people can spend their entire summer days in a hospital from sun up to sun down. But why do I keep going? Why do WE keep going? Ask yourselves that!
I believe it is NORMAL to feel this way. My experience being a student is that overall, I am alwaysmotivated, but I take each day at a time regardless of how I feel. My end goal is in sight.
Here are a few things I do that keep my head in the game.
Working in the hospital.
I will dedicate an entire post on how the emergency department as affected me as a person overall (for the better), but working in the hospital, let alone, an acute care setting, has given me a drive to push through whatever I am doing.
I have worked a while in the ED, and because of the experience I have already gained, I’ve questioned working in a different, non-health-related setting as an undergrad. Why continue working in healthcare if that’s what we’re going to do our entire lives? I have friends work in settings such as barista-ing, nannying, and other related positions which has worked out nicely for them. These experiences have given them the opportunity to work in a different setting, something they may not have as they are developing their professional careers. But for me, I thoroughly enjoy working in the hospital as an undergrad.
Each shift I work, I find myself learning new diseases, treatments, care processes, and I am surrounded by a network of physicians, nurses (bless nurses, seriously), and other trained healthcare professionals. Learning new things about healthcare and treatment catches me thinking and learning every time, regardless of how demanding that shift was.
Not only does the science behind medicine motivate me, but the patients do just as equally. As a tech, I am able to do things throughout my shift that can make time spent in the emergency department even a little better. As many patients have negative experiences with the emergency room, I feel grateful to be able to enhance someone’s life with even the simplest of gestures while they are in our department. I am able to hear stories from all different walks of life as well as have the privilege of getting to know these people on what may be some of the most unfortunate days of their lives. I am reminded that it is a privilege to work with human life each time I work.
Getting the most out of courses.
I have shadowed plenty, and almost every physician I have gotten to know have informed me they don’t use an ounce of organic chemistry or physics in their every day practices. This doesn’t sound motivating, does it? “Get through it, pass, learn it for the MCAT, and you’ll never use it again.” OK! What about courses like histology, cell biology, anatomy, and physiology?
The courses I just mentioned have been my favorite courses in undergrad thus-far, and it’s because they are directly related to medical school coursework. These courses are challenging, but there is nothing better than understanding a concept. What I have learned has provoked my interest and studying for those courses motivates me to succeed, learn more about medicine, and prepare myself better to becoming a physician. There is a reason why these courses are recommended prior to going to medical school. AND, you’re paying for your education, so you might as well get the most out of it and take electives you enjoy!
Read books & watch shows!
I wrote a post on my favorite medical shows and I also have a tab on my blog that reviews books I’ve read that are worth your time. Doing these types of things *that will simultaneously benefit you* in your free time will help remind you of why you are sticking with those long nights and early mornings. Not only that, but these providers will help you learn what kind of a provider you want to become.
Reminding yourself why.
If I find myself discouraged by a poor test score, stressed out by too many things to do, or feel so tired I don’t feel like I cannot function, I remind myself: “YOU ARE DOING THIS TO YOURSELF. You want to become a doctor. You want to enhance your patients’ lives. You want to pursue science, despite it being extremely challenging. You cannot feel bad for yourself.”We are privileged with the ability to study what we wish to study – remember that!
Here are some small things that may help you keep your head in the game as well!
take a step back. why are you doing what you’re doing? why is this your goal?
“if not you, who is going to do it?”
write down your goals so you can see them. keep a tangible object around you that will remind you of your end goals. *I keep my recycled Littmann & and ob/gyn pocket book in my bedroom right where I can see them. It’s amazing what a visual does 😀
do one thing each day that will motivate yourself. read medical literature. do something fun once a day. dress for the part you want. practice the “power pose,” remind yourself how awesome & capable you are.
reduce your stress – stay active! go for a walk if you get stuck on a problem. coming back to that problem might come right to you after you clear your head.
celebrate mini-milestones. you studied your butt off and killed that exam? you finished another semester strong? you got the internship you’ve been wanting since you were a freshman? go get a drink with your friends or reward yourself with a new pair of shoes!
shadow the career you are pursuing. Seeing what your future line of work looks like may bring you back to your goals.
make a list of your goals and how you are going to accomplish them. you could do this every day, one a week, once a month, once a semester, once a year, etc.
Keep each other motivated. Tell you friends how awesome they are. Enjoy the small things along the way. Keep reassuring yourself!
It’s MONDAY, May 1st (what) and finals prep is in full swing. I have created a playlist of some of my favorite songs to both relax and motivate you. We are almost to the end. The goal is in sight! This combination of songs can only help 🙂
Click here to find the playlist on Spotify or enjoy from the list below!
4Her – Public
Sign of the Times – Harry Styles
Better Day – Joe Louis + Dominic Neill
Eyes On Fire – Blue Foundation
Future Looks Good – OneRepublic
Hypnotized – Coldplay
Find You – Zedd
Rollercoaster – Bleachers
Insane – Flume
Anywhere – Dillon Francis, Will Heard
Fresh Eyes – Andy Grammer
Let’s Go Crazy – Prince
Corners – The Fray
Passionfruit – Drake
Midnight City – M83
Moving On and Getting Over – John Mayer
Paris – LOUDPVCK Remix – The Chainsmokers
Ocean Drive – Duke Dumont
Something About You (Odeza Remix) – Hadyn James
Au Revoir – OneRepublic
Good luck to everyone on their finals! I hope you find yourself jamming while you prep 😉
There always seems to be 20,000 things going on at once, am I right? Exams, workouts, meals to prepare, someone’s birthday, group projects, meetings, papers, calling your grandma, volunteering, working, planning, and sometimes sleeping.
I am guilty of anyone else who takes on many roles but, I able to do everything I do because of one simple phrase I tell myself:
How is this achieved? Start by making a list of all the roles you currently hold:
Student, daughter/son, brother, sister, friend, teammate, grandson or granddaughter, boyfriend or girlfriend, employee, president, teacher, etc. Now take a look at your list and rank which of the roles you feel you are best at and which you could work on. Why are you better at some and struggle with others?
You are capable of being good at each of the roles you hold, no matter how many (reasonably), if you focus on the role you’re in at that very moment.
What do I mean by this?
The emphasis is not stressing about the future but rather focusing on the present.
When you are in the middle of studying, minimize distractions. Take a 10 minute break every hour, and don’t check your phone, emails, or anything else that may distract you. Keep your phone halfway across the room, and don’t pay attention to anything else around you.
When you’re at work and you are stressed out about an event you have tomorrow, don’t think about tomorrow; focus on your job. Learn from every experience you have. Tomorrow will come regardless, and you will be off work later, which is when you can prepare for the next day.
When your friend or family member is talking to you, put your phone away. Do you know how it feels when you’re trying to talk to someone, they act like they’re listening, you finish your story, and they ask you what you just said? It doesn’t feel good. Don’t be that person. Give your valued friends & family your attention. Sometimes all a person need is for you to be an active listener.
When you feel like breaking down from stress, focus on taking 15 minutes to clear your mind. Take a walk, call your best friend, jam out. Don’t think about your stressors in that time. Focus on clearing your head and preparing how to tackle the task ahead of you.
Each experience we are faced with holds learning opportunities, and if you are impatient, you might miss out on them. The future will come regardless; stressing about things that are to come is a waste of your energy you could be investing in what you’re doing in that moment.
Manifest your energy into the task at hand, and you will be successful in whatever you choose to do.