First of all, to anyone reading, I would like to say thank you for your support throughout this incredibly daunting season in my life. I made it through and I hope this is the first and last time I have to take that test. I’ve heard from several peers that the MCAT is the most important standardized test throughout the extent of your medical training. At first I didn’t believe it. Medical students, residents, attendings… take standardized exams all throughout their education. The MCAT, however, is what sets up the possibilities of those. It tests your mental stamina, proves that you have the persistence to become a doctor, reassures you’re becoming one for the right reasons, and tests several other traits of character. There is nothing more humbling than thinking you did really well on a practice exam and reading your score realizing you did far worse than you imagined. This is my experience and how I can help you!

*I want to make a disclaimer that it is extremely important to note that my experience is what I did, what worked (or didn’t work) for me and my experience. I am writing this to help anyone out there through my perspective. That being said, every student is unique and what worked well for me may not for you.*

Alright, let’s jump right in!


The Time Frame:

Many resources, student forums, and supporting peers recommend anywhere from 3-6 months to really dedicate time to study for the MCAT.

I deeply studied for about 2.5 months and began reviewing about 6 months before that.

The majority of students taking the MCAT take it after their junior year in order to apply to schools prior to graduating. I took it after my 5th year of college. I had just finished biochemistry, taken 20+ credits in sociology throughout my undergrad, and used my MCAT review books alongside some of my last undergrad courses to familiarize myself with the content the MCAT tests on. There is no “right” or “wrong” time to choose when to take the test. It depends on:

  • how much dedicated time you think you need
  • how “fresh” you feel the material is/how much material you think you need to learn
  • how graceful you can be to yourself allotting for days you NEED off [for a mental break]. And trust me, you’ll need them.

I recommend making a list of the content areas you need to review the most, including specific topics. I wrote down all of the sections of the Kaplan books (such as electrochemistry, glycolysis part I, the immune system, etc), and then crossed them out as I went through them.


The Resources:

I did my best to obtain as many free resources as possible. However, I feel it’s extremely important to purchase some kind of comprehensive review books regardless of the test-prep company. I purchased Kaplan from Amazon, but I’ve heard good things about Next Step as well. Point being, it doesn’t matter which books. As long as you have something to base your review on. Below are the free resources I used and what I used them for.

  1. The MCAT Podcast/The MCAT CARS Podcast by Medical School HQ. Specific subjects, pearls, and questions.
  2. Jack Westin CARS passages ~ if you subscribe by email, you get a CARS passage daily. It’s amazing. I did this almost daily.
  3. UWorld MCAT [free trial] ~ practice questions. You can select the content areas you want to get questions on. Upgrade for longer access.
  4. Khan Academy MCAT ~ select from all content areas – including CARS – watch lesson videos, do practice questions with instant feedback.
  5. Next Step MCAT ~ free diagnostic half length exam, free full length exam, free question banks!!!
  6. Kaplan ~ I purchased the review books and received 3 complementary full length exams with the code that came with my books.
  7. AAMC Full Lengths ~ the American Association of Medical Colleges – ie, the company that GIVES the MCAT. I recommend purchasing and taking their full length exams at the end of your prep. I’ve heard these are the ones that give you the most accurate prediction as to what you’ll score on the real thing. This is the same site you use to sign up for the MCAT.

All of these resources in combination helped me substantially. I listened to both the podcasts on my way to class my last semester of undergrad and caught myself shouting out the answers when Dr. Gray + Clara would ask them. 😀 The CARS podcast was extremely helpful in familiarizing myself with how the CARS section aims to function. Additionally, I spiral-bound my Kaplan books (cheap at your local office supply store), and took then with me everywhere. I annotated them, marked them up, and I’m fairly certain I answered every single practice question offered throughout them. Again, you NEED some form of review book that lays out what you will be tested on, but I firmly believe it doesn’t matter which. Kaplan was great for me.


The How:

The first month and a half (halfway through May after graduation), and the majority of June, I reviewed material for about 8 hours a day, 6 days a week. I spent most days early in the morning, studied until lunchtime, ate and decompressed, then returned for an afternoon session.

After reviewing the material, I began learning the format of the exams by doing practice questions (mostly to assess knowledge), practice passages (to get a feel for the way the questions are asked), and full-length practice tests. Up until my test date, I had taken 8 practice exams. After each practice exam, I reviewed each question and learned what my weak (as well as strong) areas were. I would use the following day to review the weak areas and re-learn the content.

While I believe the MCAT should be your life in the time you’re preparing, it is necessary to allow time for yourself. Regardless of what that is – using weekdays for longer prep days and weekends for shorter, more relaxed prep, making equal prep on all days for shorter studying in duration, or whatever works best for you. I was able to stick to my schedule while accounting for exercising 5-6 days/week, working one 12-hour-shift per week, and other social events I had throughout the summer. Knowing myself, I knew needed game nights with my roommates, long talks, walks, and my amazing social network.


The Know:

MCAT prep is not specific on testing what will be on your test on any given test day. That being said, the safest way to prepare is to know everything. I’m not joking, either. The Kaplan books do a great job of outlining what is considered “high yield” (or most likely to be on the test). Those are the topics one must know like the back of their hands. The rest, you better believe you should know, also. “High yield” simply means those are the topics most likely to show up on test day. Knowing that helped me in my prep. Here’s a few things I think you NEED to know for test day.

1.AMINO ACIDS. Like you’ve never known anything else. You must know the names, the properties, the three-letter abbreviations, the one-letter abbreviations, which are most similar to each other, etc. Throughout my MCAT experience, I had found that there were amino acid questions throughout both the chem/physics section as well as the biology/biochem sections. Sometimes the questions will display themselves in a very discrete manner such as, “which amino acid is cyclic?” and you’ll be given options in the form of the three-letter codes. Others are not-so obvious… “As described in the passage, which amino acid could also be used for X, Y, Z?” leaving you to deduce which AA of the given options is most similar in nature to the other – property-wise. In these cases, it helped me to take each multiple choice answer and list the properties. If you truly know your stuff, the right answer will scream out at you. If you know anything for the MCAT, make sure you know the amino acids ever-so-thoroughly.

2. Psychiatric Disorders. I haven’t heard a lot of talk about this, but on several of my practice tests, a discrete question would present itself asking which disorder a patient had based on the given symptoms. Have a general idea of the classes of psychiatric disorders, and you’re guaranteed to get at least one question correct on your test. 😉

3. Terminology. ESPECIALLY in the psych/soc section, I believe the terminology is very specific to the MCAT. Sure, these terms are psychological & sociological terms, but the ones you need to know are very MCAT-specific. In undergrad, I had taken 21 credits in sociology (I strongly, strongly recommend if you have the option), and 9 credits of psychology, but prior to studying for the MCAT, I had no idea what “self-serving bias,” the differences between “foot-in-the-door” technique an “low-ball” technique, and what the heck “groupthink” was. While all of these terms sound like you could make an educated guess as to what they mean, in which you’re probably right, do not be too confident. These terms are often very similar to each other and the test will likely make you decide between two options which are indeed, very similar. This is why you NEED TO KNOW your stuff. As I prepared, I found it extremely helpful to write down a term as you see it; on a practice test, while reading, in the podcast, etc. and writing it down and defining it in YOUR terms. Then study that extensively. 🙂

4. CARS. Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills. Vital to becoming a physician. In this section, you’re given nine passages and 53 questions to answer about them. Then can be on anything – architecture, Roman/Greek history, ethics & medicine, sociology, you get the point. Not what us pre-meds are accustomed to – we want the science and hard evidence. Many students (including myself) find CARS the most daunting section simply based on the aspect of unfamiliarity. When I took my diagnostic test, I was mortified by my CARS score. But it didn’t stay that that way. By the end of my prep, I ended up scoring higher on CARS than the science sections. All I did was figure out HOW to tackle CARS. It took me a while to understand that CARS is not about comprehension, it’s about inference. What is the author’s attitude about the topic? What is the tone of the overall passage? What is the underlying message? Shifting my perspective on it gave me a much better shot at it.

5. Punnett Squares. I cannot even tell you how many times I drew these out during my practice. If you don’t remember how you survived freshman biology and then a semester of genetics, I HIGHLY suggest learning how to draw and solve Punnett squares and then interpreting them. Learning the inheritance patterns as well as the basics of genetics will benefit you plenty – I can almost guarantee it.

The Strategies:

Here are the test-taking strategies that worked for ME when I took my eight practice tests and carried over into test day:

  1. Discrete questions first. In each of the science sections (chem/physics, bio/biochem, psych/soc), there are 59 questions. Most are passage-based, but nestled between passages are several questions that are not related to a passage and ONLY require outside knowledge. These were my favorite questions. On each section, I went through and did these questions first. Why? Due to time constraints, I didn’t want to risk getting those “simpler” questions wrong in the event that I’d run out of time. These questions, overall, I tended to do better on in comparison to the passage-based questions, so I made sure I did them first. I’d then go back and do the passage-based questions. If you decide to do this, make SURE you go back to all the unanswered questions. 🙂 Sounds obvious, but you never know how you’ll act under pressure.
  2. Recognizing pseudo-discrete questions. While there are obvious discrete questions on the MCAT, there are also what we call “pseudo-discrete” questions. These are passage-based questions that have very little to do with the passage. LOOK OUT FOR THEM. They’re really just a knowledge-based question and testing what you know. 🙂 recognizing this early helps you save time and not scan through the passage when you don’t have to!
  3. Outlining CARS. Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills was not what I thought it was, as previously discussed. As I mentioned previously, my CARS section improved the most over time. A lot of this I can attribute to both reading the text out loud, and outlining the passage. My outlining did get a bit excessive, but I am a kinesthetic learner, so this was the missing piece I needed (see above). This is what I did on the last 2 practice tests I took, and the exact strategy I used on the dry erase board I was given on test day. I used so much ink and I do not regret it.

The Good:

No one’s MCAT story is perfect, and mine was far from it. The best piece of advice I can offer is TAKE PRACTICE TESTS. Again, I ended up taking eight total. The best part of this is that walking away on test day, I didn’t feel surprised by anything: the content, the way the test was formatted, the length of the breaks, and mentally working with all the consequences of taking a 7+ hour-long-exam. I cannot emphasize this enough. I walked out of my test feeling probably as good as I could’ve mentally, and I believe I can attribute that to knowing how the test would be formatted. Another note to the good was that, I found a great balance with my flexible job, working one 12-hour shift per week, consistently exercising, and maintaining (somewhat of) a social life. I believe I can attribute this to having been busy most of my undergrad, but I also believe if you make studying your priority (hello, YOU want to be a doctor!!!!) you can achieve a good balance, too.


The Bad:

I will not sugar-coat anything that has to do with this process. There were several, several times throughout my preparation that I doubted myself, felt like I was wasting my time, and questioned the worth of the process. And there were lots of tears throughout the months of preparation. The material was challenging, frustrating, it took up the majority of my summer, and I had a little bit of FOMO when seeing others’ “fun” summers. I had just graduated and completed FIVE years of college for Pete’s sake. I kept telling myself this was part of the process and I heavily relied on my social support system. I cannot thank everyone enough for this. My family, friends, roommates, coworkers, tennis league friends, etc … the kind words did not go unappreciated. Another difficult part about the process was not being able to work as much as a normally do and I was therefore making less money. I scaled back on things and attempted to prioritize my spending. Overall, the MCAT was simply a season of my life and I’m looking to appreciate that part of my plan as much as I can.


The Test:

There is not much to say about the test itself. As mentioned previously, I was accustomed to the format, the content, and during my very last week, I felt like there was nothing else I could do to make my test day any better than I could’ve. Some of this could’ve been the feeling of burnout, sure, but I felt mentally ready. The test itself happened. The testing center staff was phenomenal. During my second break, the only 30 minute break, one of the staff members came out to check on me because she had thought I exceeded my break (she thought it was another 10 minute break), and wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing out on precious time. Each time I signed back into the secured testing center and handprinted my way in, the staff wished me good luck. When I finished my test, in the extremely quiet testing room, I raised my hand per protocol and soon heard “YOU’RE ALL DONE!!!” I must’ve had a shocked look on my face, but as the testing facilitator approached me, I realized I was the last test-taker to finish. I was 1 of 3 students taking the MCAT that day; and the last of the 3 to check in (the others were mostly taking the NCLEX and education cert exams). I had never felt so relieved. The kindness of this testing center’s employees made my experience far more relaxing than it could’ve been. This just shows how a little kindness goes a long way.


The After:

I walked out of the testing center with tired eyes (despite wearing glasses with blue-blocker lenses). My phone screen looked like I needed a magnifying glass; the text looked so small compared to the previous screen I had been staring at for 7+ hours. I bought myself a coffee, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget the feeling I had when I was sitting in Starbucks waiting for my coffee. I was oddly hyper-aware of my surroundings and slightly in shock that I had just finished the MCAT. Three + whole months were done in a painstakingly long 7+ hours. I then took a nap, and enjoyed drinks and dinner. My overall feelings about the test are rather consistent with how I felt about my practice tests; like mentioned previously, nothing was shocking or uncomfortable after walking out. Now, I just wait until early September to find out! This post MCAT life? Well, it’s a much more relaxed season of life. 🙂


MCAT-taking friends, please, PLEASE, let me know if any of this information helps you in your preparation. I wish you all of the success in your preparation + on your test. And always remember, it’s a standardized test that does not define your worth. It’s simply a number that allows you to apply to medical school. Let the admissions committee decide if your score is “good enough;” not you, not your peers, not your parents!


Thanks for reading!

xx,

M

First off, phew. It is been a ride these last five years! Part of me can’t believe it’s over and can’t stop thinking “where did the time go?” but the other part of me is feeling extremely relieved.

I will never forget the day I registered for classes in July of 2014. I had just graduated high school (with a great amount of senioritis), and was itching to get out in the “real world.” I’ve had a dream that came with a plan since I was in early high school and I was going to do anything I needed to in order to achieve that lofty goal. I was going to become a physician. I could feel it in my bones. I pictured myself in my white coat and hospital-owned scrubs with my stethoscope around my neck. In my mind, I was so close to this opportunity.

The month before this freshman orientation, I got a call from the tennis coach at my school where I’d be starting in August, with a request for me to join the tennis team. Now, this is a bit of side story, but it’s important, just trust me.

After having said “YES” a bit reluctantly at first, I realized that being on a sports team in college was going to shift mindset a little, I mean, I had played high school tennis for 5 years so I was used to this. But not in the way that I had imagined. I was excited and nervous to be offered this opportunity, so I took it!

Let’s fast forward to the July day when I registered for my first college classes. I got my student ID photo taken, my mom attended the “parents in college” orientation, and I met with an academic advisor. I will never forget the words, “you will NEVER accomplish all of this in 5 years” at my academic advising meeting. I was heartbroken. How dare someone tell me what I can/cannot accomplish! Little did I know, this was a defining moment for me. And a wake up call at best!

july 2014 on campus for new student orientation!

I told this man that I would be on the tennis team, taking honors courses, would be a dietetics major (with two semesters of clinicals), and taking pre-medical courses. I thought I could take it all on, and boy was I wrong.

After leaving orientation, I cried in the car with my mom. I just wanted so badly to go through college and start medical school. Why did I feel a compelling need to move on with my life? My mom reassured me that it would be alright (duh, Maddie, DUH), and that we would come up with something. I remember her saying, “so you have to go another year, what’s the big deal?” She was right. And little did I know, going that extra year would be one of the better decisions I’ve made in my life.

Flash forward to now. What have I gotten out of spending this “extra year” in college? Let me tell you.


I spread out my credits.

I didn’t have to take HUGE credit loads each semester. The pre-medical coursework is tough and dense in science. Those of you who know, these courses are all on you. You can’t rely on any extra points given for “participation” or “worksheets.” It’s YOU. You’re the one determining how much studying you’ll be doing and how prepared you’ll be for those exams. I was able to spread some of the courses out while taking more sociology courses. It gave me a great balance between the courses and I believe contributed to my success.

I was able to “balance” school and playing tennis, and then later school & work.

last collegiate tennis match 🙂

Because I took on a smaller course load (credit-wise) per semester, I was able to focus well on a few courses and also participate on the tennis team. As a side note, being a collegiate athlete is far more time-consuming than a high school one. I volunteered, practiced around 20 hours a week, and attending team events. Having this structure actually helped me prioritize my needs and I believed helped me even beyond my athletic years.

I minored in two fields I am also passionate about.

When I started college, I intended on becoming a dietitian and then a doctor. I felt ambitious and ready to take on the world as I previously mentioned. Instead of taking on this extremely clinical-based path, I changed my major from dietetics to nutrition. My degree was focused on public health and government-program based nutrition rather than clinical nutrition. Because of this, I was required to take several sociology courses and as a consequence, I fell in love with that field. The MCAT (or Medical College Admissions Test) now has a “behavioral science” section with plenty of sociology.

Growth.

With anything, I have learned there is no need to rush good things. In my last year of college, I felt the same feeling of “senioritis” I felt during my senior year of high school that I hadn’t felt in my fourth year. Though my year was tough both emotionally and academically, I learned plenty about myself and what I want to become. I don’t think that the extra year can ever harm a person; it just gives you more of a shot at developing and experiencing more and more valuable things. I was able to extend my college experience and prolong these amazing years of my life by just one more. In that amount of time, I lived with friends, and wrapped up my favorite (but difficult) course! And now, I am a college graduate.

best degree ever. 😉

So no, I wasn’t able to go straight to medical school like my 18-year-old self had imagined, but my life experiences along the way were invaluable and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. If someone tells you you might have to go to school a little longer than you initially thought, trust in the process!


Thanks for reading!

xx,

M

Here, you’re going to find my guide to reducing waste, getting the most out of your money, and enjoying your food! College students, moms & dads, single girls (and guys) who want to make the most of the food you spend your money on, keep on reading!

Freeze.

Raw, frozen vegetables can be roasted, sautéed, or used in any dish fresh vegetables are cooked in. Frozen fruit is perfect for smoothies, on top of oatmeal, and in baked goods. What if you made too much of an entree? Freeze it. It doesn’t have to be fancy or in a specific, spendy, trendy container. It can be a Ziploc bag or an air-tight container. Just make sure you remove as much air as you can to preserve and maintain freshness and reduce freezer burn. Always date the bag so you know how long it’s been stored. Frozen goods can last up to a year depending on how well it’s sealed. 🙂

Plan. 

Those that know me know that I am a blend of a planner and letting spontaneity take its chance. That being said, I enjoy having a tentative plan of what I’m going to eat throughout the week; what I will have for snacks, which fruits I’ll purchase, and what I’ll cook ahead of time. This is no-fail, because if I decide to eat out with friends and I still have food at home, I can eat it for breakfast or lunch the next day. I am a huge fan of cold pizza for breakfast.

Be flexible.

I don’t believe in any specific foods only being eaten for breakfast, or any specific foods being eaten for dinner. I will eat fried rice leftovers for breakfast after a workout (with a fried egg for protein), and I’ll make whole-wheat waffles for dinner. America is one of the few cultures in the world that eats dessert-like items for breakfast (donuts, coffee cakes, jumbo muffins, sweet rolls, chocolate chip pancakes, etc). I believe that having the mindset that food does not need to be eaten at certain meals, at specific times, and as certain meals opens up a lot of opportunities. At the end of the week, it isn’t too unlikely you’ll find my roommate and I making breakfast sandwiches for dinner.

Buy in bulk. 

Heading to your local co-op provides you the opportunity to buy in bulk. This means getting larger quantities of non-perishable foods that can be stored on the shelf for a long time and used when needed. Some of my favorite items to buy in bulk include nuts, oats, chia seeds, dried fruit, lentils, beans, rice, and quinoa. Buying in bulk keeps these foods accessible and on hand whenever you need. AND, it reduces cost! Win, win.

Store.

Invest in some high-quality food storage containers. I prefer the glass Pyrex containers; they are microwaveable, don’t taste like plastic, and last a long time. Before I eat a meal that I’ve cooked (in which I know there will be leftovers), I make sure to store the leftovers in these containers. This not only helps save food for the week, but helps to portion it as well.


What other methods do you use to help you save money and eliminate food waste? Let me know! Thanks for reading as always!

Xx,

M

Let’s face it. We all spend plenty of time on our iPhones. But it doesn’t ahve to be all wasted time. Here, you will find my comprehensive guide to getting the most out of using your iPhone. From apps, features, and some of my favorite things! I hope this guide will help you get the most out of using your iPhone and other Apple devices. 😀 Enjoy!

Features:

Bedtime: 

Within the clock app, Apple added a new feature in 2016 for users to help keep a consistent sleep schedule. For someone like myself who doesn’t have much of a regular sleep schedule, it helps! Each night, I am able to set an approximate time that I want to be sleeping, and set when I want to wake up. It calculates how long you’ll be sleeping based on when you set it. It then goes on to track a sleep history over time in the Health App so the user is able to get a feel for how well and how long they are sleeping for.

My favorite feature of all is the ringtones associated with this feature. They are somewhat tranquil sounding and gradually get louder as to not startle a person as they’re waking up. 

Screen Time: 

On the most recent iOS update in 2018, you’ll discover this wonderful feature. Within the settings app is the the tab titled “Screen Time.” Here, you can look and see how much time you spend on your phone every day. It also allows you to break down the amount of time spent on which apps so you can see where you spend your time. I have added “caps” to my social media apps each day (no more than 2 hours spend on them total per day). This really helps me to stay off my phone when I need to be productive. It also reminds me how ridiculous I feel for spending so much time on my phone. Seriously. 

Night Shift:

This feature was added to an iOS system to help your eyes from being strained while looking at your phone. You as the user are able to adjust how “warm” you wish your screen to look and when. I personally keep my phone on night shift most of the day and night. Way to go Apple!!!


Apps [all free!!]:

Sleep Cycle: 

Another sleep-tracking app. It does its best to analyze how well you slept (by using the microphone feature), and gives you a look at how long you slept, and the quality. It is a great app to try if you want to try to improve you sleep quality or are wondering why you aren’t sleeping well. You get a diagram on feedback for the hours you slept and and quality of your sleep at that time.

White Noise Deep Sleep Sounds:

Speaking of sleeping… If I am having trouble sleeping, I prefer the “fan” setting and I sleep well. It’s nice to have on hand while studying, too. There are plenty other white noise features including an airplane cabin, thunder, wind, and plenty other relaxing sounds.

Event Countdown:

My favorite way to look forward to events to incentivize challenging tasks. I currently have one of my best friends’ weddings noted, when my next races are, and soon, my MCAT date. EEK! 

Flipd:

This app sets a timer that helps with productivity. You can choose to lock your phone so that you aren’t able to use it (perfect for studying). You’re able to pick the amount of time you want to keep it locked for and the amount of time you want.

Kaplan MCAT Flashcards:

I like to have these on-hand. Any bit of studying counts, and if I’m sitting waiting in a line, I can quickly and easily review! 

Resuscitation!:

Ok, Maddie, you’re a nerd, we get it. This is my favorite “game” on my phone. You get to choose a medical speciality and case and you’re the provider. You must review the patients’ symptoms and medical history, then head to the exam where you then order diagnostic labs and imaging, and bedside intervention where you then make a diagnosis and disposition and you’re consequently scored on how you did. I have learned so much from this app!!!


Get productive – I hope this helped! What are your favorite iPhone features and apps? Send me an email or shoot me a message on instagram! Thanks for reading!

xx,

M


Finals are among the most stressful occurrences for students everywhere – college students, graduate students, and everyone, everywhere. We are tested on material taught over the course of 16 weeks crammed into 5 short days. While this time period can be stressful, lacking sleep, and full of anxiety, I have learned some habits that help me thrive in this critical time period that happens at the end of every semester. 

What’s left?

What is left in each course? Chapter 22 homework? A lab report? Each exam you’ll be taking? Make a list. Of EVERYTHING. Add the dates & deadlines. Simply writing these things down eases any bit of panic. You won’t miss a single thing! And this way, as soon as a task is done, nothing beats the gratification of crossing things off a list. I hang mine up where I can see it until the last task is done! 

Break it down.

About two weeks prior to finals, with my comprehensive list of academic tasks and deadlines, I make tentative plans for each day in both my paper planner and on the sticky notes on my computer. This way, I have it available wherever I need it. This helps me stick to the plan. I start by making a (reasonable) list of everything I wish to accomplish that day. 

Sweat.

Getting in a good workout is essential to my success. It grants me mental clarity and focus, and I feel great afterwards. It’s also a great distraction from the stress of exams and studying. When I exercise during this time, I do not bring any study material with me to attempt to read over. I designate time for the gym and crank up the tunes. One hour at the gym is not going to cause you to fail. In fact, it may even help you do better. 🙂

Clean up.

Every exam period, I clean my bedroom and organize the parts that may have become disordered from the craziness of the semester. This includes recycling old papers and receipts, clearing off my desk space, washing my bedding, wiping down my computer, and cleaning out my car. These simple practices just give me more mental clarity and less scatter-brain. 

Sleep.

I will forever refuse to pull an all-nighter to study. Preparing and utilizing designated study time and blocking off specific time to do so prevents the build up of stress, or the thoughts of “I should be studying” [see last point]. I do my best to  relax before bed and trust in my preparation for the upcoming exam. Sleeping 7-8 hours before an exam has proven to help students focus. Take melatonin and go to bed. 😀 I value hydration as well as proper nutrition and find them crucial in this time frame. Taking care of yourself overall is one of the best things you can do now and in the long run! 

Reward yourself.

Give yourself something to look forward to when you’re done. Get drinks, buy yourself something you can wear or read, or go on a small road trip! My best friend and I take a road trip to Fargo as soon as we finish our last finals for the last few semesters. It is so nice to get out of town and switch up the scenery. 

Designate time to study.

Allocating specific time to study (depending on how specific you want to get) has allowed me to eliminate that dreaded last-minute cramming. For example, one hour for chemistry, a half hour break for lunch, an hour and a half of creating a study guide, 1 hour at the gym… etc. The key is to be productive in that designated time. Remove distractions, fill up your coffee cup, and study! The most difficult aspect of this for me was getting the notion of “I need to be studying 24/7 to do well!!!” out of my head. The amount of time “studying” is simply not effective if it involves a lot of scrolling through social media (I speak from experience). One hour of focused studying is far better than two hours of distractions. 


Now relax, take a deep breath, and trust in your preparation to do well on all of your exams. Good luck, my friends!

xx,

M

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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:

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blisters? Keep going. 😉

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.

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).

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my roommate, Kai, the black lab mix, joined me for my last taper 😀

The Day Before:

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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.

 

The Race:

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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.

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ER nurses & paramedics volunteering as medics – and greeting me at the end of the race 🙂

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!!

What’s next?

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!


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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!

xx,

M

 

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This summer provided me with plenty of opportunities both professionally and personally. These are the words behind my summer.

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  1. Diabetes.

The theme of my summer. My wonderful preceptor is a Certified Diabetes Educator and was gracious enough to ensure I learned from her. Diet. Medications. Carbohydrates. Being immersed in such a specialized area of practice will hopefully help me later on in my education. And with that, 60 grams of carbohydrates at each meal, and take 500 mg Metformin with meals 2x/day if you’re first diagnosed. Ok, it’s not THAT simple. 😉

The largest contributor to the success of my internship was my preceptor. She is an amazing human being. She is working her “dream job” in this field, has ran marathons, and went back to school in her 60s. I absolutely adore her and aspire to be the kind of professional she is.

Another HUGE portion that I was fortunate enough to gain from this internship was cultural competency. The majority of patients we served were from all different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Through this, I was able to learn about dietary patterns, foods, and a lot of food words in other languages. Culture is so important to consider when treating our patients. There is nothing like direct immersion in the field.

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2.  Vehicles.

With living in a different city this summer, I quickly learned that my car, granted to me at 16, was aging and wasn’t going to make the biweekly commute. My first car, (given the nickname Black Beauty, like the horse), was sold to another 16 year old girl this summer. And for me? I am now making my first car payments – ever. But it wasn’t that easy or simple.

My parents were kind enough to let me take their cars for my 70-mile commutes in the meantime. And parking my dad’s pickup at the downtown clinic I interned at wasn’t exactly the easiest or comfortable experience. I am that much more grateful for a nice, and reliable vehicle. I pray that my new car will hopefully last me for years upon years.

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3. Scrubs.

My friend and coworker has been nagging me for well over a year to watch the show Scrubs. I had a million excuses, but I finally caved. I am hooked. Part of it is how much Elliot reminds me of someone I know very well… 😀 Regardless, this show is part of how I wind down at night and I love it. PS, did you know Scrubs is ‘supposedly’ one of the most medically accurate TV shows?

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4. Balance.

Maybe not what you’re thinking. My weekdays were full of clinic patients doing health education (primarily diet), and my weekends were full of acute, fast-paced emergency room patients. The environments were polar opposites. And I didn’t really stop. Scrubs and tennis shoes then dresses and jewelry. STEMIs and strokes, then DASH diets. I was a machine this summer. This helped me to realize that in my professional life, I will seek a similar variety with the call, the emergency room, the high-acuity events, but ALSO, the education, and preventative aspect in the clinic. I cannot believe this was summer #5 in the ED!

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5. Beer.

The girl who has always hated on beer is also the girl who was open to try it. Yet still never liked it. Until this summer. I discovered I am a fan of ales – especially ones with citrus. If you have any recommendations, send them my way! I’m open to try any!

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6. Chipotle.

Nope, my hometown/college town does not have a Chipotle, believe it or not. The city I interned it, you better believe it did. This is my favorite quick food option. Brown rice, sofritas, black beans, extra lettuce, corn salsa, cheese, and……… GUAC. Until we are in the same city again, Chipotle. ❤

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7.  Soulmate.

I was so fortunate to be able to live with a friend from elementary school this summer. Bailey just graduated with her bachelor’s in dietetics, so you can imagine our in-depth discussions. We lifted heavy together, made dinner together, and ventured on the walking trails of the city. But beyond that, Bailey gave me a piece of mind among the chaos. She reminded me the importance of sleeping enough, allowing myself to take breaks, and overall, taking care of myself. She is a beautiful human being. We were destined to be friends. Bailey, I cannot thank you enough for making my summer the best way it could’ve been.

 

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8. Road trip!

I got to visit one of my best friends from college in Duluth, MN for a long weekend (with my now reliable vehicle). We hiked in Gooseberry and ate really well. Jenna is now done with her first week of pharmacy school. You go girl. ❤


The best growth I have experienced this summer were the things that were at first, out of my comfort zone. I had never lived in a different city, and I had never gotten to see MY OWN patients. Everything has flown by per usual, but looking back, despite all the work and time spent progressing I am so satisfied, and so happy. Here’s to the start my second week of my 5th year of undergrad! 😉

Thanks for reading!

xx,

M