Monday, December 2, 2013

Why you need a mentor: Part I

A mentor is someone who walks you along a path that you are unfamiliar with but that they know well--according to - the dictionary of me.

noun: mentor; plural noun: mentors
an experienced and trusted adviser.
I'm a practical but artistic person who values a good mentor. 
"Practicality is my wheelhouse" -- says fellow blogger Ken Noguchi at Sidenote.  I like that phrase. And as students of medicine, whether we are medical students or physician assistant students, we must be practical because the facts are stacked high and time (study time) is always fleeting.

I first appreciated the value of a mentor when I went into business for myself some 20 years ago.  I was an unshepherded entrepeneur.  But I quickly learned the value of acquiring a helpful mentor to pattern from when I heard of a business owner in Houston who was doing what I aspired to do.
I cold called her and arranged a visit.
I flew out the next morning to Houston and flew back that evening a completely changed person for having met her.  The next day I changed how I did business and patterned myself after her easy, accepting style.  She was a ferociously hard worker who could easily work circles around me and is to this day one of the smartest most grounded people I know.  I am proud to call her a close friend now some twenty years later.  There is not a problem or decision in my life that has not been talked over with Sandie.

And thus I learned the value of mentoring.

Sandie was a mentor who turned into a friend.  This does not always happen.  And if doesn't happen, don't feel slighted or sad.  Friendship is not the goal of mentoring;  it is an occasional by-product, but should not be an expectation.

We can fall in love with our mentors (and I don't mean romantic love here), but mentors are rarely with us forever.  I believe we fall in love with mentors because they are like guardian angels that guide us on to the next stepping stone that we were looking for.  And when they do this well, we idolize them.  But be careful to not get swallowed into this aspect of your mentor mentee relationship.

I have had several valuable mentors over the years who somehow showed up in my life at just the right moment when I needed some guidance and then they just as mysteriously disappeared.  Though at the time I noticed their departure with some sadness, I know realize that it is part of the process.

Then there are times when I actively sought out a mentor.  And this is good too.

In Mentors: Part II I will write about how to seek out a mentor who fits with your needs.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Study First - Live Later

Well, first week of classes is behind us now. 
This is a good thing. 
So it's time to buckle down, breathe and get to work.

This is my motto for the month of September -- "study first, live later." 

New ways to make and use flashcards

Here's a link to an article I wrote for PA ADVANCE about using spaced repetition flash cards.  I've been creating and using these cards in Anki to help me recall facts from anatomy and pathophysiology lecture.  It seems helpful.  I can report more fully on my progress in a few weeks. 
Though one blogger told me that Anki works better for long term memory rather than short term memory such as employed in semester exams, I'm trying it anyway. 

I like the fact that I tell Anki when I want to review a card again by my response as to how well I remembered the answer.  However, one downside of Anki is that it is clumsy to use as a last minute quiz or test review because you can't really call the cards up on demand if you have already reviewed them for the day.  So an outline or other resource is best if you want a brush up review for this purpose.

Monday, August 26, 2013

How to use flash cards (and peanut butter crackers) in PA school

Care and Feeding of PA Students

The care and feeding of a blog doesn't always match the care and feeding of a PA student.
Well not much actually matches the care and feeding of PA students, or any student in the medical field, except a constant supply of FLASHCARDS and easily obtainable, healthy, cheap food.


Junk food encouragement -

  • Note: At my program, we have a lovely gentleman down the hall who stocks his desk with peanut butter crackers and other (not-so-healthy) junk food goodies for us.  Darrell offers a constant supply of encouragement.  He is also the Mayor of cheeriness and the King of stick-to-it pep talks!  

  • His attaboy/attagirl emails re studying and the dedication of PA students are beyond compare.

And now, I have found a solution to the flashcard issue.

Anki is a spaced repetition program for studying.  It is FREE.


you heard me right, our favorite student price-- F R E E -- !

Anki is an online system where you can download other people's "decks" for a topic you are studying, say French or anatomy, or you can create your own decks of cards from your own outline.  I am trying a combination of both my own decks and downloading others.

(Anki does have an app for your phone that does cost real $$ - $24.99.  I haven't downloaded it yet.  But I think once you're are using Anki successfully, it is probably well worth the cost.)

Anki shows you a flashcard - you think of the answer -then hit "show answer" and then rate your response as "hard" "good" or "easy" and the program determines when it will show you that card again based on your response.  Anki will show you a card that you marked as "hard" sooner and more often so that you can practice the material.

Here's a link to Anki basics. 
Check it out if you are working on optimizing your brain stuffing skills.

I will let you know how this works.  Supposedly Anki is designed to optimize long term memorization.
Here's the link to a med school student's blog where I found Anki if you want to read more about it from a medical school student's perspective preparing for Step 1.
And here's another cool medical student blog on the wonders of Anki.

Unfortunately, you are still on your own for the constant supply of food if you don't have a "Darrell" at your school!

Monday, April 8, 2013


Me and my father.

What does this word imply, what does it mean in our lives? 

The new "A"


Last Fall was my first semester in PA school and passing was everyone's new goal.  We were all suddenly downstream of torrents of information that had to be absorbed, cataloged and integrated on a precise schedule.  Passing is optimal in this situation.
Our scholastic aspirations had been about earning A's and getting into physician assistant school, scrambling toward our dream of becoming a PA.
But now we were suddenly happy to get a passing grade. 
A "C" was the new "A."  Many of us never thought we would see this day but we did. 

Passing on 

And then my father passed away on January 31st. 

Passing.  What a word.  A polite way of saying that a loved one is now deceased without having to mouth the unpleasant words--"my father died last week" which sounds so abrupt almost impolite, indeed disrespectful.  

And one thing a medical education quickly teaches the new student is to respect life and death.

My father, Jack Collier, in the Navy in WWII.
My father was a corpsman in the U.S. Navy during WWII, which he entered at the tender age of 17.  When he returned he finished his college education at Morehead State Teacher's College, now Morehead State University.  He could have easily pursued a medical degree--his father was a doctor in a small mining community in Kentucky and he tried to persuade his only child to go to medical school in his footsteps.  But my father refused and instead got his PhD in Biology at Chapel Hill and went on to do basic research in embryology and development.

I was an only child of two intellectual parents.  My father never allowed or wanted me to call him "Dad."
He despised the words "mom" and "dad."  Instead, I always called him Jack.  My friends thought this odd.  I think his caregivers at the nursing home, where he spent his last years, thought this strange also.  But you accept what you grow up with.

Passing.  A new ending, and a new beginning.

We pass to another side.  We pass to a new day or a new phase or era in our life.
But in my personal life the passing of both my parents and grandmother all in the last year and a half has brought a closure to many aspects of my life.  There are no more available answers to questions about things in my past, events, objects, trips and so much more. Factual access to personal history is gone.
Jack holding me in a Cape Cod snowstorm.
Each time I return home, from Buffalo, my parents passing takes on an added meaning with a slightly different nuance.

What pieces of their past and my history will I discover and have to disassemble this time?  And how do I continue to integrate this into my new life as a full time student?

Going forward, bringing the parts of the past that matter with us into our future -- that must be passing.