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The Adjustments of The Real World

I just finished the second week at my very first “real” post-undergraduate job. I work as a Health/Hospital Lab Tech for UCLA’s lab in Brentwood, and though I was prepared for the transition to the real world from an academic one to be difficult, I was still surprised from the needed adjustment. Don’t get me wrong, I’m eternally grateful for having my job in this hire-frozen economy, and even more grateful that I’m working in the health and science field as a recently graduated student. The opportunity is amazing, though the adjustments were hard to settle. The hardest thing to adjust was my sleeping schedule. Gone are the days that I could stay up until 1am and be late for my 8am class.

My schedule is as follows in the lab:
At 7am, which is when work starts, I organize urine, stool, and critical fluid-streaked media plates in numerical order as each patient is assigned a number, and each specimen from the same patient is assigned a number. These plates are to be “processed” and the Clinical Lab Scientists record the findings into the computerized health system.I then dilute urine solutions and run them in the Vitek machine, which reads cards placed into the solution made and prints a report for the clinical lab scientists.

UCLA is known for making their own MIC (microdilution) trays, which are used for inoculations. The trays are kept frozen at negative 70 degrees and take 30 minutes to thaw out before we can use them, so I take a count of all the needed trays of different types before my lunch break to give them time to thaw. After lunch break, I dilute all the specimen solutions in tween water, invert the tubes, and then run the MIC machine until 4 pm.

The second hardest adjustment is the 40-hour week. By Friday, I feel like I’ve run miles up and down the Big C trail. On my first week especially, I was nostalgic for the days when Thursday nights were the start of my weekend; Fridays seem to last forever before work ends these days. There have been days where it’s felt like med school was so out of reach, days where I wonder what I am doing and why exactly I am where I am. Those days are rough, especially after working for 8 hours, and being stuck in traffic for 2. But despite these hard adjustments, I’m still very much grateful as I’m learning new techniques and gaining clinical experience for my application. The key now is to stay highly motivated and to save, save, save. I try to remind myself that all of this is part of a journey toward a dream I’m not willing to let go of, and am more than willing to work hard for.

I met a friend on the second day of work, and after realizing we had similar goals (He wants to go to vet school) he told me, “We’ll remind each other about our goals every day from now on. Especially on days we’re extremely tired.”
Each time I pass him in the halls of our lab or run into him in the elevator, he says “What’s up, future med student!” And I reply with “Hey there future vet student!” as well as a big smile on my face for the rest of the day. Well until I hit the 405 at 4pm anyway.

Aimmee Chin
posted August 16, 2009 2:31 PM

well being

It's a bit hard to believe that the first year of medical school is beginning to draw to a close, but it definitely is. I am currently in the midst of studying for a series of final exams for the neurology system, which will cover neuroanatomy, psychiatry, gross anatomy, pharmacology, and a whole hodgepodge of pathways and tracts within our bodies. It's an intriguing subject for sure, but also one of the most difficult.

Medical school ultimately trains doctors who will take care of patients, but the training is without a doubt intense...so intense that many medical students put their own health and well-being aside to focus on classes and become the best and most successful doctor that one can be. It's especially apparent around an exam, when students stay up until dawn memorizing just one more neuro pathway, or one more drug name and its mechanism of action. It seems like a small price to pay when that knowledge may come back to help you save a life a few years down the line.

It's also painfully ironic when I've studied blood pressure medications while munching on calorie-dense vending machine food or reading about how lack of sleep can affect our lifestyles while burning the midnight oil.

With that in mind, I hope to be able to invest more time into diet and exercise. I do believe that living the lifestyle that one preaches to patients is important. I'll get around to that, once I memorize this list of sympatholytic drugs.

Alex Lau
posted April 26, 2009 9:25 PM

1/2 a year down!...and about 7 1/2 more to go

Happy new year bloggers! What an awesome game yesterday at the Emerald Bowl.

It's hard to believe, but half a year of medical school has already flown by. And it's been busy. I've never had to study such a large volume of material at one time, and occasionally it has been overwhelming. On the other hand, come exam time, the course material actually starts becoming more cohesive and making sense, and that's when all the hours of studying really pay off.

There really isn't a typical day for a medical student, especially not at Keck, where classes are scheduled differently every single week. For the past few months, we have been covering the "Core" curriculum, which is a (very) broad survey of different topics aimed at placing everyone on the same page. Starting in the spring, we will be moving on to a "systems" curriculum, where we will study dermatology, cardio, neuro, and musculoskeletal individually. Hopefully, that will make the material more cohesive than Core.

What I love most about about med school is the clinical experience we have from day one. Even as complete newbies, we get to meet with patients in LAC+USC Hospital and take histories. Unlike residents and nurses--whose schedules are overloaded and overbooked--we have more time to find out about our patients' experiences and lives. Many patients also welcome med students to the bedside because they enjoy playing a part in educating future doctors. Being able to interact with patients helps me keep in mind the reasons why I decided to go into medicine, reasons which are sometimes difficult to keep sight of when med students are so busy.

I have also been looking at starting research again and have been meeting on and off with a faculty member performing research on gut bacteria over at Caltech. Hopefully I'll find time to become more involved with that. More updates to come. Good luck with the spring semester bloggers and GO BEARS!

Alex Lau
posted January 2, 2009 11:31 AM

work this past summer


Hey blog readers! Before I jump into describing my first few weeks of medical school, I wanted to share with you guys my experiences this past summer as a faculty advisor with the National Youth Leadership Forum program at UCLA. I spent June through August with three separate groups of 22-23 high school students, all of whom were attending a program designed to expose them to the field of medicine.

I had a whole classroom-sized group of high schoolers to be responsible for at all times! Pretty challenging for a soft-spoken recent college grad. My job entailed three basic duties: 1) teach a curriculum that would introduce many key concepts and processes that are integral to medical education and the profession itself (i.e. med school admissions, traits and character, ethics), 2) supervise and chaperone students to different site visits and 3) manage and discipline students when necessary. This was how my room looked like at the end of every forum:


Yes, that's a lot of bleached flipchart paper. Don't worry, it was all recycled.


Believe it or not, I had a blast with this job. It was very rewarding working with high schoolers. Though there were times when I wondered what the heck I got myself into, it was great to get a glimpse of what the next generation of teenagers think, feel, and value. I worked with a diverse set of students--each with different backgrounds and beliefs--who broadened my perspectives on just how mixed our country really is. I also had a lot of fun with my co-workers.,,


For any college grads with a free summer, I'd highly recommend this program. It requires a college degree, lots of energy, and a willingness to work with super-hyper high school students. Check it out!

Alex Lau
posted September 2, 2008 9:46 PM

Hey there, calling out from Southern California

Hey! It's great to be in touch with CNR again. After graduation, I've felt a bit disconnected from campus, so blogging will give me an opportunity to continue contributing to the Golden Bear family.

So first, let me introduce myself. I'm Alex, a freshly minted graduate this May with a B.S. in Nutritional Sciences, physio and metabolism concentration, along with a minor in English. When I was at Cal, I was involved in the Peer Advising Leadership Program (PAL) at CNR and got to know many of the college's friendly and helpful administrators. In addition, I penned a food on Fridays column for the Daily Cal, did research with Ellen Simms from the Integrative Bio department, and volunteered with the Special Needs Aquatic Program (SNAP) down at Berkeley High and the YMCA.

So where am I now? I'm currently a first year MD/PhD student at USC's Keck School of Medicine and am wrapping up the second week of medical school as I write this. It's been really exciting and (admittedly) a bit challenging, but I'm really enjoying the experience.

I'll be sure to blog about my med school experiences as the year progresses (as well as write an entry about what I did over the summer), so "stay tuned!" I look forward to sharing my experiences with the CNR family.

Alex Lau
posted August 21, 2008 8:33 PM