Perspective Changes Everything

No matter what it is that you are doing with your life right now, at one point or the other, you may have experienced a moment in which you were not completely engaged with the task at hand, or maybe your mind wandered off to a variety of places. This is normal, my friend. In fact, it’s a part of being human. Not every high school student will be amazed by the immense knowledge their teacher will bestow upon them. Not every Fortune 500 company worker will appreciate the seemingly overwhelming projects their boss will assign them. Let’s be real. Different individuals have distinct interests that are more than likely tend to carve out their realities into the most pragmatic way possible.

Let’s start with a basic and painfully simple question: Have you ever felt like NOT doing your homework and doing what you love instead (if it’s not homework)?

As cheesy as it sounds, what if you loved your homework? No, really. What if you had such intellectual pleasure from reading seven poems by William Blake in British Literature? What is you were truly amazed by all the natural phenomena in the universe that physics could govern? What if you viewed every single thing in life (including homework, tasks, and the things you love) with the same state of awe? This curiosity could take one so far, that he or she may not even be bothered by the simple act of homework. What may first seem like an infinitely long list of tasks to do may eventually become a simple pebble in the grass that one can kick away. The goal of being extremely efficient with one’s time, energy, and resources may as well be accomplished.

Ask yourself: What is your definition of a genius? Is it simply someone who memorizes 1000 SAT flash cards front and back, or is it someone that truly enjoys learning about the human body and actually understands conceptual information? It is clearly the second person, unless you consider a “genius” to be someone with a merely strong neural circuit.

Perhaps the most famous quote to put this into perspective is when Einstein says: “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.”

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Picture adapted by the Imaginary Foundation. 

Imagination is what governs intellectual pleasure and allows for curiosity to grow into one’s natural state of being. It opens up infinite possibilities through which one could probe the “adjacent possible,” as Steven Johnson refers to it. Moreover, imagination and curiosity intermingle with each other to form serendipitous encounters with new ideas, that could potentially be applied to produce more dopamine in the brain, and an overall rewarding experience. It is all about perspective, though. If one were to view their work in such a way that poses an interesting challenge, or captivating puzzle to be solved, then that work would not be considered “work.” To become high-performance individuals, we could transform our realities by simply having a childlike state of wonder for whatever we study or learn. Jason Silva, the futurist and performance philosopher explains this in the most interesting way, referring to the fruit of curiosity as a “mindgasm, or an exhilarating neurostorm of intense intellectual pleasure, fully revelatory understanding of a certain topic, involuntary contractions of brain muscles, usually accompanied by the overwhelming sensation of truth proximity, visionarism, and the state of awe.”

The only challenge that remains is to experience these heightened state of awareness more frequently.

Changing perspective on our work lives may be a daunting task, as it requires a lot of patience, diligence, and more importantly, the willingness of the person to redefine his or her intentions and expectations. However, it is certainly not an impossible task. Through meditative techniques such as Mindfulness, one could achieve this flow state in a reasonable amount of time. Yoga and challenging physical exercises can also produce these results. Regardless of the method chosen by the individual, being curious is really a magical remedy for having the motivation, or drive to achieve something meaningful in life.

Inspiring Videos – The Ecstasy of Curiosity by Jason Silva

 

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Can We Defy the Process of Aging?

Recently, I was going through a chapter called the “Physiology of Aging” from my Environmental Physiology course on the Stanford website. This chapter intrigued me specifically because although it is amazing how dramatically our life expectancy has increased over the past centuries due to modern medicine, there are still some factors beside allopathy that could greatly affect our aging. In this section of the course, I watched a video of one of the professors go to the MIT AgeLab to try on AGNES, which is essentially a suit in which anyone can experience the deficits and incapabilties involved in the process of aging. The effects were so profound, and they seemed impossible to observe over the gradual lifespan of an adult. The video eventually showed how the professor wearing the suit lost motor, visual, flexibility, strength and dexterity skills. It actually got to the point to where I really felt sorry for elder people whom I have always assumed to have the same faculties I have. I obviously did not think old people could do everything but I did not realize it was that bad either!

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On the brighter note though, the point of the video was to show the natural physical effects of aging in a normal person, not an immensely active and healthy person. The video also showed a brief interview with a 79-year-old sprinter! This guy still performs a lot of his work manually, even though he could use machines and has taken up the hobby of sprinting at such a late age. Despite that, he is in optimal health. He is essentially decreasing his chances of developing a myriad of devastating health disorders such as hypertension, abnormal blood lipids, or type 2 diabetes. With that being said, the professor also mentioned the lady who lived till she was 122, breaking the life span record so far, Jeanne Calment. Although her secrets included olive oil, chocolate, wine and a lot of humor, there is a far more convincing observation about this:

As human beings, we have literally transcended our biological drawbacks through biotechnology and new means of improving the human condition. This doesn’t just include the use of scanners or machines to detect cancers and kill them. This also includes the mere fact that a good number of us have given significant value to having a healthy lifestyle. Another words, a lifestyle rich of mindfulness, productivity and vitality. Moreover, factors such as physical activity can make such a big difference in the end, as it can enhance repair mechanisms in the body, slow the rate of cognitive decline associated with aging, and literally stretch out telomere length on ends of chromosomes, associated with longevity. In fact, the benefits are so copious that it is too difficult to even mention them all! Regardless, we should definitely take pride in the fact that we have expanded our life span out so much by just modifying a few things here and there, and if we continue to do so, we can go even farther!

The Soul of a Doctor

During the past week, I became very interested in reading a book about how medical students deal with their first encounters with patients and what they experience being so close to the life-and-death situation. This book was called, “The Soul of a Doctor,” by Susan Pories MD, Sachin H. Jain, Gordon Harper MD, and Jerome E. Groopman MD. It essentially is a compilation of essays written by fellow students of Harvard Medical School, divided into four sections: Communication, Empathy, Easing Suffering and Loss, and Finding a Better Way. It targets aspiring medical and pre-medical students to capture moments in the lives of actual medical students who have to assess all these patients, ranging from slightly ill to terminally ill.

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In the Foreword of the novel, Jerome E. Groopman, MD, makes a connection between the themes in literature to medicine. He describes that in literature, there’s a person that goes on a journey and that there is a stranger that comes to town. Likewise, in medicine, the person is the patient, accompanied by the doctor and the stranger is the illness that disrupts the equilibrium of life. Similarly, Sachin H. Jain makes a connection between the political science phenomenon of “social criticism” described by Micheal Walzer and the medical student in his Introduction of the novel. He states that the ideal social critic is someone who is embedded in society but is still able to apply external values to critiquing it. This is a crucial aspect to incorporate into medicine as well. He explains how the medical students are knowledgable about medicine but are still idealistic and have not yet been changed by the “norms of practice.” Another words, the medical student has a fresh perspective about the world of medicine and healing and is not affected by the habits other doctors may have. That is why the medical student may be able to effectively reflect on the health care system and uncover defects. That is why we want to hear from THEM in this book!

Delving into the first main concept of the book, Communication, a medical student named Amanda A. Munoz describes her worried patient and the little that doctors do to support. She talks about how the ideal patient-dcotor relationship is taught in classrooms and shown on videotapes in medical school, but it’s very hard to maintain that when everything is so fast-paced. A lot of times, doctors tend to place their efficiency, interests and performance over the patient’s feelings and questions. That in turn, leads to bad communication! This part of the book really stuck out to me because I always thought of the doctor actually comforting the patient and assessing their question(s) but never did I realize, that not all doctors think it’s necessary to do that!

The second concept discussed was Empathy, and in this section of the book,  a medical student named Rajesh G. Shah discussed how doctors can sometimes let their nature of prejudice get in the way of connecting with their patients and actually addressing their needs. Doctors may have preconceived notions about disorders such as anxiety and don’t consider it as a real, inhibiting condition, but when they actually see it occur in individuals, that completely changes their perspective. In this way, Rajesh G. Shah connected with his patient by learning from her condition and assessing her needs.

The third part of the book, Easing Suffering and Loss included numerous scenarios in which patients were extremely ill and perhaps living the last moments of their life, with only their doctors and a few loved ones. The important issue discussed in this section was that when doctors know that their patient doesn’t have much time, how can they ease suffering and loss? How can doctors assure their patients that they have been given the best care they can possibly recieve? How can doctors inform the loved ones that someone so close to them is going to die inevitably? These were some important questions that really got me thinking about how close one can get to the realm of mortality in the medical field.

The last section, Finding a Better Way, was mainly about the importance of ingenuity in medicine and started off with a remarkable quote by W.E.B. DuBois: “Education must not simply teach work- It must teach Life.” This quote is really significant because being pre-med and medical students, we can learn from older fellows, residents, and attendings, not just how to efficiently complete our tasks, but also to apply our knowledge to all aspects of our work and eventually form a bond with the patient we are dealing with. That is typically what, “The Soul of a Doctor” should constitute of. I know for some of us, it is way too early to even think about how patients should be treated or how their problems should be considered, but perhaps an important message to learn from this book would be this:

It is important to do the very best YOU can to provide the very best for the person YOU are caring for!

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to get a glimpse of what medicine today is really like and whether it is what they want to go into. If you are interested in checking out other books relating to the medical field, look over to the right in my goodreads section!

Integrating the Arts into Medicine

We all are well aware that going into the medical field is not a cake-walk. The transition from being a pre-med, to a medical student, and residency is fairly tough. Even though the process sounds tedious and stressful, there are ways people have hacked the system by enjoying the journey, rather than just quickly trying to get it over with. These people, that enjoy the ride, indulge in creativity and expand their perceptions to formulate new ideas and possibilities. There would be no innovation or progress in the medical field if it weren’t for people who wondered about why they were doing what they were doing and how they could have done it different to make it more efficient. Luckily, there are still so many doctors who haven’t lost touch with their child-like state of wonder and are inclined in the arts, which is, essentially, a median for creativity.

Timeline of Major Breakthroughs in Medicine:

800 – Indian doctors were grafting skin from one part of the body to another

1600– Italian surgeon reconstructed ears and noses out of pieces of human skin

1954– first successful kidney transplant

1950s-1960s– studies conducted on how body rejects or tolerates foreign tissue , era of widespread organ transplantation began

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The Human Heart from the original Gray’s Anatomy 

On the Art of Medicine podcast, a doctor from Mount Sinai School of Medicine was interviewed about how the arts have a strong correlation with anatomy. The doctor described her passion for art as a high school student but also for the sciences. This is a conflicting decision that many students in high school encounter because there are academically inclined kids who think they could excel in the sciences, but also want to pursue the arts. This lady shared how she got over the conflict by double majoring at Cornell, and taking art courses along with her prerequisites at the same time. However, she still did not feel connected to her purpose yet. Later on though, she pursued a project in which she got to illustrate anatomical drawings of fish and different animals so she could study how dissections would be done. Although this is an example of veterinary medicine, it ties into how the arts can be incorporated into anatomy in general. In fact, studying drawings of animals could even help develop models for human treatments. She also mentioned how someone who’s pursuing the arts alone may be constrained by finances whereas someone who’s strictly focusing on completing the medical steps may be restricted in terms of creativity. That’s how she came to a consensus of having the arts inculcated into anatomy, which ties into medicine directly. That’s why the Gray’s Anatomy by Henry Gray is actually helpful for medical students. Students can look at the visual representations and make different connections about structures of the human body.

The universal concept of the arts in medicine lies in the idea that one can look at a study, project or assignment with a fresh perspective, and begin to discover new possibilities. That is why medical schools like Mount Sinai value this concept so much and represent it with some of the most renowned physicians in the world.

So, the next time you contemplate the whole medical school process, think about it as a journey to experience with an open mind. That way, medicine will rather be a very interesting ride!

Check out Mount Sinai School of Medicine: http://icahn.mssm.edu/

Art of Medicine Podcast (also available on iTunes for free: http://www.theartofmedicinepodcast.com/podcast-archive/ 

New Year, New Perspective

It’s a brand new year again, and all of a sudden, everyone is reflecting on what resolutions they need to make, in order to change themselves for the better this year. With this new year, I hope to bring new perspectives into the picture so life isn’t just filled with the same boring information again. It needs to rather be complete with creative energy, or a sense of purpose and direction. TheMedAspirations is meant for young people who aspire to become a great physician later on, but there’s more to the path of going to medical school than just studying the coursework and taking the MCAT. After all, medical schools are not just interested in how much someone has done to improve their application, but instead how they have learned from their failures and experiences. Medical schools need students who not only excel in academia, but also in other aspects of human life. In this new year, we can bring together new perspectives and step out of our comfort zone to discover new, innovative ideas. So, I’ve compiled a list of things that would be nice to implement in 2015.

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1) Watch a TED Talk at least once a week.

The reason I say this is because, TED is all about ideas worth spreading, and I believe it’s important to keep yourself constantly stimulated with new information and data because neurogenesis will occur more effectively and cognition will naturally increase. If we remain confined to our comfort zones, our brains have already mapped the next step. Our life is no longer spontaneous or filled with wonder, and we can no longer expand our perceptual vastness. The result is hedonic adaptation, which we want to avoid here.

2) Take Walks Outside, they are NOT a waste of time.

If you’ve ever experienced the “mind-fog” or when you can’t think clearly because you feel so burdened by all the things going on around you, take a walk outside. A recent study conducted by Stanford shows that creative thinking actually improves by walking or pacing outside. Catch some fresh air, and rejuvenate yourself!

3) Take 20 minutes out of each day to invest in a new, creative project.

It can be anywhere from drawing, painting, playing an instrument, writing lyrics to building a robot or machine using scrap material. Regardless of what your talent is, invest time and energy in it every day, and the outcome will be delectable. It doesn’t matter how busy you are, if people like Mark Zuckerberg or Arinanna Huffington can do it, you definitely can.

4) Spend time with your loved ones each day.

This one is kind of common sense, because evolution has proved that human beings have a stronger mental health when they are with people they love. Studies have shown that releasing oxytocin, a.k.a. the love hormone could potentially ward off brain disorders such as autism, schizophrenia and depression. Surround yourself with the people you love and those who imbue you. It’s as simple as that.

5) Remove FOMO: Fear of missing out.

I’ve seen passionate people, who compromise their passion to join another group that they think is superior to what they are a part of. However, like Joseph Campbell says, “Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid. Doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.” Human beings hold themselves back from their true potential by joining others groups because of the “FOMO.” Like the brilliant philosopher Rumi says, “Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion.”

These are just some strong ideas I had this New Year. Perhaps this was more philosophical than intended, but I’ve learnt from the successful people who have actually made it through life thriving.

Happy New Year!

Link to article in E-Newspaper Issue (Page 13): http://issuu.com/indoamericannews/docs/e-newspaper01092015