(1) Global Health
Our Global Health electives were announced last week, and I got my first choice -- Tanzania!!! I'll be spending most of the month of March at Machame Lutheran Hospital in Machame, Tanzania, which is on the lower slopes of Mt. Kilamanjaro, right on the Kenya border. I'll be going with a classmate of mine who is also a good friend, and we're both incredibly excited. Word on the street is that, because of the language barrier, this rotation is more observational than most of the ones we'll do here in NC, but we've also been told that you can 'mold' the experience into whatever you like best -- i.e. if you're a surgical type, you can spend lots of time in the OR, or if you're like me and more interested in pediatrics, infectious disease, that type of thing, then you can spend more time in the HIV clinic. I also discovered today that this hospital has a palliative care program, so that might be rewarding to be involved with, as well. I've wanted to do medical work in Africa for as long as I can remember, and I absolutely cannot wait! I've already borrowed a couple of Swahili books from a classmate who's been to Tanzania before, and I'm planning to study up during the fall and winter. (Foreign language #7! Woohoo!)
The only minor down side is that we're going in March rather than in January, meaning we won't have that nice long winter break preceding the international experience (on the contrary, it's going to be sandwiched between two of the rotations I'm most dreading -- surgery and psych!) This is a bummer, partly because there are a ton of cool extracurricular things to do in Africa -- safari, the Jane Goodall Institute, etc. -- and also because most of the flights to Tanzania go through Amsterdam, which means I could potentially stop and visit friends (and shadow a couple of Dutch PAs at their hospital, as I was recently invited to do, but I'll get to that in a minute). I was also hoping to spend some time in South Africa with a friend I haven't seen in nearly a decade. I might still be able to do most of those things, but the timing will be a lot more of an issue than it would be if this were my January rotation. We'll see. Anyway, I'm still so unbelievably stoked to have gotten this rotation and to be fulfilling a lifelong dream. Can. not. WAIT.
(2) New Apartment
We had a travel snafu on the way home from Vegas last week that resulted in a miserable 24 hours (but netted us a free airfare, so it's all good), and I really just wanted to come home and crash. However, upon walking in to my apartment office the day I got home, it turned out that my new, permanent apartment was ready two days earlier than I thought it would be. Suddenly, I was no longer tired -- I'd been waiting nearly six months for this day! :) I borrowed a hand truck from the office and got busy. Within 24 hours, I had everything moved (and didn't fall and break my finger until, oh, two or three hours after I was done, so I suppose my timing was decent?!), and I've spent this past week slowly getting organized. I bought a TV stand and bookshelf on the cheap from a classmate, finally ordered my IKEA sleeper sofa, which should be here next week, and after lots of looking, finally found and ordered a dining set that I really like. Then I went to IKEA in person this weekend and bought a rug, a paper lamp, a couple of pieces of art, and some other accessories. The place is shaping up to be absolutely beautiful and completely 'me', and I'm so excited. I've never lived completely on my own before, and I've waited a long time for this, so it's awesome to watch everything coming together. It's a quirky little apartment -- my books are in the highest kitchen cabinets, my pantry food ended up in the linen closet, my silverware is in a lower cabinet -- and yet somehow none of this is annoying to me in the least. It's all part of the charm of the place.
Photos to come, once the sofa and dining set arrive. I really want to have people over for a big brunch once things are completely finished (bought two kinds of scone mix at World Market last week in anticipation of that)... hopefully we can make that happen before the end of the school year on June 30th.
What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas... unless you happen to have a website. :) I recently attended my first annual AAPA conference, which was held in Las Vegas. Oddly, this was actually my first time ever traveling west of the Mississippi. I can't say much good about the city itself -- it was like sensory overload 24 hours a day, with the music and lights and cigarette smoke and noise and general level of public inebriation... like a theme park for adults -- but the conference itself was utterly AMAZING. Our faculty gave us the week off in hopes that we would use it to attend the conference, and even though I know that was something of a calculated move on their part (X + Y = Z, or "let's get them to go to this conference so that they'll get really excited about our profession and hopefully continue to be involved at a high level throughout their careers"), it still worked; I had an incredible time and will definitely continue to attend every year that I can reasonably do so.
Even though I wasn't eligible to earn credit for them (yet), I still attended a bunch of CMEs, and learned a ton. (CMEs = Continuing Medical Education sessions... I'll have to complete 100 hours of CME every two years throughout my career once I'm licensed, and this conference is a great opportunity for licensed PAs to earn a big chunk of those hours.) Since I wasn't shooting for a certain number of credits, I was able to just attend whatever sessions interested me most, and it was amazing. I listened to talks on pediatric palliative care, the hygiene hypothesis, pediatric immunology, maternal/fetal trauma, and pediatric seizure, among others, and scribbled notes the whole time. I was both amused and pleased to see that every CME presentation began with a statement of the learning objectives -- that's something that our every lecture and unit and course is built upon, and it was interesting to see that what we do in the classroom is directly modeled from what happens out in the 'real' PA world. One of my faculty members presented a lecture (aimed at preceptors) titled 'The Unprofessional Student' -- so, of course, a dozen or so of us showed up to be living, breathing examples. :) I knew Duke didn't employ slackers, but still, I was impressed that this faculty member was enough of a 'big shot' to present at a national conference, and told her so; she blew it off and said, "One day this'll be you up here." (We'll see about that, but the comment made me feel good. :))
There was a lot more to the conference besides CMEs, though. There was a huge exposition hall with more free samples than I could count, and we spent a good amount of time in there, which was a great way to meet people and make connections. I met two middle-aged Dutch PA students from Rotterdam, who told me all about their program and even invited me to come shadow them at their hospital. It was great to speak Dutch again and really enlightening to hear details of how other programs are structured. There was a 5k Fun Run one morning, which a few of us ran, and a Duke alumni reception one night, where we got to meet graduates from years past. Also, one of my Challenge Bowl teammates won tickets to the fancy-schmancy conference awards dinner (basically, to honor PAs from across the country who have done amazing things), so we got to sit at a table with the AAPA press, meet all the honorees, eat a delicious free dinner, and basically rub elbows with all the bigwigs in the PA profession. And everybody was so nice! I was amazed at how willing people were to help us, and how enthusiastic they were to hear that we were students. We had business cards shoved into our hands every few minutes, and were repeatedly told, "If you ever need anything, get in touch." One of the dinner speakers quoted one of his students as having said, "It's amazing that such a large, fast-growing profession can have such a small-town, family feel to it," and I found that quote to be right on the money.
The National Medical Challenge Bowl (a.k.a. "Quiz Bowl"), took place at the conference, too, and was an incredibly intense experience that I am so glad to have been able to participate in. I can't even explain how it felt to see all 30+ of our attending classmates decked out in Duke blue on behalf of the three of us! We ended up coming in second to Yale in the first round, which was something of a letdown -- it was hard to have five months of preparation and anticipation be over in five minutes, and I'd be lying if I said there were no tears -- but the sadness stemmed more from the fact that something that was such a highlight of the first year for me was suddenly over. I've never thought of myself as someone who thinks well on my feet, and as a result, I truly never expected to actually be good at Quiz Bowl -- I was just going to the practices for fun, to see if I could learn something -- but I surprised myself and turned out to have a real talent for it. I'll never forget hearing the moderator read our tenth and final question, having that 'light-bulb' moment after the first few words, buzzing in before the question was complete, nailing the answer, and hearing my class scream their approval. It's not likely that I'll ever be able to use that skill again in that type of setting, which makes me sadder than it probably should. But I'm trying to remind myself that, someday, whether it's in six months or six years, a patient will benefit because of something I learned through Challenge Bowl. I suppose that's enough of a reason to be glad about having done it.
Honestly, the predominant emotion throughout the entire conference was, I can't believe how lucky I am to get to be a part of this! I can remember, before PA school, having some lingering doubts. Despite how much I liked my pediatric job, and how well I'd done in my science classes, I was still really shaken by my 2007 experience of having realized that I both wanted and needed to quit linguistics. On a fundamental level, I'm just not someone who quits things, and so that experience was both unusual and scary for me on a lot of levels. As I went through the PA application and acceptance process and started preparations to come to Duke, a tiny voice inside my head would occasionally whisper, "What if you go through all of this, and devote all this money and time and energy... and then this isn't it, either?" Thankfully, it became clear almost immediately upon starting school that those fears were unfounded, and the thought of this not being where I belong honestly hasn't even entered my head once -- but it was still wonderful to stand in the middle of a bustling conference center or awards dinner, look around at all the activity, and feel such high levels of interest and motivation and happiness surging through me. It confirmed for me yet again that I am in exactly the right place, in exactly the right profession, with exactly the right people. As nervous as I am about the end of the first year (18 days!) and the start of rotations, I'm excited to see what comes next, and thrilled to be inching ever closer to my life as a licensed professional.