Monday, January 30, 2012

Reading Material

"If the world doesn't start giving a proper platform for women, then it will fall flat on its face."

"A world where women make up less than 20% of the global decision makers is a world that is missing a huge opportunity for growth and ignoring an untapped reservoir for potential."

Women need higher education.

Think gender equality isn't an issue? We're in the U.S... who cares? 

The issue is real.

Donate if you want to see the worth of women increase around the world. 

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Steps 1, 2, & 3

Neuro Exam #2 on Tuesday: that means a serious lack of progress, but fear not.  My jog today was consumed by how the Phoenix Fund is going to move forward (when some would argue it should have been consumed with straightening out the Cranial Nerve lesions).

For lack of time, I'll update you on my first 3 steps I will be able to fully commit myself to post-Tuesday and until Neuro Exam #3 crunch-time.

1.) Build and perfect my 118.  I will then be testing it on various professors and unexpected research subjects at school and in random places throughout the city.  Muaahaha: What's cool about social entrepreneurship research is no IRB required. (I think?)

2.) Business cards: I have a little campaign idea up my sleeve.

3.) Leap year meet-up fundraiser.  This all got started with the Leap Year Project, so I'll be having a Leap Day fundraiser party... stay tuned for when I get it on the map.

By the way- a special shout-out to Christina, Robyn, Mason Jar and various anonymi (anonymous plural?) that came through for my birthday! 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Training for the Marathon

So here it is: the big announcement.

I'm in this for the marathon, the training process; this is not a sprint to the finish line.
Rather, I'm training to build this thing like one trains your body for a marathon, and if you don't like the training part, you're pretty much sh*t outta luck.  I have fallen in love with the process, and will keep this blog and project going...indefinitely? This will grow slowly, and I mean really slowly, but it will grow inevitably.  It will grow most likely at the pace of molasses freely pouring from a jar, or better yet, at the pace of a snail. Just like The Format sings, "Snails see the benefits, the beauty in every inch," for this to grow right, and the way I want it to, I need to consider everything: evaluate all the possibilities for growth, and not be too eager for the instant gratification of success.

We know what happens when you jump the gun; you set yourself up not to last.  You push yourself too hard leading to burn-out.  I can't afford to do that.  There is too much to lose.

Just like the ecological model in public health, when you take time to consider all the possibilities and all the complexities, you realize the daunt of a problem, but you also understand an objective place to intervene, and you won't miss anything!

I can't miss anything.  Medical school, public health, boards studying, being a friend, a sister, and a daughter are all priorities.  One can  not haphazardly or absentmindedly try to save the world. Quick fixes do not work.

I'll take the example of congress to further illustrate my point. If you try to put band-aids on problems caused by deeply rooted structural violence, you won't gain anything but a lazy reputation by your constituents and meaningless wealth to push you further into a cycle of greed. Sure, money can by you power, but it doesn't buy real influence: the influence that matters, that changes hearts and minds that will ripple into change that outlasts economic waves.  What does that have to do with my little cause? I'm not risking anything.

I'm on guard at all times to protect the emotional and financial investment those (some even perfect strangers) that entrusted their 25-100 dollars to me to get this thing off the ground.  Living out my passion for building this scholarship fund deserves urgency but more importantly delicate care.  I have to make this sustainable and a little (seriously, only a little) practical to last.  I need to build a foundation for something to grow.  The past month I built my personal foundation.  I have affirmed my own convictions as well as my capabilities, but now it needs a more tangible foundation.

So, to start the foundation, I'll attempt to spell out the concept clearly and concisely, but staying true to my snail-like pace, and to make sure I make it to Economical and Political Aspects of Healthcare on time, I will be doing that tomorrow.  Stay tuned!

Before I leave my lair though (a computer lab with no windows or even people for that matter), I wanted to give one last thank you to those that believe in my idea, have stopped by to read my blog, and who have donated.  Some of you I have known my entire life (Gehrke, Andrea and Julie), some are total strangers (the many anonymous), and some are other young people I have met who believe in and work tirelessly for social change (Charlie Brown and friends).  All of you made my 25th birthday so special yesterday.  And lastly, a very special thank you to the Leap Year Project and LittleWhiteCoats for truly believing in me.  The little nods of encouragement really make a difference and help me keep my head up.

PS: If you just stumbled across this little project and feel moved: you can still donate, or even take your own leap! Go ahead. I know you want to!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

25 Things

I do not really know how to sum up concisely the enormous impact undertaking this project has had on me.

Writing has been a therapeutic stress-reliever and a time for reflection and growth I would never have consistently held myself accountable to otherwise, and I am so so grateful for the Leap Year Project and for others around me that influenced my decision to leap.  With that said, today is indeed my 25th birthday, and the time is come to land from my leap, look back on it, and measure it.  While I did not reach my goal (yet), starting this fund and getting it off the ground has already reinvigorated my passion for changing the playing field for adolescent girls.  In the midst of medical school and public health, it is easy to lose sight of the idealistic intentions I had when I first entered medical school.  This project has brought those back to the surface, and I could not be more thrilled.

Taking this leap definitely involved some personal risk too.  I am a borderline pathological over-achiever, and anything short of perfection has always left a big failure imprint on my self-esteem.  As self-absorbed as it might sound, I really risked hurting my own ego undertaking this project, but I am so glad I did. I started this project with extremely high expectations for myself, and while I have not yet met the financial component of my expectations, I overwhelmingly surpassed my expectations in personal growth this month.  This process has actually been so moving that my perspective has shifted, and I have truly begun to fall in love with the process more than the end result: a state of mind I hope to incorporate into my studies as well.

In fact, I love this process so much, that I will be...revealing a little secret about the project tomorrow.  For now, in honor of my 25th Golden Birthday, I would love to simply share 25 things/people/events I have been blessed with and am extremely grateful for having a part of my life thus far.

1.) Andrea @ the Leap Year Project: I was 17 years old, and she was the person who told me I was worth something, a conversation I am continuously grateful for everyday.
2.) Erin Guttenplan @ Edge of Seven: Responsible for my travels in India, Nepal, Cambodia and Thailand and for igniting a thirst for knowledge in the realm of development.
3.) 6 Brothers and 1 Sister: My family keeps growing, and I get the privilege of learning new things about them all the time!
4.) Chocolate: Girl's gotta eat.
5.) Caffeine: I'm convinced it gives me superpowers.
6.) Levothyroxine: Reynauds, cold feet (literally and maybe symbolically) and Myxedema Madness need to stay out of my life
7.) Hand-made slippers from Germany: A gift I received on my 24th birthday that have been the only thing to succeed in keeping my feet warm in the winter.
8.) Dry roasted chickpeas: Nobody likes a protein deficient vegetarian (they get a little snotty and rude).
9.) My Couchsurfing friends! 80s beach parties, shopska salad, growing gardens and phenomenal exchanges. Nuff said.
10.) My Phoenix tattoo: Inspired by my personal hero (none other than my mom), it's a reminder of my roots and personal story.  My big brother took me to get it, and I will always remember that as an incredible bonding experience.
11.) My nose piercing: Done in Kathmandu as an act of encouragement for my friend, Ann, who pierced her ear in a moment of adolescent self-discovery.
12.) Donating 14 inches of my hair to Wigs for Kids this year: Shedding all that hair felt like an instant release of so much junk, but it was incredibly cool that it was turned into something beautiful for someone in need.
13.) Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: I think everyone needs someone to talk to at some point in their life, and I'm so glad I have had the opportunity to partake in it.  I am grateful for the skills I have learned to identify the unkind words I tell myself and for learning how to be my own best friend.
14.) Being a camp counselor for AYUDA: The first time I learned I could be a change agent. To date, it was one of my most life-defining events.
15.) Natalie, my incredibly centered and sane roommate: I'm in awe at how steady she is, and am blessed to have her listen to my daily anxious ramblings.
16.)  Christine and all things public health: Saves my sanity and perspective on career 2x a week.
17.) Medicine: I don't particularly like taking it, but I love learning about, and one day, I will have the privilege to practice it - so cool.
18.) My medical school class: For being completely open and nonjudgemental last Wednesday and beyond: there are no words to describe how awesome that was.
19.) Mentors like Dr. A and Dr. K: They remind me that I may feel lost sometimes, but we'll all get to where we're supposed to be eventually.
20.) My relationship with music: Inspired by my dad, the way I relate to music is physical (through dance) and emotional, and is a gift I like to share with others via things like Grooveshark playlists and mixed CDs for those I hold near and dear to me.
21.) Figure skating: Has given me discipline in all aspects of life and pretty shiny medals too.
22.) Anna: Do you have a person in your life who tells you to GTF over yourself? If not, you should get one.  Anna is my person for that.
23.) Backpacking through India solo this past summer: I now know I can really survive alone.
24.) I have been wholeheartedly in love: This has led me to know I can also survive not alone, and is what I am most grateful for looking back at my first quarter of life. (Yes, I do plan on living until 100 unless the caffeine kills me first.)
25.) Anyone who has donated to the fund or just reads this blog.  I am incredibly grateful that you have ever clicked here.  Thank you for making my birthday truly mean something this year.

Monday, January 23, 2012

My own health needs a public health intervention.

Public health assignment #1 of the new semester: Pick a poor health behavior you have, and keep a journal of the behavior for five days.  Then, diagram the contributing factors to that behavior.

My poor health behavior? CAFFEINE OVERDOSE!!!

So, what are the contributing factors to my caffeine addiction?

1.) Intra-personal Factors (i.e. the dialogue that goes something like, "Must stay awake to get the grade to get a residency spot to on and on and on... or else...yikes- better just get a coffee!")

2.) Social/Cultural Factors (AKA the "Medical School" Culture)

 3.) Behavioral Factors (i.e. losing sleep due to too much caffeine leading to the need for more caffeine the following day)

My diagram was further decorated with double sided arrows and explanations of how medical school does indeed mess with my mind sometimes to the point where I just down some coffee to not think about how crazy I am becoming and to keep working.

However, medical school is not all that bad; I promise. The great thing about medical school is that I go to school with some phenomenal individuals which makes it much easier.  We are all becoming crazy together as a family and are really starting to just accept it as part of the profession.  As long as we embrace it and can laugh about it, I really don't see the harm.  It's almost comforting to know we're all going a little crazy.  At least I know I'm not the ONLY one.  And if it's crazy for compassionate care, no big deal.

By the way, the PHENOMENAL depiction of the highly accurate medical school gunner is now FOR SALE!  So, if you have already donated to the cause and would still like to send me a birthday present, there's an idea!

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Frog and the Mouse

Again, the mouse,
"Friend, I'm made from the ground,
and for the ground.  You're of the water.
I'm always standing on the bank calling for you.
Have mercy.  I can't follow you into the water.
Isn't there some way we can be in touch?
A messenger? Some reminder?"

The two friends decided that the answer
was a long, a longing! string, with one end tied
to the mouse's foot and the other to the frog's,
so that by pulling on it their secret connection
might be remembered and the two could meet,
as the soul does with the body.

The frog like soul often escapes from the body
and soars into the happy water.  Then the mouse body
pulls on the string, and the soul thinks,

I have to go back on the riverbank and talk
with that scatterbrained mouse!
So the mouse and the frog tied the string,
even though the frog had a hunch some tangling
was to come.

Never ignore those intuitions.
When you feel some slight repugnance about doing something,
listen to it.  These premonitions come from God.
Suddenly a raven grips the mouse and flies off.  The frog too,
from the river bottom,
with one foot tangled in invisible string,
follows, suspended in the air.

Amazed faces ask,
"When did a raven ever go underwater
and catch a frog?"

The frog answers,
This is the force of friendship.
What draws friends together
does not conform to laws of nature.
Form doesn't know about spiritual closeness.
If a grain of barley approaches a grain of wheat,
an ant must be carrying it.  A black ant on black felt.
You can't see it, but if grains go toward each other,
it's there.
A hand shifts our birdcages around.
Some are brought closer together.  Some move apart.
Do not try to reason it out.  Be conscious
of who draws you and who not.


I interpret poetry one layer at a time or peel it like an onion.  I have read this poem over and over for the past few months, and I still have probably not reached the core or soul of the words themselves.  I think the poet can really be the only one who knows the true soul of a poem. When I used to write poetry, I tried to make it as symbolic as possible and not at all straight forward.  It was a secret code to what I was thinking, a secret code to my soul even.  I wouldn't want anyone to find out what was in it, so I absolutely attempted to confuse the reader as much as humanly possible. (Granted, let's get real.  No one really read it anyway, but just in case, I was fully prepared with metaphors that probably made NO sense.)

Rumi is a different type of poet though.  He has a clear spiritual message and conveys his teachings in simplistic stories and has an important message in each layer depending on how far you want to go. The first time I read this, I smiled.  Other times, I cried.  Most of the time, I giggle.  Sometimes I read this and just feel comfort.  Those days, I don't want to dive into the meaning.  Rather, the words just feel soothing almost like a lullaby. You only listen to it to calm down.

I'll compare myself to the mouse somedays and to the frog other days. Most of my friendships have been contemplated with this poem. Sometimes, I'll try to get to the bottom of it and dive into the spiritual core, and then I really laugh because I have often had my own inner dialogue where I indeed refer to myself as a scatterbrained mouse.

Some days, I wake up on the mouse's side of the bed, and other days, I am more in tune with the frog. The mouse's way of thinking sure does play a role in busy work and getting things done.  I would argue I try to keep the mouse as busy as possible just to keep it quiet so the frog can explore the water.

I have to say, it's comforting to know that when the mouse indeed gets in trouble, the frog is there no matter what connected by an invisible string even if it's in a knot.

Rumi reminds me of how beautiful the fluidity of relationships is.  It's comforting to be reminded that we're all just moving in and out of each other lives and that that's okay.  We move toward each other, and we move away from each other, and ultimately, we are only attached to the frog.  To me, the frog does not represent another person, but the soul.  This poem reminds me to be a friend to myself.  Be comforted by the fact that even if a raven comes and takes you away, you can actually be soothed by the frog who will always be there.  You can be calmed by your inner friend.

This is at times a frightening concept.  Wouldn't it just be easier to believe the frog is someone else?  Wouldn't it be easier to believe there will always be someone else to always be there when the raven comes to get us? Wouldn't it be easier for us to tie strings to our feet and expect others to reciprocate and tie it around their ankles too?  Is that what Rumi is saying? Possibly, but I think that might be the easy way out.  I'm not suggesting that we shouldn't connect with other people as we know that isolation kills, but we just need to recognize who is close and who is not and connect for the time being and remember the fluidity: awareness without attachment.

Regardless, the great thing about poetry is that it's up for anyone's interpretation. If a frog is merely a friend connected by an invisible tangled knot, I am going to give a shout-out to my frog, Amy, who donated to the cause.  

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Performance Anxiety

How do you know that you're right if you're not nervous anymore?

My pharm professor posted a link to Time Magazine's article, "Why Anxiety is Good for You", in our lecture about anxiolytics.  Ironically, I had just read the article on a retreat to Vermont a few weeks prior.

I find anxiety and nervousness to be fascinating.  Our physiological survival response kicks in at the most paradoxical times.  For me, the sympathetics rev up when I start public speaking, or if I feel like I might make a fool out of myself; however, there is a delicate point where our nerves rev up and can either cause us to perform brilliantly or cause us to fluster into disaster.  I've had figure skating performances that have ended up on both ends of the spectrum. Interestingly, I think this on-off approach to my nerves may have wired me for quite an extremist approach to life:  I will either succeed or fail miserably.  That process of thinking is probably not healthy, but regardless, it is interesting. I have never seemed to wrap my head around others that are okay with living somewhere in between.  How do you do that?

For now though, I need to trust my nervous system.  When our nerves kick in, it means we are doing something right.  It means we care and we have worked hard to prepare for something.  Let's use that physiological power we have to its potential.  It's scary, I know.  It's a feeling so powerful, it is almost burdensome.  I mean, the feeling is evolutionarily designed to help us escape from a bear, so of course it is powerful.  But, if we can harness and control it, wow, who knows where we could go?

I think Eminem summed up well:
"His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy, 
There's vomit on his sweater already, mom's spaghetti
He's nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready"

You know the feeling.  You're either going to throw up or take off flying.

I guess we'll see.

Thanks Barbara and Grandma for helping me fly :)

Monday, January 16, 2012


This post was inspired and half written in Nepal at the project site.  Be sure to check it out!

Every 4th of July, our family would have some kind of barbecue and head to St. Charles for the fireworks.  We took advantage of our freedom, celebrated in red, white and blue and lived out our suburban American dream come true.
The past decade, July 4th has taken on a bit more of a sober tone. As we are in two wars, many Americans including myself, have reflected more upon our troops, how lucky we are to be “free” and to have those troops among us willing to sacrifice themselves in the name of freedom.  (My brother, by the way, is now one of them as he has just enlisted.) The past few years I haven’t really had the opportunity to celebrate our independence in the States, but this year while in Nepal, I reflected on our freedom, and what that means to me.
I suppose freedom is different to different people, and it means something different in every culture.  In the States, it means that we have the freedom to say and worship what we please.  Furthermore, we are entitled to the freedom of the pursuit of happiness; however, is that the extent of it? This IS a nice hefty load of liberty that I do not take for granted, but I have to wonder if these liberties (as practiced and lived out today) really give the word freedom justice. 
Why when we summit a peak and fully enjoy the beauty of nature do we feel more free? Why when we begin a new relationship do we sometimes feel more free? 
I suppose these acts could really just fall into pursuing happiness, but looking around Philadelphia, I really don't think many Americans are using their freedoms to pursue happiness.  Often, I don't either. 
Many of us create our own walls and limits and convince ourselves we must fit in some reality we create for ourself.  Most of us probably do a great job limiting ourselves without any outside help and do not pursue true happiness.
Therefore, while living in such a free country, and having a brother literally about to sacrifice his freedom for mine, I just want to make sure he’s not doing so in vain. 
As far as him sacrificing his freedom though, I understand freedom is relative.  For instance, my brother might be more free in the military than he would be otherwise.  Sometimes, we need to get rid of distractions so we can be free from our own paralyzing thoughts.  For him, the military might actually be freeing and give him an opportunity for more than he would otherwise do, although that's probably not be the case for everyone that enlists.  For some, they really might be sacrificing freedom.  I think it depends on the state of the individual’s mind, circumstances and where their limits prior to enlisting come from.
When we flippantly acknowledge those that fight for our freedom, we should really stop and think.  Where does our freedom come from and what does that even mean? To a large extent, I think it comes from our own minds.  If we can free our own minds from attachment to unimportant events and destructive thought processes without the need for a gigantic military, then I don’t think that is really the sole thing protecting our freedom.  Now, maybe there are different levels of freedom.  For instance, the only reason I can reflect on this whole concept is because I am safe in my room without catastrophic events taking place everyday.  So yes, I definitely owe some baseline freedoms to our security.
However, on a deeper level, much of our trapped and “unfree” feelings are really independent of how “safe” we are.  Once we are safe to the point where we can think freely, we need to let go of the self-destructive thought processes that are now “free” to run wild.  We can let go of so much unnecessary fear that we create ourselves.  Unfortunately, the military can not free me or probably most of us from our own neurosis.  I think it’s time to rediscover what the word means or redefine it.  For me, I need to remember to use my freedom to ACTUALLY pursue happiness rather than creating ridiculous problems in my own head simply because I have the freedom to do so.  For me, this process starts with remembering to practice gratitude and shedding fear daily.  
Speaking of which, I am grateful for my friend, Christine, who donated to the cause today. Thank you!

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Funny Thing About Limits

As any healthcare provider knows, it's imperative to know where on the continuum of care we stand in our abilities.  We must know our limits and weaknesses.  It is impossible or at least unethical for an untrained family physician to probably perform a craniotomy.  It is impractical for me to think I can be Indiana Jones and go on "save the world missions" if I am ill prepared and if my toolbox of skills is not adequate for the setting.

We are brought up thinking we all have limits.  It is "common sense."

But, as my senior prom date, Joel, said in his Impossible Manifesto, "The funny thing about limits is that they're not real."

When is the right time to understand your limits, and when is the right time to forego them and understand they are for the most part arbitrary rules?  Limits might just be temporary and things we can overcome.

Does it mean we don't have weaknesses? Absolutely not.  As a matter of fact, I think it might be our ability to admit our weakness that decrease the limits in front of us.  When we know our weaknesses, we know we can ask for help, and we can become twice as strong against a barrier. 

In the healthcare system, there are many rules, policies, and limits in place that are meant to protect patients, and for safety reasons, we ought to abide by them.

But often, limits are not put in our way in order to give optimum care.  Rather, limits are often outdated and create barriers for innovation.  Limits put a stop on both brilliance and destruction, but are not adequate in telling the two apart. If we are on the brink of an idea and of greatness, who's to say we should follow the rules?  Otherwise known as red tape, this obsession with rule making and limit creating is paralyzing growth and creativity to solve problems.  The Millenial Generation of physicians is coming and has brilliant ideas.

We believe, collectively as a generation, that we can do anything.  We can even fix the mess that greed has created, if only we don't believe in the limits our predecessors have set before us.  We must learn the rules only so we fully appreciate their complexity, and how to delicately break them.  We need to get inside so we understand how to transform limits into open windows of opportunity.  When someone says impossible, we must automatically, and without hesitation, think, definitely possible: I just need to get creative.  Change is possible if people can change, and people CAN be swayed.

Things have to change if we're going to sustain ourselves on the planet.  It's scary to think people believe that rules and limits are absolute.  They're not. 

Certainly there are algorithms and evidence-based procedures to follow, but we must discern where the root of it comes from.  Algorithms are evidence-based and tested for patients' benefits where most rules and policies are not tested.  They have not gone through a randomized double-blind control study, so who's to say the rule is right? If it's man-made, it's not absolute, and another man can come along and make a new rule or change the old one. Man-made rules mean nothing unless they have been tested for efficacy.  But then, they are not really rules.  Instead, the logarithm reaches the threshold of existence or reality by becoming a part of science.  Outside the realm of science, we must ask ourselves where did this rule come from?  Who is this rule benefiting? Is it truly benefiting a patient, or is it benefiting someone's bank account and is limiting efficiency and change?

The funny thing about limits, is that if we truly understand their roots, we will understand that they simply do not exist.  That statement plays on the premise that existence requires more of a sense of permanence and truth rather than arbitrariness.  Limits are not truths or even discrete principles.  They are merely obstacles for us to get where we want to be.  For more on this, I highly encourage you to check out Joel's newest post on the Blog of Impossible Things regarding Bullsh*t Qualifications.  Limits are often Bullsh*t and he argues that qualifications are often the same. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Quarter-Life Crisis: Lost and Found

Hey all you twenty - somethings.  You know who you are.  Somedays you wake up and are like, "What am I doing here? Where am I going in life? How did I get here?"

It's common amongst medical students to have days like that: the days where the thoughts are, "OMG, you're going to trust ME with your life one day? aaaahhhh! I'm 24, still a child, how did I get here?!"

I'm over a quarter of the way through this campaign, and I think I might be in a bit of a pickle.

While I'm over a quarter way through, I am not even a quarter way to my goal, and that feeling of doubt is starting to sink in. I can't do this. This is probably just another one of my naive and idealistic stupid dreams.

You have them too.  They're the ones your older and more "wise" and "realistic" friends say are stupid but are really just secretly envious you have the guts to dream.

Heck, this world needs dreamers and people capable of doing big things.  The problems out there are enormous, and we need big dreams with the capacity to make them realized in order to address them.

Here's my dream.

I'm going to raise all this money for a legacy scholarship fund to give a girl the opportunity of a lifetime, and it will be my personal stamp on the universe, and I'll start it all by the time I'm 25.  Is that nuts? Who am I to get people to buy into that?  People don't care about Nepal and my personal emotional investment in this project.  I'm lost in my own head again. Who am I to think I can change the world?

Or... it just so crazy, it might work?  I can calm down and remember that anything worth having takes an incredible amount of perseverance and work, and while I may feel lost at times, and mostly lost in my own dreams, I know in the end I'll be found. We'll all be.  One day, if we keep following where our imagination could possibly take us, into a land of blissful utopia, maybe others will feel inspired and decide to join us and support our dreams.

If you have a dream or feel like you have an idea that might seem completely nuts, get it out there.  Have a conversation because that's the only way you will be able to test if it's really nuts.  It might actually be brilliant.  You won't know until you get it out there.

If you're one of those realistic people reading this, I surely didn't mean to harp.  We need people like you too.  In fact, you're probably the one with the capacity to make the dreamers' dreams come true.

When the dreamers get lost, we need you to come and find us.  We need you to find us and support us in making that dream a reality, or else we might stay lost and spiral into the places where only dreams can take us and without sharing them with the world.

By the way, I would just like to give a quick shout-out to one of my supporters and grandmother, Bessie.  I am extremely grateful for people like you, and I'm so glad to have met you.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Walking the Tightrope

I'm sitting on my unmade bed looking about at my clothes EVERYWHERE and reflecting on the looming "To-do" list for the next week.  No where does it leave time for laundry, eating, getting my car fixed (which should have been done about six months ago) or even froyo with my friends.

While the list grows infinitely, there are friends unexpectedly getting sick, siblings celebrating their successes, and even unexpected deaths.  And darn it, that just doesn't fit in my schedule.

So who gets sliced from that list when the days become too short?

There's a saying that floats around medicine haphazardly, "You can't take care of someone else unless you take care of yourself." I think that's true in both the shallowest meaning and the deepest.  It sounds great in theory without paying attention to its implications for a healthy lifestyle, but then actually living turns that meaning into worthless scribble. However, when I dive into the meaning, I know there's truth.  Unfortunately, in my ordinary life I place those I appreciate the most only slightly higher than myself which is on the bottom of the totem pole.  While it is probably a common finding among many students, it is probably not good for the universe and patients if a generation of physicians consistently put themselves and their closest circle of friends and family on the bottom.

There's something to be said about sacrifice.  All medical students feel it.  You have to give up something for this profession.  And when I say something, I mean a minimum of 7 years of your life, not making money, and accumulating around 200 grand in debt.

I wrote earlier about how ordinary weirdos are the typical heroes, but we are brought up getting risk confused with sacrifice. How much do they overlap? You might have to risk an arm or a leg to move things along, but do you really have to give your arm willingly and with a big pearly smile?

The heroes we celebrate in our culture have sacrificed something, and while that is a good thing to motivate medical students into making that sacrifice worthy, it is not a per-requisite to becoming a hero. All physicians have sacrificed to get where are they are.  They didn't risk.  There wasn't a possibility of losing money or putting strain on relationships. That was a part of the job description. They went in and sacrificed willingly.  That intrinsic heroic drive is a trait found in myself and many of my peers that can drive us to either greatness or self-destruction.

If you are entering medical school, you are prepared for the sacrifice and willing to give up many things.  But when does it stop? If it starts with a lending hand, where does it end?  Where are the barriers? There might not be anything left if we don't take time to rejuvenate the parts we give away.  So what's the best way to rejuvenate everything we give? How do you create compassion when you feel like you've given it all away?  Well, my answer I live poorly by would be to ask for help and accept kindness from others.  Maybe kindness and goodness is just a universal life source that must be kept in balance with bad things, and when we run out we have to seek it elsewhere.  

Although simultaneously I disagree with that, and traveling has opened my eyes to compassion I never knew possible. Where I stayed in Nepal, there is a strong conviction that through meditation, awareness and love for yourself, you can actually generate more compassion to give away.  But, that's where it starts: real love and kindness to yourself, so that you can then give it away.  You can not keep it for yourself because that's just selfish and to keep that much power in yourself could actually become pathological.

We know doctors and all types of caretakers are better at their job when they lead their own happy and healthy lives, no matter what that may entail.  Maybe some physicians' happy and healthy lives means living at a hospital, and they have found balance.  But for the majority, happy, healthy and balanced lives include food, relationships, and social interaction: all the things many doctors hypocritically preach about to their patients (myself included).

While learning about posture and balance and what goes on in the brain and the body during a tight rope walk this past week, I decided to apply it to my own life.  When I add extra weight to myself and decide to carry something new, my body must adjust to keep me steady.   During medical school, I feel like I am walking on a tightrope consistently accumulating more and more bricks and information to carry.   But somehow, my mind and body adjust.  There is always more to give or more space for information, or is there? Can you choose for there to be more space?  Unfortunately, while going through this constant adjustment process,  the bricks I take for granted and think I can pick up again later get sacrificed and slip away.

Balancing between selfishness and selflessness in medical school is a huge mind game.  We were told our first day back to school to be selfish this year.  We need to put Boards ahead of other things so that we can be competitive, have a better shot at residency,  and ultimately take better care of patients. (Although, I wish there was a study done comparing board scores to patient care. I would LOVE to see some sort of correlation.)

But regardless, there is some truth to that.  We are supposed to be selfish in studying so that we ultimately provide the best care.  Therefore the reason to be temporarily selfish is to ultimately lead a life of selflessness.  But in the process of reaching that goal, we must be consumed with MY study time, MY test score, MY connections, MY whatever. ME, ME, ME, and sometimes that voice is so powerful, it makes us sick.

We are not wired to be consumed with ourselves.   We are supposed to be social and take care of each other, as that's the only way the species can survive.  As medical students only want to become great physicians to deliver the best patient care, we ought to be the epitome of the saying, "take care of yourself to better take care of others,"  because in fact, being so selfish, self-absorbed and isolating  can indeed manifest itself in real pathology.

For me, when I become sick with my own selfishness and anxiety, the only cure is genuine selflessness.  I know I need to get the mind off me and show up for someone else.  Simultaneously though, it's important to take time and take care of myself.  It's a delicate balance. Taking care and taking time for ourselves and our success while not becoming obsessed with our scores and studying is an unending adjustment process for the mind.

While learning to adjust and juggle all the bricks, I just hope that not too many important ones will slip as I walk the tightrope.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Game of 5s

My public health partner in crime, Christine, invented the Game of 5s this year in lieu of New Year's Resolutions.  I thought I would give it a shot and play, and I think you should to.

5 things I want more of in my life (most of which is inspired by my experience abroad)

1.) Eating meals with actual people: In medical school, I tend to down coffee and chew gum continuously while attending the University of Tegrity (sitting in front of a computer screen listening to recorded lectures).  Skipping meals and eating randomly hunched over notes is not healthy for my body, soul or social life.  In Nepal, all meals are with people. You eat slow, enjoy life, and are still productive.  This habit has to find a way into my medical school routine. 

2.) Dancing: In Nepal, there is ALWAYS time to dance and reconnect with your body.   Modern jazz class, here I come.  Thanks Mom.

3.) 50 hours of clinical shadowing for starters: the poorest people are the sickest people, and the sickest people need the best doctors. (This will not begin until after neuroscience, but it WILL happen.)

4.) Read 5 of the stack of books ordered from Amazon this year that I have only read the intros or half of: Country of my Skull, Disposable People, Three Famines, Strength in What Remains and A Long way Gone.

5.) Connect with or call a family member at least once a week.  I let that go way too often.

So here's the deal.  Time is of the essence: not only for my neuro exam Monday, but for this leap too. Therefore, so that I can study, I am asking for your help.  By now there are around 100 of you that consistently read this and believe in the project enough to check up on how it's going.   One of you even lives in Ukraine.  That's right, I just called you out, and I need your help.

Play the game of 5s with me.  Send this blog to 5 people that don't know about the project yet.  No matter who or where you are, let 5 new people know about it.  The only way for this leap to be successful is if the community of people who believe in the project grows.  So no matter who you are and why you read this: if you're my mom, you're a fan of Edge of Seven, or if you have been surfing the web and have nothing better to do, I seriously need your help. Please take this leap with me. In return, you have my most sincere gratitude and the gratitude of Edge of Seven and the girls in Salleri, Nepal.

Go. Leap. Play.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Lyrical Mind Games

When that freakout panicky feeling starts to come along, four days before my first neuroscience exam, I need a couple cheerleaders around as to not succumb to a a paralyzing cycle of thought initiated by self-doubt.

Currently, those cheerleaders are Bob Dylan, Florence and the Machine and Dispatch.

Their soothing cords combined with reassuring and motivating lyrics keep me calm while providing the perfect amount of pre-performance nerves.  I rehearse the anti-Parkinson drugs for the upteenth time in my mind to a specific acoustic cord with a specific lyric.  I remember the Anti-Parkinson drugs such as Sinemet and Pergolide to a particular rhythm and recall it during test day.   It's almost like each drug's mechanism is plugged into a certain lyric.

Not only do my cheerleaders provide a rhythm, but their lyrics insert themselves into part of my thought  process.  They help replace that medical school anxiety and keep things in perspective.  "You gotta serve somebody" is a much healthier and motivating mantra than the neurotic thoughts flooding the minds of any anxious medical student.

So, with that said, enjoy this mini playlist so I can go study and eventually serve somebody, and if any of these lyrics move you to my cause, feel free to take a leap and donate. 

"Say what you want, say what you mean, question yourself.  Are you really what you seem.  Say what you want, say what you mean, question yourself.  Are you really what you dream?"

"And it's hard to dance with the devil on your back, so shake him off."

"They may call you doctor, or they may call you chief, but you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed."

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Heroes are just your Ordinary Weirdos

Were you called weird growing up? Did the kids on the playground pick on you? Do others think you might be a bit off? Do you sometimes feel like you might stick out like a sore thumb?

If you find yourself repeatedly saying yes, THANK GOD! It's up to you then to solve a lot of problems.

Inspired by the Vecci's blogpost last week and Philip Zimbardo's brilliant TED talk regarding the birthplace of both heroes and monsters, I thought I would reflect a little bit on heroes and the act of embracing the inner weirdo.

Apparently, there's even a Perceived Weirdness Index where people's optimal effectiveness falls anywhere between being "absorbed" and being "rejected." Maybe there are too many congressmen right now who have not yet embraced their inner weirdness: potentially explaining a lack of effective legislating lately.

To effectively change the status quo, agents for change must be weird, know they're weird, and get other people on board with their weirdness. They take risks by allowing their weirdness to show.  They risk rejection for the sake of their principles and cause, but eventually, their weirdness rubs off.  People are intrigued and pay attention.

I've written before about how everyone has an inner change agent within them, and I find the same to be true for heroes. Maybe the difference between the two is that an effective change agent eventually, after an upward battle, gets people on his or her side, whereas heroic action is mostly against the grain.  The change agents who work for the most drastic and positive change usually start with heroic action.  Choosing the action that everyone can do but in fact doesn't is what differentiates the hero.  When people start to piggy-back on that heroic action, and the heroic action becomes the new status quo, the hero is dubbed a powerful change agent.

Unfortunately, the United States tends to celebrate those who are not really heroes with money and fame, and I am a little nervous we are starting to get the wrong idea about what a hero is.
I worry as I see many people afraid to embrace their inner weirdness, brilliance, change agent, and  hero.  In our culture, we tend to be afraid of rejection and we embrace a facade of perfection.   Maybe rather than being afraid of rejection, we are actually afraid of how brilliant we are. It is true, embracing the weird is scary.  People give you funny stares.  But, you will be accepting your brilliance, and pardon the corny analogy, but sometimes stars that shine really really bright just takes a little getting used to.

There is risk involved when you decide to listen to that inner truth we all carry.  However, it is this truth and brilliance we carry that connects us as human beings.  We are ALL capable of it.  We can all choose courage to take ordinary risks.  That's what Victor did, and what is SO cool about what Victor did is that his courage has been contagious.  He inspired me and about 200 others to take risks this year.

With risk, there is a possibility of failure.  Now generally speaking, medical students and physicians don't really like to sign up for things they might fail at because generally speaking, you get sued for that.  But, choosing courage over the facade of perfection and taking risks is necessary for the world to move forward.  We must risk our weirdness being seen because when we do so, it ripples into others allowing their weirdness to be seen, and change inevitably happens.

Contrary to popular belief, heroes are not chosen.  As much as I LOVE Harry Potter, that's just not the way becoming a hero works.  Think about your heroes.  Do they have a lightening bolt across their forehead?  I'm betting no, because they were not chosen.  Rather, they were true to  their convictions and chose to be a hero themselves.

The most effective agents for change are weirdos.  They let their thoughts wonder into dreams too big to fathom.  And more importantly, they act upon them, and they inspire my inner hero.

We need to ask  kids these days who they believe their heroes to be.  I become nervous when celebrities idolized are just not weird enough, don't have a net worth high in positive impact, and don't inspire others to show their inner weirdness.  That's the difference between heroes and idols.  Kids look up to idols because they want to become like their idols, and that might not be too damaging if the idol is perhaps a good role model.  However, heroes are different. When I look up to one of my heroes, I don't want to be like him or her. I instead, want to embrace my weirdness and see what I can do.  Who are your heroes? Do they inspire you to embrace your strengths and talents and weirdness? Or, do you find yourself wishing you were more like them?

Many adolescent girls around the world now wish to become celebutantes.  They idolize Kim Kardashian and want what she has rather than embracing what they already possess. The thing about being a hero is that they are ordinary people.  However, we get tricked into thinking our lives are never big enough or daring enough.  As in the case with celebutantes like Kim Kardashian, I'm afraid our girls are starting to believe they are not enough.  They may believe they are not rich or pretty or skinny enough, but they need to know they are enough if their inner hero is to be activated.

So often we say our heroes are people like our parents, our neighborhood firefighters and our teachers, but they are hardly celebrated for what they are worth.  Kids need to remember that they indeed can be a hero in ordinary moments, and then we need to celebrate them for it! They need to learn how great their weirdness is so they embrace it and live out the ordinary moments where the opportunities for heroism exist. 

A couple of my heroes are people like Malalai Joya, my friend Jack, and my volunteer buddy Ann.
They all inspire me to become a hero.  Who are yours? And were they born that way, or aren't we all?

A special thanks to the encouraging words and contributions from Michael, Elli, Peter and Zoe (my newest brother and sister), fellow change agent Shengxiao aka Sunshine, Jim from the The Hunger Project, strangers like Joy who believe in this project even though she has never met me, and anonymous donor #2.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Most Powerful Person in the World

"Louder, louder!" Mrs.  Sundberg yelled.  "Come on, you have more than that!"

My second grade class and I stood flabbergasted in the music room of Indian Knoll Elementary.  We had never been told it was okay to use our outside voices inside, and here, our music teacher was telling the girls to shout.  

I of course, never hesitated to raise my voice.  If you know me, you know I make a pretty potent first impression: one that is loud, borderline extremely annoying, but nonetheless, eventually my best friends say they just warmed up to it.  

Second grade was no different.  Give me an opportunity to yell.  Oh, I'll take it.

So when Mrs. Sundberg introduced our class to "I am woman, hear me roar," my inner feminist was activated on the spot, and for a long time, there was no looking back.  I had a new purpose to apply my innately precocious attitude.  All I had to do was convince my peers how awesome they indeed were and how much they were worth so that we could roar together and make some noise worth listening to.

Mrs. Sundberg even made the boys shout with us.  We all chanted, "I am Woman, Hear Me Roar." for about ten straight minutes.  I think eventually, all of the neighboring classrooms heard us.  Each time we reported the phrase, we became louder, probably not harmonized, but we were a powerful second grade class nonetheless.

If you have not yet been introduced to The Girl Effect, I highly suggest you check it out right now.  For the majority of girls in the developing world, they will never know how powerful they are, and they will never roar.  And unfortunately, that comes at a huge cost: not  only for those girls individually, but for the communities they live in locally AND globally.

See, we know the statistics.  Our wise and bright economists have already crunched the numbers.  "When you educate a boy, you educate an individual.  When you educate a girl, you educate a nation."  We know the economic and social benefits of getting girls in schools and of allowing girls to fully participate in their own human experience: to learn and consequently find their voice. Gender equality has been dubbed, "the moral issue of our time," and it could not be more accurate.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) specify Gender Equality as #3.  The MDGs purpose is to break community development into eight measurable goals to realize poverty alleviation in our lifetime.  However, while there are eight separate goals, we also know they are all interdependent on each other.

For instance, we know we cannot eradicate extreme poverty and hunger if we only allow half the population enough income to feed themselves.
We cannot achieve universal primary education if only half the population is allowed to go to school.
We cannot reduce child mortality if half the children are denied rights to food, health and clothing over their male siblings.
We cannot improve maternal health if some countries disregard the value of women altogether.  Regarding the plight of women and the eagerness for progress on the 5th Millennium Development Goal of maternal health, Deputy Secretary General, Asha-Rose Migiro said in 2007, “Would the world stand by if it were men who were dying just for completing their reproductive function?” Interesting question.
We furthermore cannot combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases such as Tuberculosis if one gender has more access to healthcare than the other.
And finally, we can obviously not partner in solidarity for those most affected by human rights violations if women and girls are not allowed.

None of these goals will ever come close to reaching their potential if gender equality is not realized first.  When only half the population is allowed to participate, a society will, AT BEST, only reach half of its potential economically and socially.  I saw in India and Cambodia where girls were not yet appreciated and do not yet know their worth, and they walk with their head down and off to the rice paddies. 

However, while on site in community development projects where girls are primarily targeted, I have witnessed family units and entire villages be transformed which ripple into entire nations.  When girls know their self-worth, the results are astounding.   When the community recognizes her value, she is fed more at home and walks with pride. She walks unafraid to smile.  

In Jharkhand, India, I visited a project called Yuwa-India where girls indeed understood their self-worth. As a westerner, I was used to girls shying away from me.  They always think westerners are intimidating and powerful (which we are, so we should do something with that power for good), and you can see it on their faces.  But, not at Yuwa.  There, they knew their self-worth.
At Yuwa, girls are given the opportunity to build self-esteem through soccer, and it has dramatic effects on the education level of these girls, their future livelihoods, and even their health.  In the villages surrounding Jharkhand, girls are seen differently by their families.  They are no longer merely a burden who must be married off.  The tide is slowly changing as families' attitudes shift.  They are beginning to see that their girls might be an economical asset if allowed an education and what westerners view as basic human rights: rights that merely allow you to reach your human potential.  Examples of the changing tide manifest in small steps.  For example, one girl's family agreed to marry their daughter off later than their oldest because of the joy and self-esteem soccer had given their younger daughter.  These  small actions add up and truly reveal the impact of allowing girl's participation in their own human experience.

At Edge of Seven, when we first sent volunteers to the projects, we didn't differentiate who the living stipend was given to at the households hosting volunteers.  We soon observed men using the stipend for booze and cigarettes, and the women using it to save for food and school for their children.  It is safe to say we now only give the stipends to the women.

If you, like me, believe that an educated girl starts a ripple effect of change around her, then please support this cause.  My goal is to give this scholarship to a talented girl from the Lower Everest Region of Nepal for higher education.  Currently, only forty girls in the region even have the opportunity for high school because of the hostel built by Edge of Seven in partnership with the local organization, The Small World.  Only with more educated women will community development initiatives fully ignite and the world truly start to look better as women use their creativity for innovative problem solving. 

Furthermore, what does the world have to lose by giving the girls a shot?  As John Abdulla, from Help Women Heal articulated at a speaking event last year, "For thousands of years, men have ruled this planet and just dominated it. We have consistently, continually, and quite competently messed up this planet...when you talk about war, violence, bombs, guns, rape and global warming; these aren't the inventions of women."  Therefore, what if women had a shot?  What might we create? What would the world look like? If you're truly curious, donate, and let's find out together.
Want to know more about gender equality, the fight against poverty and tactics for community development and how YOU, yes YOU, can get involved?

Step 1: Read, and be smart about it.  Let your hard mind work for your soft heart.
I recommend starting with Nicholas Kristof's and Sheryl WuDunn's  Half the Sky.

Step 2: Talk about it. Strike up a conversation about it.  Write about it.  Figure out where you stand on the issue.

Step 3: Do something about it, or better yet, take a leapVolunteer with Edge of Seven, or at a local organization that helps to empower girls.  

Learn what empowerment means to you and then practice it.  Often, it is merely a term thrown out there by those working in community development or even doctors.  How many times have doctors said, "We must EMPOWER the patient!"  But rather than throwing the word around, really explore what that word means to you.  Are you empowered? Do you know how powerful you are and how great you could be? Have you shown someone else how powerful he or she could be? You won't be the most powerful person in the world unless you know how much you're worth.  And I don't mean net worth in dollars; I mean net worth in potential impact.  How much of a difference can you make?  And can you allow someone else to see how much of an impact he or she can make?

Poverty will not be alleviated by a couple people with high degrees or some powerful presidents.  Social justice will only be reached if each one of us makes it a priority to obtain.  If, in our daily interactions, we make it a priority to shift the attitudes of women, and if we help reveal a girl's self-worth to her and her community one by one, we might be able to create the world envisioned by the Millennial Generation.  But, we if let talented young girls fly under the radar without ever revealing to them how much they're worth, we will be stuck in the status quo, which is just not good enough.

Lastly, if you're a girl who has not yet been told how great your potential is, let me be the one to tell you with unwavering conviction how powerful you are.  As a matter of fact, you might be the untapped most powerful person in the world.  All you have to do is roar and believe it.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Medical Student Change Agent

Yesterday, I wrote about how anyone can be a change agent, and I hold that statement true.  But, there is something to be said about the change agent who seeks education and skills to make change on a greater scale.  I have some pretty spectacular colleagues that have pushed themselves to the limits while holding their principles as change agents and as genuine human beings near and true in medical school.  Those people truly inspire me and help to restore my much needed humility.

They study with an unwavering passion for medicine and serving others, and more importantly hold me accountable to the standards I set for myself when I began medical school.

When I trained for my trip with AYUDA, I learned that the best change agents have both a soft heart and hard mind.  Most people favor one or the other, but medical students generally fit that criteria to a T.  To merely succeed in matriculating you have to had proven your apt for learning while participating in community service...among MANY other things.  Although, I will say having a hard mind means more than memorizing facts and figures and a soft heart means more than merely donating to a cause.  A hard mind means having the ability to think logically about a problem in front of you and assessing options.  On the other hand, a soft heart might mean basing decisions off emotions and letting circumstances influence decisions.  I suppose those two things must find a unique balance so we can effectively make change for worthy causes (soft hearts) but only do so while thinking logically as to not jeopardize our principles (hard minds).

Physicians are a unique set of change agents, and they must be.  Every single patient encounter is an opportunity for change.  When physicians really show up, and can hone in on their observation master skills, very meaningful exchange can happen.  It is in the patient - physician encounter where physicians see people at their most vulnerable, and they have an unimaginable power.  It is actually a pretty frightening power that, if as medical students, we don't learn how to control and stand by our principles, we will  not be an effective physician or even a good person.

Furthermore, if our generation of physicians do not step up to the plate and become effective change agents, the field of medicine and entire healthcare system is inevitably doomed.  Physicians have a unique ability to tread between patient encounters and policy making with equal credibility to make change if they choose to act.  Realizing that ability, credibility and potential to use our hard minds for soft hearted causes is necessary so as to not sell ourselves short of anything but greatness.

 So with that said, I need to get back into the real world, study, and hold myself accountable to the promise I made to myself, my peers, and future patients when I started medical school.

And lastly, a special thanks to my dad, Jay and Liz, Mike, and anonymous medical student for your contribution yesterday.  

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Big News: The 26th Donation Promised

My friend, fellow nerd, and study buddy, Jack, just promised to be the 26th donation.  That means YOU have to help me get there by donating NOW! 

Back to neuroscience...

Calling all Secret Agents: Change Agents that Is

I first heard the term change agent when I volunteered for AYUDA the summer of 2009 in the Dominican Republic.  It was the trip that changed my life and activated my inner change agent.  However, when I first heard the term, and was then informed that I would indeed become one, I immediately began thinking of espionage. Images of Charlie's Angels and James Bond soared through my mind, and I admittedly became really excited.  Childhood jitters and and thoughts such as "Wow, this gonna be sooooo frickin cool!" were running through my mind, and I could hardly wait to join this secret society of change agents:  a society known for its famous do-gooders such as Paul Farmer, Sasha Dichter, Bill and Melinda Gates, and the list goes on.

But, what I learned early on in the preparation for the trip about becoming a change agent was that ANYONE can do it!  You don't need a blog or a big lofty project of sorts or even a master's degree.  While acquiring skills with a higher degree will help specify your impact and lead to measurable change, it is not a prerequisite.  Often those with higher degrees become so consumed with the measurement and how a project looks, that we forget about the soul that and connection that must be present to initiate the change.  Once people become activated, they often shape their careers in whatever field it may be in order to see the change through completely.  On the flip side,  it is extremely important that young people who choose to enter the field of social entrepreneurship early only do so once their inner change agent has been activated rather than because it is the new and sexy field of careers.

Okay, so by now you MUST be thinking, how do I become a change agent?

First, it's important to note that you already have an inner change agent, no matter where you are in life.

All you need to do it activate it.

Activating your inner change agent is simple.  It starts with showing up, and I mean really showing up: body, mind and soul.  This kind of presence allows you to become an observation master.  Once you harness your observation skills, a new world will open before you, and you will undoubtedly observe a few problems. You might observe a social injustice such as the entire US health care system, or maybe a kid being bullied at school. More importantly though,  the new way in which you view the world will also allow you to see pockets of opportunity for solutions.

Once you see an opportunity for a solution, you proceed to connect with another person, and I mean real, authentic connection.  You know, that vulnerable, scary connection that we run away from, but as Brené Brown eloquently researches, also  brings us joy and MOVES us!

During connection, you exchange gifts, and it is this connection and exchange that is at the heart of real generosity.  To be a change agent does NOT mean you have to bring presents and necessarily give money. Your genuine true self is all the gift you need, but if you are moved to donate and help me create change, then please, by all means.  That is what this project is about.  It is about me making connections that move people to take up my cause.

During this process of connecting and exchanging, all sorts of crazy things are happening.  I'm sure neurotransmitters are being released and biochemical reactions are taking place, and for the purpose of this blog, I'll spare you the nitty gritty details (also because most of my biochem flew out the window after regurgitating it onto numerous scantrons).  But regardless of the details, to become a really great change agent, you need to learn and reflect about the art and potentially science of moving people.  Ask yourself, how can I connect at the level where there is impact? How do I leave a footprint on that person't thought process and decision making process? Did the person you connect with change their attitude about something? Did you open up their mind to a new possibility? Was that person inspired? If you answer yes to any of these questions, you have successfully become a change agent.

Now, I think the term change has gotten a bad rep since Obama's presidency has not been a one way golden ticket on the change express to Utopia, but that's not how change happens.  You can't take a pill, drink a magic potion, or even merely elect a president and expect change to occur.

For real change to occur, you must be willing to give yourself, have conversations, and change people's minds.  Fast food culture and quick fixes do not add up to change.  You must not be lazy if you want to be a change agent.

When I went to the Dominican Republic with AYUDA to be a camp counselor for Type I Diabetics, I had no medical training.  I could not dose insulin properly or count carbs, although AYUDA did in fact provide us with a crash course in Diabetes pathology, pharmacology, and even the common psychological ramifications suffered upon diagnosis.  But without the palpable medical skills, what was the point of going?  That's, in fact, a heated debate in the field of global health currently: should young people even be sent on projects where they really do not have skills to make "real change?"

Well, if the project and organization knows youth and where their talents lie like AYUDA does, they know that indeed they can.  While I couldn't bring my medical education with me yet, I knew enough about Diabetes to educate kids on what was going on in their bodies. That knowledge combined with what I could bring: my youth that was relatable to the 10-12 year old boys I counseled, my optimism for one's ability to take control of their own health, my observation master skills, and of course my ridiculously intense energy that allowed me to do night checks for glucose levels, play never-ending games of soccer, and sing and dance to camp songs, such as "Dame mas Insulina" is what allowed change to happen.

The impact of completely handing over every ounce of my being to those kids and seeing how it directly caused self-esteem to lift and lives to change moved me to study medicine and global health.  That's how being a change agent works.  Once you sign up to be a change agent, you have signed up for a life of never ending learning and transformation because each time you move someone else, you are moved as well.

We brought kids to camp that had blood glucose levels consistently in the 900s.  For those of you not fluent in the numbers of Diabetes, a range of about 70-150 is what patients strive for, and with numbers the kids arriving at camp had, my teams's hearts flooded with urgency to move these kids onto paths toward healthy and happy lives. Kids dying of Type I DM is the social injustice AYUDA tackles for it is unacceptable that kids believe they won't make it to adulthood because of such a manageable condition. But, it was a group of committed individuals (high school students nonetheless) that came up with an organization with the capacity to move kids and literally change the course of their future.  AYUDA works by activating young people's innate change agent.  Camp allows young people to inspire other other young people with Type I DM to take care of their health and take back their futures which was out of reach prior.

So, that's what's cool about being a change agent.  Anyone can do it.  Use what you have, the story you have, and give it selflessly.  When I am hesitant to share my story, and open up truly to my inner gifts, I remember that my story and my gifts were never mine to begin with.  On the contrary, they belong to the universe, and I am merely the vessel that carries them and is obligated to share them.

So, open up to that inner change agent today.  There is no better day to do it.

Also, a special thanks to Dr. Dan Lowenstein and Luna for my first donations! 3% there!