Students Adithya Vegeraju (Class of 2024) and Ravneet Waraich (Class of 2022) share their experiences to, and in, medical school at Washington State University’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine and how they adapted during the COVID-19 global pandemic. They describe their approaches to learning the vast amount of information presented during the first two years of medical school, as well as how the pandemic impacted their classroom and clinical training, including changes to the hands-on anatomy laboratory experience. Finding ways to destress while traversing medical education is paramount to preventing burnout and promoting resiliency; both students share different methods they have used to focus on their wellness and mindfulness.
“Finding Joy: The Health Care Professional’s Journey to Well-being" is a podcast resource developed by a team of interprofessional education researchers from Washington State University Health Sciences Spokane. They’re promoting well-being among students, faculty, and healthcare professionals during challenging times. Funding is provided by the Health Resources and Services Administration.
The Interprofessional Education Research team wishes to thank the following individuals for their invaluable contributions to this project:
• Dr. Barb Richardson, nurse, educator, and interprofessional champion;
• Cameron Cupp, creator of the “Finding Joy” musical score and current enrollee at WSU Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine;
• Washington State University staff from Marketing and Communications, Financial Services, and the Collaboration for Interprofessional Health Education Research and Scholarship; and
• Claire Martin-Tellis, Executive Producer, and Solen Aref, student intern, who developed the first five episodes of the “Finding Joy” podcast.
This episode of “Finding Joy” was produced by Doug Nadvornick, Program Director, Spokane Public Radio.
If you would like to reach out, please contact our team by sending an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org We also encourage you to visit our podcast blog as well as our team's website at: https://opioideducation.wsu.edu/about/.
This is “Finding Joy: The Health Care Professional’s Journey to Wellness and Resiliency.” It’s a podcast resource developed by the Interprofessional Opioid Curriculum team at Washington State University. The goal is to promote wellness among students, faculty, and healthcare professionals during challenging times. Funding is provided by the Health Resources and Services Administration.
Medical school is a grind even in the best of times. Students spend months in the classroom studying the parts of the body and how they work together. They take that academic learning to the anatomy lab and explore with cadavers. They learn how to interview patients, then go out in the field and practice their skills under the supervision of licensed doctors. It’s four years of hard work.
The Covid pandemic has added to the degree of difficulty. We ask two students how they’ve adjusted.
Adithya Vegeraju: “You know, that was a struggle last year trying to keep up schoolwork during Covid. But I think, in some ways, it’s been great because it’s given me time to structure my study skills for medical school. You have to restructure everything .”
Ravneet Waraich: “Folks are, like, medical school is hard. People often are complaining about all the things they have to juggle and I was, like, yeah, it was hard. I’ve had my moments where I feel down and depressed. But, fortunately, I’ve been at a medical school where I’ve been able to take my interests and transform them into a professional and interpersonal identity.”
I’m Doug Nadvornick. Join me for two views of the medical school journey on “Finding Joy.”
[theme music ends]
Adithya Vegeraju: “My name is Adithya Vegeraju [awe-DITH-yuh VEG-er-AH-jew]. I’m a second-year medical student here at Washington State University. I was born in Hyderabad, India, which is sort of south India and my parents and I emigrated here when I was three years old. We actually moved to Phoenix first, in Arizona. Lived there for a couple of years. Decided to go back for a bit, to India, when I was in the fourth grade. I had the opportunity to go to school there for a couple of years and then, when I was in the seventh grade, we moved to Seattle and we’ve lived here ever since, in Washington.”
Vegeraju graduated from the University of Washington with bachelor’s degrees in chemistry and biochemistry.
Adithya Vegeraju: “Like every other medical student. I knew I wanted to go into medicine since before applying to college. That was what I really wanted to do. The reason I was very into medicine from a very young age is I actually got very sick when we first moved to India. I had this really bad case of pneumonia. I was in the hospital for a month or two and got very familiar with the procedures, the doctors, the staff. I found that I really liked it there even though I was so sick. Kind of weird to say this but it was like an adventure land for me. It was like finding new things everyday.”
So he applied for medical school and was accepted by the Washington State University College of Medicine. Nearly halfway through he’s working to find what he wants to focus on.
Adithya Vegeraju: “It seems like every time we cover a subject I suddenly switch tracks, like, I want to do this now. Hopefully the next few years will clear that up for me.”
Because of the pandemic, Vegeraju was part of the first class to start all-virtual medical school. He felt alone in the process of assimilating all of the new information that was thrown at him.
Adithya Vegeraju: “Every pre-med or medical student can understand that, in undergrad, we were all doing as much as we can to get over 90% on every exam. We were cramming before our exams. We would have all sorts of studying techniques and just try to figure things out as we got along. When it comes to medical school, I think it’s just not possible to cram. It’s not possible to see an exam coming in the next few days and try to get all that information into your head. It’s just too much. One thing I’m doing differently is having a study schedule every day, like one to two hours, so that I have a more long-term approach to retaining the information. I’m understanding more because I’m taking in less every day so I have time to reflect on it and then build upon it. With medical school, it’s not about how much you can remember, it’s about how well you can synthesize it.”
Doug: “From what I remember about medical school, there tended to be small groups that would get together, maybe twos and threes and fours. Did you have that last year when you were all online? Were you able to have that sort of camaraderie with at least a small group of folks?”
Adithya Vegeraju: “Yeah, I would say that was one of the better experiences of medical school last year was having that small group experience, just because it was more of an intimate environment for people to share what was going on. For example, during one of our groups, we would take the first couple of minutes just to catch up with each other, to see what was happening at school, even though that wasn’t technically required, just because we all needed that much. That really made medical school more bearable.”
Doug: “Fast forward to this year. How is it different in terms of the physical getting together and do you have the same group? Are you still with that same group or did you rotate to different folks?”
Adithya Vegeraju: “We have different groups this year and I think being in person makes it so much easier to interact with each other because, on Zoom, it is so hard to know when to speak up, when is someone done talking? The body language is so critical. That was Zoom taught us last year. Now, being in person, being able to see other people, and see the kind of impact your words are having, is so important to me because sometimes I talk too much, sometimes I don’t talk enough.”
Doug: “Anatomy lab. First year anatomy lab is really important. Were you able to do any of that last year or are you playing catch up on that?”
Adithya Vegeraju: “No, we were not able to do anatomy lab last year. It’s one of the biggest disappointments for me, personally. We did have a great anatomy faculty who were able to find some amazing resources, like a Panasonic resource to give us some very detailed pictures of cadavers that we can look through. That was really nice to have though nothing can really substitute for the real thing. Luckily, this year we do have the chance to go to the anatomy lab and observe the dissection our current first-years are doing. We’ve also had the opportunity to do some dissections ourselves.”
Doug: “Do you feel like you’re behind in that sense?”
Adithya Vegeraju: “In some ways, yeah. I definitely feel that dearth of anatomy knowledge. I feel I would remember so much more if my hands were actually in there, looking at these things, seeing in person how different it looks from textbooks. For example, I learned this year that the arteries don’t have their names written on them and so we have to figure that out for ourselves.”
Doug: “Part of the experience is, I know that a couple times a year, three times a year, you get to go out for a week and do some rotations at other places. Have you had the opportunity to do that yet?”
Adithya Vegeraju: “We’ve had one or two so far that we’ve been able to do. Our school has been very strict with Covid guidelines and want to make sure that we’re not hurting the communities we’ve trying to serve. But the ones I have been on have been very cool. I’ve been on one with a cardiologist, one with an anesthesiologist. I think I also did one rotation in an emergency department. Each one has a different perspective to offer, which is really cool.”
The pandemic affected not just the medical students’ academic lives, but their social lives as well. Vegeraju says this year is better.
Adithya Vegeraju: “Moving to Spokane I’ve been able to do that I wasn’t able to do last year because of Covid. I’ve joined a badminton club in Spokane so we’ve been playing a lot of badminton. Playing some volleyball. Sometimes I do meditation. That helps a lot for me. Not even long periods, five minutes, 10 minutes. Going to the gym has been very helpful too.”
Others handle their stress differently.
Adithya Vegeraju: “One of my classmates mentioned that they have this coloring book for anatomy, which is an interesting way to both study and relax.”
Doug: “The name of the podcast is Finding Joy. I’ll ask you to say one more time where you find the most joy right now.”
Adithya Vegeraju: “This is a very difficult question because I find joy in so many things. I’m learning how to cook. I find joy in that. I’m playing badminton. Actually I’m going to a tournament this Saturday in Pullman. I’m finding joy in that. I’m finding joy in learning new things about the human body every day. I’m finding joy in working with my classmates.”
That’s second-year WSU medical student Adithya Vegeraju [awe-DITH-yuh VEG-er-AH-jew].
He and some of his peers have looked for guidance and mentorship to the school’s third- and fourth-year medical students.
One of them is fourth-year student Ravneet Waraich [RAV-neet WAR-itch].
Doug: “How has your journey through medical school changed throughout this whole pandemic?”
Ravneet Waraich: “It’s been a privilege and an honor to be a part of one of our most challenging points in our history, both globally and locally, nationally. I think when I’ve had to reflect, I’ve reflected a lot on the Covid-19 monitoring program and those community organizing experiences I’ve been going through, my interviews, and it’s been really eye-opening to take a course that I took in November 2018, the beginning of my medical education, and be able to transform that into a tangible skill, through the community monitoring program, then through all the work that I did as a pre-clinical student. Now I think it’s really shaped the vision I really see for myself as a future physician. I see community engagement, community organizing, as a big part of my vision five-to-10 years from now, no matter what I end up. I might be a hospitalist. I might be a primary care physician. I might specialize. My future is kind of wide open when it comes from a purely intellectual, academic standpoint. But I definitely have been able to envision myself as a medical professional a bit better.”
Doug: “How would you characterize your growth as a person and as a student?”
Ravneet Waraich: “As a student I’ve been reflecting on the things that we do, just kind of go through the motions. Sometimes we get stuck in this trap where we feel like I have to check boxes. I have to do research. Let’s check that box. I have to do volunteer work. Let’s check that box. I have do all my board exams. I have to do well in my course work. I have to get along with people. There’s always a long-running checklist that you’re evaluated on on a daily basis too. You’re always under a microscope. Something I started my medical education with was making sure that I need to check those boxes to become a physician and MD, but I wanted to make sure I was pursuing projects and opportunities that aligned with my personal values and principles, because I learned pretty early on that wellness for me meant being action-oriented and being able to do something about a wrongdoing or an issue within a system that I see. So, as a student, I tell this to people now, this is the happiest I’ve been in my life, in medical school, and some of my interviewers laugh at me because folks are, like, medical school is hard. People often are complaining about ll the things they have to juggle and I was, like, yeah, it was hard. I’ve had my moments where I feel down and depressed. But, fortunately, I’ve been at a medical school where I’ve been able to take my interests and transform them into a professional and interpersonal identity.”
Doug: “One thing I learned in being around enough medical students is they made time and effort to have a separate life, away from medical school, simply because it would overwhelm if they would allow it to. How does that work for you?”
Ravneet Waraich: “My life is 75-80% consumed by my medical education, all the extracurricular work I do. Fortunately I have family on the west side of the state, just north of the Tacoma area, and I’ve been very intentional, pre-pandemic I was very intentional about visiting them, seeing them, making sure I was seeing my friends outside of medical school. It’s really easy to fall in this trap where you’re only spending time around medical students and medical professionals, so all you talk about is medicine. I like to remind myself I need to remember how to talk like a normal person, the average person and the whole person in society. I’ve learned the art of the phone call a little bit better. I made sure FaceTimed my family. I made sure I called people and friends that I actually didn’t end up seeing until 18 months later, since the beginning of the pandemic. And then I love eating, cooking and feeding people.”
Doug: “So I’ve asked other people this. As you go through this, do y ou have a spiritual life that you’ve leaned on? Has that increased, decreased? How has that been?”
Ravneet Waraich: “Yeah, I grew up in a Punjabi household, a Punjabi-Sikh household, so being religious was a big part of our lives. As I became an adult, it became more of a spiritual, spirituality. I think learning to meditate again has been a big part of my personal journey through the pandemic. Growing up, sixth grade, my mom trained us, every morning, to wake up, you shower, you eat your breakfast and you pray and you meditate for 10-15 minutes before you start your day and that’s a form of mindfulness, I would say, even though I didn’t have that language at the time. Slowly that fell off. You go to college, you turn 21, your life changes. You think you value changes. But I’ve really turned back to that and I make sure that I’ve built that practice into my day-to-day life and, actually, I’m now getting trained to formally read scripture. I just started around two months ago. This pandemic has been challenging, but it’s really given me the time and the tools to turn back to my culture and turn back to meditation.”
Doug: “As you’re an observer of your fellow students and maybe even of the faculty you spend time with, what have you seen and is there a way you can generalize what you’ve seen as trends? Are people generally coping well with it? Do they struggle with it?”
Ravneet Waraich: “I think we’ve all kind of gone through the space of personal growth and folks have really been able to figure out what they’ve prioritized in their lives, from the techs to the nurses, the community workers and the doctors, everybody. But I think it really gave people the opportunity to step back and take a look at things that matter to them, family, friends, time together, the simple joy of going out and eating a meal or going out on a hike, but also how they engage with the community or sit next to on the bus or the people they run into on the street. I think some of the places are struggling with it still. I live in an area that ha s relatively low vaccination rates and so Covid is still a very real thing within the four walls of the hospital, even if it not be in the larger metropolitan areas, and the struggle is still there. I’m still observing burnout with ICU nurses and the emergency department. I think folks are still learning to cope. I think people have figured out their priorities, but now we’re redefining how to spend time and to spend more time with the things at the top of our lists.”
Ravneet Waraich is a fourth-year medical student at the Washington State University Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine. In March 2022, she will learn where she will spend the first several years of her career as a medical doctor. She’ll graduate in May and then work in an internal medicine residency. We thank her for sharing her perspective.
The Interprofessional Opioid Curriculum also wants to thank the following individuals for their contributions to this project:
This episode was produced by Doug Nadvornick from Spokane Public Radio.
If you are interested in sharing your perspective about wellness and resiliency as a healthcare professional or would like to reach out to the Interprofessional Opioid Curriculum team, please send an email to: email@example.com. We also encourage you to visit the team’s website at: https://opioideducation.wsu.edu/about/.