Nashville is an eclectic and wonderfully diverse city. As a popular destination for immigrants to the United States, Nashville boasts a number of large international communities including Mexican, Vietnamese, Kurdish, Laotian, Arab and Somali populations. Moreover, the presence of Fisk University, Tennessee State University, American Baptist College, and Meharry Medical College, all Historically Black Colleges/Universities (HBCUs), marks Nashville as a hub of Black academia. And while Nashville lies firmly within the Bible Belt, there is a great deal of religious diversity in the city and numerous houses of worship of many religions.
The Vanderbilt School of Medicine reflects the atmosphere of Nashville in many ways. My classmates represent a number of geographical, racial, and religious backgrounds. However, to speak candidly, lack of diversity is an issue that plagues the medical field as a whole, and one that you may expect at the majority of institutions you consider for your degree, including Vanderbilt. Unfortunately, it is an issue that is not easily solved and requires changes in policies and attitudes that extend beyond the scope of medical admissions offices. Nevertheless, Vanderbilt is making great strides towards promoting diversity of every sort, and the Office for Diversity Affairs continues to work diligently “to attract and maintain a diversified body of graduates and professional students, residents, and faculty.” They work closely with students to provide them with any assistance they may need, including mentorship, scholarship aid, academic advising, and more.
In addition to the Office for Diversity Affairs there are a number of student organizations dedicated to fostering diversity and collegiality such as the Student National Medical Association, the Latino Medical Student Association, LGBTMD, the Asian Pacific American Medical Association, and more. Overall, I feel that I have been very well-supported by the VUSM administration and student body, and that I am welcome, respected, and a member of a close-knit community. I can honestly say that I am very happy here and that I made the right decision in attending Vanderbilt. No matter your background or your interests, I am confident that you can find a place within the Vanderbilt community where you feel safe, accepted, and valued.
Please feel free to reach out to me at any time to discuss diversity at Vandy and in Nashville or any other topic!
Q: Is LGBT life related to me?
A: Absolutely! LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) life is NOT restricted to people who identify as LGBT. First of all, as a medical student, many of your patients may identify with LGBT, or may experience disparity in healthcare because of their identity. It is essential that you take time to understand the epidemiological risk, social backgrounds and other common factors regarding this population. As a person, you should NOT miss out the great entertainment established by this lovely population; they are wicked, funky and fabulous!
Q: How is LGBT life at Vandy Med and Vanderbilt in general? In Nashville?
A: BRILLIANT! We have many students and faculty members who are openly gay. EVERYONE I have talked to on medical campus has been very supportive of LGBT related issues including marriage equality, freedom of expression and healthcare disparity, and many students and faculty devoted their time and career to addressing these issues. For example, Shade Tree Clinic has an LGBT outreach program. There are many organizations with many activities you can participate in on campus including LGBT MD (med-school student organization), LGBTI Health (medical center wide organization), LGBTQI Life (university wide organization) and more.
What about Nashville? Let’s start by saying Music City is great for entertainment and lots of young professional with open minds reside here. The Vanderbilt area specifically is very liberal. However, it is still Tennessee, which means sadly many people reserve their right against this population. I cannot speak for everybody, but it is always important to exercise your caution. If you ever feel discriminated, feel free to contact the Dean’s office of the medical school or the university, and the LGBT organizations on campus.
Q: What are the resources I can look into to be involved in LGBT lives professionally?
A: Here is a general list, and there are many more:
LGBT-MD (we host movie nights, recommend professional involvement, and host talks):
Program for LGBTI Health:
Oasis center (a shelter for LGBT teenagers who are estranged from their homes, you can volunteer there to provide care):
Nashville Cares (center catering to the needs of people living with HIV, this is more general than just LGBTI population):
OutCentral Nashville (they are a great place to start to look for activities related to LGBT population, entertainment or
professional. The leader of the center Robbie Maris is a great guy):
Q: What are the entertainment options out there in Nashville?
A: You worked hard to get into Vandy, and you probably will study hard during the week; finally, let’s go out and have some fun! Here’s a list:
Tribe is a very fun gay bar on Church Street (10 min drive from medical campus and 30 min walk):
Play is a very fun gay club on Church Street right next to Tribe:
Zanie’s Comedy Club (they are NOT an LGBT venue, but they invite many people who are LGBT alliance to do shows):
More information can be found via OutCentral.
Q: What’s your perspective of online dating and what are the resources out there?
A: (Warning: this is my personal opinion!) You may say, “I’m now a med student and how do I have time to meet people out there?” I agree, there is less time to meet potential dates, but it’s the 21st century, and online dating tools sometimes help. I personally met my “better half” via OkCupid, and we are in a very solid and trusting relationship. Therefore, personally I would encourage you to try this if you’re interested. In terms of the website you will be using, I personally think OkCupid is more for people looking for relationships, and Grindr, Manhunt or Adam4Adam are more for folks who are looking for something less serious. But, this is obviously not a set in stone rule. I suggest you to be open and honest towards the people you meet online, and it is wise to act cautiously. It’s always helpful to meet up in an open public space during day time (my boyfriend and I went to Centennial park to run together for our first date), and be VERY cautious if they want to meet in a private place like someone’s apartment or office.
Q: What’s your perspective of being very open and about in Nashville?
A: (Warning: this is my personal opinion!) I personally find it okay to display affection publicly at an APPROPRIATE place to an APPROPRIATE extent. By appropriate extent, it differs in different people, it could be a hug, hand-holding or a kiss, depending on how comfortable you would feel. By appropriate place, I meant around Vanderbilt area (the more liberal area of town). I would personally be discreet on the medical campus considering the unknown backgrounds of our patients and their relatives.
Q: Wait, you didn’t answer my questions! (Or) You answers are terrible and I need to level with you!
A: Contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
In the ongoing mission to build a culture of wellness, Vanderbilt has established a lot of great traditions. You’ll encounter the first as soon as you arrive at Vanderbilt. Your first day will be MAG (aka Meet and Greet, but MAG sounds cooler). MAG is a casual day of orientation to start getting to know your classmates through classic icebreakers, group activities, and delicious free food. On your first weekend at Vanderbilt, you’ll also have the opportunity to participate in MOO, which perhaps disappointingly has nothing to do with cows, but rather stands for Medical Outdoor Orientation. There’s a whole range of options available, from the daring and adventurous like white-water rafting, to the calm and relaxing like pontoon boating. You’ll spend the day hanging out with a small group of your classmates and bonding through your chosen activity, and then at the end of the day, everyone meets up at a campground for a campout, complete with a barbeque, s’mores, and campfire songs.
Throughout the year, there will be lots of other school-sponsored events for class bonding and wellness. You’ll get a day off of classes for a Wellness Retreat, where the whole class will head out to an off-campus site for a day of casual conversation and fun activities. In the spring, you’ll have the opportunity to relive your high school prom, only better because it also includes spoof videos, at Cadaver Ball.
One of the great things about Vanderbilt is the willingness of the faculty to get involved in these traditions. Like the students, the faculty appreciate the opportunity to cut loose and have a little fun. At the end of every block, the first year students host a faculty appreciation lunch, which is an opportunity to express our gratitude to our teachers through the art of a good old-fashioned comedic roast. It’s hard to tell who enjoys this more, the students or the teachers. In addition, as part of a fundraiser for Vanderbilt’s global health experience in Nicaragua, several of the faculty will take place in the annual Dr. Vanderbilt pageant, where you’ll have the opportunity to discover hidden talents you never knew your faculty had. Finally, if you search Youtube for past Cadaver Ball videos, you’ll see that the faculty often play important roles.
Underlying your entire Vanderbilt experience will be what is perhaps the most important tradition, the Vanderbilt college system. If you’ve ever fantasized about going to Hogwarts (and who hasn’t?), this is pretty close, minus the wands and the magic and the threat of evil dark wizards. You’ll actually go through an official sorting ceremony during MAG, where you’ll get placed into one of the four colleges, Batson, Gabbe, Robinson, or Chapman (which is the best in my completely unbiased opinion). More than just being a proxy for your Hogwarts fantasy, the college system has several really important functions. First, it serves as a built-in small group, with whom you’ll spend most of your time during Learning Communities discussing topics in medical ethics. Second, the colleges are a mentoring and support system. Within your college, you’ll get to know upper class students who can provide insight and support. You’ll also be matched formally with a Big, a second-year student who can serve as your guide and cheerleader as you go through your four years. Finally, the colleges give you a team for what is one of Vanderbilt’s favorite traditions, the annual College Cup. Your college will band together to show off your athletic prowess, cooking skills, trivia knowledge, and college spirit in an attempt to be crowned the reigning champions of College Cup.
A lot of these traditions may seem silly, but you’ll quickly learn in med school that you need more than just brains and academic drive to succeed. It’s also important to find ways to relieve stress and to build support networks to help you through, and these traditions help remind you to do that by taking a little time to laugh and have fun with your classmates and your professors.
VUSM 2018, MSTP
The Vanderbilt Culture Book is a project designed to document how students within the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine view the organizational culture that we are simultaneously a part of and help to create. This student-led project is important for understanding how the environment and atmosphere at the school develops over the years as the school undergoes significant and forward-thinking changes to its curriculum. The Culture Book seeks to preserve, like a time capsule, the perspectives of students regarding Vanderbilt culture while also allowing for a comparison of attitudes between class years and even for a given class year but for different academic years. It is our hope that this project will allow us to understand what it is that makes the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine such an outstanding and unique environment. The quotes you see presented here were in response to the following prompt:
"Organizational culture is the behavior of humans within an organization and the meaning that people attach to those behaviors. Culture includes the organization's vision, values, norms, systems, symbols, language, assumptions, beliefs, and habits." Reflecting on your experience at Vanderbilt, what do you perceive the culture of Vanderbilt to be?
“I feel that students, more than anything, are 100% dedicated to looking out for each other and caring for each other.…classes reach out to others to offer additional teaching lectures or volunteer clinical experience/tips/expertise. Students always check in with each other to make sure everything is going well within their clinical rotations.”
“I feel like overall the culture still trends towards an attitude of not just surviving, but thriving.”
“From the day we step foot on campus, we are shown the importance of working together to accomplish our goals. The college advisory system imbues our education with a sense of camaraderie and deep support. Our Wellness events and big sibling pairings allow upperclassmen to show underclassmen how to make it through medical school while focusing on what is important. Our faculty constantly seek feedback in improving the curriculum, but more importantly are always there to offer encouragement and advice whenever and wherever. I have never once felt neglected, alone, or unable to find support from friends or faculty when I have needed it, from big things to small. It is a place that will get all of us where we want to go, and will make sure we have everything we need along the way. If I had to describe Vanderbilt's culture in one word it would be "community". Vanderbilt is a truly supportive community in terms of both academics and personal life. I feel truly supported by my peers, professors, deans and the faculty, and that support is invaluable to me. A couple of examples of academic community are study groups, upper classmen-led review sessions, and a culture of sharing study materials, books, and study guides. A couple examples of personal community include having dinner with and knowing the families of my college mentors, our class annual Thanksgiving dinner which is almost everyone's favorite event of the year (a hundred-person potluck!), birthday parties, visiting classmates in the hospital, and being able to rely on classmates when locked out of my apartment or in need of a ride to the airport. The sense of community underlies the culture of Vanderbilt and I believe it is our strong community that makes Vanderbilt students among the "happiest medical students". I could sense this community even during my brief visit to interview and this was the aspect that most drew me to come to Vanderbilt!”
“There is a strong culture of collaboration at Vanderbilt. In any department, reaching out across disciplines is not just encouraged- it is expected. There is a sense of humility that one person cannot know everything, and that great work results from bringing multiple fields together on a single project. Each of the research projects I have done involved multiple faculty members from various areas- computational biology and pharmacology, genetics and nephrology. I have always felt comfortable reaching out to anyone on campus for mentoring or to develop an idea. I see the culture of Vanderbilt as one of inclusion, participation, and cooperation. Both students and faculty are extremely involved in every aspect of the medical school from the curriculum to the many student organizations. There is also an environment among the students that is very supportive and collaborative rather than competitive.”
“I've been very impressed by how supportive and approachable the faculty are. The emphasis on collaboration is manifest in the P/F system, the opportunities for inter-professional learning, and learning formats like CBL. Furthermore, there is an encouraging atmosphere of mentorship.”
“The strongest aspect of Vanderbilt's culture, to me, has been the incredible openness and warmth that the faculty express toward us. Our opinions and contacts are openly welcomed by the faculty. For example, Dr. Spickard - a dean - reserves a full half-day per week just to hold for meetings with students interested in research, questions, comments, or advice.”
“VMS does a phenomenal job of encouraging and developing an atmosphere of mentorship between students. Even if the big sib-little sib pairings don't work out perfectly, there is a sense that the upper level students are dedicated to improving the lower level students' performance and overall experience. This begins day 1 and continues as those beginning medical school feel they are being served by those ahead of them consistently. In medical school, it would be easy to develop a sort of "rite of passage" hierarchy where upper level students don't treat lower level students with respect, but I believe the opposite is true here. Beyond faculty-student relationships and other positive aspects of Vandy's educational process, I believe this defines the culture.”
“’Family’ is the main word that comes to mind when asked to describe the culture of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. VMS truly is a warm, welcoming family. Everyone--students, residents, faculty, administrators, etc--is extremely friendly, kind, and approachable. Mentoring goes on everywhere and even occurs off campus, when professors and attendings frequently invite students over their homes for dinners. I am genuinely impressed day-in and day-out by how nice everyone is, and I honestly can't imagine being as happy anywhere else!”
“There is a reputation for being the happiest med students in the country and indeed I think every class aspires to keep this true. We have a work hard play hard culture- we learn a lot in a short time, realizing that it is hard but not wanting to show how hard it is. Medicine is the center of our lives - we are always immersed in it, talking about it. But we also are very good at other things: cooking, sports, music and dance. Vandy students care about the poor and try to reach out to domestic issues and international needs with our time and talents. There is also great respect for our professors, residents and colleagues especially those who lead their fields in research and teaching. Mentoring is also central to the culture - from VMS2 to Dean - someone wants to help you navigate the path to becoming an excellent physician.”
“To me, the Vanderbilt culture emphasizes the importance of camaraderie and wellness, as well as striving to make the best better. While I have only been at Vandy for a few months, I have had experiences that have allowed me to get a true sense of what Vandy is all about. Taking off a day of class for a wellness retreat, participating in a "wheel of viruses" game show review session with entertaining faculty, and volunteering at the student-run Shade Tree Clinic to help the underserved are just a few of those opportunities. One of the great things about Vanderbilt is the balance of schoolwork with “wellness.” During the week, everyone puts in 110% to understand new content, help a classmate who is struggling with a concept, or prepare a history of a patient for their preceptors. Collectively, we all want to learn as much as we can in order to be the best future doctors and to be of service to patients. Nonetheless, Vanderbilt students take advantage of the Nashville scene. A group of us went to a free Jake Owen concert one night while we should have been studying gluconeogenesis, and another time involved attempting to learn how to swing dance on Broadway. Here at Vanderbilt, the culture is all about maintaining balance in our lives, encompassing friendships, academics, and wellness overall, and I’m thankful to be pursuing my medical education in such an atmosphere.”
“Vanderbilt is a friendly, welcoming, and supportive environment. The faculty and administration desires for the students to become the best doctors possible, and they are eager to teach and mentor students.”
“Vanderbilt's culture is a rich, variegated one. There is an outlet for just about everything, and for what isn't offered, Vanderbilt does an excellent job at both accommodating and encouraging strides toward further cultural growth and awareness.”
“Vanderbilt is about peer-to-peer teaching. Whatever level you are, the students above you always reach out to teach you and show you the way. I can genuinely say that I have friends in all classes as well as residents. That's a pretty special culture."
“Put simply, the culture of Vanderbilt is to be happy, whatever that may be. I remember interviewing at Vanderbilt as an undergraduate and seeing how many first and second year medical students came up to me and said "I love Vandy!" I remember thinking that each person was exaggerating, and I was determined to find Vanderbilt's flaw. However, now that I am a fourth year medical student, I realize that there is no secret or something these students were hiding. Each student is genuinely happy. Why we each are happy is because we celebrate each other's differences and share our experiences with one another. If you have an interest here, the Vanderbilt community wants to share and nurture it.”
Monday:we always start with Case-Based Learning (CBL) from 8-10am. On Mondays, we are presented with two patient cases,
and we spend an hour going over each case, and set up our learning objectives to research. From 10am-12pm, we usually have
Based on what College you’re in, you get two afternoons off per week. I’m in Chapman College, which means I have Monday and Wednesday afternoons off. After lunch from 12-1pm, I typically spend my afternoon working on a CBL case, going over lecture material, and if necessary, catching up or reviewing stuff from the previous week. I also go to the gym, cook dinner, and maybe watch some TV.
Tuesday:mornings are often variable. Sometimes, we have large group sessions such as Pathology Lab. Other times, we’ll
have lecture or a clinical session where we have patients with come speak with us. We may also have gross anatomy lab.
In the afternoon, I usually have Physical Diagnosis (PDx) from 1pm-3pm. This can be in our simulation center, CELA, or in the VA Clinic with my preceptor to practice my physical exam skills. Occasionally, I’ll even get the afternoon off.
On Tuesday evenings, many VMS students will volunteer at the Shade Tree Clinic, which runs from 6pm-10pm. I like to keep my Tuesday nights open because my classmates and I often go to trivia (and we’re pretty good!). In the time in-between, I’ll be reviewing material from the day or finishing up CBL.
Wednesday:in the morning, we’ll spend 2-hours discussing the first CBL case from Monday morning. CBL is a great opportunity to not just learn about a particular disease in-depth, but to also solidify material we’ve learned in lecture. From 10am-12pm, we’ll have lectures again. My Wednesday afternoons are off, and also similar to my Monday afternoons. I’ll prepare for my second CBL case, review material and lectures, and also take some time to relax or exercise.
Thursday:my Thursdays are busy. The mornings are similar to Tuesday – we’ll have Pathology or Anatomy Lab, followed
by lecture and/or a patient session.
In the afternoons, I go to my Clinical Continuity Experience (CCX). Each VMS1 is matched with a preceptor affiliated with Vanderbilt, and we spend one afternoon a week in our respective clinics. Clinic dates are assigned based on our colleges as well. My clinic is in the GI Endoscopy Lab, and my classmates are in various other clinical sites ranging from concierge medicine to vascular surgery and even a Spanish-language clinic.
My evenings will be typically spent researching for CBL if I haven’t finished yet, and reviewing lecture material.
Friday:this is a long day for everyone. We go over our second CBL case from 8-10am. From 10am-12pm, we have Learning
Communities, where we meet as a College to discuss ethical issues that we’ll face as clinicians. In the afternoons, we have
lecture from 1-3pm, and then from 3-5pm, we have our Physical Diagnosis lecture. Our faculty are usually good about making
sure we’re not zombies by the end of the day, so we often get out early.
After a long week of medical school, people like to unwind on Fridays. A lot of students will go to happy hour at local bars, go see a concert or show, go out to Broadway, browse Netflix, or even take the weekend off and get out of town.
Saturday & Sunday:the weekend is a time to relax and study the week’s material. Many students will have Shade Tree on Saturday morning or afternoon. Otherwise, we’re working hard and playing hard. We also have weekly quizzes and essays over the week’s material, and many students like to get these done by Sunday evening before we start over the next week.
Questions you may have:
How often do you study?
This is a tough question to answer because a lot of this is variable based on what we’re covering in class and the difficulty of the material itself. Each CBL case typically takes me around 3 hours of work on average (although this is variable based on who you ask in class). I like to at least go over the lectures from that day, which can also take a while if the subject matter is especially dense like embryology or anatomy. If I have to make an estimate, I’d say I spend around 3-4 hours a day studying, although a lot of stuff happens to get in the way so I spend my weekends catching up on work.
Do you have any time for fun?
Absolutely! I like to go out for trivia on Tuesday nights. Other times, I’ll be involved in an extracurricular activity (like our dance club, VMS Dance). I have a few friends in Nashville from high school and college, and I like meeting up with them too. The weekends are a great time to hang out with my friends and watch a movie, play board games, or go out downtown. Even if it’s taking time to cook a meal, going to the gym, or lazing on the couch to watch a movie or listen to music, I spend at least a few hours of day not doing anything school-related. As you’ll find out, #Wellness is really big here at Vanderbilt.
Do you feel busy and overwhelmed?
The way our curriculum is designed makes it difficult to play catch-up if you fall behind. I’ve had a couple instances where I’ve fallen sick or decided to choose play over work, and had to put in some extra hours of studying to make sure that I was up to speed with lecture and CBL. Certain days and even weeks can be pretty tough, and sometimes you do feel overwhelmed about the sheer amount of stuff you have to learn. But rest assured, it always turns out fine.
One of my favorite aspects of Curriculum 2.0 is the emphasis on getting clinical experience almost immediately, and one of the ways in which we get this is through our Continuity Clinical Experience course, also known as CCX. For CCX, first years are paired with physicians at Vanderbilt and its affiliated institutions in Nashville, and we work closely with them and their medical teams to both learn the fundamentals of providing patient care and understand the intricacies of the health care system as they relate to the clinic. While our experiences vary greatly due to our being placed in a wide variety of specialties, from pediatric nephrology to stem cell transplantation clinics, most every first year student will tell you that CCX is one of the most fulfilling experiences they have had in medical school so far.
CCX gives you the opportunity to take what you have learned in the classroom and directly apply it to help patients in a meaningful way. Whether you’re performing a new aspect of the physical exam you learned the week before or seeing a patient with a disease that you just researched in CBL, being able to take your medical knowledge and contextualize it within a clinical setting provides an extra level of depth to your education that book-learning alone cannot provide. On top of that, working with patients in clinic is extremely fun, and getting to hear about their experiences and stories is very fulfilling and a great introduction to the patient-oriented side of medicine during your pre-clinical year! Patients really enjoy working with medical students, and they make learning about providing patient care much more rewarding.
The most important thing to keep in mind about CCX is that you get out of it what you put into it. If you go into clinic every week with enthusiasm and the proper mindset, you’ll learn an incredible amount about how to best take care of patients. CCX preceptors and their teams are very excited to work with first years, so don’t be afraid to ask to see patients on your own or take on additional responsibilities as the year goes on! This is one of the best opportunities you will get to learn by doing, so make the most of it!
As medical students, we work with (future) doctors, learn from doctors, and think like doctors. And as rich as the experience of mapping biochemical pathways, studying anatomic structures, and charting disease processes is, it’s all just one piece of the healthcare puzzle. VPIL, the Vanderbilt Program in Interprofessional Learning, is about unpacking the other pieces of a health system, understanding how they interact with each other, and reflecting on how they meet (or don’t meet) every patient’s needs.
In VPIL, you'll attend clinic each week with a team of students and faculty from nursing, pharmacy, and social work. This is done in place of CCX (Continuity Clinical Experience- a required first year course) and provides the same intensity of clinical exposure from a different perspective. Seeing patients in inter-professional teams, you’re able to appreciate the philosophies other professions bring to patient care, the techniques and approaches they use in patient assessment, and the priorities they have in charting a patient’s plan of care.
The VPIL curriculum also empowers students to observe and analyze the dynamics of healthcare delivery. VPIL students shadow patients to see the healthcare system through their eyes. We do home visits to understand how environment and social factors influence health. We tour community centers, homeless shelters, and food banks to see how patients access resources in their neighborhoods.
Having participated in VPIL, I’m thankful for the exposure to a whole different perspective of clinical medicine beyond the traditional medical school curriculum. Because of VPIL, I’m able to apply motivational interviewing skills that I learned from a social work colleague. I’m able to identify opportunities for inter-professional support in managing the patients in our CBL cases. Most importantly, I’m able to build a sense of sympathy and camaraderie with the fellow providers-in-training whom I’ll eventually call my colleagues.
If all this sounds exciting to you—and it should—look for the VPIL application sometime in early April, and feel free to connect with me about any questions you may have!
First of all, congratulations on your acceptance to the Vanderbilt MSTP! During the first-year, first and foremost, you are a medical student learning the foundations of clinical medicine. Although the MSTP does arrange the Foundations of Biomedical Research course and the seminar series, your primary responsibility is to be a medical student just like the rest of your class. Up until this point, you most likely have been involved in a number of different activities ranging from service groups, social organizations to working in a lab on top of your undergraduate studies. With the rigors of medical school, you are forced to pick only a handful of activities to be involved with outside of school due to the fast pace and tightly packed schedule. Thus, do not worry about working in a lab; in fact, Dr. Dermody highly discourages it. Remember, you have an entire PhD to dedicate to discovery and innovation. A few of us have been minimally involved in some clinical research projects, but the time commitments have been very minimal. I recommend focusing the vast majority of your effort on the first-year curriculum; I am sure the rest of the MSTP will echo this sentiment.
That being said, I encourage you to keep your mind open to thesis mentors, research disciplines and possible clinical specialties. The vast majority of this year’s first year class (and all other MSTPs before us) at one point or another has thought about changing fields from their undergraduate work; in fact, most do. Even if you think you have it all figured out, challenge your assertions by meeting with PI’s outside your area of expertise and get their prospective on science and training philosophy. Most PI’s actively recruit MSTP students and will welcome you dropping them an email to set up some time for coffee. Most importantly, utilize the knowledge of your classmates and the upper-level MSTP students. The MSTP is a very diverse program with a strong presence across graduate disciplines. Thus, there is more than likely someone in the MSTP who has experience working with the PI you are interested in meeting. If you have a question, there is more than likely someone in the MSTP who has thought the same thing. Often times, these students are a wealth of knowledge and will be very useful in helping you navigate the medical school curriculum, rotation/mentor selection, and life in general. As you know, the MSTP is a long haul and you will inevitably need the support system to help you through. Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions you have, and welcome to Vandy!
Like many of you, I made the boldly unemployable decision in college to study the humanities, and if you’re reading this you probably also found a way to marry your non-science love to a passion for medicine and now you’re med school bound. Standing on the cusp of medical school I was terrified that I would be left in the dust by a sea of chemistry-nerd classmates who would all know infinitely more than me. The reality is that medical school is scary for everyone. It’s a big jump from college no matter if you got your masters degree in neurology or your BA in dance. In fact, I only ever noticed a difference in preparation during the first six-week block, which had some overlap from intro college biochem (which I didn’t take), and even that was subtle. If you were selected to go here, you have what it takes to succeed academically, I promise.
Vanderbilt is a great place to celebrate your varied academic interests both formally through Curriculum 2.0 and informally through the diverse commitment across the medical center to humanism in medicine. Every Friday we meet in our colleges for Learning Communities to discuss non-science issues in medicine (sale of organs, privacy, healthcare disparity, being wrong, etc.), which is an awesome chance to flex your right brain and share what cool things you talked about in coffee shops in undergrad. The readings for these sessions are also really well chosen and a fun break from memorizing anatomy facts. If you like free lunch (who doesn’t?), there’s also an unbelievable number of seminars and events sponsored by the school on every topic you can think of. For example, a couple months ago the university paid for a few of us to go out to dinner with the former editor of JAMA after her talk on conflicts of interest in medicine.
Medicine is equal parts science and art, and in some ways, we non-science majors have a leg up on the art side of things. Don’t lose sight of whatever it is that you loved enough to spend four years getting a degree in. An education outside the sciences teaches you to think and read critically. Such logic and people-based skills can’t be memorized and thus can be much harder to pick up than the steps of the citric acid cycle. My anthropologist side comes out whenever I take a patient’s medical history or share a narrative about a patient’s illness. I have classmates who were teachers in their past lives and who continue to celebrate that love by helping their groups learn in our CBL sessions. If you love the arts join VMS dance and teach your fellow students a new style. Medicine is not about stamping out other interests; in fact some of the best doctors of our time and throughout history have explored other disciplines: Paul Farmer, Atul Gwande, Edward Jenner, John Keats, etc. So come do what you do and be a better doctor for it.
Fact – Being a science major is helpful in medical school.
I graduated with a degree in biology from Duke University with a heavy emphasis in cell and molecular biology and cancer genetics, and I can say that this helped a lot when we were learning about cellular signaling pathways and genetic diseases during our first block, HBA. Our foundational course is designed to give everyone a baseline understanding for cell and molecular biology, which are topics that you and many of your classmates have studied in-depth as an undergraduate or during your gap years. While it won’t be an exact “review,” it’s always nice to have had previous exposure to a lecture topic in medical school.
Myth – Being a science major makes medical school easy.
Medical school is not “easy” by any means – even if you’re learning what a nucleus is for the 20th time, we’re still learning material in a different context and pace, and that’ll take getting used to for many people. Also, not every science major will have an automatic leg up in class – chemistry, physics, and engineering aren’t heavily emphasized in terms of material, but no worries! Remember, none of us majored in medicine in college – that’s why we’re all here at Vanderbilt Medical School!
Fact – Being a science major gives you a great foundation for approaching medicine.
One of the best parts of being a science major in college was that my major requirements were very broad and comprehensive. I took courses in calculus, statistics, chemistry & biochemistry, physics, physiology, and pharmacology. All of these were very helpful in framing the way I learn and study new material. For instance, who knew that understanding gas laws and fluid dynamics would be helpful during cardiology and pulmonology!
Myth - Being a science major gives you a head start for medical school.
This is only true in the slightest sense. Being able to draw the MAP Kinase pathway from memory or knowing all of the cytokines involved in your body’s inflammatory response to a bacterial infection doesn’t necessarily make you a great physician. Medical school is so much more about what you learned in college, and people from all disciplines and walks of life contribute to your medical education.
To people of all majors – just be excited to finally begin your journey as a physician, and enjoy your time here at Nashville!
If you feel an absolute need to start research now, it is definitely possible during the first year with the right time management. Everyone has two protected afternoons, which gives you a solid 10-12 hours/week to do research, not including the weekend. If you are doing basic science research, this may not be feasible because it is hard to come into the lab every day to work on a project. However, if you are doing some less lab-intensive projects like bioinformatics or just writing up your manuscript for publication, the 10-12 hours/week you have is definitely enough for you to get some solid amount of work done.
The caveat to all of this is that although you have the free time to do some amount of research, we do not advise you to do so for two reasons. First, in Curriculum 2.0 there will be an entire immersion year (your third year) and more in which you can do research without having to worry about class. If you want a more intensive research experience, doing a research year and applying for various scholarships such as HHMI grants is also a very common path. The first year of medical school is where you lay the essential basic science foundation for the rest of your career. Second, you will likely cherish all the free time you have in the first year! The first year is tough, both because of the content and because it is very long. To combat stress and fatigue, it really helps to have the protected afternoons during the week and to do some activities that will keep you refreshed. The protected time is also there for you to study and make sure you don’t end up going to sleep at 3am because of work overload. A couple of my classmates including me have done some amount of research-related activities during our first year, but it was limited to short bursts such as a week here or a week there. We were all working on projects that we did not finish before starting school. Even that short amount of time felt overwhelming at times. I definitely got quite behind at times and felt stressed about trying to catch up all the work I missed while working on my project. The weeks that I spent working on my research project felt like I had absolutely no free time, because if I was not working on research, I was busy trying to catch up on all the studying that was taken up by research.
The take home message is that if you absolutely have to do some amount of research, you could, but it will involve a lot of time management. It could affect your grade, your stress level, and make your overall experience a lot less pleasant than it needs to be. If you can’t avoid it, talk to your lab PI and see if you can reduce your workload on the project- you are in medical school and they should understand that. When you are doing research, keep in mind that it should be secondary to your medical education so don’t stress out too much about the research part. There will be plenty of time for you to do meaningful research in the later years of medical school.
Vanderbilt Careers in Medicine (CiM) is one of the premier medical student career development organizations in the country. CiM leaders have been frequently contacted by other medical school officials for advice on developing similar programs elsewhere. CiM’s motto of ‘Explore, Decide, Succeed’ represents the goals of the organization as further described in its mission statement: CiM supports Vanderbilt medical students as they ‘Explore’ career options in the health care field, provides structured advising as they ‘Decide’ among various specialty choices, and paves the path for graduates to ‘Succeed’ as they begin to embark upon their professional journey.
We accomplish these goals by creating the foundation necessary to cultivate leadership and professionalism, by facilitating early and sustained exposure to various career options, and by fostering an atmosphere of dedicated mentorship by faculty and alumni. We are the organization responsible for the Multispecialty Exposure Elective, Specialty Speed Dating, Pathway to Match, Specialty Interest Groups, and a great deal more career programming and resources.
VUSM 2015, Co-President of CiM
Admittedly, I did not find my roommates on Craigslist, but that is totally the next place I would have looked had I not found my current living situation through the medical school. I took a leap of faith by moving into an apartment with two people that I didn’t meet until months after I had already signed the lease, one of whom I would be sharing a bathroom with.
It was very different going from living with 6 of my best friends in college to living with two girls that I knew almost nothing about. All I knew going into it was that they seemed nice enough and that one was going into her last year of medical school and the other was starting teaching at a nearby university this year. As much fun as my living situation was in college, it was distracting. Living alone was out of the question due to cost and me just being a scaredy cat in general. I also didn’t want to live with classmates, because as much as I love all of them, I knew that I wanted a place to go home to where I could avoid talking about med school for a few hours. The set up that I have now is perfect. My favorite thing is watching my roommate grade history papers and listening to her reaction when students erroneously write that Columbus came to the Americas in 1942, instead of 1492.
I live with a friend of mine from undergrad, Larissa, who is in the nurse practitioner program at Vanderbilt. I have absolutely loved living with her this year! School can get very overwhelming at times, and spending all your time with the same 90 people can old quickly. Getting to come home to a place where no one knew what I did that day was great because I could be nerdy and get excited about what I had learned, complain about how hard class was, or just not discuss anything at all! We spend so much of our time in class and doing school-related things, and I personally need something in my life to get away from that environment to maintain balance. Having that place be my apartment was perfect.
Because Larissa was in graduate school, she understood how stressful my days could get and how demanding school was. It is pretty hard for any non-med student to truly understand how stressful school can get, but having a roommate that could empathize and help me manage my stress has definitely helped my with my wellness. I would always be sure to tell her whenever exams were coming up, and she consistently made sure that I wasn’t losing my mind! Overall, I have had an excellent experience living with a non-medical school roommate, and cannot wait to live with Larissa for another year!
First and foremost, everyone in medical school finds their own groove in terms of their living situation. Some people love living by themselves and can’t imagine anyone else cramping their style. Some people live in houses with either a bunch of medical students or a bunch of normal humans and absolutely love it.
But I live with two other med students and here’s why. For one, our schedules are in sync. Day to day, we may not see each other a ton what with the studying and whatnot, but when it’s time to buckle down and get to work, we’re all feeling the pressure together. I don’t have to worry about any loud parties the week before tests. Equally importantly, I know that everyone will be okay with loud parties the week after the test.
Another huge thing for me is living with people who know what I’m going through. We feel each other’s pain and each other’s elation. No one else can really understand what our lives are like, so being able to talk to someone who really understands is terrific. I can always ask my roommates if I have questions about the material or generally when I’m supposed to be where, which is super comforting. There is danger here as well in that life could become all medicine, all the time. We make sure than there is non-medical roommate chatter in addition to the rehash of the day’s lectures.
Also, it’s really fun. Medical jokes and puns that really aren’t all that funny get huge laughs. Late night medical ramblings and theories about the evolutionary relationship between vitamin D and skin pigmentation are a thing. And when I’ve been locked in my room all day studying and come out looking like a caveman that’s just been thawed, no one even looks at me twice except to offer to make me some tea.
There is something to be said for living with people outside of the medical sphere. Balance is key. However, living with medical students can be comforting, rewarding, and absurdly fun.
As an undergrad, I lived both by myself and with various numbers of roommates. I chose to live alone when I started medical school. I love the unmatched flexibility to pick my own sleep, play, and study schedules (in order of importance) without having to worry about disturbing roommates. This may be particularly important near exam time to allow you to work at your own pace and not be stressed out by other people. The only major con of living alone is that you probably pay a little more, particularly if you want to live within walking distance of campus, but still pay less what you would pay in basically any other city.
For the introvert, living alone lets you recharge after a long day at school, lab, or the clinic. For the pathologically social, have no fear, though we are a small class of 90-100 people, there are people going out for food, drinks, trivia, hikes, sports, movies, and more essentially every day. There will be many talented classmates from all med school classes that share your interests and it is never too late to discover new ones. There is a good chance that you will be neighbors with several of your classmates no matter where you live.
Good luck in medical school and please feel free to contact me if you have any questions!
David Jia Liu
Through downtown and across the Cumberland River, about 4 miles from Vanderbilt, lies East Nashville. People will tell you that it’s full of hipsters, or maybe that it’s dangerous, but it’s the place that I call home. I love it and can’t really imagine living anywhere else. I even made a list to tell you why I love where I live and here it is:
1. How diverse and accepting it is.When I go to the grocery store, I see people from all walks of life. It’s refreshing to interact with people of different backgrounds and get to know people who aren’t in medicine. If there’s tension, racial or otherwise, I’ve never experienced it.
2. The (lack of) traffic.Once you get over the river, it’s easy to get around, even during busy times of day. Maybe because everyone’s a musician or an artist or something?
3. Shelby Park.15 miles of paved walking and biking trails, 6 or so miles of unpaved grass trails, a dog park, a Nature Center, and swings. In the warmer months there’s a farmer’s market.
4. The food.Specifically Marche, Wild Cow and King Soloman’s Gyros
5. The Listserv.Great for finding handymen, cleaners, dog walkers, wedding photographers, rentals, houses, etc, etc.
6. Bike lanes.I’d wager that East Nashville is one of the bike-friendliest parts of town.
7. Alegriaand other small, locally owned shops (that you can walk or bike to!)
8. How politically liberal it is.This definitely isn’t a draw for everyone, but it was for me. Around the election last November, I saw more “No on 1” signs (a law amending the state constitution to potentially restrict abortion access in the state) in East Nashville than anywhere in the city.
9. Aldi,a German grocery store where you have to bag your own groceries.
10.The relaxed pace.There are no doctors in my neighborhood, although my dentist does live down the road. The people are chill. I love that when I leave campus, I really leave campus.
11. My neighbors.They are seriously the best. Young and old, black and white, gay and straight — and all wonderful. I love belonging to a community outside of Vanderbilt.
On driving to class: My commute is 12-20 minutes of driving, plus another 10 of walking because I refuse to spend money on a parking permit. I end up leaving my house around 7:25 to get to 8:00 class. Some days I wish I lived closer and could walk, but mostly I use the commute as a chance to decompress, reflect, and dance in my car. Plus, it’s easy to run errands or pick up groceries on the way home.
I think that’s it. Please feel free to email me with questions - KatieRyan5@gmail.com. I’d love to have more VandyMed in the ‘hood!
VUSM 2017, MSTP
Class Wellness Chair
Congratulations for being accepted to Vandy! It’s awesome that you’re considering leaving your home country to come to this great school. Personally, I have found Vandy to be very welcoming of international students (they offer both merit and need-based scholarships for non-citizens), and I didn’t really find the culture too different from where I’m from (Canada).
If you attended a US school for undergrad, you’ll already be ahead of the game in terms of preparation; but if you’re like me and have never lived in the States, there are a few things to take care of before you arrive and when you get here. Firstly, you’ll need to get your I-20, which may require an interview at the US embassy in your country (unless you’re from Canada). I recommend starting this process a few months in advance so you’re not scrambling to get it done at the last minute. Apartment hunting is a little difficult from another country, but it is definitely doable, and from my own experience, it’s possible to find a place to live even if you’re only making a weekend trip to Nashville.
When you move in, try to get to Nashville a week or so before school starts in July, in order to set up things like your bank account, internet, utilities, cell phone, etc. It’s nice to get all of that done before orientation starts, because believe it or not, orientation is actually quite tiring! The International Student Services will also want to meet with you, so be sure to arrange some time for that. Coming early will also give you time to explore the city and get acquainted with your surroundings.
If all of this seems a little overwhelming, don’t panic! There’s a lot to do, but a little planning and an early head start will get you well on your way. Once you have everything set up, it’s pretty much smooth sailing, and you’ll feel a little special knowing that you’re representing your country in a mostly-American class.
Right after I graduated from college, I took one year off to teach general chemistry labs at my hometown university. That year off was one of the best things I did to both relieve my post-college burn out and improve my application, but I worried that my transition back to student mode would be jarring. After all, making money, having free time, and not having to kick your brain into fifth gear all the time is a dangerously tempting combination.
Surprise, surprise – starting your first year of medical school is a little jarring. Yes, my study skills were slightly rusty, but my study habits and strategies were forced to change so much from undergrad that I don’t think time out of school really came into play. I can guarantee that a large portion of your class (if not everyone) will be going through a similar period of adjustment. The only way to really find out what works for you is to give it a try.
Now that I’m about half way through first year (yikes!), I’ve realized that having time off before school was, for me, much more valuable than any slight studying edge that I lost. If you can refine your sense of purpose and breathe life back into your curiosity then you’ll ultimately be a better student. So don’t start studying now if you find yourself worrying about getting back into student mode– DO take it easy and maybe try out a few quick lunch recipes!
I took two years off before coming to medical school and did two different things in those two years. In my first year I did clinical research at Vanderbilt. I think this really helped me see how a clinic is run and what team members are vital to its function. The flow of the clinic is dependent on so many people beyond the physician. In addition, I had the opportunity to work with numerous patients and talk about patient education. My PI also had me work on some papers during this year as well. During my second year, I did an americorps program in NYC and worked as a client services associate at the Medicare Rights Center. This allowed me to learn about the insurance side of healthcare-something I knew nothing about. I have been surprised at how often this comes up now in medical school. There is something invaluable about working with patients who are struggling to afford their healthcare. I know I will be a more mindful physician because of that experience.
Beyond adding work and life experience, I know that I needed those two years out of school so that I would not get burned out. Yes, it may be a little more difficult getting back into academics after being out of it, but your mental health needs a rest too. I have observed that some of the students who took time off seem to have a better balance of work/life. You learn in your time off how important life outside of your career is and that helps to translate back here in medical school.
I can 100% say that having some work experience and experience in the health care world before coming here has already made a difference. I think on average most people in my grade came straight to medical school, but there are quite a few people that have taken anywhere from 1-8 years off. I originally was going to go straight into medical school and now I am so grateful to have taken the gap years.
If you have further questions about the gap years please email me directly! Congrats and welcome to the community!
When I began considering staying at Vandy for medical school, one of my biggest worries was that my undergraduate experiences at the university would somehow take away from the excitement of beginning medical school. Senior year of college revolves around looking forward; seniors are eager to “get out” and indulge in unfamiliar places, people and opportunities. I worried that I was missing out on the excitement of moving to a new city and starting school at a new university. I wondered if I was missing out on the professional opportunity to “prove myself” in multiple academic environments. Overall, I thought I was playing it safe by staying in the Vanderbubble.
Motivated by the friendly atmosphere and innovative approach to education at Vandy Med, I took a leap of faith and decided to stay at Vanderbilt. Only after a couple weeks of medical school, I quickly realized my initial worries were completely misled. Being on a familiar campus helped ease the transition into the rigorous medical school courses. I already knew my key study spots on campus and immediately felt right at home, amidst the shock of starting classes and being thrown into a completely new group of classmates. Though I felt the comforts of “home”, I also began to experience Vanderbilt in a new light. Believe it or not, the medical campus is completely different from the undergraduate campus – though they’re physically connected. The atmosphere is very different and there are so many new and exciting pockets to be explored.
Staying at Vanderbilt also allows you to capitalize on connections – both academic and social – made during your undergraduate career. I’ve loved meeting up with current undergrads for coffee and continuing those friendships that began during undergrad. Even the simple idea that I could easily walk 10 minutes to Rand and see a bunch of undergraduate friends is so incredibly comforting – and rare! You can continue to collaborate with a professor on a project or delve deeper into a faith community. Many Vanderbilt undergrads dedicate a lot of their time to research or service projects. Staying in Nashville allows for continuity. You can continue working in the same lab (if you can find the time :) ) or pursuing longer-term service projects. I spent a lot of time in undergrad working on service projects within the city. Staying at Vanderbilt for medical school has allowed me to expand upon these projects that center around the Nashville population and allow my growing medical knowledge to inform these projects.
It’s totally natural to worry about what it will be like to stay at the same school for 4 more years; to have fomo when many of your friends are preparing to move to new universities and cities. But in my opinion, the benefits of being a Vanderbilt “lifer” far outweigh any of the potential drawbacks I worried about before. Vanderbilt is one of the greatest places on earth – and we are lucky to have the opportunity to get to spend 4 more years at this beloved institution!
I grew up two miles from Vanderbilt and have known I wanted to become a physician since I was about five years old, so when I was accepted to Vanderbilt, it was a dream come true!
I was away from Nashville for the past four years for college, so returning was both comforting and exciting. It is comforting having family nearby. No matter how much work I have, after going home and receiving a home-cooked meal, it is impossible to remain stressed. My family provides me with food, housing, and even laundry (if I’m lucky!). I was worried that being close to family might be constraining, but they understand when I need my personal space. It is an appropriate balance of autonomy and dependence. Having a constant source of love and support nearby has dramatically improved my medical school experience. I encourage everyone to seek out a strong source of support. Whether it is friends, family, or a significant other, it is important to have people you can depend on when you need encouragement.
Good luck with everything, and let me know if you have any questions!
I went to a state school for undergrad, and I loved my big school experience — the plethora of on-campus activities and events, the opportunity to continually meet new people from different backgrounds, the excitement on game days,…let’s be honest, I even enjoyed those big lecture halls where the professor would never know if I decided to sleep in rather than go to class.
As you can imagine, attending a medical school with less than 100 students per class is a much different experience. For the first time, you’ll know all of your classmates and professors, and they will also know you. It is no longer possible to be anonymous.
I view that as a very positive change. Big schools are fun and expansive, but they can also be impersonal. The professor may not notice if you skip class, but he may also not notice if you’re struggling. There may be a seemingly endless number of people to meet, but it may also be difficult to feel strongly connected to any one group. This is where attending a small medical school is very helpful. The professors are very invested in ensuring your success — not only will they know your name (seriously!), but they will also reach out to you if you’re having difficulties. The support system from your peers is equally as strong, with mentoring from upperclassman, resource sharing from your classmates, and a sense of family from your College.
The benefits of a big school can also be found in medical school. The diversity of each medical school class means that you will still be surrounded by students from a wide variety of backgrounds. Between the medical center, the undergraduate campus, and the city of Nashville, there are still a wide array of activities and events in which to be involved, and it is still very possible to have a vibrant social life.
There is one transition that can be more difficult. Coming from a big school to Vanderbilt probably means that you were at the top of your class throughout undergrad. While the education at a big school may be just a rigorous as at a private school, the competitiveness of your peers may not be as intense. Once at Vanderbilt, you will quickly notice that all of your peers are highly motivated, intelligent, and impressively accomplished. You may no longer be the top of your class, and this can unnerving and humbling.
This too is a positive change. It inspires you to work harder than you ever have before and rely on the skills you developed in undergrad. For the myriad of opportunities that exist at big schools, a lot of self-initiative is required to find them. Because of this, you’ve learned how to succeed without a lot of institutional guidance. Now, with the increased support at Vanderbilt, I have no doubt that you will find your opportunities to succeed as a medical student.
Let first just say that, yes, I did actively choose to leave sunny California even though I had the opportunity to stay in CA for school. But, I had to come to Vanderbilt because I knew this was where I was going to be the happiest because of the students and faculty that I am surrounded by every day. Okay, now I’ll tell you a few of the reasons why I love Nashville more than California.
#1 – Southern Hospitality.Let me give you an example using a comparison of dining experiences in Nashville vs. California:
Me: “Can we get individual checks, please?”
Californian waiter to our group of 6: “Didn’t you read the sign? It says we can’t split checks”
Nashvillian waiter to our group of 10: “Would you like individual checks?”
Me: “You don’t have to do that”
Waiter: “It’s really no problem”
Me: “Okay, whatever is easier for you.”
Waiter: “I’ll split it up for y’all.” (Comes back with 10 separate checks)
#2 – Seasons.I feel like I was robbed 24 years of my life for not being able to experience Fall until now. Pumpkin spice lattes are so much more meaningful when the trees are 50 shades of orange. Then there’s the snow - not enough to stick around for more than half a day, but just enough to make you feel like a little kid again. It’ll still be novel to me for years to come. Also, winter fashion is the best kind of fashion, and you actually get to show off your winter style more than 3 days out of the year.
#3 – Being outdoors.Don’t get me wrong, the beach is nice and all, but my favorite hobby is running outside, and running on sand is really hard. It is so much more motivating to go for a run when I get to run past all of the adorable, non-cookie cutter homes. Nashville is a runner’s dream – there are tons of routes to run near my apartment without having to stop at a light every ¼ mile and beautiful trails if you’re willing to drive a few minutes. I like to treat myself to a hilly run at Percy Warner Park every weekend, which offers beautiful views overlooking Nashville that are not obscured by smog (looking at you, Los Angeles).
#4 – $$$.When friends and family come to visit they are shocked when they look at the menu and see that you can get a mouth-wateringly delicious BBQ sandwich AND two sides for $9 at my favorite restaurant in town, Edley’s. Also, I’ve never paid more than $5 for a pint of beer in Nashville, which reminds me of reason #4.5 - we have a nice selection of local brews here.
Before I came to interview at Vanderbilt, I had a ton of stereotypes about Nashville. When I got off the plane and heard country music blaring and saw cowboy boot ads (only tourists are really into the hats and boots btw) in the airport, I felt like my stereotypes were confirmed, and I figured this was the last place I would ever consider living. As you may have realized, I changed my mind. It probably helped that I left the airport (I highly recommend that step) and discovered that there was more to Nashville than met the eye.
Obviously, there is plenty of country music in Nashville. But Nashville’s nickname is “Music City,” not “Country Music City,” so there’s plenty of other live music too if country isn’t your scene. Outside of music, there’s also lots of other stuff happening. There’s a decent art scene, and the galleries downtown open up free to the public on the first Saturday evening of every month. You can get discount student tickets to the Nashville Ballet or the Nashville Symphony. If you’re a foodie, Nashville has a huge (and growing) restaurant scene, and the fact that it’s not far to farmlands means the farmer’s markets have tons of really fresh produce. If sports are your thing, I’m the wrong person to ask, but I do know that the school sometimes subsidizes events at Titans or Predators games, and you can get season tickets to Vanderbilt football or basketball for a really reasonable price and watch them lose to other SEC teams. While there isn’t quite the wide range of options as in big Northeastern cities like New York or Boston, if there’s something you’re really into, you can still find it in Nashville.
Moving to Nashville does take some adjustment, though. Southern hospitality is definitely a thing, and it threw me off at first. Making small talk with strangers in elevators or having my neighbors say hello and introduce themselves as I walked home were definitely new to me, and having deans and professors open their homes and invite us over for dinner was unexpected but nice. Even though Nashville’s not the stereotype I expected, I do find the word “y’all” slipping into my vocabulary, and when I drive outside the city and see the billboards for gun sales, I am reminded quite clearly that I’m in the South. Unlike in Northeastern cities, public transportation within Nashville and from Nashville to other cities is fairly limited. Nashville does have a bus system, and Vanderbilt has lots of shuttles around campus, so it’s possible to live here without a car, but it’s not quite as easy as it is in the Northeast. The weather’s also a lot milder overall, though I wouldn’t recommend leaving your warmest winter stuff at home either – Nashville’s not immune to the occasional polar vortex or a rare storm that dumps a few inches of snow and shuts the city down.
While I never expected to find myself living in the South, I don’t regret moving to Nashville at all. Nashville’s a great city with a lot of unexpected charms, and Vanderbilt’s environment of friendly students and approachable faculty really can’t be beat.
VUSM 2018, MSTP
That medical school can be stressful should surprise no one. In an effort to help students cope with the stress inherent in medical education, the previous Dean of Students: Dr. Scott Rodgers established a Wellness Program within the medical school nearly a decade ago. In 2011, the New York Times took notice and proclaimed Vandy: “A Medical School More Like Hogwarts.” As you might have noticed on the application trail, many other med schools have tried to replicate our Wellness Program’s success, but there’s nothing like the pioneering original and we hope you’ll agree that we have the most innovative Wellness Program you can find!
Because wellness looks slightly different for everyone (what makes me happy might not make you happy), the program has a number of elements, including:
- Four advising colleges: smaller communities within the medical school with student and faculty advisors
- School-wide recreational activities (including College Cup!)
- Sub-committees devoted to promoting wellness in 4 areas: Mind, Body, Community, and Mentoring, which organize a variety of small events and study breaks to make medical school more fun
Read more about the Wellness Program here
VUSM 2017, MSTP
Class Wellness Chair
Nashville is a rare mix of small town southern charm with all the conveniences of a large modern city. As the nation’s “it” city, Nashville offers so much more than just country music. There’s never a dull moment and even as a medical school student there is time to explore and enjoy all that Nashville has to offer. Nashville is divided into several neighborhoods each with its own unique flavor. Although this list is not exhaustive, these are five neighborhoods to visit in Nashville.
Not only is East Nashville is considered to be the most eclectic liberal (dare I say hipster) part of the city, but it is also home to some of the best restaurants and coffee shops in Nashville. Rose Pepper Cantina serves great Mexican food and hands down makes the best Margarita in Nashville. Silly Goose a small farm-to-table bistro has amazing sandwiches and pork belly. If you’re looking for a great study spot Ugly Mugs has a relaxed open atmosphere and friendly staff. Barista Palor, a large warehouse turn coffee shop, serves artisan coffee. The Pharmacy is a local biergarten and burger parlor with a selection of burgers, German beers and wurst, and homemade soda pop. Next door to the biergarten, the speak-easy Holland House serves brilliant cocktails. In the five point’s area, The Treehouse is small place with a laid back atmosphere and regularly changing menu. It is a great place for dinner or late night sophisticated food snack after a night out. Be sure to seat on the patio that feels kind of like a tree house. Finally, East Nashville is also the home of Climb Nashville East an indoor rock-climbing facility as well as Shade tree our student-run clinic.
With stylish boutiques, a variety of restaurants, delicious desserts, and charming coffee shops it is easy to spend a whole afternoon in 12 south. Most importantly, the closest Jennie’s SPLENDID ice-cream to campus is located in 12 south. If you are feeling adventurous try exotic flavors such as sweet cream biscuits and peach jam or yazoo sue with rosemary bar nuts. Their selection of chocolate and vanilla ice-cream is also good. If frozen dairy treats aren’t your thing, head down to Las Paletas Gourmet Popsicles for frozen fruit, nut, or vegetable flavored Mexican styled ice pops. Paletas are a great addition to a warm day and perfect for eating while strolling through Siever Park. For dinner, Edley’s BBQ, Burger Up, Epice, and Josephine are terrific options. If you just need a cup of coffee and somewhere to study for a while Frothy Monkey and Portland Brew are some solid options.
Downtown and SoBro
If you head to lower Broadway on a Friday or Saturday night you’ll immediately know why the strip is called Nashvegas. Scattered with mostly tourist and bachelorette parties’ lower broadway is the a place for honky-tonkin and a memorable night. Some good places to hang-out on lower Broadway include the STAGE, Tequila Cowboy, and ACME Feed&Seed. The Stage is perhaps the most honky-tonk of the three but for someone is not a huge country music fan I’m never disappointed by the bands at The Stage. Tequila Cowboy is probably the only place on the strip where you can ride a mechanical bull while listening to hip-hop/urban club music at the same time. ACME, the newest addition to the strip, has become an immediate favorite among students. ACME has four floors with live music on the first floor and a roof-top bar with great views of the Cumberland River. If you are an art connoisseur, First Saturday Art-crawl, is a free monthly event where art galleries along Fifth Avenue and upstairs at the arcade open their doors to showcase pieces with complimentary refreshments. Additionally, the Frist Center for Visual Arts also has some great exhibits and students are free with ID on Thursday and Friday nights. For the music fanatics, Mercy Lounge, 3rd and Lindsley, and the Listening Room Café are great intimate venues to catch nightly live music performances or upcoming artist or music legends. The Schermerhorn Symphony Center also offers a great selection of Jazz, classical, and world music events.
Hillsboro Village-West End
This neighborhood borders the Vanderbilt Campus and features a French bakery, local coffee shop, and independent movie theater among other things. Provenance is a French bakery and bistro that serves amazing fresh baked bread and pastries and is quick and convenient place to grab breakfast and lunch. FIDO’s is a charming local coffee-shop with delicious coffee and even more amazing food. There’s a reason why this is one of T.Swift’s favorite spots in Nashville. You can easily spend hours in Fido. If you are wishing you were at the Sundance Film festival but are too busy with medical school to make the trip to Utah, no worries. The Belcourt Theater is great to place to catch independent, classical, and foreign films at a student discounted price. The Pancake Pantry, with its forever long line, serves 21 varieties of pancakes. The sweet potato pancakes are worth the wait.
A little bit of the beaten path 8th south is an interesting mix of restaurants and antique shops. Some highlights of 8th south include 8th and Roast, Smiling Elephant, and Zanies comedy night club. 8th and Roast is a great place to meet-up with friends or grab a nutella latte. Smiling Elephant, a mom and pop Thai restaurant, has perhaps some of the best Thai food in Nashville. You can also catch a comedy show at Zanies, comedy club that features comedians such Doug Benson, Marlon Wayans, and Russell Peters.
VUSM 2018, MSTP
One of the things that attracted me most to Vandy Med was that the students really had lives outside of the classroom. There are so many ways to get involved as a medical student, but my favorite has become volunteering and working at our student run, Shade Tree Clinic. To be honest, when I was looking at schools, I thought the idea of a student run clinic was pretty cool but it wasn’t a number one draw for me. However, now that I’m on the other side of the process, opportunities to volunteer at Shade Tree are my favorite part of being a medical student at Vanderbilt.
Shade Tree Clinic is completely student run and provides free care to the uninsured in Nashville. Once you start at Vanderbilt, you’ll hear TONS about the organization. As a first year, you have the opportunity to apply for a staff position, meaning you work at the clinic several times per month as a social worker, pharmacist or clinic coordinator just to name a few, or volunteer as part of a student team. I chose to work in the pharmacy and do student team shifts about once a month. The great thing about Shade Tree is that it takes the knowledge you get in lecture, and takes you out of 202 Light Hall so that you actually get to apply and practice your skills. And help people in the process.
For me, having to opportunity to practice my presentation skills, review drug mechanisms of action, and get to know my classmates and attendings that I’ll see on clinical rotations next year is great; but, the most rewarding part of the experience is actually interacting with patients and seeing the difference that healthcare has on their lives. Seeing patients and practicing clinical medicine is why we decided to go to medical school in the first place and Shade Tree provides a unique opportunity for first year students to be incredibly involved, on the front lines of patient care with a fantastic network of physicians backing them up. While volunteering at STC is not required as a VUSM student, I think it provides amazing opportunity to do what you came to medical school to learn how to do from the start.
On occasion, you may feel like skipping your daily vitamin D supplement and stepping outside of Light Hall to do things. Perhaps you will be so bold as to leave campus or even the city of Nashville, and venture out into a world beyond medicine, buildings, and people. This is a brief article about outdoorsy stuff.
If you are a park person, you might wake up relatively early on a Saturday and look outside, pleasantly surprised to find that the sun is shining brightly again in Nashville. And then you will text a few acquaintances you met at orientation to propose the ultimate athletic challenge: Frisbee. Park people -- meet Centennial Park. In Centennial Park, you will find big open spaces and casual ancient Greek architecture. You might also encounter dog people, grill people, and sports people. If you travel far enough into Centennial Park, you may forget you live in a city (***totally untrue unless you have a very short term memory, but what I’m saying is Centennial Park is pretty big).
Perhaps you are uninterested in Frisbee but find yourself staring out over the city of Nashville from anatomy lab to the mountainous horizon, longing for solitude and deciduous foliage. If that’s the case, then you should consider traveling to Percy Warner Park, which is about 20-25 minutes from campus. Percy Warner Park has a few of the same elements as Centennial Park, but its main attraction is miles of hilly running and hiking trails that traverse the woodsy Southern landscape. The other cool part about going to Percy Warner is you have to drive through Belle Meade to get there – which is a beautiful neighborhood on the way- if you’re into that kind of thing. If not, there’s always Percy Warner at the end of the road.
Perhaps your appetite for adventure is insatiable. Weirdly, you want to go head-to-head with a medium sized bear with a spork that you fashioned out of Tennessee bedrock. If so, there are many sights to see beyond Nashville. Rent a cabin in the Smokey Mountains one weekend with your classmates. Drive up to (dare I say) Kentucky to go rock climbing in Red River Gorge. Tennessee is home to some pretty sweet natural waterfalls, swimming holes, and lakes. There’s Cordell Hull Reservoir for anyone who wants to practice backflips on water skis (I hear that’s a golden ticket for getting into a Urology residency).
Anyway, there is plenty of nature to be explored here. Let me know if you want to go for a hike sometime.
Wellness is a term you’re going to hear a lot at VandyMed. Wellness is a concept that promotes our well-being and health. We are encouraged to make time for activities that are important to us: from exercise, intramurals, dance, music, art, and keeping up with our favorite TV shows to socializing at school and class events, volunteering at our student-run Shade Tree Clinic, exploring Nashville, and mentoring incoming students. When I was looking at schools, the question of how to avoid becoming a “robot” whose life revolves around school was a topic that arose frequently. Wellness is one of Vandy’s many positive features that attempts to answer this question. By encouraging us to continue our activities that help us maintain our “personhood,” Wellness was one of the most important qualities that convinced me to choose Vandy and has even inspired other schools to create similar programs for their student bodies.
One of my favorite elements of Wellness is our College system, which is essentially the Hogwarts of medical school. I was mildly obsessed with the Harry Potter series growing up, so having a chance to be sorted into one of four colleges on my first day here was an exciting prospect (go Robinson!). We even have a version of the Hogwarts “House Cup:” every October, each college’s students and faculty members work together to compete in a two-day competition for the College Cup, and we’re all encouraged to develop exercise routines in order to earn points for our colleges in the weeks leading up to the event. That weekend was one of the highlights of my first semester, and I was able to meet and build relationships with upperclassmen and develop stronger bonds with my current classmates. I participated in the 5K race, volleyball, dodgeball, soccer, and Iron Chef events, and cheered on other members of my college in the swim meet and water polo matches and trivia and board game competitions. The diversity of activities and the palpable student spirit of the weekend means that everyone can participate in some way! It’s an event the student body looks forward to every year and one that reminds us of the importance of maintaining our wellness and physical health.
On a personal level, I try to promote my wellness with barre fitness classes, which combine elements of ballet, yoga, and Pilates. Despite sometimes feeling too overwhelmed with studying to make time for exercise, I usually try to schedule myself for a one-hour class the day prior to the class so that exercise becomes an integral part of my schedule. The difficulty of the barre classes, energizing background music, and end-of-class breathing exercises allow me to relax and intently focus my mind on a topic that has nothing to do with schoolwork. While I sometimes have to decrease the frequency of classes I attend each week because of other social activities I want to attend and school demands, I try to substitute a short 20-30 minute workout video in place of the classes. I’ve found that exercise sharpens my mind, wakes me up when I’m feeling drowsy, and is important for my physical and mental health. My classmates who try to regularly exercise report similar effects, but some of my other classmates find these benefits from playing music, painting, or watching TV shows.
In short, medical school is demanding and the amount of information and studying we have can be overwhelming. However, I’ve found that making time for my interests, especially barre classes and physical fitness, has been extremely beneficial for my well-being. I have to make selective choices about whether I exercise, go to a social event, watch a movie, etc., but remaining committed to activities outside of school also reminds me of keeping the bigger picture in mind so that I can separate myself from the stress of school and remember that there is a “light at the end of the tunnel” (i.e., becoming a practicing physician!). If exercise isn’t your thing, pursue something that interests you and stick to it. You’ll be much happier and probably a more efficient studier in the long run!
Intramurals as a Vanderbilt medical student provides the perfect opportunity to socialize while being good to your body. If you’ve played sports growing up or want to try something new, the medical school intramural teams offer plenty chances to c̶r̶u̶s̶h̶ ̶s̶o̶m̶e̶ ̶u̶n̶d̶e̶r̶g̶r̶a̶d̶s̶ (just kidding!) get involved. Whether it’s volleyball or soccer, basketball or ultimate, someone in the class is willing to play.
So how do you get involved? Getting in touch with your class’s IM Chair (a peer chosen or appointed by the class council) is the first step. Then it’s only a matter of signing up and paying a small due. Anchor Down!
As I’m sure you’ve heard too many times by now, thriving in medical school is an exercise in balance. The material alone demands a great deal of time and it’s easy to get so caught up in the academics that you ignore other facets of wellness. College Cup is an opportunity to embrace these aspects. Through this Olympic-style competition, you compete alongside teammates from your college against the other three colleges in a variety of activities. Whether your forte lies in athletics, art, cooking, or trivia, there are plenty of ways to get involved.
The hype for College Cup escalates over the course of the week until the festivities formally begin on Friday with the 5K and spirit celebrations. Saturday is when the competitions are, ranging from Ultimate Frisbee to Iron Chef to basketball to Scrabble to trivia. These occur over the course of the day, taking advantage of Nashville’s great weather. The night culminates with members of all the classes going out in celebration of a wellness-filled weekend. In all, College Cup is a great way to relax from the rigors of medical school and embrace your hobbies that can’t be found in the New England Journal of Medicine.
I got engaged about 3 months before starting medical school. At first I was nervous about how medical school would affect my relationship with my fiancé. We had been living together in Portland while working and had become accustomed to spending lots of time together in the evening and on the weekends. When I decided to come to Vanderbilt instead of staying in Portland, this meant that we would be doing the long distance thing (at least for a little while). We were long distance until January, at which point my fiancé moved out here from Portland. He has now been living here 2 months. After maintaining a long distance relationship and then transitioning to having my fiancé here, I have learned a couple important lessons.
The most important thing I have learned is how important it is to make time for your significant other. It doesn’t matter how busy or stressed out you are, you can always take some time off to spend with your significant other if you prioritize correctly. When I was maintaining my long distance relationship, I talked to my fiancé every night (including the night before big exams) even if it was just for five or ten minutes. I promise I’m not one of those crazy clingy girls- it’s just really important to not let your priorities shift so much that you can’t find time to talk to the people that you really care about. The same concept holds true now that my fiancé lives here- I take every Saturday night off and spend it with just him. Not only does this help maintain our relationship, it is also a nice thing to look forward to when you’re in the trenches studying.
The other important lesson I have learned is to take advantage of that time that you set aside for your significant other. Whether you are talking on the phone or spending Saturday night with them, let yourself stop thinking about school. You are doing yourself a favor by taking an actual break and your significant other will appreciate that you’re not rambling on about heart murmurs.
Being engaged in medical school is challenging, but those challenges also give you the chance to prioritize when your time is stretched thinner than it ever has been before, focus on being present when your mind is racing over all the things you are learning, and ultimately strengthen your relationship. Also, if you play your cards right you might be able to get your significant other to cook you meals…. Especially come exam time ;)
My husband is, in fact, that only reason I ended up at Vanderbilt. No, he’s not a dean or anything; when I was looking at medical schools to apply to, I asked him if I should apply to Vanderbilt. He said, “if you went to Vanderbilt I could get a PhD in Engineering there; I am interested in some of the research they’re doing.” So, I applied, and by some miracle was accepted. He applied to the Engineering School and was also accepted — somewhat less of a miracle, but still serendipitous.
I’m not sure if maintaining a marriage in medical school is harder than maintaining a marriage in other professions/graduate programs. Marriage takes energy. Medical school takes energy. How much energy you put into each is a personal decision, and one that boils down to priorities — are you willing to put your school work before your relationships? Personally, I’m not. Are there times when I haven’t been as available for my husband? Certainly. But do I feel like our marriage has suffered at all because of my being in medical school? Not at all.
A few things that have helped me/us:
1. Self-care.For me, this means daily exercise and meditation to keep my stress at bay and help me stay present and available.
2. Therapy.My husband and I have done some couples counseling and both have therapists of our own.
3. No obligations.I don’t force my husband to come to medical school events unless he wants to. Being a non-med student amidst a bunch of med students talking about the class they’re in can be overwhelming.
4. Communicating openly without consequences.We do our best to communicate our fears, joys, anxieties, gratitudes, and frustrations without expecting the other person to change. Also see #2 for how to get good at this.
5. Time together.This one is sort of obvious, but making time can be hard, particularly when the anxiety of studying constantly looms over you.
6. Daily gratitude.Telling my husband a few things I love about him on a daily basis reminds both of us why we agreed to spend our lives together. Awww.
Forgive me for this, but when I think about what marriage — what love — means to me, I always return to this quote from Anne Morrow Lindberg that we read at our wedding. She writes,
“When you love someone, you do not love them all the time, in exactly the same way, from moment to moment. It is an impossibility. It is even a lie to pretend to. And yet this is exactly what most of us demand. We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb. We are afraid it will never return. We insist on permanency, on duration, on continuity; when the only continuity possible, in life as in love, is in growth, in fluidity - in freedom, in the sense that dancers are free, barely touching as they pass, but partners in the same pattern.
The only real security is not in owning or possessing, not in demanding or expecting, not in hoping, even. Security in a relationship lies neither in looking back to what was in nostalgia, nor forward to what it might be in dread or anticipation, but living in the present relationship and accepting it as it is now. Relationships must be like islands, one must accept them for what they are here and now, within their limits - islands, surrounded and interrupted by the sea, and continually visited and abandoned by the tides.”
To me, medical school is just another boat, making waves in the sea.
VUSM 2017, MSTP
Class Wellness Chair
My name is Joe Luchsinger and I am in the VMS 2018 class. I love it here! I was asked to write about married life at Vanderbilt medical school. Before I get into the details, I should start by saying being married in medical school is great. Vanderbilt certainly seemed to be the most couple friendly school that I visited. It was a big factor in my choice to come here, and fortunately, that impression was right.
I married my wife, Christelle, right before medical school started. Shortly before the wedding, she moved to the US and we then moved to Nashville together. Initially, things were challenging because she didn't have a job yet. That created two problems. First, she was bored while I was at school/ studying, and second, even with Nashville’s low cost of living, her lack of income increased our financial strain. We didn’t starve, but we had to be conservative. Fortunately, she now has a job. She now has a position in the Medical Alumni Association office and loves it there! It is just one example of how quickly you get plugged in/ form relationships at Vanderbilt. I was amazed, during the early months, faculty were always asking how her job search was going. When people found out that Christelle was looking for a job, they started keeping an eye out for open positions in which Christelle might be interested. The Alumni Association caught her attention and everything worked out beautifully.
Ok, ok, back to relationships. There are some huge benefits to being in a relationship in medical school. Christelle is a phenomenal cook, so even when I don't have time to cook, I can usually count on something healthy and delicious. As I'm writing this, she is making a zucchini tart and an apple crumble for dessert.
My dietary extravagances (seen via her Instagram) have become a bit of a running joke among classmates, particularly those that will prepare large quantities of food and eat the same thing for 8 meals in a row. She doesn't always cook; I made the Valentine's Day dinner. It was a coffee crusted fillet mignon that I burned to a brand new Le Creuset pan through a process that can only be described as nuclear fusion. While airing out the apartment of the smoke in an attempt to calm the fire alarms, Christelle called down to curious onlookers, “Its ok, my husband is just cooking dinner.” Humor is not required for medical school, but it helps.
Relationships in medical school come with challenges as well. It's important to make time to do things together because there will always be another note card to study or an essay to write. A crucial skill to develop is knowing when to call it quits. That being said, if you do it right, a relationship will almost always be positive!
Another plus, it is so calming to have someone to come home to when you're stressed, because medical school is extremely taxing. No one does wellness better than Vanderbilt, but don't be fooled, medical school is hard and having a shoulder to lean on is invaluable. It is so beneficial to be able to escape and do something entirely unrelated to studying with someone that you care for. I mentioned the inclusiveness towards significant others at Vanderbilt. It's a little hard to convey, but Christelle will tell you that she really feels like she is a part of our class. I am the class president and the M1s have adopted her as First Lady. She comes to events, parties, and is just welcome around the school.
The entire Vanderbilt system is deeply thoughtful when it comes to couples and it is decidedly common to receive invites to various school functions that specifically mention that significant others are more than welcome. There is also a specific group for couples, Couples in Medicine (partner does not need to be in medicine). Christelle and I are going to play laser tag and go out for Thai food with them this week. (Don’t get me started on the amazing food situation for date nights in Nashville.)
Anyway, we both love it here and I am confident you and your significant other will too!
Before coming to medical school I got married to another medical student (who is also a student at Vanderbilt, no less!). Like most marriages, we’ve had to adjust our expectations of how much time we can spend with one another, how to coordinate our study schedules, and how to balance time between each other and friends. And once we seem to have figured out a system, our schedules change and then we’re back to square one. Sometimes it can be frustrating to be married to someone so busy (and I’m sure it is for him too), but most of the time it’s rewarding. I’m lucky to have someone here at Vanderbilt to help mentor me through the challenges of medical school. Even if we are in the same program, it helps balance my perspective to hear someone else’s view of the same or similar experiences. At the same time though, it’s been easy for me to fall into the trap of only talking about medicine all the time with my spouse. As interesting as healthcare is, it’s also good to keep challenging each other to talk about and enjoy other things regularly too. While we’re both pretty ambitious, we’ve learned to avoid being competitive or indulging in comparing ourselves in our performance in school or on standardized tests. One of the bigger challenges that I didn’t anticipate was setting my own goals and not listening too much to the expectations of those around me about what a marriage “should” be like. It’s worth reminding yourself regularly that you set your own expectations of what’s reasonable given your study habits and needs. If you’re recently married to someone who’s just as busy and devoted to their career as you, your mutual interest in helping each other succeed is one of the key things that will help your marriage stay strong throughout a challenging four years.