Saturday, March 29, 2008


Hilarious article written by next year's Synapse editor, Arul, in honor of our yearly April Fool's issue (called Relapse). For some reason, UCSF has a reputation for being fiercely competitive and intense, but it's actually one of the most touchy-feely medical schools around. We just like to pretend that we're all business -- prickly demeanor on the outside....soft gooey caseating mush on the inside.

Note: this article is entirely fictional.

Grades: As Easy as A, B, C

By Arul Thangavel
Relapse Staff Writer

In a surprising move, UCSF School of Medicine has announced that it will switch from its current Pass/Fail grading system to a more traditional A/B/C grading system at the request of students. Many of the top medical schools in the country have had a Pass/Fail – or the even more friendly Pass/No Pass – system in place for many years now, at least during students’ pre-clinical education, to encourage a spirit of camaraderie and curiosity among students instead of fierce competition. But here at UCSF, many first-year medical students have complained that the current system has not allowed their competitive urges to fully blossom – and as a result, they pushed the administration hard for a change back to what many Deans call “the dark ages.”

Stories of “the dark ages” of medical education, which spanned much of the twentieth century, are severe. Students, graded on a strict curve against their peers, tried whatever they could to get the edge on their classmates, from hiding library books to grabbing group study room cards but not using them, to buying up entire stores of Netter’s Anatomy from the school bookstore to get the famed “restocking advantage” – other students squirmed for thirty days while the consortium of students who bought the multitude of Netter’s sat comfortably by. In one particularly ugly case, a student – not at UCSF – willfully got bitten by a werewolf so he could become a fearsome beast once a month on test day – scaring students and professors out of the room and securing a decided advantage for himself. Only a few students stayed in the room with the seemingly mythical creature, and they had their heads down while it bubbled its Scantron furiously.

First-year medical students at UCSF, though, believe that the pendulum has swung back the other way now. George Hulley, MS-I, laments, “Have you been to one of our small groups? It’s a love-fest. Everyone says, ‘Oh you’re right,’ and then ‘Oh no, you’re right.’ Come on people. You can’t both be right. Man.” Other students complain that tests are far too easy, citing the fact that every student passed the Pulmonary block exam. Michael Tseng, MS-I, suggests, “If everyone in the class is passing, we’re obviously doing something wrong. I have no idea whether I’m better than someone like, say, you, Arul. Without that knowledge, I don’t know if I’m really getting anything out of my medical education. I need to better someone else.” Tseng further displayed his competitive urge by challenging this reporter to a series of mock medical aptitude tests, “right here, right now.” Clearly, UCSF students needed an outlet for these fearful feelings.
UCSF administration says that they tried to provide an outlet to competitive feelings through non-scholarly activities such as intramural sports and extracurricular activities. Even these activities, though, have spiraled into fierce tete-a-tete’s, with one memorable moment involving water balloons, freezers and both Homeless Clinic and Clinica Martin-Baro. Intramural basketball games have ended in utter failure, with each individual student trying to outshine the other on her team, causing massive team losses. In response to these results and strong opinion from students, faculty finally succumbed and allowed grades – even with pluses and minuses – back for next year.

Emily Whichard, MS-I, is excited. “Finally! Now I can show people that I know more than them in a standardized way. Standardized is key. Normally I have to wait until a certain point in a conversation and then chime in the answer from afar. And then you don’t always get the credit. Now I will – the administrators have made the right decision.” Hugo Torres, MS-I, is also gleeful, “I can’t believe how great this is – grades are the best. They make me feel like I’m in high school all over again.”

It remains to be seen how this saga will unfold, but one thing’s for sure – the academic heat has been turned up a notch at UCSF School of Medicine.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Amusing Quote

Lily Tomlin - "The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you're still a rat."

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

it's sort of funny...after the hundredth time

P: "Leigh's disease
I have no idea what that is
it's not in first aid or BRS path
the explanation starts off w/.. "this disease is so rare that most physicians will never see it ever in their life"
"some sort of mitochondrial deficiency.. present w/ ataxia and other neural signs"
I hate them."

Sunday, March 23, 2008

in retrospect

My 24th birthday was really special, even though UCSF conspires to make every birthday slightly hectic (last year: M&N exam, this year: boards, next year: rotations, 4th year: Match Day).

Studying for the boards has helped me understand the medical conditions of the patients whom we have interviewed in the hospital for the past 1.5 years. In particular, I just wanted to jot something down right now about a woman in the neurology wards who I now realize had one of the defining illnesses of AIDS: HIV encephalitis. At the time, I didn't understand what that could be, or that she even exhibited signs of it. Talking to her about her life (she was in her 30s and a professional dog walker), she seemed normal but now I realize how much patients can preserve social graces in the face of debilitating mental conditions. She could talk about her life and her background, but she couldn't name simple objects and often mixed them up with similar sounding words. In retrospect, she was so young, and she was in bad shape...but she said to me, "Want to know something? HIV hasn't changed much, I've had a good life."

And for some reason right now, I want to believe her.

Friday, March 21, 2008


Lost my hearing and my voice at an awesome 80s cover band concert. It's all part of the normal aging process. So happy! :)

If medical students studying for the boards start talking about bizarre illnesses...just yell out the safety word: "PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY SANDWICH!!!" To get them to stop.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Caffeine Is the New Coke

Think about coffee and then think about the criteria for substance dependence (from First Aid 2008):

1. Tolerance - need more to achieve same effect
2. Withdrawal
3. Substance taken in larger amounts of over longer time than desired
4. Persistent desire or attempts to cut down
5. Significant energy spent obtaining, using, or recovering from substance
6. Important social, occupational, or recreational activities reduced because of substance use
7. Continued use in spite of knowing the problems that it causes


Monday, March 17, 2008

Signs of Mental Decline

The first sign of dementia is losing track of your surroundings...I am definitely not alert & oriented x 3. In fact, I'm not even sure what day it is, but it doesn't trouble me too much. It's funny how they say boards studying will fry your brain...I've definitely lost my short-term memory (hello, Alzheimer's) and I even think that I may have Broca's aphasia at this point....finding words is SO DIFFICULT. I can't speak normally all comes out in short words like...""

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Effects of Boards Studying

S: "Can you come up with a mnemonic for uremia (kidney failure)?

Signs of uremia:

P: "Hey, how about 'HAHAHA...pericarditis'?"

Boards Tip #1

Wikipedia is my best friend.

Google images is also incredibly useful.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Boards Boot Camp

UCSF has given us 4 weeks to take the USLME Step 1. I am liking the unstructured time to study, but am currently starting to get worried and quickly losing track of time (what day is it? what time is it? when did I last eat?)...and it's only been day 2 post-life cycle final.

Will send periodic updates from the black hole that is boards studying.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Seminal Events

Yesterday: I ate lobster for the first time in my life (if you don't count the allergic reaction when I was 2 years old). Thanks to Paul for introducing crustaceans and clams into my diet.

Today: Studied in the sunshine for 4 hours.

Tomorrow: Last medical school test.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Last Day of Class

Today was our last day of formal lecture at quickly the time flies by! After the Life Cycle exam on Thursday, we will be on our own studying for the USMLE Step 1.

Today our small group had a small celebration with mimosas and home-baked muffins (courtesy of Char who woke up early to bake them) and peppermint bark (courtesy of DSL). After a fun patient interview with an elder, our class celebrated our transition from the classroom into the boards and wards with a raffle, a few words from the interim Dean, and a slideshow made by an MS4.