This interview is the latest in an Accepted blog series featuring interviews with medical school applicants and students, offering readers a behind-the-scenes look at top medical schools and the med school application process. And now, introducing Shannon Tosounian…
Accepted: We’d like to get to know you! Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad?
Shannon: I never know what to say when people ask me my hometown! Having lived the first ~11 years of my life in a tiny rural town in West Virginia before moving to Los Angeles, California, I’ve experienced the best of two very different areas of the US. My undergrad and graduate degrees were both completed at UCLA (Go Bruins!) I studied physiology for both my bachelors and masters degrees. During undergrad I was also dedicated to playing on the Women’s Rugby team, an experience that truly changed my life. During my masters I did research in exercise interventions in obese young men, which really shaped the way I approach medicine to this day, seeing the value in preventive care and lifestyle modification as a form of medicine. I have three amazing brothers, all of whom live in California, and I miss them every day now that I’m back on the east coast.
Accepted: Where did you go to med school? Where are you currently completing your residency?
Shannon: I went to medical school at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM) at the Seton Hill campus. When applying to medical schools, my priority was to be anywhere within driving distance to family (support system is everything!) Since my dad still lived near this campus, and with much of my extended family in Pittsburgh, PA, this worked out beautifully. My husband moved with me from California, and much to my surprise he absolutely loved the east coast (and the snow?!) and we decided to stay for residency. I wanted a bigger city and thus happily found myself at Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia. I rotated here early in my 4th year of medical school and absolutely loved my experience, and was lucky enough to interview and match here for internal medicine residency. I’m currently a second-year resident here and could not be happier with my experience thus far.
Accepted: How did the entire residency match process go for you? Did you experience any challenges along the way?
Shannon: The match process was actually quite smooth for me, other than the terrorizing, all-consuming anxiety that I had totally screwed up and clicked a wrong button on ERAS that would result in total destruction of my application (you know, the usual med student type-A thoughts). The major challenge of applying and interviewing was having to travel (often through bad weather) while still being on med school rotations. It was exhausting, but such a fulfilling experience to meet people along the way and enjoy all the incredible pre-interview dinners! Internal medicine programs are ubiquitous, but with varying quality. This required lots of research to carefully select programs to which I would apply. Additionally, there were a few programs I considered that were dually accredited, but most of these program directors understood this dilemma and allowed DOs to still rank the programs through the allopathic match. The qualities I looked for in a program included stellar board pass rates, excellent fellowship matching, caring for an underserved patient population, and great resident camaraderie. I applied strictly to the northeast region and was ECSTATIC to match at Einstein in Philadelphia.
Accepted: How did you know internal medicine was what you wanted to specialize in?
Shannon: Internal medicine is a broad, well-rounded specialty with a myriad of career options. You can complete residency and practice in either adult primary care or inpatient medicine (as a hospitalist) or you can continue with fellowship training in a medicine sub-specialty such as cardiology, hematology/oncology, rheumatology, gastroenterology, nephrology, infectious disease, pulmonary/critical care, endocrinology (these are the main ones.) From early on in the first year of med school I had a feeling I’d want this kind of training but kept an open mind. During rotations I started to eliminate other options: pediatrics and ob/gyn were an absolute NO (which by default, meant family medicine was out), surgery and emergency medicine were fun but I couldn’t see myself doing it forever, and everything else seemed too subspecialized and I wanted to read/know about everything in adult medicine (even if I would then subspecialize after internal medicine.) I love being a resident caring for patients admitted to the hospital, with problems ranging from severe asthma exacerbations, to pancreatitis, to acute kidney injury (and everything in between!)
Accepted: You have a blog called Shanny, DO! What made you want to start chronicling your journey and sharing it with others?
Shannon: During my second year of medical school I felt that I had a lot to discuss regarding both being in medicine, and also living a life of wellness. I first started my Instagram account to share short snippets of information and personal experiences before expanding later to a formal blog. Just recently I transformed that blog into a website that I’m slowly improving over time. Writing is therapeutic, and in a career that is so emotionally and mentally exhausting, it feels nice to type things out in an organized fashion and to realize that sharing your experiences can actually help others too. Sometimes I write about preventive medicine topics (nutrition, exercise, sleep hygiene, screening recommendations) because I have loads of experience in these topics and I feel that SO many people are misled about how to live well (and I want to be part of the solution!) Sometimes I write about personal stories in medicine because I never want other healthcare providers to feel they are alone in their struggles. I promised I would never blog if it felt forced, or felt like work. Every time I write something, it’s intentional and with purpose.
Accepted: How did you manage to find balance while in med school?
Shannon: Balance – such an interesting goal that should be achieved with caution. “Having it all” can be difficult to obtain, and I’ve had to call myself out on this a few times. Finding that sweet spot – the balance between career goals and personal life, is something I still work on every day with each decision of time management. I think the key is using all of your time with intention. Whatever you’re doing, do it wholeheartedly. If you’re studying, do it without any distractions and with effective methods for you. If you’re on a date with your significant other, don’t feel guilty that you’re not flipping through pharmacology flashcards – give your full attention to him/her. If you’re at the gym for a quick 30 minute workout, leave the notes at home. They’ll be there when you return and can actually focus on them!
Very early on in medical school I set out ground rules for self-care. It’s easy to get buried in studying because there really is no “end” to how much material you can learn. Every single day, I planned for one single hour of personal time to be used how I wanted. The majority of these “happy hours” were for exercising (because it made me feel GOOD and I knew it would benefit my own health in the long run!) However, other times they’d be dedicated to cooking a nice meal, or taking a nap, or talking to my best friend on the phone. No one is going to take care of you except yourself – make it a priority! I promise that self-care won’t make you perform poorly in a class, and if you’re struggling academically, it’s more likely your study habits that need reform. Never sacrifice your own health to succeed in medical school. Additionally, never underestimate the power of a strong social circle. Staying holed up in your apartment 24/7 won’t make you a better doctor (in fact, quite the opposite). If you are responsible with your time, you can afford letting loose on a Friday without the guilt.
Accepted: Lastly, can you share your top three tips for med school success?
1. Get enough sleep. Contrary to popular belief, all-nighters and being sleep-deprived are not required as a rite of passage through medical school. To be honest, your long term success will improve greatly if you’re better rested. Stop the glorification of cramming for tests and hyper-exhaustion. You will consistently perform better (and feel better) if you make sleep a priority.
2. Shift your focus from “getting an A” to “being an excellent, competent doctor.” When you remember that all this accumulation of knowledge is to one day save and improve lives, it’s quite easy to stay motivated. You will one day have a very real and incredible responsibility on your shoulders; every day of medical school should prepare you for this.
3. Remember that success is not just getting honors and scoring in the highest percentile on your boards. It also means not losing yourself in the process and maintaining your empathy (and sanity). Having a stellar CV is essentially useless if you burn out fast and lose your passion for medicine. Don’t forget about the big picture – living your best life while helping others do the same.
You can follow Shannon’s story by checking out her website or by following her on Instagram (@shanny_do). Thank you Shannon for sharing your story with us – we wish you continued success!
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