Our guest today is an intern at Einstein Healthcare Network. He recently graduated from Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. He also has his own web site and podcast called The Happy Doc. Let’s learn more about Dr. Taylor Brana and how you too can be a happy doc.
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Can you tell us a bit about yourself? [1:05]
I’m originally from California – I lived in the Bay Area until I was about 16, then moved to Las Vegas for a couple of years.
I applied to a bunch of schools. I’d competed in gymnastics since I was six – so I was able to get scholarships (both athletic and academic) to Temple. It was a crazy experience coming to the east coast!
How did you get involved with gymnastics? [2:15]
My family is Russian, and there are a lot of gymnasts in my family. My grandfather actually competed in the Soviet army as a gymnast and a boxer. My mom is a gymnast, my grandmother was a gymnast.
So my family plugged us into sports – it was important for us to succeed both academically and athletically.
I was a natural at gymnastics as a kid – I excelled right away. I got excited about it – I’m a competitive person.
How did you get from gymnastics to medicine? [3:50]
I’m not the traditional story, with doctors in my family. A sport like gymnastics is about training all the time – always trying to improve your skills. When I went to college, I wasn’t the healthiest person. I realized if I was going to perform at my best, I needed to understand how to be a healthy human being. So I studied nutrition, etc. I excelled academically.
I also found I loved teaching. The basis of being a doctor is being a teacher/leader.
What was the most difficult part of the med school application process for you? [5:55]
My adviser looked at my grades and said I was a good applicant, but she didn’t think I could necessarily get into the schools I was applying to. It was discouraging. I’m not sure I had the right advising early on.
Would it have helped if instead of saying you didn’t have a good chance, she’d have said you would have a better chance if you did X, Y, and Z? [7:20]
I think so.
Why did you choose osteopathy – or did it choose you? [9:24]
It was more an issue of location – I really liked Philly. It was a choice between California and Philadelphia.
I applied to both MD and DO schools. I had a lot of interviews. When I went to PCOM, I was blown away by the family feeling and culture. People are genuinely nice. After my interview, I was looking for a bus to go home, and a first year student offered me a ride – actually gave me a ride all the way home.
The osteopathic philosophy has become a part of my life.
Can you give an example? [11:10]
It’s all about mind-body-spirit; the holistic aspects of health; and hands-on treatment. The way you think can affect the way you behave.
Looking at the whole person is very important. As a resident I often see physicians really focused on symptoms—but if we don’t consider environmental factors, we’re not treating the whole issue.
And I’ve seen how touch can be important both for establishing trust and alleviating pain.
What did you like about PCOM? [17:05]
The individual’s mindset has a huge impact on what you get out of an experience. PCOM is a great program. I’ve heard of a lot of cutthroat communities – but we were a supportive community. I didn’t feel too much of a competitive atmosphere.
What would you like to see changed at PCOM? [20:35]
This isn’t just at PCOM – it’s more globally at med schools. I think we can make more personalized approaches when it comes to learning. For me, lectures are inefficient. Maybe we could learn the material ahead of time and use class time for group discussion and small group work.
How did you approach the residency application process? [25:52]
I have a lot of aspirations outside of medicine, and it was important for me to choose a specialty that would allow me to have the life I want to have. I also wanted to choose a specialty I love. My rotations in family medicine and psychiatry stood out to me.
For the residency applications, I wanted to have a personal feel for the places I applied to. When I rotated at Einstein, I felt at home and like I could be myself.
I like to feel that a place feels right to me.
That’s a big tip I would highlight – people should feel appreciated, whether they’re students, interns, or residents. When you visit programs, do the residents feel burnt out?
So far so good at Einstein? [30:00]
Yeah – being an intern is challenging! I enjoy being a doctor much more than I enjoy being a student. To be in the clinic and put in orders and make decisions – I love that my ideas are taken into account.
What has surprised you so far? [32:00]
I wasn’t too surprised, because I’ve been speaking to so many doctors and residents. So my expectations were well managed.
In an article on Kevin MD last year you wrote, “Why must I give up on being happy? Why must I subject myself to a potentially sub-par, mediocre, or even worse, sad life? I am done accepting that being a physician is at best mediocre. I want to make active changes so we can build happy doctors.” How can you and other physicians build happy doctors? [34:05]
That article came out of a place of frustration. When you’re down, you can keep it in – or you can channel it towards something constructive.
I wanted to change the dialogue from defeatist thinking to more expansionist thinking.
What is the Happy Doc blog and podcast? [35:20]
It came out of this internal space.
The “Why” is that there are doctors who are killing themselves. Doctors who are depressed, anxious, not feeling fulfilled. We went into this field to help others…
The “why” is to understand why this is happening, and build in conversations and also actions and tools to help people achieve the sense of fulfillment they’ve wanted.
I’ve learned a lot from my guests. When you speak to inspirational, creative people you learn you can direct your career in so many ways. We’re bombarded by linear thinking – but there are a lot of ways you can shape your path with a medical degree.
It makes me excited to be a physician.
I’m looking to build this [The Happy Doc] – we have a team now. We’ve been building more opportunities for personalized, human connections – building tools to help via coaching, etc. We’re helping people reconnect with the “why” we went into medicine in the first place.
Did you ever think of quitting medicine? [42:15]
I’ll go back to gymnastics for a moment: I was really good at it and I loved it, but I would get frustrated and think about quitting because of all of the sacrifices I was making.
It’s very important to have self-awareness. At my times of greatest frustration, that’s when I learned the most. It’s when you get frustrated that it’s time to re-set, reflect, and figure out how you can do things better.
There were times I thought about quitting but external factors kept me in. And I’m so glad to have reached this point in my career.
What can doctors do to maintain their happiness and humanity? [44:20]
It comes down to self-awareness. It’s been key for me to make time in my day to check in – for me, that’s through meditation. Your attitude has a big effect on your day.
Reconnect with why you’re doing this and with your dreams. I know I want to impact people in a big way. The podcast helped me reconnect with my “why.”
What are your dreams? Where do you see your career going? [46:50]
The bigger your dream, the closer you’ll get to something bigger than you thought possible.
On a personal local level, and on a grand level, I want to be able to touch people’s lives. And to inspire as many people as I can.
My other dream – I love to write poetry, as well as dance and sing. I have a lot of creative parts of my life, and I’d love to make space for that.
When it comes to dreams and what you want to do, a lot of people are looking for permission. [50:35]
You’re the priority. You have permission to go for your dreams.
I had a lot of negative self-talk telling me I shouldn’t make the podcast/blog. This experience has taught me it’s worth it.
• The Happy Doc
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• Medicinal Magic and Magical Medicine: An Interview with M3 David Elkin
• Amy Ho: An ER Resident Who Connects with Patients and Society
• A New Approach to Training Doctors: The University of Connecticut’s M Delta Curriculum
• Get Accepted to Hofstra Medical