Yoga Instructor, Holistic Health Coach, M4: Clare Brady Fits it All In [Show Summary]
Clare Brady is currently a fourth year med student at St. Louis University, though she got to med school in a roundabout way. During her recovery from an eating disorder in college, she learned a lot about the human body and found it fascinating. While she began her career in marketing, which her degree was in, she maintained her interest in health and wellbeing through an integrative nutrition program, which helped her realize that a career in medicine was really the right move for her. After graduating from UVA’s postbac program, she began medical school at St. Louis University in 2015. In addition to her studies, she manages to find time to teach yoga, run a beauty counter business, and blog.
Interview with Clare Brady, M4 at St. Louis University School of Medicine [Show Notes]
Can you tell us about your background? Where you grew up? What do you like to do for fun? [1:57]
I grew up in St. Louis, and I am the middle child with older and younger brothers. Growing up I did Irish dance and music – there is a big Irish heritage in my family – and I did that all through high school. I went to a private all-girls high school and was a very type-A studious kid and then went on to Notre Dame where my dad went. I was very unsure of what I wanted to do, but ended up majoring in marketing and design. After school I had a job in marketing and then advertising, and I also am into yoga and fitness. I teach yoga, I love all forms of exercise and healthy eating, and I do keep myself pretty busy with yoga teaching, blogging, and school. I like to travel as well.
How did you go from an undergrad degree in marketing and design in 2010 to starting a post-bac program in 2013? [3:22]
I started to get interested in health during my senior year in college. I was recovering from an eating disorder that started when I was 17 and continued through the middle of college. A big part of my recovery was learning about my body and what the eating disorder was doing to my body, and I found it fascinating. I started getting interested in proper nutrition and health. At the time I was a senior, finishing up my marketing degree, and already had taken a job, so it was too late to make a career change at that point. When I started working fulltime in business I wanted something that could further my interest in that area, so that is when I enrolled in the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, which is a one-year online program that teaches you all about different aspects of holistic health and nutrition and sets you up to be a holistic health coach, which many people do as a job when they are done. I didn’t intend to do that, I just wanted the education. Through my blog I did get a lot of requests for health coaching, many who were struggling with eating disorders, and I started taking on a few clients after work. I really loved these pseudo patient/doctor relationships but would get frustrated by my limitations as a health coach. These people often needed to go to their doctors to get answers to questions I didn’t feel comfortable talking about without more education.
At the same time I was getting a little frustrated with my marketing and advertising jobs – I wasn’t feeling stimulated or passionate, and I didn’t see myself getting there in the future in that field. I had reached a point where I was either going to change jobs or change careers, and I looked at a lot of different things – nutrition, clinical psychology, nursing, PA, and looked at education requirements. I didn’t think I could do a medical degree since I hadn’t taken a science class since high school. It was actually a family friend who mentioned a postbac program, and when I heard about that it was eye opening. Both my parents are doctors and after talking it over with my mom I thought going to med school was probably the right thing for me.
Do you think your struggles with an eating disorder as a teen influenced your choice of career? [8:12]
Absolutely. Recovering from that eating disorder is a lot of what got me interested in physiology in the first place, and it also has shaped a lot of what I’m interested in. One of my career specialty choices is psychiatry. I think the mind is fascinating and an underserved area. A lot of strides have been made in the area of mental health in recent years, but there is still a long way to go. While I wouldn’t wish an eating disorder on anyone, in some ways it has been a bit of a blessing because it led me to a career that I am really passionate about.
You did your postbac at UVA. Why did you choose UVA and what did you like best about your postbac experience? [9:54]
UVA just felt right to me. Being very type-A it was tempting to go to the most prestigious program, and I was actually deciding between Johns Hopkins and UVA, but UVA just felt better to me. The students all said everyone’s collaborative, teachers are supportive, and I just didn’t get that same feeling at Johns Hopkins. For me I needed to feel really comfortable and supported considering this was going to be a very challenging year. I also spoke to a faculty member at St. Louis University about whether or not school prestige matters, and they said what matters is you do well in your classes and that you do well on your MCATs, so the school itself was less important than feeling comfortable. It turned out to be a great fit. The thing I loved the most aside from being in Charlottesville, which was amazing, was just how collaborative all my classmates were. We all studied together, helped each other, and faculty were advocating for us, so it was really the right environment for me.
You’re currently about to start or just starting your fourth year of med school at SLU. What do you like best about the program? [12:31]
I love that I’m home after having lived away for five years. Again, I wanted to feel comfortable and supported, which I definitely do here. Another thing I really love is that everyone I talked to who had graduated from SLU Med was happy, which you don’t get from a lot of med students. I definitely feel that way – they intentionally choose a class of people who are down to earth, fun, and a good mix of super studious and smart and want to do fun things. Another of my favorite things is how accessible the deans’ staff is. They are so willing to chat with us, talk about any ideas we want to implement, things we are frustrated about – a lot of their doors are open, which is a really great thing when you are paying a lot for your education.
What’s surprised you about rotations? [14:07]
Every rotation is so different. I think one of the things that surprised me the most is how invested I got in my patients even in fields I wasn’t really interested in, and even when I was exhausted. I would find myself thinking about them overnight and then eager to see them the next morning to see how they were doing. You really do start to love and care for your patients.
Was there ever a time either in the postbac program or in med school when you really wondered if you had made a mistake and thought about taking a different path? [15:11]
The short answer is no. I still maintain that this long term is right for me. That does not mean I’ve never had days when I haven’t thought, “Man, it would be nice not to be doing this.” It is challenging and stressful, and I have had moments where I’ve wondered whether I’m cut out for it. Taking the medical boards is maybe the worst thing in the world. I have taken step 1 and step 2 and there is nothing (at least for me) more stressful. If you take a practice test and it doesn’t go so well you feel awful. It can get in your head. There is a lot of impostor syndrome in med school, thinking you are not cut out for it. There are also times as an older student it can be tough. I am 30, and I have a lot of friends who are moving up in their careers, buying houses, have a lot of flexible income, weekends off, they’re traveling, so when I have to miss out on things I definitely think that the job in business that I had with the income was kind of nice. I always snap out of it, though, and I truly do love what I’m doing.
What can be improved at SLU? [19:11]
We actually are making a lot of changes in the curriculum right now. One thing a lot of medical schools struggle with is finding a way to provide better teaching experiences in the clinical years. We get bigger and bigger med school classes but not bigger and bigger hospitals, so there is just an overload of things to do, and scheduling and teaching quality can be challenging. I also wish we had more nutrition and integrative medicine curriculum. I am working on that and hope to bring it to the school so future physicians can learn more in those areas.
You are a yoga instructor and a Certified Holistic Health Coach. You write a lot about exercise, healthy eating, and nutrition. How do you intend to integrate these elements into your practice, or do you? [21:57]
I’m not entirely sure since I am not sure what my practice will be like, but I do intend to work in integrative medicine, possibly starting with an integrative medicine fellowship, preparing patients to use complementary treatment when appropriate along with conventional western medicine. To me that is proper care, and I know it’s not practical in all situations, especially with an acute medical issue, but in outpatients for people to achieve optimal health I think it is incredibly important that nutrition, mindfulness and complementary methods are incorporated. I’ll do that either by continuing to teach, or offering yoga classes for my patients, or just making sure I ask them about nutrition and offer suggestions. That will definitely be part of my practice along with the wonders of western medicine.
Fourth year we have more flexibility with our rotations so I have chosen to do integrative medicine rotations away. I did a one week program in Southern California, and was just accepted to the Arizona Institute of Integrative Medicine, with a month-long rotation this November. You can tailor your education a little bit more your fourth year, and I am needing to take an active role in that to incorporate integrative medicine.
You also have a beauty counter business. Your blog is called “Fitting it all In.” So how do you fit it all in? [25:16]
Some days I don’t. A lot of days I don’t! I am trying to recover from being a workaholic and have some downtime. I have always been a busy body and have always been involved in a million things. The key for everything I do is being my own boss, so if I don’t have time that is ok. In my third year there was no time to be a yoga teacher, and I am just now picking that up a bit again. With my beauty counter business I just hired an assistant. I am still figuring out how I want all of it to fit in my career. Some of it may go away, and some may expand and go in different directions, but I squeeze things in when I can find the time.
How do you see your career evolving after medical school? [27:52]
Psychiatry is my current rotation and is a major interest along with integrative primary care which involves psychiatry. There are a couple of combined programs I am interested in. Right now on my immediate radar is residency, and after that depending on what I go into, I could see myself joining an existing integrative practice, or opening my own practice and continuing to write from a medical standpoint. I have big dreams of working in an integrative practice with access to all of the nutrition/health initiatives.
What would you have liked me to ask you? [29:04]
I think when it comes to med school one of the bigger challenges is just how much freedom and flexibility you are giving up. I’m a little bit older, but everyone has a life outside of medicine. You think about getting married or having kids or having debt – there is a lot of anxiety and guilt associated with that. People don’t talk about that enough. There is a lot of stress and anxiety and sacrifice and as an older student that is somewhat magnified. At the same time you are doing something you are passionate about and you really want to help people, which is incredibly rewarding, so it ends up being worth it eventually.
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