Friday, June 26, 2009

signing off

About to turn in my laptop, which is like having a limb amputated! I will be computer-less for an entire week before I retrieve my old, dusty laptop from my parent's house in Ohio. Here's to hoping withdrawal symptoms subside with a little bit of vino....

good-bye, working world

Dear Corporate,

It's been an interesting ride. To be honest, I wasn't too fond of you at first. You were a little bit stifling, with all your rules, and pressed blazers, and strict hours. It just didn't feel like you saw me for me....and quite honestly, at the very beginning, it seemed as though you'd stop at nothing to embarrass me and expose me for the charlatan I was (and am). 

And then there was the neediness. The late night phone calls and emails that would disrupt my life with family and friends...that irrepressible urge to check Outlook at all hours of the night.  For years, I flew around the country, chasing you down in airports and small towns only to see you slip through my fingers once more. You had such little consideration for my life outside of you!

Of course, I'll never forget your numerous attempts to poison me. Finally I grew wise to your wily ways and learned to steer clear of anything labeled "White Christmas" and/or lying "innocuously" on the kitchen tables. 

We did have a few good times. You were generous in treating me to dinner and paying my rent. You helped me grow from a silly, impetuous college student to a still-silly, slightly less impetuous "adult" who is capable of wearing suit jackets with only minor discomfort.  

Most of all, you introduced me to a number of good colleagues and great friends, and for that I am grateful. 

I'm really going to miss you....until Monday morning, that is

Let the adventures begin!


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

selling out

So it’s official:

I am self-employed!

Last week, in spite of my sweaty palms and embarrassingly shaky voice, I succeeded in landing my first  contract as an independent contractor. Now, this sounds significantly less impressive considering my contract is with the organization with whom I’ve been employed for the last years but it’s still great news.

This contract means I won’t have to resort to nefarious activities to fund my grad school experience, such as selling organs on the black market. Or worse, private loans.
It also means that, while I’ll have to be significantly more frugal than I’ve been, I won’t have to live soley on ramen noodles and stale coffee during my grad school years…Now and then, I may even be able to splurge on a slice of famous new haven pizza.

For the most part, I’ll be working on health industry trend and policy research and analysis, which is ideal, of course, since that’s what I’m going to school to study.  I’ll be trading in my buttoned up, coffee-fueled 5am mornings for PJ-clad, coffee-fueled 3am nights in front of my computer. Inspired by music and the caprice of the moment, which  is how I work best.

The best part? I get to remain, while not an employee, a contributor to an organization which, for all its flaws, does and will play a significant role in continued progress towards a patient-centric healthcare system. With all the chatter about healthcare reform, it’s still the patient's voice that matters most- and is at the greatest risk of being lost. I’m glad that I don’t have to sacrifice my participation in such critical movement while I’m in school.

Still, my negotiation skills need some major work. As the exec to whom I pitched my proposal pithily remarked, “This contract is crap.”

 “But,” he continued (ah, this little conjunction upon which my future so precariously hung!), “we know you.” You know what?! I wondered. You know that I’m a selfish Gen Y-er trying to squeeze the system to meet my own needs? That I’m trying to have my cake and eat it too, like the gluttonous slob I am? That I have a better shot at winning American Idol with my sub-par pseudo-soprano and seizure-like dance moves? I waited to hear, dread boiling in my stomach.

Turns out, my expensive education has provided at least a little return on investment. His proceeded to explain that while the contract can be fixed, and at the end of the day, they’d like to “keep my brain with the organization.” Which, to any nerd, did feel a little bit like winning the lotto.

And so I proceeded to sell my brain. (Or at least the non-dysfunctional part of it, which by comparison is microscopic!) I feel incredibly grateful and lucky, and a little bit less nervous about ditching my job and climbing a mountain of debt to follow my dreams.

Ok, ok- that last part sounded a little “Sound of Music-esque.” Cue Simon Cowell and a chorus of self-criticism, but I don't care! My piggy bank is happy, and so am I.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

goin' to the fair, grad-school style

So last fall, when I was first scouting out grad schools, I went to the grad school fair in Philly.'s grad school fairs aren't limited to public health- they have representatives from a wide range of social impact graduate programs, plus plent of admissions counselors etc. who helped me start to navigate the scary world of admissions and financial aid.

I highly recommend anyone considering grad school for next year to check out your local fair. It's a low-key event, you can stay as long as you'd like, and it's a great opportunity to get some face time in with admissions counselors without having to travel to the respective schools.

This week the grad schools fairs are being hosted in DC (on the 17th) and NYC (on the 18th). Click below for more details:

i was born a travelin' (wo)man

Writing this post from a hotel room in Arizona on what seems to be my last business trip! Not ever, of course, but after two years of near constant travel, it's sad to think it's all coming to an end.

I'm guessing I'll feel differently at 5:30 am tomorrow morning, when I head back to the airport for another 6 back-pain filled hours of sitting in a tiny plane seat...not to mention the airlines ditched their pillows and blankies in this ultra-sterile post-swine flu era we're living in. My hand does not make a comfy pillow, that's for sure.

Gotta love Southwest, though- at least I have plane snacks to look forward to! Plus, since I lose two hours heading back east, the work day is delightfully short.

Monday, June 15, 2009

public healthy: parental eating habits don't mean squat

Interestingly, parents' eating habits dont' influence kids' eating behaviors nearly as much as one would think, according to some epidemiologists from Johns Hopkins. and that other factors- such as TV or advertising- may play a larger role in the kind of diets kids eat. This study made me a little sad, first because I think it's kinda depressing to think that the influence of TV might outweigh parents, who are actually giving the kids food. (Although this also makes me wonder- how do parents' TV watching habits impact kids? Maybe there's some relationship there, too, since parents are the ones spending the cash in the grocery store).

The study also says that very few parents actually did have healthy diets, and that their kids were more likely to eat healthy too. This makes sense: after all, what's the point of teaching kids about the food pyramid if Mom and Dad are chowing down on Mickey D's?

Lately I just keep wondering, why is it so complicated for adults (and in turn, their kids) to eat healthily? For all our good intentions, it just seems like we make this unnecessarily hard on ourselves. Someone needs to apply Occam's razor to this situach, and instead of bombarding us with endless conflicting studies, literature, education, and magazines, simplify the we can find, if not an easy solution, a livable and effective one. A person shouldn't have to have an advanced degree in nutrition or a loaded wallet to eat well each day.

(image from )

Saturday, June 13, 2009

ugly saturday

Alright, I'll be honest. I just spent my entire Saturday night watching Ugly Betty reruns and the season finale on and even though I recognize how undeniably lame this makes me, I loved




of it!

Friday, June 12, 2009

happy happy hour

I got to enjoy one of my very first happy hours since joining the workforce tonight! For the past couple of years, I've either been sitting on a plane sipping nothing more than complimentary tomato juice or stuck on the Kennedy fighting rush hour traffic, probably drinking day-old diet coke from the console. Tonight, since I had to be in the city for Victor H's vet appointment, I got to join my friends at Sheffields, a classic Wrigleyville establishment with a great outdoor patio. The weather's been so weird this June we weren't sure it would be a go, but lo and behold, the weather held out and I finally got to indulge in one of the few wonderful weekly rituals of adulthood: happy hour!

Here's GD and I, enjoying our elusive post-work week cocktails with friends:

(Sadly, my happiness quickly turned into sleepiness, and I fell asleep sitting upright a few hours later. Hey, at least I gave it the ol' 'college try!')

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

fish stick-it-to-me

Although I've been claiming to be a vegetarian for a few months now, I've gotta fess up. I'm actually what's known as a pescatarian, or as my Ohio relatives insist, a "fishatarian." I was going easy on myself because the pretext for my vegetarianism, Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma, focused only on the nutritional and ethical dangers of corn-fed beef and chicken....

....and more honestly, I really, really like fish. So I continued to obliviously- and happily- eat salmon or tuna once a week or so until I read a piece in today's NY Times dining section, when Mark Bittman, author of Fish: The Complete Guide to Buying and Cooking cruelly burst my bubble.

A self-proclaimed fish-lover, Mark gloomily recounts the rise of large-fleet fishing, which has depleted the oceans of many types of commonly consumed fish, and the prevalance of dubious fishing tactics. Because buying fresh fish has become such an "ethical and logistical nightmare," not to mention, less-than-cheap. Mark offers his thoughts on what was once thought of as an alternative panacea, farm-raised fish:

"...With the exception of mollusks, which have been farmed forever with little environmental impact and sometimes with as much flavor as wild, most of the products of aquaculture are not only not worth cooking but are also environmentally challenged. In fact, farm-raised fin fish are really the cage-raised chickens of the sea: in many instances wild fish are harvested to produce feed for farmed fish (nearly 90 percent of the world’s fish oil goes into fish food), and it takes three pounds of wild fish to produce one pound of farmed salmon (other farmed species require even more). Aquaculture is also a local pollutant and a major consumer of antibiotics, and it has long been thought that escaped farmed fish will interbreed with and weaken wild fish."

I'm sad....for the fish, and for me! Who knew that fishing could be so cruel to the fish, to the environment, and to the consumer. What do you think? Is it posssible to eat sustainably raised fish on a meager grad school budget?

Meanwhile, thanks to Bittman's article and the judgmental eyes of this guy:
I am going to go fish-free!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

sartorially smart- and swine-flu free

I was so excited to find this article in the New York Times today devoted to two of my loves: public health and fashion!

Seems like the newest Fall trends include plenty of artfully draped masks, scarves, and of the World Health Organization's recommendations for preventing the swine flu. Considering epidemiologists are worried that the swine flue make an even more virulent resurgence this fall and winter, I think this could be the perfect combo of preventative medicine and fashion saavy. Who know fashion could be so functional?

Although, I don't know about you, but I find this particular fashion statement even scarier than the swine flu:


Monday, June 8, 2009


[Unfortunately, my formerly objective healthcare experiences have taken a turn towards the personal, so from now on I'll also be blogging about my own experiences in & out of the doc's]

So how’s this for irony? The last few weeks, I’ve been working on conducting patient focus groups at all of our hospitals to get patients’ responses to the following question:

Have you ever left a visit with your medical oncologist or other care provider wishing you had more information?

What kinds of questions do you wish you would have asked?

Based on the results of this survey, we’re creating visual aids and notepads for patients so they can keep track of all the questions they want to ask during their appointments. Oftentimes, new (and returning) patients feel overwhelmed with information…and because the doctor is the “authority figure,” it’s so easy to nod your head and accept what they tell you…and forget to ask the questions nearest and dearest to your heart!

Last week, I was diagnosed with a relatively common, yet serious, women’s health condition that puts me at risk for a whole host of potentially serious health issues (infertility, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease being the heavy hitters) as well as more superficial problems (hair loss, weight gain, acne…you know, every woman’s worst nightmare!). Obviously, I was pretty upset about this information. I did my research online, checked out a bunch of useful forums, and was prepped to go with all my questions for my follow-up visit whereupon the doc would confirm my lab results.

Except that visit never came! The doc called me on Sat. morning to confirm that I might have this “kind of syndrome thing” (her words!) and then told me to call the office on Monday to get a prescription. No time for important questions like: Why this drug and not another? How do I prevent myself from getting diabetes? What kind of lifestyle changes can I make to help decrease my risk of health complications? Where can I get more information?

All things I need to know so that I can help myself prevent future painful and costly issues, placing more burden on me and our healthcare system. Instead, she just wanted to talk about how the office’s adjacent spa was running specials on facials. Then today, she wasn’t even in the office, so I got the message from a nurse from yet another doc that I would be put on one particular kind of med- no questions asked.

And now my only remaining question is:

Every year my (former) roommate and I throw a Seinfeld-esque Festivus party, and this sorry doc and her spa-pandering office definitely deserve a top spot on the Wall of Grievances!

(PS Yes, for all you fellow One Tree Hill fans, that is Haley James Scott at the top of the list- she is way too much of a goody-two-shoes/pancho-wearing has-been for our liking)

(Aren't our dresses fab? Takes ugly sweater parties to a whole new level)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

summer is coming! finally...maybe...sort of

The last two days were spent in leisurely pursuit of the perfect summer weekend: baseball, good food, cold beer, fireworks, and a nice long stroll in the woods. Even though it was rainy and cold here in Chicagoland, we didn't let that dampen our fun (pardon the super-lame pun). I'm trying to fully savor each free moment and lazy Sunday afternoon, since I know they will be few and far between before long!

I went with GD and his fam last night to a Kane County Cougars team, the local feeder team for the Oakland A's. GD's dad was generous enough to buy a box for the whole crew, which was incredibly nice, especially since it cold and rainy...and all you can eat and drink food and bevs didn't hurt either. I have to say, though, the highlight of the night wasn't the baseball but the Zooperstars!, a motley crew of mascots including Harry Canary and Beary Bonds. I was a little disappointed tho- woulda loved to have seen this guy when GD and I were at the Phoenix Suns a few months back:

Even though the suburbs usually elicit an irrepressible groan and eye-roll, GD's parent's place in Wayne, Illinois is both peaceful and beautiful. It's a tiny town on the outskirts of suburbia, and instead of Walgreens and cookie-cutter homes, the neighborhood is replete with prairies, creeks, and forests.

GD and I spend this afternon hiking along the marshes. It was beautiful, but I made the bad choice of wearing my new ann taylor sandals, which badly need broken in. By the end of the hike I was hobbling barefood on my tippy toes since my heels were covered with blisters. I always have to fight new sandals to break them in, however...and while they may have won the battle, I will (I must!) win the war.

Sadly, due to my fashion fau pax, we had to take the road more traveled by...

But it was still quite pretty!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

book it!

Today, GD and I headed to the loop to check out the Printer's Row Lit Fest, the largest book fair in the midwest this summer. (GD standing for human Garbage Disposal, since at any given meal, he consumes most of my food food & leftovers).

Although the book fair is any grad student's dream come true, GD and I are trying to practice fiscal restraint, since he's recently unemployed and we're both heading into loads of debt this fall. So, we walked around and gazed at all the pretty books and posters, but collected free bookmarks instead of books:

Plus, for me, shopping in used bookstores is a skill and an art, requiring shelves upon shelves of deliciously musty books, as well as ample space to sit and to sort tales of loves lost from cookbooks and poetry so I can figure out which of my newfound friends are keepers. At the bookfair, people crowded around the tables like pigs at a trough, making it difficult to fully enjoy a good browse.

Heading out of the fair, though, I discovered a tent filled with a book-lover's dream come true: books of all types for $1 apeice!

I was even more delighted to discover that this magical station was being run by a local non-profit organization, Open Books, which uses all profits from its sales to fund its various literacy programs around Chicago. Who could pass up such a win-win?

Sadly, however, I had a couple of beauties picked out, but only 4 quarters to spare...until this kindly gentleman came along to the rescue

Thanks to GD, I purchased Cider House Rules by one of my favorite authors, John Irving, as well as classic The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan. I don't personally consider myself a feminist, but I do think it's important to understand the remarkable women, sociological context, and movement that enabled me to do things I take for granted, like go to grad school and have a career.

(You can't see it, but the original pricetag on Feminine Mystique is only $1.50...this book is truly an American classic!)

Also, hopefully, in addition to volunteering for the annual Newberry Library Booksale, I will get a chance to volunteer for Open Books...what an incredible organization!

Friday, June 5, 2009

how sweet it is

Well, today was a wonderful way to end the week, to say the least. Today my hospital celebrated all its patients who have survived cancer for five years. The majority of these patients came to our hospital with stage III and stage IV disease and, for the most part, had been told by previous care providers that they should go home and prepare to die.

Instead, they said "no." They chose hope instead of dispair. They took matters into their own hands and decided to fight the ugly, protracted, and downright scary disease that is cancer. And although they faced the slimmest of odds, these patients are here, five years later, to tell their tales and inspire others.

Today, watching these courageous patients and their families proudly display pictures of their kids, their gardens, and their lives, I was reminded of why I got into the healthcare business. At the end of the day, it's not about the government, or the insurance companies, or the hospitals: it's about making people well. About giving them their lives back. Days like these renew my faith that a patient-centric model can work: give people control over their health, support them in making their decisions, and let the free market go to work.


I’m really dragging today, to the point where I am feeling a little bit hopeless about slogging through my remaining month here.

One thing I’ve learned about myself in the past two years is that I’m often enchanted by new ideas, but that my enthusiasm is ephemeral and easily lost. I really like the concepts behind big projects, but I hate the tediousness of executing the details and will pretty much find any excuse to wiggle my way out of them. I’ve learned this the hard way at work. I’m rapidly drawn into new projects, get excited about them, and love to bounce around strategy and concepts. But, since I’m more often than not the lowest man on the totem pole, the mundane work of execution primarily falls to me.

And I hate it. Which is why I employ an army of procrastination techniques meant to ward off the inevitable boredom: news, med blogs, fashion blogs, facebook, gossip websites. It’s junk food for the brain. Honestly, if my gluttonous consumption of random websites actually did entail calories, I’d be catastrophically obese right now.

In no way do I think I’m above the kind of entry-level work I’m expected to do. I understand you spend years in the trenches in order to get to the top. It’s just that I’m alternately bored and lethargic…and so have serious difficulty forcing myself to execute.

This is a major reason why I decided to go back to graduate school. I’ve missed the challenge and stimulating debate of the academic environment, where intellect is the most valuable commodity, rather than my ability to book a meeting or write a memo.

Yet, I’ve got to steer clear of thinking of grad school as an intellectual playground of sorts, where I can just gleefully leap around a rhetorical jungle gym. I will have to write a thesis, and then someday (hopefully) a dissertation.

And while there will be plenty of the interesting discussion and research, the only way I’ll motor through is to shut off the web and wade through the tedious tasks, one at a time. It's true: I've got to grow up and actually do stuff I don't like.

So here’s to checking things off the to-do-list! But in the meantime, let me check Facebook just...once....more….

Oh, and just for kicks, here's a picture of the most handsomeof my three male roommates:
(Victor "Victorious" Hugo)

According to this recent article, , my internet addiction may be soon recognized as a legitimate mental illness-guess I am crazy, after all!