Thursday, March 31, 2011

Apartment hunting...

Like I mentioned in the first post, I went to visit the area and check out apartments that meet my *requirements. Initially I was just looking in Chapel Hill, but added Hillsborough because it is cheaper while still having solid schools and being **close to Duke.

I did fill out an application and pay the fee at one Chapel Hill apartment, Foxcroft, which was dated but nice and had a positive review from a friend of a friend as well as strangers on the internet. In Hillsborough we checked out two apartment complexes and would be fine at either one, however, the second one had the nicest apartments of any we saw this weekend.

Unfortunately, it also had the most worrying reviews. Apparently from 2009-2010 the management company was going bankrupt and no one really cared because they were all losing their jobs eventually anyway. The reviews go from largely positive up until that point to absolutely horrible. The only reason I even put the apartments on the list to check out is because they came under new management in January. The apartments were built in 2004, are huge (as in the 3 bedroom was only like 6% smaller than our house), with lots of storage, a great kitchen and a really nice layout. They are large enough that I opted for their larger 2 bedroom since the kids and I can share a room and it will save on rent and utilities (I will discuss living expenses and concerns soonish) and is still a very roomy 1188 square feet.

These are the apartments most likely to notify me first with a vacancy, which is the thing that will be the deciding factor in which apartment complex I end up living in. So I am torn... do I live in the really nice apartment with the recent-ish horrible reviews (and the huge, huge closet, did I mention the closet in the master bedroom? OMG!) or do I hold out for the decent apartment with the solid reviews?

I don't know how much it matters what the rest of the complex is like if I like my apartment. Having never lived in a real apartment complex, I don't know if the things people nitpick on in their reviews matter. I mean obviously, I've read reviews of other places where they mention roach infestations and stabbings in the parking lot, but once you hit the uninfested/reasonably low crime rate threshold does the rest actually matter?

I know I can only afford the rent because the new management is fighting an uphill battle against the damage wrought by the previous management, but I just worry that due to my enthusiasm for the actual apartment I am overlooking trends in the negative reviews that might actually effect me.

*Good elementary school (as rated by, a sub 20 minute commute, in my price range, and accessible for my father. School and price range being the most important, the commute bit being somewhat flexible and the accessibility issue being a non-issue since it mostly means getting a ground floor apartment.

**The physical distance is greater but the commute is highway versus streets with stop lights so google maps says the time is about the same.

A bold and dashing adventure...

My fortune cookie fortune reads: A bold and dashing adventure is in your future within the year.

Well how apropos.

I should mention that earlier this week we got a mass email from the Associate Director of the program sharing everyone’s email address/contact information, and I’m wondering should I email my class and suggest we all introduce ourselves? I mean we’re going to be spending semi-significant amounts of time together over the course of the next two years so it seems like getting to know each other seems like a good idea. There are only eight* of us.

For the past two weeks (has it only been two weeks since I found out I was getting in? Yikes!) we have been getting really nice welcome to the program emails from the current first year students, staff, and second year students. We even got the unofficial survival guide, which I will mention at some point. But it has been silent when it comes to interaction between those of us that are accepted. Maybe because there is still a form to sign and a deposit to send in, so someone might still drop out? I don’t know. I’m thinking I give it until Friday and then send an email this weekend.

I know for sure that I’m going, I don’t care what happens. I want to be a pathologists’ assistant, and I want to go to Duke’s program, that’s it. That’s my goal. I didn’t even apply to any other programs (although, if I hadn’t gotten in I was going to apply to all of them for 2012). So whoever ends up in my class is stuck with me.  I hope we’ll all get along. I hate when I first meet people because I get nervous and I talk a lot when I’m nervous which can be annoying.

I wonder if it would be easier to find people on facebook rather than email them? Hmmm, can’t decide if that’s easier or creepier… I’ll just start with email, I guess.

*There are only nine accredited pathologists’ assistant programs, eight in the Eastern US and one in Canada. The programs range from something like four students to thirty-two-ish. Although, my favorite was the now defunct Ohio program which had two students. Not per year, but total.

Why not be a doctor?

It is a perfectly reasonable question to ask. Obviously, since I am pursuing an advanced degree in the medical field (I get a masters over the course of the program in addition to earning the right to sit for the pathologists’ assistant certification exam) I am interested in the medical field and of reasonable intelligence.

And after I graduated with my degree in microbiology I did apply to medical school because, like most graduates who majored in the biological sciences, I had no idea what to do with my degree. My sister was in the middle of her residency at the time and I had worked for a doctor’s office for four years so I was familiar with the industry and thought I would be good at it. However, my GPA* is/was horrible and while they were willing enough to overlook it to interview me I wasn’t accepted. I was told if I could take some more science classes (especially graduate ones) and do well in them that I would be a very strong candidate. I didn’t though. I did retake the first semester of general chemistry, which I needed to do if I was going to do any sort of further education. But I didn’t take grad classes for it… which is telling, I think.

My entire adult working career has been in the medical field (four years in an allergists’ office, now three years in a pathologist practice) and I have seen both the patient care and diagnostic aspects of medicine. I know myself well enough to know I don’t want to deal with patients nor do I want to spend my days behind a desk or a microscope. I like being in a lab setting, I like the challenge of complex specimens, and I like that no one is lying to me about how compliant** they are with taking their medications.

The doctors I work with now rotate weeks on call so even if they started their day at 7 am, they still have to come in some nights at 9 or 10pm when the specimens arrive. And we thought after my sister finished her residency she would get more of her life back, have more freedom with her schedule, etc but that hasn’t happened. Granted, she picked a speciality (OB/GYN) that doesn’t follow a normal 8-5 schedule but you would still think that she would have more flexibility as a full physician.

So I applied to PA school for the first time at the end of 2009 and didn’t get in. They told me to take the GRE and do well (since I’d previously submitted my MCAT scores) and to take more science classes and do well. Summer of 2010 I took graduate level Biochem and made an A, that fall I took the GRE and did well (over 1400). I reapplied at the end of 2010 and here I am just a few months away from starting classes (and ridiculously excited, btw!).

I like and admire physicians. I can work well with them, but I don’t want to be one. I’m old enough now that I don’t want to invest 8+ years in additional training before I can start my career and I have children whose lives I’d actually like to be a part of over the next decade. I’ve been grossing long enough to know I really enjoy it, I like the hands on and immediate nature of the work, and as a PA I can earn an income that places me squarely in the upper-middle class range.

*Cumulatively anyway. I went to college initially while dealing (not very well) with clinical depression, so I didn’t attend classes and I flunked out. I went back four years later and did fairly well (3.3ish) taking predominantly senior level science classes. I have found that while higher learning institutions are willing to overlook the cumulative GPA based on the very abrupt improvement, it does mean that you have to be a fairly strong candidate in every other category.

**Not very. My favorite patients were the ones chain-smoking outside the asthma/allergists office who would then come in and complain that their Advair wasn’t helping.

So it begins...

I mailed off a check and a signed piece of paper Monday which will, when it arrives at its stated destination, make me a very official, and very real member of the 2013 class of Duke’s Pathologists’ Assistant program.

I went up to Chapel Hill/Hillsborough this past weekend to apartment hunt because I like to have things settled far, far in advance. I’m on the waiting list for three different apartment complexes and will live in whichever one calls me first and says there is an opening. I need to get living arrangements sorted out so I can get the kids signed up for school/records transferred etc.

Ah, I guess I should also mention I have kids?

Perhaps an introduction is in order?

I’m Tammy, currently 30, married to Robert, mother to Mercer and Myles and owner to Max Power the super large fluffy creature we call a dog. I graduated from Clemson University with a BS in microbiology in 2007 and have been working for a large pathologist’s group for the past three years as a surgical grossing* tech (2:30pm-11pm). I really enjoy what I do and I wanted to take it farther, which is why I applied to PA programs (or actually just the one, but I had to apply twice for reasons I’ll get into later. Er, later in the blog, not later in this particular entry since I am writing this in the wee hours of morning I’d like to go to sleep eventually).

Anyway, brief introduction now over, I should mention the children are moving with me. The husband is not since he can’t telecommute and we would have to sell our house in the next four months, which is unlikely given the current market condition (two houses directly to our left for sale, the two to our right are for rent). However, my dad is moving with us, which means he goes from couch potato retiree to semi-active soccer grandpa (except we call him Lolo because my mom is Filipino and that’s what you call grandparents in Tagalog) and assistant kid-minder. I was touched and surprised that my dad was willing to uproot himself and move 5.5 hours away from my mom and his home of the last two decades to be there for me while I am in school. My mom has always been very vocal about her willingness to do whatever she can to help her kids but it is nice to know that when it comes down to it my dad is just as committed. I just have to feed him and provide high speed internet so he can stream the view instantly options on Netflix.

I know I am not the traditional student, but I still thought it would be useful to blog about this experience. I know the first year is busy, but I will try to make time to keep this updated since there are med, dental, vet and physician assistant student blogs but only one other pathologists’ assistant student blog that I found. The author just started his classes at West Virginia University in January, so different program, different gender, different professional background, and wildly different opinions about the GRE**.  For now, I think that’s a decent start, I got the basic information out of the way at least.

*I was going to link to the wikipedia article about gross examination but it is fairly spartan. Essentially I describe tissues taken from people or animals and then submit portions for processing for microscopic exam, which is actually much more interesting than it sounds.

**The author apparently studied a great deal for the test and then got into a program which didn’t require it and feels his time was wasted. Perhaps it was. I didn’t study for it; although, I did take a practice test a few weeks before I took the actual one. However, if you are intending to apply to PA school and you don’t want to take it, just be aware that it is not required for all programs.