New Lenses, New Perspectives: How My Passions Helped Me Achieve Balance in Medical School

From the time I was little, I loved science.  I carried home rocks in my pockets to identify, knew all the scientific names of the plastic dinosaurs I loved to play with, and never stopped asking questions about how things work. 

Science and discovery were my passion, but art was my escape. 

When I was 6 that took the form of adventuring out to look for cool things to look at under the microscope with my dad and then doing an art project inspired by Georgia O’Keefe with my mom.  In college, I escaped to the pottery studio a few times a week to throw on the pottery wheel and teach my friends how to make bowls and vases, followed by some physical chemistry homework. 

As medical students, it is so easy to forget to do those things that make us happy; to lose sight of the things that help us center ourselves and enable us to focus and do the best that we can. 

That’s exactly why I take every chance I get to grab my camera and head out to a wildlife refuge.  Photography helps me to remember to look at things from different perspectives. 

Change the lens.

Focus on something closer.

Change the lens.

Get the whole canyon in the frame.

Change the lens. 

Photography helps me find the beauty in the most mundane things. On every old, rickety fence is an opportunity for an interesting picture and something beautiful. 

I do a lot of eclectic activities for stress relief, but exploring the remote areas of Washington, listening to only the sound of the birds around me, is the most centering thing I have found. I return from each of these expeditions more productive and much happier than I was before. 

I attended a rigorous undergraduate school where I quickly learned that studying around the clock would produce burnout in a matter of weeks.  I am very introverted so while I enjoyed going to parties and club meetings they were exhausting. I needed to find something where I could be alone or with a few close friends.  Therein lies the origin of my driving adventures. 

My senior year I took a car to school with me and quickly discovered all the interesting places within a two hour radius of my school.  Sometimes I brought friends with me, but more often than not I went alone.  Those hours by myself — wandering around Iowa, blasting music and singing at the top of my lungs, stopping on some dirt back road to take a picture and gawk at the bird sitting on a telephone wire — contain some of my best memories of college. 

So, here’s my two cents, for what it’s worth, on how to find your pottery studio, your camera lens, or your drive to nowhere:

Find something you love and do it. 

Maybe it’s going for a walk, maybe it’s painting, or maybe it’s picking a direction and driving.  Whatever it is, get out of bed, off the couch, up from your desk and go do it.

Give yourself permission to not study, or work, or whatever it might be

By giving yourself permission, you allow yourself to enjoy and be in the moment and return to work rejuvenated.

Do something with a tangible result.

In the end you can say, “look, I did that!” to the next person you see (or to yourself if you’re out in the middle of nowhere). However, as odd as it may sound…

Don’t put pressure on yourself to finish or accomplish something.

Sometimes just the act of the activity can do the trick.  As the old adage goes: it’s about the journey, not the destination.

Katie Ackerman

Osteopathic Medical Student - 1st Year (OMS I)

Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences

Katie Ackerman