Cinnamon, Sugar, and Saline

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When I bake, the rest of the world melts away. My focus becomes sifting, stirring, and sprinkling. 

Macarons are notoriously finicky. Pie crust will lose its flakiness with over rolling. Too much stirring and cake batter becomes dense. 

Having learned the ins and outs of baking at the tender age of five, the basics have been incorporated into me like confectioners sugar into softened butter. If I stumble into a pastry problem, I can usually think my way through it. Nothing is permanent, life altering, or devastating. 

In other words: it’s a welcome change from medicine.

It’s nice to not be “Student Doctor Bernhard” for a few moments.

It’s nice to just be Anna. 

Memorizing facts and protocols for the majority of my time can be draining. I know I chose this path, and I am grateful every day for the opportunity to study at PNWU. Sometimes though, it is nice to sink into an activity that is as easy as breathing to me, where nobody will die because I missed a step.

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Lately, I’ve found that the greatest form of stress relief is located just outside the whirling blades of my white KitchenAid stand mixer.

Slowly, my apartment fills with delicious aromas. 

My tutoring group appreciates my stress baking as well. Who can resist a still warm lemon bar? However, just like when I was five and learning to crack an egg, my foray into medicine has been messy. 

I thought I had the perfect recipe for my first Standardized Patient (SP) encounter.

Instead, I managed to cooked up eight minutes of disorganized questioning, my shaking hands sprinkling the experience with a generous dusting of failed attempts at properly pronouncing the patients name. My first SIM didn’t fare much better. 

But slowly, less eggshells are getting into the batter of my patient interactions. During my last SP, I forgot it was graded and actually found myself enjoying the experience. It was the same single-minded focus that I have when baking! It was as if all the questions I ask a patient were ingredients in a recipe. I found sifting through differentials as simple as scooping cookie dough batter. 

“This dough ball is too big. I’d better resize it to bake evenly.” 

“This patient has a cough. I wonder if they also have throat issues.” 

My questions just came pouring out like sparkling crystals of granulated sugar. Everything felt organized. I may have finally tasted the “flow” of the primary care visit that my instructors talk about, and I cannot wait for seconds!

I know that my skills as a healthcare provider still need a lot more time to bake, but I think it is a more attainable task that I originally foresaw. I haven’t reached soufflé status yet, but at this point I’m happy with having mastered boxed cake mix. 

With every new experience, I grow more confident and venture further outside my comfort zone. 

And if medicine gets too hot, I can always step back into the heat of the kitchen to regroup.

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Anastasia Bernhard

Osteopathic Medical Student - 2nd year (OMS II)
Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences

Anastasia Bernhard