Medical Profile: Dr. Meredith Carbone/The Veggie Doc
Going through my pre-medical journey, one of the most important things that has been stressed to me in terms of being successful is talking to people within the field. I've already been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to shadow some physicians, and get a glimpse into what their days look like, their interactions with patients and how this both varies and is similar depending on their specialties. Usually these are physicians who are further along in their careers and can give a wealth of insight into what a medical career looks like long-term.
Before I made the decision to pursue medicine again, I followed a number of medical students/physicians at varying points in their career and have found so much valuable information as well as inspiration from them. Most of these physicians are women and can give valuable insight into the demands that are asked of women when it comes to balancing a career and personal life. I hope you enjoy this new Medical Profile feature and find Meredith's answers as helpful and inspirational as I do!
Home town: Summit, NJ
Current city: Grand Rapids, MI
Undergraduate major and university: Penn State University - Life Science
Have you always known you wanted to pursue medicine? When did you know you wanted to go to medical school?
I loved 10th grade biology and did really well in the class. The teacher nominated me for some kind of young students interested in health care conference - I couldn't attend, but the fact that she thought that I could become a doctor meant a lot to me and gave me a goal to work towards. I decided then to pursue medicine and never really looked back. I did have a moment near the end of college when I realized how much I liked teaching and applied to a few masters of education programs for teaching biology -- but when I got into medical school I turned down those acceptances.
Which Medical School did you attend and what informed your choice in choosing that school?
The University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine. My premed advisor recommended it, so I applied. Truthfully, I had wanted to go to med school in New Jersey, but I was either rejected or waitlisted at the NJ schools. My options came down to UNECOM or a different school out west. I chose UNECOM because it was closer to home, well established, and cheaper - there was no magical quality that spoke to me, I was pretty practical about it. However, I couldn't be happier with that choice now that I've been there. It was the most beautiful campus, on the ocean, with fabulous professors. My husband and I would move back to Maine in a heartbeat, and I dream of being clinical faculty there.
Did you take time off between undergrad and medical school?
No, I flew straight through!
What was the hardest part of your undergraduate studies and is there anything you would do differently if you could go back and be a pre-med student?
The hardest part of undergrad was spending enough time on studying. I wanted to take advantage of all the opportunities to get involved with different activities during college. I rowed on the club crew team for one year, I was a writing tutor, I played viola in the college orchestra. Because I was so involved, I often felt spread thin and like I was scraping by to maintain a decent GPA to apply to med school. Would I go back and do it differently? No. All of those things make me so much more unique than I would be if I spent more time at a desk.
How did you keep your focus?
Good friends to reign me in. Study dates with myself at Starbucks. Adopting a one-day-at-a-time attitude. And, to be very, very honest - a really great therapist to help me work out a lot of anxiety that had developed in me over time.
While applying to medical school what made you stand out as an applicant? Research and volunteering experiences? Hobbies?
Being well rounded certainly helps. I played the viola, I was a runner and a rower, and in my senior year of college developed a wild passion for local eating and sustainable food production. I read a lot of books about those topics (for fun) and that helped me to be able to talk about my passion, not just mention it. I was also a writing tutor for 3 years of college and helped to oversee the entire writing center for 2 of those years. Having a leadership position like that outside of science/medicine was valuable. I went on a 10 day trip to Honduras over Spring Break one year to provide medical care and supplies. Everyone does that nowadays, so I don't know that it made me stand out, but it certainly changed my life and is one of the top 5 best decisions I've ever made. You have to choose what your heart tells you over what you think looks good -- remember that!
MD or DO? What informed your decision in picking one over the other?
Okay, before college I didn't even know what a DO was. I applied to both kinds of schools, but really wanted to go to a DO program. The whole-body, whole-person approach was very attractive to me. I also loved anatomy and wanted the osteopathic manipulation training.
What advice would you give an undergraduate student in the process of applying to medical school?
Med school is a bigger decision than you think. It is at least 7 more years of your life. When you are 19 and 20 years old, you are just beginning to barely test the waters of adult life. I had no clue what I was in for when I was premed and all that was asked of me was to keep passing tests. That's the easy part of this journey. Make sure you are going to medical school for the right reasons. You will give up a lot of your freedom and take on a lot of responsibility - more than most other professions in the world. Becoming a doctor will open your eyes to every inequality there is. If your parents are doctors and you know what to expect, great. Mine weren't. If you want weekends off and to be able to make spontaneous plans in your 20's, med school and residency will be tough. Don't be afraid to change the plan.
Residency Program and year? Second year resident (about to be third year) at GRMEP in Michigan.
How do you stay motivated and positive in your career?
Find positive people, both in medicine and outside of it, and surround yourself with them. I do what works for me and not what works for other people. Keep showing up with an open mind. Every day is a chance to start over and learn more. I read personal development books. I run Facebook groups each month full of workouts, nutrition, and positive thinking.
How did you balance having a relationship, planning a wedding, and getting married while in medical school?
I'm not really sure! It was a whirlwind. I actually got married in residency. It helps greatly that my husband is also a resident and has a better understanding of what my life as an OBGYN resident is like than anyone else in my life. We met in medical school, didn't date until 2nd year, and did the couples' match for residency. I did the majority of my wedding planning before residency started, while I was doing easier 4th year rotations and could be in New Jersey more often.
Relationships in medical school (and residency) are not easy. Your time is not your own and if you're with someone who can't adjust to that, you will struggle. One of the best pieces of advice I got before residency with regards to relationships was to either be all in, or not at all -- meaning, if you're not fully supported by your significant other, get out. If you have doubts or big issues to fix, end it. Of all the stressors you will have on this path, that isn't one that you need.
How do the two of you keep a balance between demanding residencies and your relationship? Any tips for keeping a balance?
We just try our best to listen to what each of us needs from the other. We have a lot of mutual friends and spend a lot of our free time with them. We also keep separate hobbies and I think that's a great thing to avoid getting on each others' nerves. Share the housework. Keep going on dates!
What drew you to Obstetrics and Gynecology? Were there any other specialities you considered?
So, the first day of my third year OB rotation I texted my husband and said, there is NO WAY I'm ever doing this. But I loved women's health so much, I loved delivering babies, I'm good surgically, my special talent is making awkward conversations seem normal... there was no other place for me. I applied to both family medicine and OBGYN thinking maybe I'd have a better lifestyle as an FP but still be able to deliver babies. I did 2 audition rotations in each specialty. I ranked both specialties, putting FM first and OB second, too scared of the OB lifestyle... and the night before the rank lists were due, one of the fellows on my rotation told me to stop analyzing and just listen to my heart. I switched my whole list to put OB at the top. I'm not sorry. The lifestyle isn't any less wicked than I was worried about, but this is the specialty I was meant for.
What has been the most challenging or emotional part of your medical career so far and how did you deal with it?
What hurts my heart the most is that many young women grow up without guidance or goals or role models and get caught up with bad people and in bad situations -- often involving poor sexual decisions resulting in unplanned or unwanted pregnancy. They are forced to become parents, still with no help and no guidance. Their babies are then being exposed to that same world, only to end up in the exact same situation. I don't know where to start helping with that. As the OBGYN, I don't see these patients until too late in the game.
What does your ideal career look like?
Part time OBGYN while teaching courses for a medical school, continuing my health coaching career, and hopefully owning a fitness studio of some sort!
What sacrifices have you made for your career?
Sleep. Being at least 3 hours away from my family for 10 years now. Time with my husband. Time away from the hobbies and activities that make me unique.
As a woman in medicine, have you faced any challenges or discrimination in your career? If so how have you dealt with them?
No, actually, I have never felt slighted for being a woman in medicine. If you are looking for a good excerpt on being a mom with a high powered job, I highly recommend Shonda Rhimes' The Year of Yes.
Tell me about your coaching as a nutrition and fitness coach? What sparked your interest and how did you get started?
When I moved to Grand Rapids, I was in excellent shape after having a month off between school and residency. I quickly learned how hard it would be to keep that up once work started. I met a girl who was an independent health and wellness coach and signed up to work out with her. She coaches full time, but when I learned there was an opportunity to learn from her and coach part time, I jumped on it. My passion, truly, is for keeping people healthy without medicine -- teaching others to incorporate fitness and nutrition into their lives to be healthy on their own. With her support I created my own business and have trained several other part time coaches that work with me, most of whom are also in med school or residency.
What other hobbies do you enjoy?
Skiing, reading, knitting, cooking... but most of my free time is spent working out and coaching!
How do you maintain a work-life balance with such a demanding career? What does a work-life balance look like to you?
To maintain balance I had to learn to delegate. My husband helps out with taking care of our house. I have found several healthy grocery stores in the area where I can buy prepared food that is actually good for us. I make the most of my weekends off. But most of all, I have learned to surround myself with positive people who aren't in the medical field during my time off, to remind me that there is life outside the hospital.
Work life balance to me means being able to participate in what I like outside of work and to maintain healthy relationships, while maintaining a firm commitment to my job.
What's your favorite part of Grand Rapids/Michigan so far?
THE FOOD - I'm on a mission to try every burger and every mac and cheese in the city. I also adore my coaching team - we are located all over the US, but in Grand Rapids we get together once a month for meetings and it revives me. They are my source of energy and positivity.
Where else can readers find you?
Anything else you'd like to add?
Thanks for the opportunity to pour my heart out!
I would like to offer a heartfelt thank you to Meredith for sharing such wonderful advice and taking the time to answer my questions! You should definitely check her out on Facebook and her new blog home healthydocs.net to stay updated with new recipes, fitness and wellness information!
Photos Source: Dr. Meredith Carbone