Brittany Ladson is a fourth-year osteopathic medical student from Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine with plans of going into Emergency Medicine. Throughout her career in medical school, she participated in many study abroad programs and mission trips—including Doctors without Borders.
Her efforts working in under-resourced areas were able to give her a well-rounded view of medicine. During her time there, she relayed that critical thinking was imperative in order to maintain a patient’s future health. Her experience in providing care without technologies physicians would typically have at their disposal allowed her to see the value in preventative treatment and gain a newfound appreciation for osteopathic medicine. We were fortunate to be able to interview her on her experiences and acquire insight into her personal journey on her Road to DO Licensure.
What inspired you to become a DO, specifically? Tell us your story.
Initially, I thought I had wanted to go into business and accounting—that’s what my whole family does; there’s not a single healthcare provider in my extended family. I thought I’d just follow suit, but I quickly learned during an internship where I had to sit at a computer desk all day that it wasn’t my thing at all. I like having more energetic, personable interactions with people—over the phone just doesn’t cut it. That’s why I think physicians are the foundation of the service industry because during a very vulnerable time in a patient’s life—maybe even one of the worst days of their life—they must still be able to give themselves wholeheartedly to serve their patients. To be able to provide emotional support, social support, and of course, the physical medical help patients need is no easy feat. By combining all these aspects together, I felt that it’s the perfect way to be able to help someone. I couldn’t see myself doing anything else—I’d always be missing something.
We often hear the phrase “osteopathic distinctiveness” used across the profession. What does that phrase mean to you personally?
What I believe sets us apart is the osteopathic philosophy of providing the public with preventative healthcare. Yes, it’s important to see someone in an acute situation and serve them at that moment, but the impact that preventative healthcare provides for a community is part of what makes osteopathic medicine special.
On top of that, there is also the unique value that osteopathic medicine adds to an individual’s patient care in that we look at their body, mind, and spirit. And although a lot of other physicians are starting to recognize that as integral to their practices as well, it’s part of the foundation, groundwork, and philosophy instilled in all DOs. The way we see patients is very unique from the start, and I couldn’t see myself doing anything besides serving patients with an osteopathic mindset.
When you’re in your third year of medical school as an osteopathic student, and you’re seeing patients who are seeking help, you start to come out of the textbook and appreciate the real aspect of addressing a whole person. In starting my clerkship education during the pandemic, we saw more patients come in with acute mental health issues. They need that in-person patient interaction—they need their hand held, they need a hug, they just need help. And that’s when I really started to appreciate how much the mind can affect the body.
Looking back at how you prepared for your most recent level of COMLEX-USA, would you have taken a different approach to studying? What advice do you have for other COM students who are preparing for COMLEX-USA?
What I found really helpful was having a daily schedule where I would have a dedicated period of studying. I’d keep to the same pattern—waking up at the same time, having coffee, sitting down to study—and then following dinner, I’d have the evening to myself. Around six or seven at night, I’d be able to decompress or hang out with my friends.
I also found it really important to go outside and get sunlight, especially because studying adds extra tension. Taking walks and breathing in the fresh air and feeling the sun on your skin is so much more rewarding than just sitting in front of your desk the whole time. I even got an Apple Watch that would tell me when I was sitting for too long, just to remind me to get up and go to the bathroom or grab a drink of water.
Something else that I would recommend when studying for COMLEX-USA is taking a layered approach. I’ll start off with a block of questions and see how I scored—and I’m not judging myself or being hypercritical of how I did. Instead, I am looking for specific themes or concepts that I’d commonly missed. Then I’ll go into the source material I’m studying to review the content as if I was seeing it for the first time. Following that, I’d do another block of questions to determine if I improved. I’d continue on that way, layering on new material so as to not forget the old. I found it very helpful for me in retaining the information.
The Road to DO Licensure has many unexpected challenges that I’m sure you’ve experienced, including burnout, stress, and anxiety. Tell me some of the major challenges you’ve faced while taking COMLEX-USA and some advice on how you personally overcame them.
Burnout is real, and unfortunately, when you reach that point, there’s not a whole lot you can do in that immediate time period to recover from it. It’s very hard to come back from. Personally, when I got burned out, it took me several weeks to feel like I was back to normal. I dedicated a whole three months to studying, underestimating how exhausting that would be because I thought if I went to bed when I needed to and napped when I wanted to, that it would be fine. But even with that mindset, I was still liable to become burned out by the end of that period, and that’s actually when you want to be at your peak. There’s no magic cure to say, “Okay, burnout is done;” it’s a challenge you have to mentally and physically go through.
The most important thing you can do is plan to prevent burnout before it happens. That way when exam day rolls around, you are at the top of your game, and not on the tail-end. To do this, I think scheduling is essential—not planning too much time per day, per week, or per month to study. Pace yourself. You don’t need to learn every single thing, and you’re never as behind as you think you are. It’s all just a mind game that you have to play with yourself. I would even extend this concept to any point in your medical education. If you can get to that peak and then take a break after that, I feel that would be the most efficient way to get studying done, especially for things as important as COMLEX-USA.
What are you looking forward to the most in the next stage of your journey?
I am mostly excited to audition, since interviewing seems kind of intimidating and scary. I look forward to meeting other physicians in the field I want to pursue and to experience different emergency departments and how they operate. I think it’ll be especially interesting to see the current fourth-years go into that internship role in the emergency department that I will be rotating into. Seeing how their perspectives have changed and picking their brains for advice is something I’m really excited for.