Phillip Calaj is a disciplined, grounded, passionate, and family-oriented individual. Although we went to high school together, we didn’t actually know each other too well. Fast forward several years, and here we are. Reconnecting through a common mission—to pursue our passions, build communities, and help inspire others. When he isn’t immersed in podiatry school or spending time with his family, Phillip is doing his best to find balance and help other medical students do the same. Med school is rewarding, but too often students neglect to realize the toll it takes on them until they are drowning in it. Through their Instagram page, 2docs1whitecoat, he and his co-founder Austin strive to show the unglamorous realities of med school life while emphasizing the importance of self-care. In this two part series, I will first share Phillip’s individual interview in Part I and then Austin’s in Part II. Thank you to both of these men for sharing some insight with Millennial Nomaad.
Occupation: Student in Podiatry Medical School
To be a Millennial Nomaad means:
PC: A Millennial Nomaad when I apply it to my own story is someone who travels around in search of mastering his/her future. We move from hometowns, to college towns, to jobs or professional schools. We go wherever life takes us in order to achieve our goals. Life may keep you in one place, but how unlikely is that now-a-days with Millennials? We all have a story and we are all Nomaads looking for a home.
MN: You and a co-founder run an Instagram page ––2docs1whitecoat. I love that it’s informative, but also has a personal touch. What inspired you to create this page and what do you hope viewers gain from it? How would you like to improve the medical profession?
PC: I have always followed medical related accounts via social media, most of which highlighted interesting cases and the beauty of medicine. We thought the everyday student account was misrepresented, because frankly there’s nothing glamourous about medical school, especially the didactic portion.
Austin, the co-founder of 2doc1whitecoat, spent the majority of our time studying while in the same school until we figured out how to properly balance our lives. We were living in Miami, 5 minutes from the beach but never had the time to make a trip to the coast. We are both fitness and sports enthusiasts, but we never watched any sports and often neglected the gym. We wanted to show the current and future medical students that you can still be a top student and manage a fulfilling and balanced lifestyle.
We still want to show the interesting procedures that people love to see and learn about. We also want to show them what most students go through during medical school. We share videos of friends, family, vacations, studying, working out, cooking, etc. It’s funny, sometimes we get the most feedback from our subscribers when we are doing something simple ––like packing a suitcase for a conference. We want to give our viewers a mix of medicine and how life gets tailored to it. We show the good, the bad and the ugly as we try our best to keep an honest page.
A personal goal of mine is to promote Podiatry as a profession, the majority of people still don’t know exactly what the profession entails. I didn’t know what podiatry was until a last-minute application. I have visited with undergraduate students and introduced the profession to them, but I feel that 2docs1whitecoat hits a larger audience.
MN: What are some tips for a life/work balance in med school?
PC: The art of balancing mental health and personal time only manifests itself after a few semesters. There are two things medical profession students need to understand. There are certain circumstances that cause us stress. This varies per individual. Then, there are activities that can relieve stress. This also varies. The key of finding balance is to make sure the that your stress outlet directly relates to something that causes you personal stress. For instance, when my health and fitness begins to suffer and my body begins to show signs of neglect, I get super stressed out. Watching Netflix is a huge stress reliever for me, but so is the competition provided in playing organized sports. The difference is that playing sports also provides me with exercise. I choose to play sports instead of watching Netflix since I get more bang for my buck. Everyone has a different case. For some, they may need to watch Netflix because not being caught up on their latest show may cause them stress. Anxiety is inevitable; I can’t emphasize how important it is to find the right outlet.
MN: Not to make this sound like a personal statement, but why med school? It is challenging and highly competitive. It’s a path that really requires intention and heart. Did you always know this is the career you envisioned for yourself? Was there a time you doubted yourself? What’s your story?
PC: I want to say I’ve always known that I wanted to go into the medical field, but that wouldn’t be completely true. My parents immigrated to the US from Brazil in the 80’s. Growing up, we always were reminded of the importance of education and what it can bring. In Brazil, education goes hand-in-hand with how much you can afford. In the US, we are all given a nearly equal chance of succeeding. The idea of success for my parents were found in doctors, lawyers, and engineers ––dubbed by many first-generation Brazilian families as “the big 3.” At a young age, I was groomed into choosing one of the three. Luckily, the sciences fascinated me at a very young age. I was incentivized by watching how much my parents had to work as house cleaners, especially in the beginning of their careers.
The only time I ever doubted myself during the application process was my lack of guidance with the educational system. No one in my family knew what an AP class was when I was in high school or what a medical school application process entailed. The same dilemma happened when I began applying for medical school. There was an early decision program I declined. Applications for all the different medical professions had different requirements and deadlines that made for a confusing process. The first year out of undergrad I was declined from most medical schools. I had a great GPA and very decent MCAT score, but was still struggling. It’s funny, it wasn’t until I got a letter of recommendation from a past Surgeon General of the United States Army that many schools began to show interest in me. As unfortunate as it is to highlight, the old adage is true ––“It’s not what you know, is who you know.”
How did I end up in Podiatry? I was shadowing an anesthesiologist during a podiatry case that involved repairing an ankle fracture with an external fixator. An external fixator is an intimidating piece of equipment that holds the pieces of the bone together with rods and a metal halo. It wasn’t until after I spoke with the surgeon who explained his career and that podiatry was different from the other medical programs I had been applying to.
MN: Speaking of stories, they can inspire, heal, entertain, and make us reflect on humanity. Do you have any stories that have stood out to you from any volunteer work or your medical experience so far? Any moment that has left a lasting impression on you?
PC: Austin and I are both big advocates for volunteer work. There are many people lacking basic medical necessities worldwide. A personal story that left a lasting impression on me was during a medical mission trip to the Dominican Republic. A young orphan girl from an impoverished town came to the clinic with scabies, a common 3rd world complaint, Scabies, a small bug that burrow into the skin and cause irritation, are normally seen in individuals who live in unsanitary house hold conditions. The initial treatment for scabies is brutal; 5-minute hard scrub with sharp bristles that opens the lesion to remove the embedded bug from the skin. Next, a 5-minute soft scrub. All of the patients, regardless of their age, screamed and cried except for this girl. She was quiet and sad. She wasn’t running around with any of the other children before or after the procedure. Although we treated her physical complaints, there was something else missing. I spent the rest of my day catering my attention this little girl, having her hang around me as I saw more patients. I honestly believe it was the first time someone gave her any real attention. Asking her to pass me a simple tongue depressor seemed to please her. This has always stuck with me, and I hope in the future I will be able to give a full month each year to try and help children like her.
MN: There's a misconception that men don't or shouldn't feel vulnerable. But, facing one’s fear and embracing vulnerability can be catalyst for great transformation. How do you deal with vulnerability, so that it makes you a stronger person? How have you been able to rise above your fears and push forward?
PC: I believe the best way to deal with vulnerability is to share your vulnerabilities with close loved ones who are not known to be harsh critics. I don’t advise sharing all your secrets, fears and disguises to everyone. But, you’ll always find someone who you can relate your vulnerabilities with for the exchange of sympathy that’s needed in everyday life. Sharing your weaknesses with others can be a point of bonding and a strength when you are honest with others and yourself to openly admit your own shortcomings. There are a lot of brilliant minds in medical school. People relate to those who are more human and less perfect, those who are more in touch with their vulnerability and don’t feel the need to display a perfect image of themselves 24/7. I like to say I’ve risen above my vulnerability by showing more of my imperfect self to others. In return, I have realized how human we all are, regardless of how hard you try to hid it.
MN: Love. What does this word mean to you? How has it shaped who you are? What is something that you have learned about yourself through a relationship?
PC: Love to me means family. I understand that everyone will have a different meaning to the word, but I’ve yet to encounter the kind of love provided to me by my family. I am aware I may be spoiled with the parents and siblings I was blessed with. Love is 100% acceptance of an individual regardless of who they are. Its caring for someone when they least deserve it. It is doing anything to benefit and care for another person regardless of what you get out of it. |