The Millennial Nomaad interviews seek to capture the in-between stage of life —that space between where you have been and where you dream to go. The distance between who you are and who you wish to become. This in-between called the “presence of life.” Austin Vaughan, co-founder of 2docs1whitecoat, is no stranger to navigating detours and diving into the unknown. He has been faced with opportunities that ultimately he has denied to pursue that inner pull towards what he really desires in life. To leave things when they have run their course is tough, but a logical person can eventually do it. To leave things when they are ripe, but yet fail to align with our truth takes self-trust and courage –two qualities Austin has relied on to finally arrive on a path that feels right for him. And as they say, on the other side of fear is everything we have ever wanted. Thank you to both Phillip and Austin for sharing their stories with Millennial Nomaad.
Occupation: 1st year medical student
MN: What do you think it means to be a Millennial Nomaad?
AV: A Millennial Nomaad is someone who is willing to pursue their aspirations without losing sight of their passion to explore. As a medical student, time is tight and money even tighter. Being able to travel isn’t the easiest thing to do, but the experiences shape you and are ultimately worth every penny. I try to take advantage of every chance I get to travel and explore, whether it be for a weekend or a month. Nothing compares to the feeling of being able to immerse yourself in another culture and live a different lifestyle.
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?
AV: Honestly, it kind of began as a joke. Phil and I were texting back and forth one day when we had the idea, thought it would be fun and it just grew from there. Once the page began, we both became interested in providing a genuine and honest look into our lives as medical students. There are so many pages on Instagram that portray this “idealized” lifestyle that just isn’t the case for anyone in medical school. It’s hard, the hours are long, and the workload is more than you could ever imagine. Our number one priority has been to keep things as real as possible and create an interactive platform for our followers.
In the end, I don’t care if we have 40 followers or 40K followers, as long as 1 of them is able to benefit from the information we try to provide. I have made the majority of our suture videos in order to provide an easy resource to hone a very important skill. When I was learning to suture 3 years ago, I had such a hard time finding good instructional videos, which is eventually what lead to the creation of Suture Saturdays. They are filmed in a progressive manner, so students can start out easy and progress to more challenging skillsets.
Medicine is an ever-changing field that has continually improved in its ability to care for patients. But, lack of access has been and will always be a massive problem with our healthcare system. I don’t know how this can be fixed but I plan to at least do my part in helping to provide care to the many underserved communities. Volunteering my time and working with medical mission groups is a passion of mine and I hope to eventually work with Doctors without Borders for a period of time after completing my training. For now, I have created an organization called Homeless Helpers that provides basic necessities to the largely undeserved homeless community here in Kansas City. Through donations the group is able to create care packages that include things like socks, a toothbrush/ toothpaste, body wipes and also feminine hygiene products.
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?
AV: Disclaimer–– this is going to seem like I’m extremely indecisive. But without this winding road, I would never be at the point I am today. I wouldn’t change a thing about it or the experiences, friendships and knowledge it allowed me to gain.
I have always wanted to be a doctor. I just didn’t always know I wanted to be this kind of doctor. For me, it all began with dentistry. I was fascinated by my dentist as a child and always thought that would be what I would end up doing. I applied to dental school my senior year of college and was waitlisted. So, I began to look into other career paths. I stumbled onto podiatry and was intrigued by the ability to practice medicine, perform surgery and work on a specific area of the human body. After hours of shadowing and consulting with mentors, I decided this would be a better career option for me. Just like that I ended up in podiatry school. That’s not where this career journey ends, but it is where I became connected with Phil. He started as my random roommate from FB and turned into a life-long friend.
I went to podiatry school for 1.5 years and within my first 6 months began to question whether or not this was the right fit for me. I have always been the type who throws themselves whole-heartedly at whatever it is I’m doing. School was no different. I found I wasn’t getting the level of education I deeply desired. In an area of medicine that is so specialized, much of the education focuses on only these areas and the disease states impacting them. This mentality didn’t bode well for me as I have always seen the body as an interconnected unit ––all parts working together and impacting one another. I began to consider a change in my career path in order to learn and practice medicine in a way I saw fit. After my first year, I began to apply to medical schools and prepare to hopefully make a massive change in my life. At this time, I had no idea if I was making the right choice or if I should just stick it out and finish podiatry school. I had invested so much time, money and effort into this career path. I talked with my family, mentoring physicians and a very close professor seeking their approval of this life-altering decision. I felt like I just needed someone to tell me that this wasn’t a mistake. Unfortunately, that isn’t the response I received. Instead, they all seemed to end up at the same piece of advice “listen to your gut.” Listening to your gut isn’t easy, especially not when your entire education has been tailored around making decisions based on fact and science. After a lot of self-examination, I came to the realization that my gut was telling me that if I stayed, it would be fine for a few years. But down the road, I would be unhappy with myself, my career and my life for having not taken a risk I badly wanted to pursue. So, I trusted my gut ––I applied, interviewed, was accepted to KCU Med. The same week I received my acceptance, I dropped out of podiatry school. I questioned myself and this decision for months, wondering if I had just made the biggest mistake of my life. Sometimes we have to just blindly jump, believing that in the end we know ourselves best and will make the right choices. Now, I am almost done with my first year at KCU Med. I can honestly say I made the best decision of my life. You almost always have the ability to make a change in your circumstances, but rarely get a second shot at opportunities you’ve let pass by. Trusting your gut and taking a leap of faith is both liberating and terrifying all at once but can lead to some amazing things. This was one of those life-changing moments for me, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
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?
AV: Summer 2017 I traveled to Guatemala with Refuge International to work in a very remote area of the country providing medical and surgical care to the local people. In this region of the country, access to healthcare is nearly non-existent ––a 2-hour boat ride from their village to the nearest city costs nearly $50.
Most of these people are living on only a couple dollars per week. Over the course of a week we were able to provide care to more than 100 individuals, perform 15 cholecystectomies, 3 hernia repairs and 1 hysterectomy. The organization has established a clinic within the village so post-operative care can be managed following the departure of the surgeons. This experience shaped many of my future decisions and greatly impacted my decision to leave podiatry school and pursue a different type of medicine. The trip meant the world to me and helped me to get to where I am today. Guatemala holds a special place in my heart and I’m excited to be heading back there again this summer with Refuge International.
MN: Happiness. We are living in the age of “Think and Be Positive” where everyone seems to be searching for a way to find joy. How do you think one can experience happiness? What role do you think negative feelings or pain play in self-discovery?
AV: I think happiness can be found all around you; it’s just taking the time to enjoy it that many of us struggle with, myself included. I personally find happiness outdoors. I’m a very active individual. I like to rock climb, hike, snowboard and camp. These are all things that I too often put on the back burner and let school take their place. I think the true key to happiness is to find a balance. Our mental state plays such a large role in our overall well-being which in turn influences all aspects of our lives.
I think negative feelings are just a part of life, but having a negative outlook on life is detrimental. Negativity and pain can greatly shape an individual to a certain extent, but at some point it does become overwhelming. Nothing that’s worth doing in this life comes easy, this is a saying my dad constantly instilled on me when growing up. There’s a struggle associated with success. I believe that’s a necessary part of self-growth.
MN: Do you have any insight on how others in your field deal with mental health/anxiety or any practical tips for how to actually balance it all?
AV: Mental health in the medical field is one of those topics that seems to get pushed under the rug a bit. Struggles occur both in medical students and in practicing physicians due to the constant stressors, fast-paced lifestyle and lack of time to recuperate after challenges. One of the most impactful quotes I’ve ever read comes from an anonymous ER doctor after the loss of a young patient which sheds light on the root of this matter.
“And in the end, when the life went out of him and my hands could work no more, I left from that place into the night and wept ––for myself, for life, for the tragedy of death’s coming. Then I rose, and walking back to the suffering-house forgot again my own wounds, for the sake of healing theirs.”
To me this quote is absolutely chilling but truly speaks to what many physicians must face on a daily basis. One of the biggest challenges is the ability to be self-reflective and realize when you are unable to handle these burdens alone. Most hospitals and medical schools provide counseling services which can greatly help in relieving a bit of the pressure placed on your shoulders. For many, that would make them feel uncomfortable, but having someone that you can be open and honest with can make a world of difference in a time of need.
As for medical students, I think taking advantage of provided resources (i.e. counselors, learning specialist) can only enhance your success and help to improve stress levels. Stress and medical school go hand-hand-hand. It’s just one of those things you learn to stop fighting and start to work with. Finding a way to relieve stress can make or break. It is imperative that you find something productive that lets you destress. For me, that is exercise in some form. Anything that gets me moving, lets me sweat and allows me to shut off my brain for a bit truly saves me mentally.
Another great way to cut down on stress is to enhance your organization and daily planning. Having had taken time off and working a full-time job prior to medical school really helped me to treat school as a job. I get up most days between 5:00-5:30am and focus on school till 5:00pm. Obviously, at times, I have to alter this schedule, but for the most part this is what works for me. I am most productive in the early morning when it comes to studying, so I plan my personal schedule accordingly. This leaves me adequate time at night to workout, cook dinner and pack food for the next day. Finding a schedule that works for you consistently is a great way normalize your lifestyle.
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?
AV: As a male, I think our society leads us to believe that we are able to feel vulnerability, but we shouldn’t express these feelings outwardly. I have always been one to keep my emotions very internalized, so I tend to work through my fears on my own. I think the feeling of vulnerability can come in many forms, whether it be making a life altering decision or opening up with a significant other. Ideally, I think that having a strong support system that has an open dialogue allows you to best overcome your fears.
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?
AV: I think everyone has their own perception of the word Love. To me it is a feeling of comfortability, joy and internal peace. It’s a feeling that can be found not only in another person but also in our surroundings. My most recent relationship was very insightful and showed me a lot about myself and the type of person I’m looking for long term. I think the biggest thing I learned was the importance of quality communication. Learning to make the most out of limited time can ultimately play a huge role in the success of a relationship, especially if attempting long distance. |