Meet Candace Meinen, a woman well on her way to becoming a doctor. She is bright and driven and from the moment she reached out to us we knew we wanted to share her story with you. In recent years, Candace has had a lot on her plate—from the intense medical school application process to a cross-country move for her residency program.
Despite her resounding passion for the field of medicine, Candace didn’t always dream of becoming a physician. As she says, “It wasn’t until my sophomore year that I contemplated the idea of becoming a physician. I fell in love with the complexity and challenge of human physiology.” From that point until now, Candace has grown and learned a great deal. Her current position? Working as a resident physician at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland, OR.
We’re thrilled to share Candace’s story today for her insights on everything that medical school entails, from applications to residency. She also shares her thoughts on the field of medicine and advice she has for other women pursuing the profession. Regardless of whether or not you’re studying medicine, we know you’ll love this interview and Candace’s wise words. Read on!
Name: Candace Nicole Meinen
Current Title/Company: Resident physician at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center
Education: Undergraduate Degree, University of Wisconsin; Medical School, Midwestern University—Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine (AZCOM)
What initially drew you to medicine? Did you always know you wanted to pursue a medical career?
I was not one of those people who grew up knowing they wanted to be a doctor; I wanted to be anything from a dolphin trainer to a teacher. It wasn’t until my sophomore year that I contemplated the idea of becoming a physician. I fell in love with the complexity and challenge of human physiology. This lead me to job shadowing other physicians, seeing medicine from a different perspective, and ultimately to a passion for learning that drove me onward to medical school.
You transitioned from undergrad to medical school with just a few months in between. Take us through the process of applying to medical school.
Getting into medical school is competitive and an extremely intense process. You need good grades, a good score on the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test), and have multiple extracurricular activities that show how serious you are about medicine. I worked hard in college to keep my grades up, studied for seven months for the MCAT (while taking classes), and did organic chemistry research. In my spare time, I worked as a CNA to gain a little bit of medical experience and volunteered with multiple organizations including the Big Brothers Big Sister, hospice services, and the local hospital volunteer team.
The application period was the summer before my senior year. I worked on my application for a month, wrote my personal statement, tidied up my CV, and gathered letters of recommendation. The application is an electronic service that holds all your relevant documents and sends them off to schools you apply to. After you send your initial application the schools that want to know more send you a few essay questions. You complete anywhere from two to six essay questions per school and then wait to see if you’ve made the cut for an interview.
That’s the most terrifying time, waiting for those interview offers. If you get any interviews you travel around the country (depending on where you applied) to interview. Usually within three to six weeks, sometimes longer, you find out if you’ve been accepted, waitlisted, or denied. I ended up attending medical school at Midwestern University—Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine (AZCOM) in Glendale, AZ.
After two years of medical school in Phoenix, you moved to Tucson to complete two years of rotations. How did the first two years differ from the last two years? What were some of the lessons you learned during rotations?
The first two years of medical school consist mainly of didactics with little clinical exposure; it’s almost all classroom learning. The second half of medical school is clinical rotations where you are actually out in the world, seeing medicine as it’s practiced by experienced physicians. For my medical school, we had different “sites” where you could do your clinical training. With the help of my then-fiancé, I picked Tucson for our location. We wanted to experience more of Arizona!
The lessons I learned during those two years are too numerous to count, but one of the most important was how experienced physicians handle the pressures a medical profession can put on a life. Medicine can easily consume your entire life if you let it. Physicians, as a whole, have a 10% to 20% higher divorce rate then the general population and are more than twice as likely as the general population to commit suicide. Suicide rates for female physicians are about four times that of women in the general population.
The constant pressure and zeal for perfection takes a toll on a person. Learning from an experienced physician that it’s OK to cry when a patient dies, how to cope with (sometimes) daily deaths, and that we are just as human as our patients (regardless of what the culture of medicine wants people to believe) were some of the most important lessons I could have learned.
After two years of working directly in the field, did you have a more clear idea of what medical specialty you wanted to pursue?
I thought I did after every rotation! After my OB/GYN rotation I was sure I was going to deliver babies for the rest of my life; after my ER rotation I thought I would treat emergencies forever; after my cardiology rotation all I cared about was the heart and how it was functioning. My life plan literally changed on a monthly basis but I finally settled on internal medicine as a specialty—it allowed me the most options and didn’t ignore any aspects of medicine. And it’s still changing, even in internal medicine, so it allows many options. I have yet to make up my mind on what I “want to be when I grow up.” Check back in a couple of years—by then I’ll have been forced to make a decision!
During your fourth year of medical school, you applied to residency programs across the country. What did this application process entail?
During the final year of medical school I began applying to residency programs in internal medicine for my “final” training experience. This involved a complex application process that led me to 13 different states in two months—all interviewing for a spot in the next year’s residency class. Each interview consisted of a full day of getting to know the program and anywhere from two to four interviews. After you complete interviews you rank all the programs that you liked with number one being the program you liked the best. You then put this list into a website, called the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP), which used only for this purpose every year. The NRMP compiles a rank list from every medical student participating in the match and every program with spots open during the match. Every program makes its own rank list and plugs it into the database.
There is then an algorithm called “The Algorithm of Happiness.” More like the algorithm of anxiety-induced nausea, which decides where the best fit for you is by the rank list you submitted and the rank list the hospitals you interviewed at submitted. This all happens in mid-February. They then make you sit and stew for a month. Finally, on a Monday in the middle of March you find out if you matched at a program. But wait, they’re not done torturing you yet.
You find out if you matched but not where you matched. So you hang around for another week all relaxed and calm (yeah, right!) waiting to find out where you’ll spend the next three years. It could be the one you liked the best or the one you liked the least. I definitely drove my husband nuts that week with my constant pacing. Finally, finally, on Friday you find out where you matched and where you will be living for the next three years. I matched into an internal medicine residency program in Portland, OR at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center where I started as an intern physician in June of 2014. So, we packed up our Tucson apartment and made the trek to Portland! (I had a few gastric ulcers that came along too from all that stress!)
Now tell us about your current role! What are your responsibilities as an internal medicine resident?
My job responsibilities are pretty similar to an everyday physician now: I interview patients and exam them; I decide the course of treatment I would like to take; I tell them my thoughts on their disease process. The only difference is that after all that I check in with my attending physician to make sure they agree (and that there’s nothing I over looked as a new physician). Then I execute my plan with any changes that we decided together. I write all the medical notes for my patients and follow up with them on any of their concerns. That’s the nutshell of the job, anyway!
What is the most rewarding part of your work as a resident?
Actually, the most rewarding part is being an active part of a person’s medical needs. As a medical student, you did everything in order to learn but it never “counted.” If you saw a patient, your preceptor would still have to complete the entire exam. If you wrote a note, you preceptor still had to write a note in order to bill. Now if I think there’s something important that should be added to a patient’s labs, I put it in instead of asking someone else to place the orders. It’s so nice being a useful part of a team again!
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced throughout medical school, rotations, and residency? How have you overcome them?
The biggest challenges I faced were the deaths of both my grandpa and grandma during medical school. Being 1800 miles away from my family during these times of need and suffering was awful. Due to the distance I was unable to say goodbye to either of my grandparents before they passed and this is something that still weighs on me to this day.
Medical training isn’t designed to give “time off” but I had understanding professors who allowed me to make up tests during my grandpa’s funeral and a wonderful preceptor who allowed me to leave in the middle of an appointment to catch a plane to Wisconsin to try to make it in time for my grandma’s passing. These supportive role models helped me overcome any challenges or obstacles along with, of course, the never-ending support of my family during those times!
What advice would you give women seeking a career in medicine?
The best advice I can give is to want it [to be a physician] with every fiber of your being. Half the point of all the hoops medicine makes you jump through is to weed out the people who are not completely dedicated to a career in medicine. Be so passionate about your dreams that no one can doubt the authenticity of them.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Happy and healthy. I’m still uncertain of the direction my life will take at times but the one thing I always strive for in the future is happiness and healthiness. (And my hubby, of course!) If you have those two things everything else doesn’t really matter.
Be so passionate about your dreams that no one can doubt the authenticity of them.
Describe a typical workday. Busy, we’re sure!
This depends on the month since we switch services every 30 days. However, most months consist of a pretty basic schedule:
5-5:30 a.m.—wake up as late as possible in order to make coffee and be on time
6-6:30 a.m.—arrive at the hospital to start reviewing patients
7 a.m.—sign out from the overnight team (which is me one month out of the year)
7:10-8 a.m.—see patients
8-8:50 a.m.—morning report/education
8:50-9:30 a.m.—finish seeing patients and start progress/discharge notes
9:30-10:30 a.m.—round with attending (the most senior physician)
10:30 a.m. until 10 p.m.—finish notes, fix all the problems that come up during the day with patients, admit any new patients, review any new labs/tests/imaging, tidy up for the next day and make sure I’m out of the hospital by 11 p.m. in order to not violate the limit of work hours the ACGME places on first year residents
10:30 (ish) p.m.—home, kiss my husband, brush my teeth, crawl into bed…
Best moment of your career so far?
When my grandma Myrna and my mom hugged me and cried after medical school graduation because they were so proud and happy for me.
What advice would you give to your 23-year-old self?
Slow down and take time to just stop and enjoy. Do that study aboard year that you never did (even though it would add another year onto an already lengthy education time). Take that year off in between undergrad and medical school to really enjoy life and find yourself. Travel as much as possible before being strapped down to a career with only three weeks of vacation per year. Enjoy every moment and don’t let the momentum of passionate goals completely rule your life.
Candace Meinen is The Everygirl…
Morning or night?
Morning! Most definitely morning. I love waking up to a brand new day!
Best advice you’ve ever received?
“Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” I stand by this 125%.
Favorite part about living in Portland?
The breweries and the outdoor lifestyle. (I couldn’t just pick one!)
I wish I knew how to ________.
Sing! In a way that did not make people cringe!
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and what would you order?
I would have lunch with my grandmother, Doris, one more time. She was a huge inspiration to me and passed away a year before I graduated from medical school. And we wouldn’t go out! We’d have her specialty and my absolute favorite meal: homemade waffles and deviled eggs! I grew up thinking deviled eggs were a breakfast food because of this woman!