Dr. Chan: What's it like being a star on reality TV? How do you apply all of your non-traditional pre-med life experiences towards a medical school application? On this episode of "Talking U and Med Student Life," hear from first-year med student Alan's story and inspiration towards becoming a doctor and how he balances his studies, work-life, and family all while here at the University of Utah School of Medicine.
Welcome to another edition of "Talking U and Med Student Life." I've got a fantastic guest today. Alan, how are you doing?
Alan: Really good. How are you doing?
Dr. Chan: I'm doing okay. Hanging in there. Lots going on. And we'll talk about it a little bit. And Alan you're a first-year student, correct?
Dr. Chan: Correct. All right. So and we were kind of talking about it earlier, but you know, first-year med student during a pandemic. I'm sure we'll get into the details, Alan, but I want to hear your story. Let's go back to the beginning. When did you start thinking med school? Let's talk about kind of your journey that got you to this point.
Alan: So I think it's important for everybody to know that I'm an older student, I'm 41, so my pathway to medicine took a little bit. I think it kind of started . . . I've always kind of wanted to do something important for society. I've always wanted to be like this really key cog, making a difference in the world.
And so my dad was a construction worker. My mom, she grew up in the Philippines. She has like a fifth or sixth-grade education. It wasn't really in the books. My dad was a construction worker, became a prison guard, and I didn't find out till my 20s that my dad had a degree. And I asked him why and he didn't really like it. He didn't care about it. He didn't find importance in going to school and education. He felt like his degree didn't help him at all. It's just a waste of his time.
So just medical school was like never . . . it wasn't that it was that I couldn't be a doctor, but that just wasn't the path that was for me. That was for people that were naturally gifted or wealthy or any of those things that just kind of wasn't in the works for me. That's just kind of the vibe that I grew up with.
So I went to school, did terrible, and then I left and this was like back in '97. I left and decided I'm just going to go into construction. And I worked my way up, and I said I'm going make a difference in construction. I'm going to be part of this important cog of a society. And I started building elevators because I felt elevators were so important. It's going to be such a good career. And, you know, with time it kind of grew stale with me.
Dr. Chan: Is this in Utah, Alan? Did you grow up in Utah? Where's this going on?
Alan: I grew up in San Diego. This is San Diego.
Dr. Chan: San Diego. Okay.
Alan: Yeah. So can I tell a funny story?
Dr. Chan: Sure, go ahead. We are all about funny stories.
Alan: So I went to this urgent care and I just needed this little procedure done and the doctor there was this kind of older white guy from South Africa. And when we're going through the procedure, it was so unprofessional. He's coughing on me. He definitely had a cold. There's no question he had a cold. He wasn't wearing a mask. He's coughing and he's cussing and he's talking to me about American politics and capitalism and all this other stuff. And we get about three-quarters way through the procedure and he says, "Okay, I got to step out for a second. I've got to go Google to make sure I'm getting all the right nerves." And he walks out.
And I'm going, "Oh my gosh, did my doctor just say, 'I got to go Google . . . I got to go Google how to figure out how to do this'"? He walks back in, he finishes the procedure, and I sound like I'm really talking bad about the guy. It was a really unprofessional experience, but it was fun. He was really relatable. And the procedure went fine. It was fine. Like there was no complications. There was minimal scarring. It was fine. And I left there going, you know, if that guy can do it, I can do it.
And this is kind of like in my mid to late 30s. This is the first time in my life I had ever learned that doctors were real people, that, you know, they don't know everything, that sometimes they have to check on things, and that as funny as it is and as weird as it was, that was a really good experience for me to learn that I could be a doctor. And I still kind of felt like I was a little old, so it still took a little more convincing. And then, yeah the, "Wipeout" experience and kind of all history from there. Should I talk about that?
Dr. Chan: Yeah. So when did this doctor experience happen? Like in the 2000s or when did this go down?
Alan: So I was probably about 35-ish. So we're talking maybe six years ago around there. Six, seven years ago.
Dr. Chan: So you had to go back to school. And so what was that process like? What did that look like for you?
Alan: So I still hadn't quite made that decision yet. So can I jump into "Wipeout"? Is that okay?
Dr. Chan: Sure. Let's talk about "Wipeout." I love it. Let's get all the stories out. I love it.
Alan: Well, this is all part of the journey. And so I got injured in high school. My shoulder was just in shot. I couldn't sleep on it. I couldn't throw a ball. I saw a doctor. He said it would heal. It never healed. And so I just, okay, 20 years, I'm just going to live with the shoulder and I did. That was going to be my new life, just the shoulder that didn't work.
Then I was on this TV show called "Wipeout" where I just got wrecked. I got hurt so bad, and my shoulder was wasted. The very first round, we ended up going through and we won. It was a really cool experience. But by the end of the show, my shoulder was done. I couldn't use it. I couldn't lift anything. So this is 20 years after the original injury, 20 years of like just can't sleep, thinking that my life is going to be messed up forever.
And I go get surgery, and after surgery, I would say probably within three months, my shoulder was mostly there within six months, 100% like before high school. All the strength was back. This whole part of my life that I thought was gone was restored. I thought it was gone forever. I thought I would never teach my kid how to throw a ball. I mean, that really hurts a dad's feelings. And it was amazing. I didn't think that part of my life would ever come back.
And so now I have this experience where I know that I can be a doctor and now I have the strong desire to be a doctor. It was just like kind of a push over the edge later on. I just became very unsatisfied with how stale construction was getting for me and that was it, man. I took three years of undergrad schooling to get back, but I jumped ship and here I am.
Dr. Chan: I want to go back to "Wipeout." How did you get on that show? What's the audition process like? Did you have to like send in a video of you like jumping on things or jumping off the things and diving into large vats of liquid? I mean, how did that look like?
Alan: I actually applied, I think, three or four times. It looks so fun. It's not. It's a really good experience, but I wouldn't call it fun. But yeah, so they don't want athletes. They want people that can wipe out. They want people that can be on a TV show and not be afraid to look like a moron in front of millions of people. And I'm your guy. I am not afraid to look like a moron in front of millions of people.
So you just, you apply. You kind of show that you have a personality, that you're kind of larger than life. And I think that they liked that. I had applied many times, so I kind of learned what they're looking for. And then I found somebody who was a lot like me, just a knucklehead, and it was a team episode and we both got on.
They started asking us questions. They started asking us questions during the interview. We didn't really work together. The episode was like boss and employee, but he and I didn't really work together. We were both elevator guys, but he worked for a completely different company, but he had the personality that I wanted. So I called them beforehand when they invited me to do the audition. You have to do a written audition. Then they invite you to come to an in-person audition. And they said, "We want you to audition for this boss-employee episode." And I said, "Well, the guy that I'm going to audition with doesn't really work with me." And they said, "We don't care. Just make up some stories and we'll go with it."
Dr. Chan: Are you telling me reality TV isn't completely real? Is that what you're saying, Alan?
Alan: Yeah. You wouldn't think, right?
Dr. Chan: So were you the boss and he and employee or vice versa?
Alan: Yeah, we just did paper rock scissors on the way up. And so we were in San Diego. We had to drive to Burbank. It's like a two and a half-hour drive. And so we're just like, I don't know, who wants to be boss? I don't know. I'll be boss. So ended up I was boss, he was employee.
We go to the interview, and, you know, we're acting like knuckleheads and jumping around and make up these funny stories. And so the guy goes okay, "Okay, okay. Tell us a story that's really funny about you two guys working together." Remember we don't really work together, so I'm going, "Oh, shoot," but we had told a lot of stories. That's important, right? So then we finished the audition, and we go to the real show and the producer comes up and he says, "Okay, everybody I'm going to prod you guys to tell a certain story on camera." Anyways, anybody watching . . .
Dr. Chan: If we tell too many stories and it's hard to keep track of what's right . . . what was . . . to keep it consistent. Or do they not even care about consistency?
Alan: They don't care. They just want to laugh.
Dr. Chan: And so, okay. Because I've seen the show, what's the show like when the camera's off? Is it everyone relaxes, or it's just full-on everyone's in character? I mean, do they encourage wipeouts, I assume? I mean, do they encourage you to kind of put your life and body on the line.
Alan: Yeah. So that's a really good question. That kind of is one of the reasons that it's a really good experience. I wouldn't call it fun. So the first round is the one that we love to watch, where everybody is like getting hurt and that one's controlled by people. They're like pushing buttons. So you're going to wipe out. You know you're going to get a hit, so you take a hit.
But then when you're not on camera, you're kind of in the trailer in the back lot and you just sit there and nobody's like really excited. Some people are already hurt in between rounds. Everybody's for the most part friendly. There's a few people. I go back and watch that episode. I'm like, oh, that guy was a jerk. I'm so glad he lost. Oh, man. But yeah, there's a lot of downtime.
During one of our episodes, they were filming an episode for "The Bachelors," I guess like the bachelors and bachelorettes, that TV show. They did an episode of "Wipeout," and so they were filming the same day we were filming, and so on that day we weren't allowed to come out of our trailer. They didn't want us to look at them or see them or whatever.
Dr. Chan: Or spoil it for the masses about who made it, the rose ceremony. Yeah.
Alan: Speaking of reality TV, I don't watch "The Bachelor" or "Bachelorette," but I made an excuse that I had to go to the bathroom. And you have to leave the trailer to go the bathroom, and the bachelors were coming out and there was one girl, I guess, that she was really like high drama on the show. And so now there's no cameras rolling, this is just people walking to the trailer. Everybody's exhausted. Everybody's hurt. There's no cameras. And I hear this girl going, "I don't even know, like, this is so stupid. I don't even know why I'm here. I don't need this. I've got more publicity than this. I don't need this show and I don't need these people." And she's the blah, blah, blah, and I have no idea who she is.
So when the season like actually ran, when it aired, I went back and watched and I guess she was like a high drama person on camera and I can tell you off-camera she was also a high drama person. She ran half the course and quit and then, yeah, walked off the show.
Dr. Chan: Wow. So Alan, how far did you make it on "Wipeout," and what's the secret if myself or any of our listeners want to do well in "Wipeout"? How far did you go and get, and what's your secret to success to win this?
Alan: Oh, my gosh. I hope you go, Dr. Chan. I hope you go.
Dr. Chan: It's on the bucket list. Might not get to it to be quite honest.
Alan: The secret is to not be afraid. You're going to get hurt. Know they're going to hurt you and you got to take the hit. You got to take the hit and keep going. When you're watching the show, it's each event is like three, four, five minutes long. When you're doing the show, the events are like 30 minutes long. They're really aggressive. People are yelling at each other, cussing at each other. You got to remember, this is like Hollywood. This isn't Provo, right? So they're really letting each other have it.
The staff is yelling at the contestants. It's pretty aggressive. So you got to have thick skin and you just got to keep going. You're exhausted. You're swimming fully clothed with your shoes, life jacket for 30 minutes. It's really hard. So you just got to be the type of person who's going to take the hit, who's going push through it, who's not going to get upset.
There was one person. She did take an injury, but I think the stress was getting to her and she was like, "I need to stop. I need to stop. I'm hurt. I need to stop. We just need to stop." And they're like, "We are not stopping. If you want to stop, you're getting in an ambulance." "I need to stop. I need to stop." Boom. Pulled her, yanked her, put her in the ambulance, and took her out.
So yeah, it's a high-stress environment, but push through, be willing to take a hit, and might win some money.
Dr. Chan: Yeah. So how far did you get, Alan?
Alan: We won. So we won our episode. It was me and my partner. We won 25 grand each. And then they had another episode where the champions of each episode come back and compete again. I can tell you right now, I knew all the champions. I saw the champions. I met all the champions in the trailer on a different day, and nobody wanted to come back to that episode. Everybody was hurt. People are hobbling around. People's arms are in like wraps. Everybody's hurt, nobody wants to come back, but all of us were afraid that if we didn't come back, we wouldn't get paid for winning our previous episode. So most of us came back, like 9 out of 10 of us came back, something like that. But it was a good experience. Happy I did it. Wouldn't do it again.
Dr. Chan: Sounds really traumatic behind the scenes. I don't know, like I've talked to other folks who've tried out for "Jeopardy" and "The Price is Right." Like this "Wipeout" sounds like it's yeah, it sounds really dangerous. It's not like those others. All right. So you mentioned kids. And so at the very beginning, you know, you said you're, you know, mid-thirties, early forties. So in the world of admissions, that makes you a non-traditional student. And like what was that like going back to school and doing your pre-med reqs with a family and how did you make that work? Again, what are your tips? What's the secret to your success?
Alan: That's a really good question, thanks. So I think first you have to accept the fact that life is going to change. A lot of people kind of want to go back to school and think I don't really want to disrupt my life, but that's not really an option especially if you want to get into medical school. There's a lot of requirements get into medical school, so you have to accept that your life is going to change. You're going to miss some things.
So, you know, you're going to miss some dance recitals. You're going to miss some cheer tryouts, whatever it's going to be. And so then you kind of have to be creative. And so one of the things that we did . . . oh, first of all, let me say this is the number one most important thing going back to school, especially going to medical school, is make sure your spouse is just as invested as you are or even more so, because every minute that I'm not home is a minute that she's alone with the kids. And so as much as on the surface, it looks like getting into med school is hard for me, it's probably harder for your spouse. So make sure they're totally invested in this whole goal.
So, but then going to school, like one of the creative things that I try to do to try to combine schooling with kids is I was going to BYU, and so what I would do is I would have my wife . . . I still wanted the one-on-one time with my kids, so I'd have my wife drop off a kid with me at school for about an hour, maybe two hours, and they would have alone time with dad and I would get them treats from the vending machines and we would just kind of talk.
And we would walk from building to building into these large . . . BYU has a lot of these large classrooms, and we would just kind of walk around these large classrooms and pick up all the pencils, all the mechanical pencils and highlighters and erasers and whatever that the students left behind that day. And then the kids were, you know, they'd walk off like 15, whatever.
Dr. Chan: Like a scavenger hunt. I love it.
Alan: Like a scavenger hunt. Yeah. The kids loved it. They were super excited. They got to have alone time with dad and I got to have time with them. And anyways, that was something we did. And you kind of have to make a lot of deals. I'm going to miss your cheer competition. To make it up for you, I'll give you some alone time on Saturday, and I'll take you to nickel arcade or we'll go on a date or whatever. So you got to be creative, but it's work and life is going to change for sure.
Dr. Chan: How many kids do you have, Alan, and what are their ages?
Alan: I barely have six kids, and my youngest is four years old. My oldest is 14, and they're every two years in between.
Dr. Chan: Okay. And I think that puts you, I think you have the most kids in medical school. I don't know of any other students that have six. Is that correct as far as you know?
Alan: As far as I know. I don't know if that's like something I want the trophy for.
Dr. Chan: All right. So you're going back to school, you're trying to find balance, you know, as a father, as a husband. As a pre-medical student, how did you do all . . . You mentioned BYU and classes, and there is an academic component to getting prepared for med school. But how did you do all the other activities, like the research and community service? How did you fit that into your busy schedule?
Alan: So one of the things that I think kind of is in the heads of these medical school students is we want to like see what other medical students have done. Like, oh man, you got into medical school, what did you do? And you start to try to build your résumé following the résumé of some successful students before you.
And I tried to do the same thing. That was kind of my mindset for my first year. And then during my second year, I had this opportunity to join the wrestling team. And I thought, well, you know, this is O Chem 1. Everybody says this is such a really hard time right now, and plus I have other hard classes as O Chem 1, Anatomy, and, oh gosh, I had a few other hard ones. And I said I can go and I could focus on studies and get an A or A-minus, whatever it's going to be, or I can follow my passion and wrestle and show the admissions committee who I really am and show them something they've never seen before.
I became like the second oldest person in history to ever qualify for the national championships, but I thought that that was more descriptive of who I am. And so that did cost my grades a little bit, but I decided at that point that my application would be a reflection of me, what I'm passionate about, and where I feel like I can make the biggest difference.
So when I was going out and volunteering and doing these extracurriculars, it didn't feel like I was taking time away from my family or taking time away from studies. It felt like I was developing me and showing the admissions committee who I really was.
I know that sounds really cheesy, but that's the absolute truth. And so I think my application looked very different than a lot of other students because I took that route.
Dr. Chan: And you mentioned the wrestling. So have you always been a wrestler, or where does that come from or is that something kind of came later in life?
Alan: So I was a wrestler in high school. I was a really good wrestler high school. BYU had a wrestling team back then, and they invited me to be on the NCAA team that they used to have back in '97, but they wouldn't give me a scholarship. And at the time their coach was this Olympic champion, Mark Schultz. And he called me on the phone and he says, he gives me a spot on the team. I had no idea that that was a big deal. I thought I was a stud. I thought I was going to, you know, go places with scholarships and whatever, and that's not the path for wrestlers.
So I ended up going to BYU, and I didn't take the spot that he offered me, so I had to fight for it. And there's a kid who came from Ricks College. This is like back before BYUI. This kid came from Ricks College. He had already wrestled two years of junior college, and he and I had to wrestle for the spot. Since I turned it down, we had to wrestle for it, and he kicked the snot out of me. He gave me the worst beating I ever had in my entire life.
He ended up winning the starting spot and going to the nationals, NCAA national. So he was a stud. But when I left BYU, I wrestled a couple of years of junior college, and then, yeah, so it was a 20-year gap. A 20-year gap between like, when I'd last wrestled in junior college and when I wrestled again at BYU.
Dr. Chan: So you're kind of the prodigal wrestler. You wrestled 20 years ago and then you came back and joined the same team. Am I understanding that correctly?
Alan: Oh, so yeah. So BYU, actually, I think I'm probably one of the only people that I was on the . . . well, I guess I wasn't on the team, so I turned my spot down, but I did wrestle with them back in '97 when they had a NCAA team and they closed the team and then I came back and wrestled for the club team and then they closed the club team. Either I have bad luck, or I don't know.
Dr. Chan: Wow. All right. So Alan, so you're finishing up your pre-med reqs, you're doing all the things you need to do. You have your large family, life is happening, and I think you're still working during this time too, right?
Alan: Yeah. So what I did is I couldn't afford to work like during the school year. So from September to whatever May, I just couldn't find the time to work, but I also couldn't take on the debt. I've got a mortgage. I've got to raise kids.
So what we did is the day that school . . . I would take my finals on like a Friday, and we bought a trailer and on Saturday morning I would have the trailer heading to San Francisco and I would spend the next four months in the San Jose, San Francisco area because they pay, I make about in one summer, I'll work 80 hours a week and I'll make triple there what I'll make here and they pay for all my expenses and everything like that.
So I'd go to San Francisco. I'd build elevators. And that would just be like hard, just 80 hours a week, Monday through Sunday. And then I would finish my workday on Saturday out there, pack up my trailer, boom, I'm back here for ready for school on Monday. So I didn't have a summer vacation, no breaks, no time to breathe, just boom, boom, boom. But, you know, that's what we had to do. It worked for us, but it was not free. It was a lot of work. Having eight people live in a trailer, that was a fun experience.
Dr. Chan: That's amazing. And so what was your strategy when you started looking at medical schools, like where did you want to apply? How did you approach this as, again, a non-traditional student with a lot of stuff on your plate? What was your strategy going in?
Alan: Okay. Number one, I don't have to kiss up to you. I'm already in. I don't have to kiss up to you. Number one was always Utah. That was always from the get-go, always number one. So all my GPA and everything that was always working to get the goal to go into Utah. If for some reason Utah didn't work out, I had to go somewhere where I could raise a family. Had to be affordable, had to be safe, had to have good schools.
As a matter of fact, there was one school . . . I kind of like, I applied wide. I applied DO-MD. I applied to like 40 schools. And then in one of the secondaries, I don't want to say the name, but one of the secondaries, it said, "Tell us why you want to come to our school." And so I Googled the area where the school's at and even like the surrounding area, I don't know why I applied. I thought it was going to be better than it was, and it just wasn't going to be a good place to raise my family. And I'm really glad they asked me to start with a secondary, because after looking at the map, after looking at the schools, after looking at the living conditions, I go like, "You know what, I actually don't want to go there." So I didn't fill out the application. Go ahead.
Dr. Chan: So you applied broadly, so 40 schools. And again, I can ask you this now, Alan, because like you're already in here, but like how many interview offers did you get?
Alan: So I got two MDs, and I got a lot of DOs. I felt like my story was very DO friendly. It's really important to point out that my GPA as a young undergrad was really, really bad, and I took a lot of classes and got bad grades in a lot of classes.
So when I came back to school, no matter how good I was doing and I did pretty well when I came back, but I couldn't get that GPA to come up. Like it just really wouldn't budge. So when I applied, my overall GPA was pretty low. Can I say that? I'm not ashamed of it. Can I say that?
Dr. Chan: Yeah, you can talk about it.
Alan: My overall GPA applying was 3.05, and the minimum for most schools was 3.0. So I took all hard sciences. All of my G's were done. I had nothing but hard sciences left. And so I ended up with like a 3.7, because you know, O Chem and cell bios is really a rough route. But so when I applied, I had to kind of like keep that in mind that my GPA was going to be a weed out.
So anyways, going back to your question, sorry to go on a tangent, but I ended up with two MDs and then I think like maybe six or seven DOs. But I also, thanks to you, I heard back from Utah early, and as soon as I heard back from Utah, I withdrew. And so maybe there's . . .
Dr. Chan: When you say "heard back," when I called and accepted you?
Alan: Yes. Sorry.
Dr. Chan: All right.
Alan: Yeah, go ahead.
Dr. Chan: Alan, with all your experiences, I'm just curious because . . . it's hard for me because I meet so many people. I do remember you on your interview day. I just remember you just had like a very positive energy, positive karma about you. I do remember you mentioning the "Wipeout" thing when we were doing like a little ice breaker.
So I'm curious, like, because you know, obviously, you've been on some TV shows, you've been a wrestler. So like, you know, you have some athletic experience. Did you have butterflies in your stomach? Like what was more anxiety-provoking, like being on reality TV, getting ready for that big match or interviewing for med school? Like how did you call that feeling? You know what I'm saying? Was it stressful or were you able to navigate? I'm just curious how you approached it.
Alan: There's no question med school was more nerve-wracking
Dr. Chan: Than being on reality TV show. Interesting.
Alan: Well, you know, okay. So before, Utah was my third interview. I don't want to say I did one . . . like I'll say because it's funny. Okay. So I did get invited to the DO down in St. George Rocky Vista, and I got an invite the day after I applied and I got invited to the very first day of interviews.
So I was so arrogant that, like, they really wanted me to go there. And then they sent me this email that said, just so you know, we accept 80% or 75% of all the students that get interviewed. So, you know, just because you're getting invited, know that you got a really good shot. And I was so arrogant. I didn't prepare. I was just so dumb. I walked in, I did the interview and I knew I blew it. I couldn't get through my thoughts straight. I didn't practice like expressing myself and getting to the point. And I just, I walked out, I knew I blew it and I got wait-listed. I got wait-listed. It was heartbreaking. But I'm so glad that happened because it prepared me to prepare.
So I started doing practices. I started doing MMIs and constant scenarios. I was interviewing myself constantly, constantly, constantly, constantly. So by the time I came to the University of Utah, the interview like I felt prepared, but I was still nervous because remember that GPA always weighted on my mind. I couldn't get that off my shoulders. That always weighed on my mind. I always felt like less of a student than everybody around me because I was carrying that stain on my record.
So as much as I felt prepared, I felt I was always nervous that that was going to hold me back from ever getting into med school. And I think if I knew then what I know now, I wouldn't be quite as nervous about it, but yeah, it was horrible. I couldn't sleep. It was rough, really rough.
Dr. Chan: Alan, I'm glad you're here.
Alan: Thank you.
Dr. Chan: And I just have a few more questions because we're almost out of time. So starting med school in a pandemic, what's your experience been? How do you do with all the Zoom? I mean, what's your perspective starting med school during the middle of a full-blown pandemic?
Alan: I guess the good news is that we're all in the pandemic, right? It's not just me. And so I don't feel like I'm kind of at any type of any losing position because everybody across the nation I think is doing the same thing. So I don't think it's really negatively impacting like how competitive we are or anything like that. So that part doesn't really weigh on me.
One of the key things I wanted out of medical school is to make some really good connections. That's been kind of hard. I do feel like the class right now is starting to break off into cliques. Not like in a bad way, but people are just kind of getting used to who they see all the time. And so even when I go to med school, you know, cordial hi's here and there but we don't really know that many people outside of like maybe 10, right?
Dr. Chan: Yeah. The small groups, the dedicated groups.
Alan: Yeah. Yeah. So that part's been hard. I'd I hope to kind of like network a little more, but the learning has, you know, most learning is going to be on your own anyways, so I don't think that has hurt me too bad. And in some ways, since I still live in like an hour away from campus, in some ways it's kind of helped me because I don't have to make that drive every day. Then I'm going to make do, and it's not that bad. Yeah.
Dr. Chan: And going back to being non-traditional, like how has that balance been now that you're in med school with your family? Has that been manageable? Has it been actually more manageable as a med student compared to pre-med life? Like how would you describe it?
Alan: No, this is harder. There's no question about it. This is harder. I'm trying to figure out. I really like, I really, really liked the way that the University of Utah sets up their first year, where we have all of these tests that don't count towards your grade. And I feel like I just really feel like the University of Utah has nailed the first semester. We call it foundations of medicine. I feel like they nailed it.
So it really kind of gives you a chance to figure out who you are, how you're going to dedicate time, how you're going to figure out your life, how you're going to reorganize things.
The first half of this semester so far, I'd say I did a really poor job of managing my time and finding balance. It's been really hard. Dude, I gained like 10 pounds, and it was hard. I was studying like 12 to 14 hours a day, but then you start to figure out, more efficient, be more aggressive. And I started waking up early to exercise, started an exercise group. And so kind of with time it's gotten better. And so I found time now, I could spend time in the evenings with my kids and go on weekends, but there's no question about it. There is less time now than it was before, but you make it work and that's all you can do.
Dr. Chan: Yeah. Can I pivot, Alan, and ask some more questions? Because you just have this wide variety of experiences. Just want to pick your brain a bit. Is that okay?
Alan: Yeah. Yeah. Whatever you want.
Dr. Chan: So how long have you been an elevator repair person?
Alan: About 14 years.
Dr. Chan: Okay. So help me because sometimes when I step on an elevator and it's really high and it starts to like shake a little I'm okay. It's statistically really small that that's going to plummet, right? We've all been there. Everyone listening to this has been there when you've been in an elevator and it kind of shakes a little bit extra and you just kind of have that thought that's in your mind, right?
Alan: Yeah. So it's not like the movies. So every elevator is held up by like six cables and one cable can hold up the whole weight of the elevator. It can be full with all the weights and all the people and one cable can hold up the weight of the elevator. So don't think that like if one cable breaks you're going to lose it. There's elevators running with one broken cable right now and the repairman hasn't gotten to it. That's really unsafe, but for different reasons.
The scarier part is there are emergency breaks on elevators, so it won't fall. If it falls, it'll fall a very short distance. The actual danger is number one, when we work on the elevators, we have to shut the doors off sometimes because the doors are what keep the elevator . . . Anyways, sometimes we have to bypass the doors and the door is like a safety circuit. The elevator won't run when the doors are open. Sometimes we have to bypass that feature and sometimes people forget to unbypass it. So what happens is people will get on the elevator, the elevator will think the doors are closed, and it will just take off. And when you're on the elevator, it doesn't feel like it's that fast, but an elevator takes off really fast. And so if you're halfway through the door when the elevator decides to take off, yeah, that's more common. Super, super rare. I don't want to scare people. That's super rare, but that happens way more often.
I think elevators have only fallen twice in the history of modern elevators, but people getting hurt by doors that were bypassed, yeah, I know people that have done that, that have hurt people because of that.
Dr. Chan: That sounds terrifying as well. Another elevator question. So, Alan, I'm just going to pick your brain. So there have been rare times when like elevators have been stuck and it's full of people. And I remember, you know, you kind of look at the plaque and say like not to exceed this weight limit. And then I started looking around at everyone in the elevator. So I'm just asking you, like that's just a suggestion the weight limit. I'm fairly sure that like there can be more like, there's probably like some leeway there. You can probably go a couple of hundred pounds above that weight limit, correct?
Alan: Yeah. A couple of hundred, couple of hundred is okay, but usually like with modern elevators, they have weight sensors and so it won't budge if it gets overloaded. It won't budge. But actually if you overload an elevator, that's really unsafe, but you can't do it with people so don't get too nervous about that.
Dr. Chan: Okay. I think we've all been there. We've all kind of looked at each other, going collectively, are we below the whatever the thousand-pound weight limit is? And then you start thinking like, okay, is this now in a danger zone?
All right, Alan, last question. You mentioned movies, which movie in your opinion has the best elevator scene? Again, it doesn't have to be . . . so I actually looked this up. So the two in my mind are "Die Hard" and "Speed," but maybe you have another one. I'm just curious, like, are those legendary among elevator repair people or because it was so farcical, but they are so action-packed?
Alan: "Die Hard," every movie has it wrong. Let me say that. Every movie has it very wrong. Like if we can't open the hatch, we can't get out. If I'm stuck in an elevator, I'm stuck in an elevator just like everybody else. There's no secret.
The movie I think that has it best is probably "Ocean's Eleven." At the very end, you know, they sneak into the vault and then they open the doors and they throw that little bomb out there. That's a real elevator pit. I can tell from the picture that they shot that in a real elevator pit. There's some things that are wrong with that scene too, but if we're talking like most accurate, that one.
Dr. Chan: Okay. I love it. "Ocean's Eleven." I'm going to have to pay attention. I know exactly. Is that where they kind of, yeah. The little smoke bomb and, yeah. Okay. That's fascinating. See, I thought it was going to be like "Die Hard" because I think there's a lot of elevator scenes in "Die Hard." It's kind of part of the plot.
So, all right. Alan, this has been fantastic. We're going to have to have you come back because I just know there's going to be more stories and more questions. So I just really enjoy talking to you and just hearing, you know, how you've gotten to this point and just how well it's going.
Alan: Hey, thanks a lot for having me. I really like the U. I'm glad I chose it. This has been an awesome, awesome place to be in medical school.
Dr. Chan: All right. Great. Well, thanks, Alan and take care. I'll talk to you soon.
- Episode 161 – Conquering Spartan Races & Med School
- Episode 160 – Adventures in Argentina feat. Med Student Burnout
- Episode 159 – Olympic Weightlifting as an MD PhD Student
- Episode 158 – Creating Memes for Med Students
- Episode 157 – Mountaineering & Wilderness Exploration with a Med Student
- This is TALKING U & MED STUDENT LIFE
- Episode 156 – The Art of Practice Interviewing
- Episode 155 – How Disney and Medicine Can Collide
- Episode 154 – Drive Thru White Coat Ceremony
- Episode 152 – Black Diamond Skiing During Med School