Jun 3, 2020

Dr. Chan: How do you find balance between medical school and your wellness and life outside of school? What's it like having your third-year clerkship rotation cut short because of COVID-19? How does a career in business and football prepare one for a career in medicine? Today on "Talking Admissions and Med Student Life," I interview Bridger, a third-year medical student about to start his fourth year here at the University of Utah School of Medicine.

Announcer: Helping you prepare for one of the most rewarding careers in the world, this is "Talking Admissions and Med Student Life" with your host, the Dean of Admissions at the University of Utah School of Medicine, Dr. Benjamin Chan.

Dr. Chan: Well, welcome to another edition of "Talking Admissions and Med Student Life." This is our first Zoom interview because we're going through some COVID pandemic. On the line I've got Bridger. How are you doing, Bridger?

Bridger: I'm good, man. Thanks for having me on here. It's going to be fun.

Dr. Chan: Yeah. And what year are you in med school right now?

Bridger: I'm a third-year. Well, I guess I'm a third-year until tomorrow when I pass my OB/GYN Shelf, and then I guess I'll technically be in between third and fourth year.

Dr. Chan: And just to get into it a little bit, what rotation were you on and how were you notified that you were pulled off for safety reasons? Like, how did that go from your perspective, from a med student perspective?

Bridger: So I was on OB/GYN, and as you know, that's a really hands-on specialty. And so I did my first week on obstetrics. It was a lot of fun. We got to see a lot of deliveries and stuff. And then I was on nights when things started changing, but because I was on nights, it was a little bit different. I was the only med student, and it was a little bit more . . . flexible may be a good word, because they actually had me still on the procedures and stuff. And so I was still able to participate during my week on nights.

And then I had my weekend call shift that Saturday, and so, again, I was the only med student, so I was still able to participate in the surgeries and the deliveries and stuff. And then Sunday is when we got the email that said that we got pulled from clinical duties. And so I only got two of the six weeks on obstetrics this year. We did two weeks online after that, and then next year we'll have two more weeks that we kind of plug into our schedule whenever we can figure it out.

Dr. Chan: Were you surprised or could you kind of see it coming based on the chatter with the docs in the hospital, or were you completely blindsided by it?

Bridger: Well, I wouldn't say I was completely blindsided by it. I think it was kind of tough, like I said, being on OB with it being such a hands-on specialty. The original talks were, "Well, you guys can go. You can be in the hospital. You just can't see patients, and you can't have PPE. So you can't be in contact with the patients, but you can still do everything else." And I'm like, "Well, what is everything else?"

This is OB/GYN, right? If I'm going to show up at 4:00 in the morning to write a couple of notes and then sit around until 5:00 p.m. not being able to talk to patients because I can't wear masks or deliver babies because I can't wear a gown and gloves, this is going to be a little bit different OB/GYN experience than I was planning on.

So that was kind of my initial thoughts. I was like, "If I'm not going to be able to do OB/GYN and it's kind of just like trying to figure out how to keep the clock rolling on us, I'd rather just do the time later where I can actually see patients and learn the things that you learn on OB by kind of doing it."

Dr. Chan: And I know, from an administrative perspective, there was a lot of late night phone calls and emails and a lot of reaching out to . . . it's not just the University of Utah Hospital, but the partner hospitals, like IHC, VA, and everyone kind of has a different structure in place. It was stressful. It's still very stressful, but I just remember that week very clearly. There were a lot of things that started moving very, very quickly.

Bridger: Yeah, totally, I can imagine. I mean, I think it's hard for the students to realize this is not something that you guys have ever been through before on the admin side of things. I think we all are so excited to be in the hospital and finally learning with patients and learning the hands-on side of things after being stuck in the classroom for the last couple of years pretty heavy. And so I think it was kind of hard for a lot of us to swallow going back to laptop med school, you know?

Dr. Chan: Online learning, yeah.

Bridger: Yeah. I mean, it's just, like you said, kind of unprecedented times trying to figure it out as we go.

Dr. Chan: Yeah. And then I think we're still trying to figure it out both on, I think, an international/national level as well as a local level about "How do we move forward?" And I think there are some good ideas being put out, but the details are still kind of fuzzy because the virus is still among us, so it's really hard. It's really difficult.

Bridger: Yeah.

Dr. Chan: So we'll come back and talk about that a little bit near the end, but I want to focus on really positive things.

Bridger: Let's do it.

Dr. Chan: So, Bridger, let's go back to the beginning, man. When did you first have the idea that you wanted to go to med school? Walk us through that process. Was it a moment, kind of like epiphany, or was it a series of moments? What was your journey like at the very beginning? Where did that come from?

Bridger: For me, the earliest memory that I can think of, period, not just medicine related, like my earliest memory, is I was probably 3, maybe 4, and we were at my house and my little brother and I were playing around. He's two years younger than me. And he was walking around, running around, and he went up to my mom as my mom was cleaning a glass frame, and the glass slipped out of the frame and hit his back and give him like a little . . . I don't know. I'd probably say it was a couple of inches, little gash on his back. And so he started bleeding, and I lost it. I was like, "What is going on?"

So we get in the car, we drive down the street to the Alta View emergency room, and I remember the nurses and people coming up to check him out. And I was so protective and I was so worried about what was going on with my little brother. Would he be okay? And the doc walked in, he looked at me, and he gave me a pair of gloves, and he gave me a mask, and he was like, "I'll let you sit here, I'll let you watch, and I'll let you help, but you've got to calm down." So he caught me off guard.

So he gave me a mask. I'm sitting there wearing gloves, and I'm just sitting there watching as he stitches up my little brother's back. And I just remember, at that moment, looking at that guy like he was a superhero. I looked at that guy like he just saved my little brother. He just took control of the situation. He calmed me down, which nobody could do. I think that's when I was first really impressed by the medical field, and I think that's where my original desire to want to go to med school came from.

And so that was kind of my plan growing up. It was always go play football, go to med school, and become a doctor. And then when I was playing football . . . I was that guy that didn't really have to study in high school, like, ever.

Dr. Chan: Where'd you go to high school, Bridger? Because I assume you were a football star at your high school.

Bridger: I was all right. I went to Jordan.

Dr. Chan: Jordan? Okay. And what position did you play?

Bridger: So at Jordan, I kind of played everything. I played receiver on offense, and then . . .

Dr. Chan: Punter? Were you a punter too?

Bridger: I did punt, actually. Yeah.

Dr. Chan: Okay. I love it.

Bridger: You were trying to make a joke, but yeah, I actually was. So I punted, I returned, and then on defense, they kind of played me wherever depending on the team we were playing, so I'd either line up the safety or linebacker.

I had to play D-end a couple of games when we played . . . who was that? I don't know. We played somebody that had a really good tight end, so I had to play D-end, which sucked at 180 pounds.

So in high school I kind of just played wherever, and then when I got to play in college, I played safety.

Dr. Chan: Again, we don't have too many people who matriculate to med school who played college football, so I have to ask were you recruited? Did you walk on? What was that experience like, and were you pretty open that you said, "Hey, I want to go to med school after this," or did you kind of keep that hidden? How was that process?

Bridger: Yeah, so my recruiting process was kind of a mess. I had some offers to some smaller schools. Brown was one of the bigger schools, obviously, being Ivy League. But the way that their scholarship process worked, I think my GPA was like a 3.89 and my . . . I couldn't even tell you my ACT number, but all I can tell you is the combined total of my ACT and my GPA didn't get me a full-ride scholarship. I didn't qualify for a full-ride scholarship to an Ivy League school.

And so I was thinking about just going out to Brown and just paying for that first year until I could just kind of roll my academic qualifications from my first year of playing to, I guess, qualify me for the scholarship or whatever.

And then I went and talked to The U, and it just felt like a really good fit. I did tell them that I wanted to go to med school and they were like, "Yeah, that's great." I mean, it's kind of a different story than they're used to hearing from a lot of their recruits. But that was the original plan.

But going back to where I was saying I didn't really study in high school, I just didn't have the study habits when I got up to college. So I was taking pre-med classes, and I was spending way more time focusing on football than I was academics, and I figured that's kind of how I'd always been, and I'd figure it out, and it wouldn't be that big of a deal. And I got a C in my first . . .

Dr. Chan: Oh, no.

Bridger: . . . pre-med biology class.

Dr. Chan: I call that jokingly a gentleman's C, right?

Bridger: Yeah. There you go. Exactly. So I got smoked in my first undergrad biology class and quickly realized that I didn't have the study skills at that time to manage football and pre-med.

So I kept playing football. I switched my degree to business, played for a few more years, and then I actually got a concussion and decided that I wanted to use my head for something other than smashing into people. So I stopped playing football and kind of did the business thing for a while.

Dr. Chan: Was it hard to walk away?

Bridger: Oh, yeah. Definitely. It was weird going to school not playing football. I hadn't done that since I was in, like, second grade, third grade. It was always kind of just that's what you did. You woke up early, you worked out before school, you went to school, you went to practice, and that's just kind of the routine. And so, when I took that football piece away, I didn't really like school anymore.

I've always kind of looked at school like if it's getting you to a profession that requires school and requires a degree, then it's awesome, but if you're going to school for something that you could learn elsewhere and you could do kind of a more hands-on approach, that's always kind of been the way that I did it.

And so I went and I started a couple of businesses and did that side of things. And it was two weeks before I got married actually. We had a house, brand-new truck, and we were just kind of living it up for being some young kids. I was doing pretty good at . . .

Dr. Chan: Well, what were your businesses, Bridger?

Bridger: So I had a window-cleaning business that I started with a couple buddies and sold. After about a year and a half, we sold that. And then I had a sales company. It was basically . . . what I did was I had managed and trained sales teams, and that kind of helped on the corporate side of things, like managing the . . . Basically, it was kind of like a liaison between the operations and the sales side of things.

So I did that for a little while, and then I had a contract that I was ready to sign a couple of weeks before I got married with a really nice salary, awesome benefits, and everything just kind of made sense on paper, but I just didn't feel good about it. It was kind of weird. I knew that once I kind of made that call, that's what I was going to be doing, you know?

Dr. Chan: Mm-hmm.

Bridger: And so I drove over to the house. My wife was living in the house at the time, or my fiancÈe, I guess, at that time, and I was like, "Hey, I don't know about this." She's like, "Well, what do you think kind of what's going on with the numbers?" I'm like, "The numbers are great. Everything looks like it makes sense." She was like, "Well, figure it out and let me know."

So I kind of took a few hours, I hiked up into the mountains, and I kind of just got quiet. I was just kind of thinking about, "What do I really want to do? What are my motivations?" And it was at that time that I was like, "Man, I think I need to go back to school and be a doctor." I was like, "Gosh, that's going to be brutal. I'm just about to get married. I don't want to go to school for the next 10 years or whatever it's going to be."

And so I came home and I told her. I said, "Hey, I think I need to go to med school," and she was like, "Cool. Whatever I've got to do to support you, let me know. If that's what you feel like you need to do, let's do it."

So we got rid of the house. We sold the truck. We moved into a basement apartment. We downsized big time. And right after we got married, I went out and worked for the summer to try and make as much money as I could to kind of fund this journey, and here we are seven years later.

Dr. Chan: Bridger, did you already have your degree by then or you already graduated, so you had to go back to school and do some post-bacc pre-med reqs?

Bridger: Exactly, yeah.

Dr. Chan: What did that kind of look like for you?

Bridger: Exactly. So, basically, I went back and I had straight pre-med classes to go. So I was taking pretty much biology, chemistry, physics every semester. I had to start from the very beginning, and so it was basically just . . . Because of the two-year, four semesters, I guess it's five semesters, chemistry track, that's what it was. So it was two and a half years of pre-med, knocking out all of those prerequisites, and then just working when I could and studying for the MCAT.

Dr. Chan: Did you feel when you went back to school . . . you mentioned earlier the studying skills. Was it better or different as . . . I'm going to use the term as kind of a more "nontraditional student." Because it sounds like things were different in your life. You didn't have football. You were married. You kind of had more focus, I would guess. I mean, did you notice that when you started taking these classes, you were a little bit older than the other students? Do you understand what I'm saying, Bridger?

Bridger: Yeah, I understand the question. For me, I've always been able to learn really well. I've always really enjoyed learning and studying on my own. I just never had to do it for academics before. I love reading. I love learning. I love that mental game, almost, of just "How much information can I gather?" But I'd never had to do it before in a structured setting of, "This is the chapter you've got to read. These are the questions you've got to do."

So, as far as, my approach coming back, I just kind of told myself that this was what I wanted to do now, and I wasn't studying because I had to. I was studying because I wanted to. And I think that was the shift for me, was being able to take my natural inclination to want to learn and want to work intellectually, and just knowing that this wasn't something that I just had to pass the class or whatever, like academics kind of was before for me. You do good just to do good. But for me, it was like, "This is going to get me where I want to go."

And so I think just the perspective shift on doing it because I wanted to and I was interested in it, and because it was going to help me get into med school, rather than doing it to just pass a class was really the biggest difference that made kind of the change for me.

Dr. Chan: Bridger, you wrap up your studies. You take and pass the MCAT. What was your reasoning? Like, how many schools did you apply to? What was kind of your thought process? What was your kind of strategy, I guess, when you started applying to med schools? What did you look for and how you kind of worked through that?

Bridger: So I've kind of done this a little bit nontraditionally, I'd probably say. What I did was I kind of went for the numbers. That's just where my mind goes. I had a couple of med schools that people had mentioned. People that I knew went to this med school or that med school, so I knew a couple of those. And then I just read a lot of the online forums.

And then what I did was I went on every med school's website that I was looking at, and I figured out how many students that they took from in state. If it was an out-of-state school, I figured out how many they took from in state. And then I took the number of males and females as far as their percentages went per class, and I kind of averaged that out. And then I looked through their class directories almost, and I was like, "Okay, how many students have they taken from Utah before, or what percentage of students are coming from their surrounding states?" And so I went super heavy on the numbers and I only applied to, I think, 13 or 14 schools.

Dr. Chan: Okay, so a decent number. It's a good number. Not cheap.

Bridger: Yeah. Gosh, man, that was another shock. I'm like, "Holy moly, this is expensive."

Dr. Chan: Yeah, it's like Amazon. The more boxes you click, the more your checkout cart grows.

Bridger: Yeah, exactly. Holy moly. So I kind of just went pretty heavy on the numbers, and I looked at schools that were going to be historically favorable to a white guy from Utah.

And I kind of just sent them out. I got quite a few interview invites, but lucky for me, I interviewed at . . . George Washington was my first school, and then the week later, I interviewed at The U. That was right before Christmas break, and so everything kind of quiets down over the holidays. And then I came back. I think it was early June. No, early January, sorry, where I got the phone call from you. I was actually pulling into work when you called me.

Dr. Chan: I remember that, yeah. You were driving. I remember that.

Bridger: Yeah. I think I'm the only med . . .

Dr. Chan: I don't recommend anyone driving and answering their phone, but I notice a lot of people tend to do it when I call. Public service announcement.

Bridger: Yeah, I think I'm probably the only med student that, as soon as I said it, I was like, "I can't believe you just said that." But it was funny. You were like, "Hey, Bridger, this is Dr. Chan. Do you have a minute?" And I vividly remember my response was, "Hell, yeah, Dr. Chan. What's up?"

Dr. Chan: That's great.

Bridger: And I was like, "You just said that? All right. Good. Well, let's see if they still want you in after that one."

Dr. Chan: Going back to your interview day, Bridger, I'm curious. You've played in a lot of big games. Is it kind of the same anxiety right before the big game? I mean, did you feel kind of like that competitive sense and were you able to kind of quiet your nerves, or was it a completely different sensation before a big interview day?

I'm talking performance, kind of like, "Okay, you're on the big stage." I'm just curious what your thought is, because you've played in a lot of really important games, and I would argue interview day is also very important game day.

Bridger: Oh, yeah.

Dr. Chan: So I'm curious what your strategy was and your thoughts about that.

Bridger: For me, my interview day, I honestly thought you guys were pranking me. So I'm in the room and I thought you guys were just like . . . because of the athletic background or whatever, I thought you guys were like, "Oh, let's kind of just see where his head is at."

So out of my interview group, everybody else gets called out of the room and I'm sitting in the old . . . I guess it's now Academic Success, but before it was Academic Success, I was sitting in that office, and everybody else had gotten called out to their interview. And so I'm sitting there and I still haven't been called out, and they're like, "Oh, your person is just running a little bit late." And I was like, "Okay."

So I'm sitting there by myself, and then I get pulled back into . . . they were doing construction back there, and I get pulled into this room and there's a guy with an impact rattle gun on other side of a piece of sheet rock. And so it literally is me and this lady who showed up 15 minutes late for a 20-minute interview sitting in this teeny tiny room that's kind of like a makeshift office while they're doing construction. And it sounds like I'm in a mechanic shop, so we're basically yelling at each other.

And I'm like, "This is kind of funny." I literally thought you guys were just messing with me. I thought you guys were watching how I'd handle the stress. And I'm just like, "This is kind of crazy."

And so we have our super quick interview, and she's like, "Okay, well, sorry I showed up late, but it looks like you'll do a good job." So I had no idea where I stood there.

And then I went into my next interview, and I remember . . .

Dr. Chan: Because this is before MMI. Yeah, I think you were getting traditional interview style back then.

Bridger: Well, I had two traditional interviews, and then I had the MMIs after. So I was in that hybrid year.

Dr. Chan: Okay. That's right.

Bridger: And so my second interview, I go in there, and I remember who it is, but I won't call him out. He was like, "I do this a little bit different. I've been doing this for a while. So I've already looked over your application. I just have two questions." So he asked me the two questions. And like 5 minutes in to the 20-minute interview, he's like, "Okay, we're done here." And I was like, "Oh my gosh, I blew it. Five minutes and, 'We're done here'? I get, 'We're done here'?"

Dr. Chan: As the admissions dean, this stuff makes me cringe. I'm sorry, Bridger.

Bridger: No, it's okay. So I get back into . . . I'm back in the little waiting room with the lady that's running the day, and she's like, "You just want to hang out with me today." I was like, "I guess that's the plan," because I sat in there for 15 minutes with her the first time and 15 minutes on the second one.

And so, for me, honestly, I think the whole situation was just kind of so bizarre to me. I don't know if I was nervous or if I was more just kind of like intrigued by the whole day. But maybe that didn't answer your question. I guess, for me, the big day is never the time to prepare. You know what I mean?

Dr. Chan: Yeah.

Bridger: Game day, when the lights are on, that's . . . if you're trying to prepare it that time, you shouldn't be there, you know?

And so I kind of looked at the interview days and the second look day and that kind of stuff, I look at that as kind of fun. The games are when it's fun. All the practice, and all the early mornings, and the late nights, and all the work that you put in beforehand is kind of where I feel like it makes sense to stress. I feel like when it's game time, that's when it's time to have fun. That's when it's time to just kind of let go and prove that you deserve to be there rather than worrying about all the other stuff.

Dr. Chan: That's great. So, Bridger, you decide to stay here, come to our school. How was that jump from more or less pre-med reqs, undergrad classes, to med school itself? Was that a smooth transition? Did you have to learn new study skills? What was the first couple of years like?

Bridger: Oh, yeah. I remember that first Foundations quiz that we had, and I remember I got a decent score on it and I was like, "Oh cool. I deserve to be here." You know what I mean? And then I saw the average and I was like, "Oh my gosh. These kids are geniuses." I was like, "What in the heck? Maybe I don't deserve to be here."

I thought I did pretty well, and then I saw that I'm on the backside of that curve and I was like, "Holy moly. I worked like crazy for this, and I didn't even hit the little top of the curve. Wow, this is next level. This is as big of a jump as it was going from high school football to college football. Everything is just a completely different level and a completely different speed."

Dr. Chan: And did you have to redo how you studied? I mean, how many hours a week were you putting in, and changes you had to do to your routine, or how did you kind of tackle that?

Bridger: So I totally changed my routine. I would not recommend this route for anybody, and I've said that in some of the talks and stuff that I've given to the other classes. But my personality is really pretty all-or-nothing. I kind of struggle with balance big time.

And so, after that first quiz . . . I worked pretty hard. I studied quite a bit, and like I said, I thought I did well, but to see where I was at compared to everybody else, I was just like, "Hey, this is going to require another level."

And so what I did, and like I said, I wouldn't recommend this, but I kind of just buried myself in school. I was at the library as they'd open it every day. I was the first one there, and then I would study all day. I wouldn't really eat. I had those Uncrustables, horrible little peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that I'd buy by the box at Costco, and I'd throw a couple of those in my backpack and I would just sit and study all day.

I wasn't exercising anymore. I wasn't sleeping near enough. I kind of just lost myself in the studying side of things, and I just worked like crazy. Yeah, my scores went up a little, but honestly, the bang for the buck that I was getting from everything that I was putting in wasn't worth everything that I was giving up on the personal and the health side of things.

Dr. Chan: Yeah. And then did you feel like . . . you said balance. Did you feel that as far as exercise, and wellness, and your relationship with your wife and your family, did that go through a rough patch during that time? I mean, what are your thoughts on that?

Bridger: Yeah, totally. So I came in . . . and it's funny. I guess I'm probably the only med student you've had on here talk about their weight coming into med school and then changing, but I . . .

Dr. Chan: Yeah, that's one of those questions I don't routinely ask, but if you want to spontaneously talk about it, go for it, man.

Bridger: Yeah, exactly. So I came in at like 185, 190. Yeah, I was pretty healthy, in pretty good shape. I had maintained taking care of myself pretty good during my pre-med years. I had a couple of shoulder surgeries that kicked me back, but overall, I was still taking pretty good care of myself. And by the end of the first year of med school, I was like 165 pounds.

Dr. Chan: Wow.

Bridger: I just withered away. I just wasn't taking care of myself. As far as my life with family and stuff, my family has always kind of seen me dive into whatever it was, and so, for them, this wasn't anything new. There was no concern of, "Oh, well, he's not really taking care of himself." It's more just, "Well, he's got something in his sights that he wants to do and this is kind of how he feels like he's going to accomplish it. So it is what it is."

I think, for me, what I would do differently, definitely just on the family side of things, is I missed a ton of family stuff, whether it was little weekend vacations or just going out to eat or hanging out on the weekend, kind of just fun little stuff. I passed on a lot of that so that I could study, and I would definitely go back and prioritize time with family a little bit better if I could go back and do it again.

Dr. Chan: Okay. Third year rolls around, and you kind of mentioned at the beginning that it's kind of a pivot. You go from more classroom-based to much more experiential learning, being in the clinics, the wards, the different hospitals. Was that an exciting transition for you to get away from the classroom and do more hands-on experiences?

Bridger: Oh, 100%, yeah. This is why I went to med school. Seeing patients, doing the work, kind of like the teamwork side of things, figuring out how to work with all of the different staff in the hospital, and the patient and their family. I was so excited to get out of that damn library and get into the hospital and start really doing what I came to med school to do.

Dr. Chan: What was your least and most favorite rotation during your abbreviated third year as it were?

Bridger: So I came to med school to be a surgeon. It was never a matter for me whether I was doing medicine or doing surgery. It was always just like, "What kind of surgery am I going to do?" So I spent a ton of time before med school, during my first and second years in the OR, just getting to know surgeons and getting to a place where they knew that I was going to be somebody that would one day be their colleague so that they would kind of give me more learning opportunities than I would have otherwise had as a third-year med student.

And so I loved my surgery rotation. I did trauma surgery at The U and I had an absolute blast. I was pulling, like, 100-hour weeks and I just loved it. I loved being at the hospital first thing in the morning and I loved leaving when it was dark. I loved the grind and I had a blast.

But then I got on psychiatry and something was just different, and I fought the . . .

Dr. Chan: Really? Interesting.

Bridger: Yeah. So I'm actually going into psychiatry.

Dr. Chan: Oh, you spilled it, Bridger.

Bridger: I know. Sorry. Yeah, so I'm actually going into psychiatry.

Dr. Chan: That's fascinating, Bridger. I want to learn more, because, again, if you loved surgery so much, what is it about psychiatry that changed your mind, I guess?

Bridger: Yeah. So it's a really hard question to answer because I don't really know if I can name one thing. I've got classmates that wanted to go into surgery, and then they got on their surgery rotation and they did the trauma surgery and they just hated it, right? They hated the hours. They hated the work. They hated the people. It was just . . .

Dr. Chan: They hated the grind? Yeah.

Bridger: Yeah, exactly. And they're like, "Hey, I've got to find something else." Where for me, my first two weeks on . . . sorry, I guess it's three weeks. So it was three weeks and three weeks before and after the holiday break for me. So my first couple of weeks on psychiatry, I was just like, "Man, like I really like this."

I've always been fascinated by psychology and the mind and kind of how the mind affects everything else. And so I've always studied psychology and that kind of stuff on my own and it's always been fascinating, and I've always thought that it was the most interesting field of medicine. I never considered it as a career because, like I said, I came to med school to be a surgeon. I didn't even have a crack in that door as far as something else sneaking in and changing my plans.

But as I was on psychiatry, I talked to a couple of the attendings about it, and I loved the specialty. I loved that my ability to communicate and connect with patients really made a difference, right? I'd had some experiences on medicine, or surgery, or some of the other rotations where the patient was being extra difficult and I was able to kind of go in there as the med student with a little bit more time than everybody else and really communicate with the patient, kind of connect with the patient, and get a little piece of information that they weren't really going to give up because they didn't like us, or didn't trust us, or didn't want to be there.

Dr. Chan: Yeah, or the team was in a hurry but you had a little bit more time. This is beautiful, Bridger. I love it.

Bridger: Exactly. So I'd had those experiences where I was able to connect with somebody who nobody else could or did, and it made a difference in the care. I saw that everybody else was like, "Yeah, great. Good job. You talked to the patient. We don't really care. Just, 'Give us the information,' or, 'This is going to kind of steer the course of what we're trying to do.'"

But when I got on psychiatry, I was on child and adolescent, and we had a . . . he was 16, 17, 18, something like that. He was just really difficult, right? We'd come in and he'd be swearing at us and yelling at us and kind of just angry and ornery all the time. And the attending is like, "Well, why don't you give it a shot? The kid obviously hates me, so see what you can do." You know what I mean?

And I was able to connect with him, and I was able to kind of help him take his guard down and just be like, "Look, man, we're here to help. And all the things you're saying, you might think they're true, and that's fine. You're not hurting our feelings here. But you're here, so why don't you get something out of it?"

I was pretty direct and just kind of approached it the way that I just naturally would. I wasn't thinking from a textbook on how to say this so that they do this or anything like that. I kind of just like approached it in a natural way for me.

And we walked out and the attending was like, "Kid, you've got a gift. You're pretty good at this, and your ability to do that will help you in whatever field you go into, but you've mentioned that psychiatry is interesting to you. If you pursue that path, you could be a pretty exceptional psychiatrist if you learned all the things that you'd learn through that training on top of kind of just your natural ability to read people and communicate."

And so, over the holiday break, that kind of stuck in my mind of, "This might actually be something that I could do." I kind of opened that door a little bit, and I was talking to one of the attendings that I worked with and he said, "Just try it on. Try it on. Go around for a couple of days like that's what you're going to do. When people ask you, tell them that you're going into psychiatry. See how it feels. See what they say. See how their reaction is and whether that bothers you or not."

He said, "Because that's one thing that's different than going into plastic surgery. People ask, 'What are you going into?' And you say, 'Oh, plastic surgery.' And they're like, 'Oh, wow.' When you say psychiatry, they go, 'I thought you were in med school. I thought you were going to be a real doctor,' and all that stuff."

Dr. Chan: Welcome to the club, Bridger. I'm excited.

Bridger: Yeah, there you go.

Dr. Chan: You've got great insight, little nuggets. I love it.

Bridger: Yeah. And so it was actually really interesting the first time somebody asked me and I said, "I think I'm going to do psychiatry." It just felt good to say. That sounds weird, but I smiled as I said it, where before it was like, "I don't know if I'm going to do plastics, or ortho, or trauma, or peds." I was always fighting, fighting, fighting for the decision on, "What's the right call? Why do I want to do this? Why do I want to do that? The patient population and the hours and the training."

It was always such a chaotic decision for me because I could see myself kind of doing well on all of them, but that was the first time that I said, "This is what I'm going to do," and I just felt really good about it. And after that, I was like, "Man, that advice to try it on was gold."

And so I came back from the break and I was like, "I think I'm doing psych." I was at the VA for my last three weeks and I loved it. I totally threw myself in. I mean, I tried to do that all year, kind of throw myself in of, "If I were actually in the specialty, if this is what I was going to be doing, how would I act on this?" Because I guess I didn't really know, but I figured, "I'm here, I'm paying a ton of money to be here, I might as well dive into the experience head first and kind of get everything I can out of it."

But that was the first time that I was just like, "This is definitely what I'm going to do." And as much fun as I had on surgery and other rotations, every experience that I've had since making that decision has just confirmed that that's what I want to do.

Dr. Chan: Bridger, I love it. It's just a beautiful story, and it so resonates with me. I can just tell by the way you describe it how . . . yeah, it sounds like a journey. And I always talk to the students about a journey going from pre-med to med to eventually a practicing physician, and it's just kind of a beautiful transformation that's taking a hold of your life. And as you kind of figure this stuff out in the midst of a COVID/coronavirus pandemic, it sounds like you're in a good place with your decision.

Bridger: Yeah, definitely.

Dr. Chan: We're running out of time, Bridger, so just a couple of more questions.

Bridger: Sure.

Dr. Chan: The first one is you kind of talked about your weight, and apparently you're well known for some type of exercise regimen. So can you talk a little bit about that, and just where that came from, and what that entails?

Bridger: Yeah, sure. So I guess I'm like the med school nut job. People look at me like I'm crazy. But after I kind of let myself go that first year, I decided that I just wasn't going to let that happen again. I was going to be waking up at 4:00 a.m., hitting the gym before I had to be up to the school. I was still going to be at the school by 6:00. And so it was one of those things where, with me living off campus, I had to factor in the commute time. So I was waking up at 4:00 a.m. working out every day.

And then I came across this . . . it's not really a workout program. It's almost like a mental toughness program that this guy came out with. And what it is, is two workouts a day. Each has to be 45 minutes. One of them has to be done completely outside. You drink a gallon of water a day. You take a five-minute cold shower. You have to stick to a diet, and you've got no cheat meals, no dessert, no sweets, no alcohol. You read 10 pages of personal development, business development type reading, like nonfiction. Let's see what else. Ten minutes of goal-setting meditation visualization kind of stuff in the morning. And it's 75 days straight of that.

Dr. Chan: No days off, no weekends, just full straight up?

Bridger: No, nothing. Exactly.

And so, when I came across this program, I was like, "When would be the absolute worst time in my med school schedule and the seasons?" Being in Utah, the winters are pretty rough outside. And so what I did was I decided to do it during surgery, peds, and then it tailed off in psychiatry, but that also happened to be over Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's. So that's what I did.

The first time I tried it, I got, like, 18 days in, and then it was my 24-hour call on trauma surgery and we were literally in the operating room all night. And usually, I had been able to . . . I had my first call while I was doing it and I did fine because I just ran around the hospital outside for 45 minutes, but that second time, I literally couldn't get out of the OR. I just didn't have any time. And so I failed my first attempt on Day 18, and then I made it through the 75 days.

There are different phases to the program, so I finished Phase 1 during my family medicine clerkship while I was down in Manti, which was also freezing cold. It gets super cold down there. So I did that while I was on my rural family med rotation.

And then I actually just barely, over this last weekend, failed Phase 2. Well, I guess it's the third phase, but it's called Phase 2. When I was out roofing this chicken coop that I just built in my backyard, my water bottle rolled off and spilled, and I did not remember to factor in the water, so I actually failed on Day 21 of Phase 2. I guess that would have been my Day 130-something that I'd been doing this dang near straight, and I failed by 10 ounces of water, so I just had to start over three days ago.

Dr. Chan: But even with the starting over, have you seen a change either mentally or physically? Can you talk a little bit about that?

Bridger: Yeah, totally. So the physical change has been an awesome byproduct, honestly, but I think the program is 100% a mental program. There are so many takeaways for me just as far as not negotiating what you want. So many times before, I would want something, but I'd let things get in the way, like that first year being a perfect example, right? Everybody says you go to med school and, "Oh, wow. Well, you're really going to have to work like crazy for the next four years and kind of sacrifice everything else," and that's just seems to be the story that everybody tells themselves. But I just decided that I was going to challenge that story and I was going to do it during the worst possible time for my schedule just to prove that it could be done.

And it's actually been kind of cool because a lot of people in the med school, like you said, it's kind of getting around. It's funny that I'm talking about this on a med school podcast. But it is kind of funny that it's gotten around and people have been like, "Wow, you're able to do this during med school, and not only during med school but during the worst possible time in med school?"

And I did it at that time, one, because I think, for me, the bigger the challenge, the more excited I am to kind of do it. But two, I really wanted to do it during that time so that when . . . I've had several classmates and underclassmen and people kind of hitting me up about the program, and making their attempts at it. And one of them has finished it and the other one is on Day 20-something right now. And a bunch of them have kind of gotten a few weeks in and failed and started over and whatever.

But it's been really, really cool to me to kind of just know that that's the impact, I guess, that I'm having on some of the students. They look at me and they go, "If he can do it, I can do it," and I love that. And so it's been, actually, really fun to kind of not only push just for myself, but on the days that I really don't want to do it and it's freezing cold outside and I don't want to go do a 45-minute outside workout when it's freezing and snowing on Christmas Day, it was like, "Well, if I don't, then that just kind of gives everybody a reason, 'Well, on these kinds of days I don't have to do it.'"

And so I just kind of took all those options off the table and just . . . it's actually been really fun to kind of get all the messages and stuff from different med students that are like, "I'm on Day 7 and it's awesome, and I'm starting to see some change." It's just been kind of fun.

Dr. Chan: That's beautiful. I love it, Bridger. This is all . . . I don't know. It's just so great how far you've come in such a short amount of time.

I guess the last question before we have to sign off, Bridger, can you tell us the Utah football tuxedo story? Because that's kind of legendary in my mind.

Bridger: Oh my gosh, yeah. So I think that story has evolved. It wasn't quite a tuxedo, but it's funny. Man, I was not planning on telling this story. I think Sam probably put you up to this. He's always trying to get me to tell this story.

Dr. Chan: It's a good story.

Bridger: Yeah. Gosh. Okay. So my very first day of football at the University of Utah was worse than anybody . . . like, you could make a movie out of it and people would be like, "Yeah, that would never happen."

So I meet with Coach Whitt and I'm wearing dress slacks, a shirt, and tie. We're in his office and we're kind of finishing the "welcome to the team" kind of deal. And because of the way that my timeline worked out with different schools that I was talking to, I was like a week behind as far as the recruiting curve, I guess.

And so I'm in his office. I'm wearing the dress clothes, whatever. I'm wearing a pair of brown wingtip dress shoes. He goes, "Okay. We'll just go down to the weight room, tell the coach that you need your workout gear, and hop in on the workout, and we'll just get you rolling right now." So I said, "All right." So I walk downstairs to the weight room.

Dr. Chan: So it's Sunday dress. You were dressed in your nice clothes, right?

Bridger: Yeah, I looked like I'm ready to go to church.

I walk through the doors of the weight room and I'm like five minutes late, and so everybody is in their workout gear. And at The U, you don't just show up in gym clothes. You have to wear the outfit for the workout, you know? So I walk in and there's a little strength and conditioning coach. He's probably like 5'8". He's balding and he's kind of chubby.

And I walk over to him and I go, "Hey, I'm Bridger. I was just up with Coach Whitt. He just told me to get the workout gear and jumping on the workout." And this guy just tears into me. "If you're here for all the free crap . . ." Man just starts going off. I obviously can't repeat what he said on the podcast, but he just starts tearing into me and I'm like, "Who in the heck is this guy? What did I do to piss him off?"

So he goes, "If you're going to get in on the workout, that's what you're wearing. I'm not walking away from the workout to get you workout gear." And I'm like, "Okay."

So I just jump in line while they're doing all their warm-ups and stuff, and lucky me, it happened to be leg day that day. And so I'm wearing wingtip dress shoes, freaking slacks, a shirt, and I took the tie off and put it in the corner or whatever. But we're doing box jumps, and squats, and deadlifts, and lunges. And so, of course, we're doing a box squat and I drop down and blow the back end of my left pant leg out. So I've got this huge hole in my pants. You can see my underwear and I'm like, "What in the heck?" And everybody's looking at me like, "Who is this kid?" I haven't met a teammate yet. Nobody knows who I am.

Dr. Chan: This is your first impression.

Bridger: This is my first impression. So I walk in, I'm doing this workout, my pants are blown out, I'm doing box jumps in dress shoes so I'm sliding all over the place, and everybody's looking at me like, "Who in the hell is this kid and why is he here?" So I'm the most uncomfortable I have ever been in my entire life. Of course, nobody is talking to me. Nobody wants anything to do with this weirdo that's working out in dress clothes.

And so we go to the locker room and it's like we're going out to practice. It was a Monday, and Mondays we do shells, which is basically just a foam vest instead of actual shoulder pads. And so you just throw the foam vest on under your jersey and then you're just wearing shorts and your cleats. Well, nobody told me that and they apparently didn't have shells for me, and so they just put my pads in my locker, and so I'm like, "Okay." So I just put on all my gear.

And the way that it worked is I was supposed to go to meetings, but I didn't know where my meeting was, and so I kind of just sat in the locker room and I put my stuff on.

So I went out there and I got out there early, and I'm the one kid out of 135 guys wearing shoulder pads. And so everybody else is just wearing shorts and their little foam vest under their jersey, and I'm suited and booted and I'm the only one. And everybody is like, "Who is this guy?" People were literally thinking that it was some kind of . . . you know, somebody won a contest where they got to hang out with the team for a day. And so they're like, "What?"

Dr. Chan: Do you think it was almost like hazing? Did that go through your mind, like, "They do this to everyone"?

Bridger: Yeah, it totally went through my mind. I'm like, "What in the heck is going on?" So I'm just trying to blend in. I'm just trying to hide behind everybody. When they're calling people out for drills, I'm just like, "I am not getting anywhere near this field today." And of course, "New guy," somebody yells. So I have to go out there and I'm on punt. And I'm lined up against Brice McCain, who played in the league for quite a few years after he finished up.

But they line me up on punt team and I'm like the kill man, so that means I'm lined up out wide. And basically, my job is get off the line, get past the defender, and basically just fly down to the guy that catches the ball. I had done that all through high school, whatever.

I go, I line up, and I'm lined up just like I always have, and they snap the ball and I go to do my little, I don't know, jab, step, swim move to get off the line that worked every single time in high school, and I'm literally upside down before I even realize what's going on.

He had gotten under my pads and just had thrown me, and then I'm trying to get up off the ground and he just keeps shoving me on the ground. I literally couldn't even get off the line and four yards down the field before I had gotten pushed down three or four times. Of course, he starts talking crap. "Welcome to college football," this and that, and I'm just like, "Oh my gosh."

Dr. Chan: Wow.

Bridger: And so, after that, we get back in and nobody is talking to me. Everybody is like, "Who is this guy?" And so I didn't know that they did your laundry up there. You just leave your stuff in your locker and they wash it and put it back in there. So I'm packing all my stuff into my gym bag so that I can drive home and wash my clothes for the next day of practice. And everybody else thought that I was just quitting. They thought I was literally packing my crap.

Dr. Chan: Oh, wow.

Bridger: And so they're like, "You're done?" And I'm like, "What do you mean?" They're like, "Dude, they do the laundry here. Just leave it." I'm like, "Oh my gosh." So, after that day, I was just like . . . I literally had never had so much uncomfortability tossed at me at once. It was, by far, the worst first day of anything I think anybody has ever had. And so, after that, I was just like, "Well, can't get any worse than this."

Dr. Chan: That's a wonderful story, Bridger.

Bridger: Yeah.

Dr. Chan: And then looking back, did everyone just kind of laugh about it and you were kind of known for that?

Bridger: Oh, totally, yeah. I wouldn't say I was known for it. It was something that people would laugh about and talk about, because after putting in the work and always . . . like, after that day, I committed to just be first one there, last one to leave kind of thing.

I kind of grew on the team and I was actually somebody that contributed and it was funny to laugh about it looking back of where I started to where I ended up.

Dr. Chan: And did Coach Whitt . . . he heard about this, right?

Bridger: I mean, he was the one that called me out for getting out there on punt team and . . . obviously, you can't blend in when you're the only one wearing full pads and whatever, so I'm pretty sure . . .

Dr. Chan: Did it make him a smile at least, or who knows?

Bridger: Yeah, honestly, I think it was one of those things where it's just like all you can do is laugh. It's one of those situations where there's not really another option that makes any sense at that point.

Dr. Chan: Well, Bridger, this has been fantastic. It's good talking to you. I'm just so happy with how far you've come. Just hang in there. Stay safe and healthy during this time and we'll get the rotations going soon. And I'm excited you're going to become a psychiatrist, man. That's great. I'm really pumped for that.

Bridger: I'm really excited. Yeah, it'll be a lot of fun. Thank you for . . .

Dr. Chan: We'll have you come back in a few months and give a little update about . . . I think it's also fascinating, too, going through the residency application process, especially with COVID and everything going on. I would love to have your insight and take on things because it's going to probably look a little different. Yeah. Cool.

Bridger: Anytime, man. Let me know.

Dr. Chan: All right. Thanks, Bridger.

Bridger: Okay. I'll talk to you later. See you.

Announcer: Thanks for listening to "Talking Admissions and Med Student Life" with Dr. Benjamin Chan, the ultimate resource to help you on your journey to and through medical school. A production of The Scope Health Sciences Radio, online at thescoperadio.com.

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