Category Archives: Tips for Success

Coping Skills

Are you overwhelmed with your current academic load?  Professional students are not alone.  Professors are equally as overwhelmed.  The academic life is an unusual one, in that days pass by like dominoes falling down in a row.  As we go through the motions of being in labs, lectures, and clinics, our families carry on without us.  Long hours of studying keep us from attending many family functions.  The holiday season is one of the hardest times of the year for academicians.  Remain positive at all cost.  You cannot afford to allow negative thoughts into your mind.

Remember to take a few slow moments every day.  Whether it is a bubble bath or a favorite cup of tea, do something special for yourself every day.  Pet your dog or look at a recent set of photos.  Remember to send a special message to your sweetheart, especially if they are not in the medical world.  They are in disbelief about your schedule also.  The to-do list will always be there.  Get counseling if needed.  An unbiased set of ears can be helpful.  Do well with this information and get ready to discover more about our vital life fluid, our blood.

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Lecture 20 – Temperature Conversions

The measure of intensity of heat of a substance is called temperature.  A thermometer measures temperature.  Temperature is measured in three different units: Fahrenheit (degrees F) in the United States, Celsius (degrees C in science and everywhere else on the planet), and Kelvin to measure absolute temperature.  Below you can see how the temperature systems compare.

Fahrenheit                                Celsius                                     Kelvin

212                                          100                                          373

176                                          80                                            353

140                                          60                                            333

104                                          40                                            313

68                                            20                                            293

32                                            0                                              273

-4                                             -20                                           253

-40                                           -40                                           233

A comparison of the three temperature scales shows their differences clearly.


The conversion factor for Celsius to Fahrenheit is:

t(F) = [t(C)  x 1.8 F/1 degree C] + 32 = [t(C) x 1.8] + 32

The conversion factor for Fahrenheit to Celsius is (hint: subtract 32 so that both numbers start at the same temperature!  This is so easy!

t(C) = [t(F) – 32 degrees F] x 1 degree C/1.8 degrees F = [t(F) – 32]/1.8

or a simpler way to say it is:

degrees C = 5/9 (degrees F – 32)

Tip:  If you believe in buying stock, buy stock in 3×5 cards.  I have very nice files for my 3 x 5 cards.  The cards are neatly indexed by subject matter and banded together.  I am quite patient when need to wait in a line because I always have subject matter in my handbag to review.  If you are the ‘brightest bulb on the Christmas tree’, that is great.  If not, just be the most disciplined and hardest working.

Let’s work a few examples before we part company.

Example 1:

A summer day in Hawaii might be 21 degrees Celsius.  What is that in Fahrenheit?

21 degrees C = 5/9 (degrees F -32)

21+ 32 = 5/9 degrees F

53 x 9 = 5 degrees F

477/5 = 70 degrees F

To obtain absolute zero (the lowest temperature possible), the Kelvin scale is used, where the lowest temperature is zero.  A Kelvin is an SI temperature unit.    The heat energy is zero.

Example 2:

To see how temperature conversion works, let’s convert normal body temperature, 98/6 degrees F, to Celsius.

Degrees C = 5/9 (degrees F – 32)

Degrees C = 5/9 (98.6 degrees F – 32)

=5/9 (66.6) = 37.0 degrees C

Degrees C can be converted to K by adding 273 to the Celsius temperature.

Example 3:

K = degrees C + 273

K = 37 degrees C + 273 = 310 K

There are reactions where heat can play an important role in determining the character of the final compound.  Do well with this information.  Next lecture we get back to bone density and bone structure.



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Lecture 19 Review of Conversion Factors

Conversion factors make use of the relationship between two units or quantities expressed in the fractional form.  The factor-label method , also called dimensional analysis, changes one unit to another by using conversion factors.

Conversion factors are helpful when you need to compare two measurements that are not in the same units.  If given a measurement in meters and the map only reads in kilometers, you have a small problem.  You could guess or use the conversion factor of 1 km/10m3.  Look at the conversion below.

0.392m x 1 km/10m3 = 0.392 x 103 km

= 3.92 x 10-4

If you have centimeters and need to know the answer in inches, then use the conversion factor 1 inch/2.54 cm.  (Once again, I need to reiterate that certain scientific data just needs to be committed to memory.)  This particular conversion factor has been as available to me as my name, since my sophomore year of college.  Do you remember the article I wrote about how silly the measuring system is in America?  I just buckled down with flashcards and memorized several conversion factors.  I needed to make my life easier.  Face the facts; If you plan a career in the health sciences, there is no escaping just knowing the information.  Forget learning what you need to know for the test.  If you know all of the information about your subject matter, the test becomes irrelevant.  You will conquer the test!

Your flashcards should look like this.

1 inch = 2.54 cm

You will be amazed at how simply looking at this data will plant it into your memory.  Remember the songs that we hate, but know all of the words because the radio station plays them so much.  I have teenagers.  Need I say more?  There are many songs that I wish I could forget the lyrics.  Repetition works.  I know we are in the day of high technology.  I create marvelous Power Point presentations, but still receive greater command of any information that I physically write.

914 cm x 1 inch/2.54 cm = 360 inches (since 914 has 3 significant digits)

Converting measurements can also be a two-step process.

mg à g–à kg

liters-àquarts-à gallons

miles per hour -à liters per minute

Look at the two step conversions below.


Example 1

2461 mg-à ? kg

mg à g–à kg

1mg = 10-3 g; 1 kg = 103 g (conversion factors) You must have these to begin.

Even if a professor allows you to have this information available during a test, it would look foolish for a young intern to need to peek at a conversion factor to determine a medication dosage.  You will administer many doses of medications in your career.  Make it easy and re-learn this information if you are rusty.  Professionals are not born, but rather created.  These days we have to continue to reinvent ourselves.

2461 mg x 10-3 g/mg x 1 kg/103 g

= 2461 x 10-6 kg = 2.461 x 10-3 kg


Example 2

8.47 liters à ? gallons

liters-àquarts-à gallons

1.06 qt/liters; 1 gal.4 qt (conversion factors)

(I still chuckle about running away from home in the third grade because I thought feet, cups, drops, and pinches were ridiculous!  Learn to enjoy the more organized way to measure, by units of ten.)

8.47 liters x 1.06 qt/liter x 1 gal/4 qt = 2.24 gallons

Example 3

70 miles per hour àmeters/minute

Miles/hour à km/hour; à m/hrà m/min

1.61 km/mi; 103 m/km x 1 hr/60 min (conversion factors)

70 mi/hr x 1.61 km/mi x 103 x 1 hr/60 min

=1878.33 m/min = 1.9 x 103 m/min

SI derived units are obtained by combining SI base units.

Habits can be difficult to break.  If you travel internationally you will see just how rusty you can be when every distance is measure in meters and kilometers instead of miles.  We will review temperatures during the next lecture, quickly complete our survey of bones, and spend an immense amount of time on blood.  You will do well with this highly technical information after this hefty review.  I hope have not been too bored!  Have a great day.



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Wednesday Afternoon Wisdom

It’s the middle of the week for some people.  In the medical world, all days appear the same and that is long and demanding.  We see death, pain, birth, families in distress, and extreme happiness.  We are not immune to this emotional pendulum.  It swings both ways as we smile and give the highest level of patient care.  We have so many clients.  Patients, nurses, medical technologists, medical students, families, outside contractors, and everyone we meet is a client.  I love the culture of kindness that some hospitals and academic medical centers are implementing.  Who cares how the surgeons rank if they lack interpersonal skills?  We are not allowed to say, “It’s not my job,” anymore and I am happy about it.  When we see people with a puzzled look on their faces, we have to ask if they need help.  It had to be mandated in order to get a uniform level of patient care.  Tying patient satisfaction in with medical reimbursement will surely be a motivating factor.  Service recovery is an area that we spend a tremendous amount of time.  Statistically, one dissatisfied patient can cost the hospital $500,000.00.  We cannot afford 1 single unhappy person.

Write a note or a letter to management the next time you receive great service.  We always get letters from dissatisfied customers.  The truly dissatisfied vote with their feet.  Medicine is very competitive, especially on the East Coast.  We have so many choices of hospitals and clinicians.  Of course, the uninsured and under insured have a different set of issues.  Politics and medicine are involved in a troubled relationship right now.  Government agencies and the media have a job to do, and most of us do not want to impede their progress.  However, I am too busy to fill up on the news reports.  I tend to be positive, because I skip the nightly killings before going to sleep.  Now there’s a wise tip for a Wednesday.  Try to skip all negative news reports for 1 day and feel the difference in your life!  You might be able to change your corner of the world if you skip so many negative details.

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Lecture 18 – More Tips on Significant Digits

Lecture 18 – More Tips on Significant Figures

Next Lecture:

Conversion Factors

Temperature Equations

When multiplying or dividing numbers, the significant digits of the number with the least number of digits gives the number of significant digits the answer will have.

Example:  40 lbs. potatoes X $0.45 per lb. equals $18.00 or $18 since the first number is only measured to two places.  That was easy, right?

Example:  0.5 ounces of perfume X $25.00 per ounce equals $12.50 for 0.5 ounces of perfume.  (Note: the zero is only written because you cannot divide the choice further.)

Example:  6.23 ft of wood X $2.00 per linear foot equals $12.50 per linear foot.

Imagine you are attempting to prove a theory based on a specific property, like boiling point.  Unless the boiling point temperature was recorded precisely by other chemist, you would have trouble repeating this experiment.  It is ridiculous to feel that you could prove a new theory, since theories become laws by repeated experimentation.  Therefore, we must record measurements precisely.

Scientific knowledge moves forward by building upon results and experiments performed by earlier scientists.  If measurements are taken carelessly, scientists do not know if the results are new and promising or just incorrect.

Precision – the closeness of the two sets of measured groups of values.

Precision is directly related to the amount of reproducibility of a measurement.  Closely related to the topic of precision is that of accuracy.  Some people use the two interchangeably, but that is incorrect.  There is a difference.

Accuracy  – is linked to how close a single measurement is to its true value.

In baseball, Player 1 throws balls at a target’s center, it represents high precision and accuracy.  Player 2’s aim with balls high and low missing the target, represents low precision and low accuracy.  Player 3’s hits, clumped together at the bottom left side of the target, define high precision (since every ball landed in the same place, but low accuracy since the object was supposed to hit the target’s center.)  Player 3, then, has to work on hitting the target’s center, if he wants to win games and improve accuracy.


Rounding is the way to drop non-significant numbers in a calculation and adjusting the last number up or down.  There are three basic rules to remember when rounding numbers.

a)      If a digit is greater than or equal to 5 followed by non-zeros, then add 1 to the last digit.  (3.2151 would be rounded to 3.22.)

b)        If a digit is less than 5 then the digits would be dropped.  (7.12132 would be rounded to 7.12.)

c)      If the number is 5 (or 5 and a bunch of zeros), then add 1 to the last digit.  (4.825, 4.82500, 4.81500 all round to 4.82.)

Note:  Rounding reduces accuracy, but increases precision.  The numbers get closer, but not necessarily on target.

Examples:  Round the following numbers for practice.

1)      2.2751 to 3 significant digits

2)      4.114 to 3 significant digits

3)      3.177 to 2 significant digits

4)      5.99 to 1 significant digits

5)      2.213 to 2 significant digits

6)      0.0639 to 2 significant digits

You should have arrived at 2.28, 4.11, 3.2, 6, 2.2, and 0.064 respectively.

Until you can do this effortlessly, have the rules right beside you.  Read the rules aloud several times slowly.  Write each rule on its own 3X5 card.  Yard sales and thrift stores have old math workbooks that can be purchased for less than $1.00.  In your leisure time, work a few math problems instead of turning on the 52-inch box of reality madness.  You will be surprised at how enjoyable math can be.  Make your children and grandchildren work a few problems, too.  These exercises will also drive dementia and Alzheimer’s disease away.

Remember:  When multiplying or dividing measurements, the number of significant digits of the measurement with the least number of significant digits, determines the number of significant digits in the answer.

Do you thoroughly understand how significant digits are figured out?

a)      1.8 pounds of oranges X $3.99 per pound equals $7.182 or $7.18 or $7.2

(Note:  1.8 pounds of oranges has two significant digits.)

b)      15.2 ounces of olive oil X $1.35 per ounce equals $20.50.

c)      25 linear feet of rope X $3.60 per linear foot equals $90.00.

Measurements can be calculated to high precision.  Calculators give between 8 and 10 numbers in response to the numbers entered for a calculation, but most measurements require far less accuracy.  Rounding makes numbers easier to work with and to remember.  How would an out-of-town guest feel if you told her to drive 3.3334557 miles north on Route 1, take the jug handle onto Harrison Street and drive 3.445577 miles until you reach Walnut Street.  Turn left on Walnut Street and drive 1.1110554 miles.  The last red brick house on the left is mine!  Well, your guest might never make it.  The odometer is not even that meticulous.

Reference:  Math examples were taken from Chemistry Demystified: A Self-Teaching Guide

by Linda Williams

As much as we all feel that we are well educated in America, we all have gaps in our knowledge.  I have always earned A’s in math, but had a weird feeling in my stomach all the while.  Subconsciously, I had internalized the negative conversations about girls lacking good spatial orientation.  Once I identified and confronted the stereotype, this Black girl became the most confident math and science student ever.  Did you get the point?  I was making all A’s but still felt like I was just skating by.  I reject ALL stereotypes about so-called ‘minorities’.  I despise the word and am not a part of any minority group.  I use the term diversity or diverse populations.  Thanks to Dr. Molefi K. Asante and staff in the African-American Studies department at Temple University, I learned the negative connotation associated with terms like minority, fair-skinned, and non-white.  In your practice, you will encounter people of every race, culture, and creed, and you will need to know how to respond to their needs with sensitivity and intelligence.  My lectures run deep and wide, as my philosophy is that all disciplines eventually intersect.

In my lectures and labs, you will encounter anatomy and physiology, microbiology, biochemistry, pharmacology, and all of the other medical sciences.  They will be presented in a way that is simplistic, detailed, and sometimes humorous.  You can do this despite your age, race, or financial status.  If I am your medical mentor, all you need is a willingness to learn and a lot of energy.  Indolence won’t work with my programs.  My students say, “Do not go to her if you are not ready.  She is a perfectionist and hates to waste time.”  If you approach me with a goal, I will push you until you accomplish it.  Do well with this information.  Also, eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, rest, exercise, and drink water.

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Lecture 17 – Review of Scientific Notation

In preparation for an intense study of bone structure, bone density, and the significance of the body’s minerals, I promised a review of scientific notation.  Scientific notation is a simple way of writing and keeping track of large and small numbers without a lot of zeros.  It also provides a shortcut to recording results and doing calculations.

Example 1- Large Numbers:

100 equals  (10)(10)                                                  or 102                  or one hundred

1,000 equals  (10)(10)(10)                                            or 103                  or one thousand

10,000 equals  (10)(10)(10)(10)                                     or 104                  or ten thousand

100,000 equals  (10)(10) (10)(10)(10)                                 or 105                    or one hundred


1,000,000 equals  (10)(10)(10)(10)(10)(10)                        or 106                     or one million

1,000,000,000 equals  (10)(10)(10)(10)(10)(10)(10)(10)(10)   or 109                   or one billion

The best technique is to just commit this to memory.  Use Post-It notes attached to your bathroom mirrors if you have to.  I am constantly reviewing as I apply my make-up.  Pick up a hand held recording device and read this information aloud.  Hearing information in your own voice is quite effective.

Example 2 – Small Numbers:

1/10                 equals 10-1                                                                                                   or one tenth

1/100               equals 1/(10)(10)                                                      or 10-2                     or one hundredth

1/1,000            equals 1/(10)(10)(10)(10)                                         or 10-4                   or one ten thousandth

1/1,000,000     equals 1/(10)(10)(10)(10)(10)(10)                            or 10-6               or one millionth

1/100,000,000 equals 1/(10)(10)(10)(10)(10)(10)(10)(10)(10)        or 10-9               one billionth

Here are some everyday metric measurements. Metric measurements can describe different scale objects.

Sample                                                                                               Measurements (Meters)

Diameter of Uranium Nucleus                                                            10-13

H2O Molecule                                                                                          10-10

Protozoa                                                                                                   10-5

Earthworm                                                                                              10-2

Human                                                                                                     2

Mount Everest                                                                                        103

Diameter of the Earth                                                                           107

Distance from Pluto into Sun                                                              1013

Significant Figures

Measurements may not be exact, but as medical scientists, we try to record the answers with the least amount of uncertainty.  The idea of scientific notation was set up to standardize measurements with the least uncertainty.  Significant figures were used in order to write numbers either in whole units or to the highest level of confidence.

Significant figures are the number of digits written after the decimal point to measure quantity.

A counted significant figure cannot be divided into sub-parts.  These are recorded in whole numbers such as 10 tubes of lipstick, 9 containers of eye shadow, or 7 bottles of foundation.  (Does anybody still use Fashion Fair?  I like Warm Honey.  Fashion Fair and Clinique were the most popular department store cosmetics of my teen years.  I think MAC or Prescriptives might hold that title now.)  Bear with us, Gentlemen.  So many careers have been boys’ clubs for so long, I have to make this fun for the girls!

Now, just relax as we do a few examples.  If you know this well, re-read for good measure.  Over-learning is also a good technique.  Your eyes can never look at good information too many times!  If this is a weak area for you, do not rush through it.  Your future patients need you to grasp each intricate concept.  Medication errors do not have to happen!

How many significant figures are in the following?  Check out the bold hints!

  1.  9.107   (4, because zeros in the middle are significant.)
  2. 401       (3, because the zero in the middle is significant.)
  3. 0.006    (1, because leading zeros are never significant.)
  4. 800 km (3, zeros are significant in measurements unless otherwise indicated.  Note: These zeros follow a non-zero number.)
  5. 3.002 m (4, because zeros in the middle of non-zero digits are significant.)

More Tips:

When finding out the number of significant figures, the easiest shortcut is to look at the zeros acting as placeholders.

Leading zeros at the beginning (or the left-hand side) of a number are never significant.  Start at the left and count to the right of the decimal point.  The measurement 0.096 m has two significant figures.  The measurement 13.42 cm has four significant figures.  The mass 0.0027 has two significant figures.  (Remember to leave off the leading zeros.)

Zeros sandwiched in the middle of non-zero numbers are always significant.  The number 26,304 has five significant figures.  The measurement 0.000001002 m has four significant figures.

In summary, scientific notation gets rid of the guessing and helps to keep track of zeros in very large and very small numbers.  If the diameter of Earth is 10,000,000 m, it is more practical to write 1 X 107 m.  Or, if the length of a virus is 0.000000004 m, it is easier to write 4 X 10-8 m.  Remember to ‘go through the hard parts’.  It will get easier.  It is necessary to review measurements before moving on to bone density and other anatomic slides that reference complex measurements.  You will need a command of measurements as you progress in your career.  Do well with this information.  We are building a solid foundation.

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Coping With Mixed Emotions

Have you ever noticed that some people would rather deal with a complicated mathematical equation than confront emotions?  I notice this every day.  Doctors, professors, and scientists can be the least emotional creatures on the earth, but it does not have to remain this way.  Today I am dealing with many emotions.  Simultaneously, I feel happy yet sad, accomplished yet behind on so many projects, and eager to push forward while remembering all of my past experiences.  Tomorrow begins another hectic academic year for 500 or so medical students.  Interns and residents have already moved into their new roles.  I love the newness of the academic year.  This has always been my favorite time of the year.  I have learned that I am my best when I am mentoring young doctors.  I feel lost when nobody needs me to explain a concept or demonstrate a procedure.

I am at a crossroads in my life for so many reasons.  All three of my children are going to high school now.  It seems like I was just struggling through my fellowship at Johns Hopkins and nursing my youngest child.  My mentors encouraged me to ‘go through the hardest parts’ of my career.  They reminded me that somebody needed to address the gender disparities in medicine, and my mission statement claimed that the mission was mine.  Many of those mentors are either deceased or have Alzheimer’s.  I cannot tell you how I felt when the senior physician at my undergraduate university came to my sleep disorders and chrono-biology clinic for a consultation for insomnia.  Now in the early stages of dementia, he was delighted when I told him that he treated me for my allergies.  He said, “Wow.  You remember me?”  He must have been kidding.  He was responsible for the health 30,000 undergraduates.  Everybody knew him, but it appeared to me that he felt insignificant.

I just had a milestone birthday yesterday.  I had a lovely day and I am still happy.  My first child will graduate this year and is eager to attend college 3,000 miles away from me.  (My daughter in California means that I would have to carve out some time to visit at least every 6 weeks.  The world is so different now.)  I am eager to start this academic year, but I must admit that it feels different than most.  I have given many speeches on balancing professional life with motherhood, but I struggle.  I hate the thought of being a hypocrite, so I am sharing this bundle of emotions with my audience.  If you are a medical student or resident, and are struggling to have time to pet your dog or play with your toddler, be encouraged.  It may be tough but you can do it.  I long for the difficult days again.  I miss the days when I dragged into my house after long shifts and my children ran to hug me, then went back to play with their nanny.  I was not trying to be fancy.  Daycare was $165.00 per week, per child in Philadelphia.  It was most economical to give a weekly salary to a hard-working lady.  We lived in a huge, old brownstone.  Being a creative type, I decorated one of the extra bedrooms with the best furniture that Philadelphia yard sales could offer.  We had young ladies from every corner of the world come to live with us and help with the 3 T’s, as we call them.  I most admired the ladies from Jamaica and Trinidad, who had husbands and children at home.  They were so motivated to work, that they came to America to work.  I miss those ladies.  They were so kind to my babies and they could cook!

Now my children are driving, catching buses and trains alone, and other activities that do not require Mom.  Their schedules are so busy I have to mandate a game of cards or Scrabble on Saturday nights.  Our favorite time is Sunday.  This is the one day we have to enjoy worship together and have a Texas-style country meal in the heart of the East Coast.  I suppose I have been nostalgic enough.  I just wanted to remind you all that it is healthy and necessary to experience the whole gamut of emotions.  The next time you feel this way, do not fight it.  Let the emotional moment happen and then get back to the task at hand.  We can accomplish all of our goals together!  Consistent lectures will resume this evening!

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