Month: February 2013

If I Knew Then: Relationships at Work

On Grey’s Anatomy, Izzie Stevens (Katherine Heigl) once said, “… you’re just a bunch of people I worked with, and I can find that anywhere,” to one of her colleagues (who was also supposedly her friend). It was a heartbreakingly cold and rather cruel statement. Didn’t we watch them support one another through trials and tribulations? Weren’t they “family” (since most came from broken homes)?

Little did I know she was just stating the harsh truth/reality.

If only I knew then…

Not your enemy
We all want to advance to the top of our chosen careers. Beginning from the application process to the actual hiring, it is one stiff competition after another to get and keep our job. However, it is important not to feel any animosity towards colleagues. Nothing is worse than a sour working relationship or a tense and awkward working environment. It is not good for company morale or productivity. There will always be office politics and rivalries. However, it is important for your mental well-being to stay neutral and try not to partake (or initiate) such activities.

Not your family
A typical work week is 40 hours. For some, they see their colleagues more than their own family members and friends. In fact, some people regard their colleagues as their “work family”. Friendships at work are a must – they make your job much easier and more enjoyable. However, don’t mistaken these relationships as “replacement” for your “real” family/friends. Unlike your “real” family and friends, most of them won’t be there for you whenever and wherever. You guys see each other, chat, and help one another out at work (or happy hour). Once your shift is over or on days off? Probably not any contact.

Office relationships
Management often frowns upon dating in the workplace. The reason why romantic relationships at work is discouraged is because of the potential for the messiness that can ensue from a break-up. If the break-up is not “clean”, it is very hard to be around someone you used to date, let alone trying to be productive and work with them. Furthermore, it makes others uncomfortable. Even without a break-up, having a romantic tie with a colleague can sometimes be awkward (for example, if you disagree with his/her ideas or disapprove of his/her work) and impede workflow. Nevertheless, dating at work can sometimes be hard to avoid since you see these people for a good chunk of the week. If you do embark on dating from work, try to find someone from a different department (to decrease the chance of you two ever having to work together). However, you never know when/where “love” will hit you, so if you happen to fall for the colleague next door (or boss?), remember to maintain open communication and try your best to clearly separate work from your personal lives/issues.

We Say
Don’t emotionally over invest into your colleagues and bosses. At the end of the day, the main tie of your interactions is the job. Unless there are significant roots beyond the workplace, don’t expect anything more than a superficial relationship. When it comes to work, it is always best to separate your personal life from your professional life.

Do not marry your work either. If you fall ill from over exhaustion, the company can always replace you. But, your family only has you.


Research Says: Feng Shui Matters

The ancient Chinese art of “feng shui” (風水) has roots in science. At the very least, researchers have found psychological benefits for placing plants in office spaces, which are often advised by feng shui masters. More specifically, indoor plants have been shown to increase positive mood (Larsen et al., 1998), creativity (Shibata & Suzuki, 2002), and attention span (Raanaas et al., 2011). These findings support several existing theories.

Ulrich’s theory on psychophysiological stress-reduction posits that natural contents such as vegetation can evoke positive emotions, sustain non-vigilant attention, restrict negative thoughts, and reduce physiological arousal (Bringslimark et al., 2009). The attention restoration theory states that natural environments can have a restorative effect on attention and fight mental fatigue (Raanaas et al., 2011). And of course, we all know that plants act as natural humidifiers, which are rather needed during dry winter months.

So, have we convinced you to go buy a plant for your work station? ;)

Bringslimark, T., Hartig, T., & Patil, G.G. (2009). The psychological benefits of indoor plants: A critical review of the experimental literature. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 29, 422-433.

Larsen, L., Adams, J., Deal, B., Kweon, B.S., & Tyler, E. (1998). The effects of plant density on productivity, attitudes, and perceptions. Environment and Behavior, 30, 261-281.

Raanaas, R.K., Evensen, K.H., Rich, D., Sjostrom, G., & Patil, G. (2011). Benefits of indoor plants on attention capacity in an office setting. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 31, 99-105.

Shibata, S. & Suzuki, N. (2002). Effects of the foliage plant on task performance and mood. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 22, 265-272.

Combat Writer’s Block!

The creative process cannot be rushed; we must await our muse and be inspired. Unfortunately, that is impractical advice in a world filled with deadlines. Yet, the more pressure we receive, the slower we produce quality work. In an enlightening talk, bestselling author of Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert, revealed her secrets to combatting writer’s block:

It turns out, all one needs to do is show up. So block out at least an hour each day and devote that time to your creative process. Show up and do your work. Your genius will take care of the rest.

How to Write a Cover Letter

To elaborate on the general tips in writing an effective Cover Letter (also known as a Letter of Intent) that was previously provided, I will walk you through one of the letters I have written previously.

The Introduction

I greatly enjoyed speaking with you about your residency program! Our engaging conversation made me very excited to pursue the opportunity to complete your PGY-2 Ambulatory Care Residency at the Detroit VA. My interest in ambulatory care sparked as a pharmacy student and has grown during my PGY-1 residency at the Philadelphia VA. My career goal is to be a clinical pharmacist who provides direct patient care to manage chronic disease states in an ambulatory setting. I thrive on patient interactions and want to improve outcomes and quality of life for my patients through education and optimization of drug therapy.

It is best if you can start the letter by recalling a specific previous encounter you had with the employer (or program director). However, if you have not had prior contact, you can start off your letter by briefly stating what you are currently doing (Example: I am currently a student at… OR I am completing a residency at…). The most important part of the “Introduction” is to state the fact that you are interested in applying for a particular position. End the first paragraph with a bold and concise summary statement of your goal/objective (why you want the position basically).

Your Goal/Interest/Aspirations

The intimate practice environment of ambulatory care allows me to connect with patients and directly influence their care. I wholly enjoy the process of becoming acquainted with patients and earning their trust as a healthcare provider. In fact, patients repeatedly commend that I have a personable and compassionate aura that allows them to feel comfortable and trusting; this greatly facilitates my success in their care. I feel liberated as a provider working in the clinics because of the responsibility that’s bestowed upon me to manage patients’ disease states. I love educating patients and managing their medications. The work that I’ve done thus far in ambulatory care has all been very meaningful and rewarding and I truly hope to continue practicing in this area.

This paragraph should give the reader more details on your interests so they can paint a better picture of you. Try to showcase your personality and passion here.

Why You Want the Position

The knowledge and skills I acquired from my education at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and PGY-1 residency training at the Philadelphia VA have provided a solid foundation to commence practice as a clinical pharmacist. However, I realized that I need more experience in order to practice independently in ambulatory care with confidence. Through your PGY-2 program, I will acquire extensive training and mentorship from colleagues who are ambulatory care experts; this will allow me to build-upon and sharpen the depth and scope of my clinical expertise so that I may practice as an outstanding ambulatory pharmacist.

Why You are a Good Fit

I meet the credentials of a qualified candidate for your program. I am well versed with the VA system and will be able to readily integrate myself into the Detroit VA to maximize my learning. Additionally, I will be obtaining my teaching certificate and have precepted several students, therefore I would be prepared to assist in training pharmacy students that rotate at your site. As we discussed earlier, I have experience in several areas that the Detroit VA wishes to expand into, such as discharge counseling and psychiatry. I am an independent learner and a diligent worker who tackles challenges and constantly engages in self-critique to improve myself professionally. My preceptors can all attest that I take initiative, am detailed-oriented, and responsible. My communication skills deliver effective written and verbal information. My agreeable personality allows me to work well with colleagues. These attributes ensure that I would excel as a resident at the Detroit VA.

This paragraph is your time to “gloat” – do NOT be shy. You need to tell them explicitly why you are the best candidate for this position. Be sure to provide concrete examples that support your statements. I would refrain from being too lofty or exaggerated (which may turn some people off) when describing your credentials, but definitely clearly explain your credentials. You need to sell yourself and allow them to see why they would benefit from having you.

Why They are a Good Fit

Your residency program offers vast opportunities that nurture my professional growth with its strong team of experienced ambulatory specialists and prime location in the heart of Detroit’s medical district. The diverse rotations offered at your site will allow me to achieve expertise in several chronic diseases. The proposed longitudinal training model greatly enthuses me because it would allow me to provide continuous care for my patients. Furthermore, I would be thrilled to be part of the piloting residency class as I have helped to initiate several new programs in the past, such as the pharmacist video visits for home-based patients at the Philadelphia VA and immunization and diabetes management services at a local independent pharmacy. Training at the Detroit VA will refine me into the excellent ambulatory clinician that I aspire to become.

This paragraph explains why you want this specific/particular position. This lets them see why you are pursuing them and not another program/position.

The Conclusion

In this packet I have included the requested application materials: VA Form 10-2850d, current CV, official transcript, and three recommendation letters. For additional information or clarifications, please do not hesitate to contact me at [email] or [phone]. I look forward to the opportunity to interview with you. Thank you!

End the letter by stating the fact that you’ve completed all of the application materials as requested. Offer them your contact information, thank them for their time, and state that you look forward to the interview. This portrays a confident applicant.

We Say
Hopefully this example gives a clearer guide for how to write a good letter! Your Cover Letter should be no longer than 1 page (play around with the font size/formatting to make it fit). It should be clear and concise; above all, it should make them want to interview you!

Keep in mind that your first draft won’t be your best. Keep re-writing! Nhi recalls editing this letter at least four times… Don’t submit any application material until you’re completely satisfied and at least another pair of eyes have helped you edit.

Into the Kitchen: Dan Dan Noodles

We first sampled these scrumptious noodles over 3 years ago at a restaurant in St. Paul, MN called Little Szechuan. If you’ve ever been to a Szechuan (Sichuan) restaurant, you will definitely see this item on the menu. Its rich aroma and taste are irresistible! Thanks to Appetite for China‘s recipe, we can now make these at home! She is celebrating the release of her book, The Chinese Takeout Cookbook: Quick and Easy Dishes to Prepare at Home, with a Virtual Potluck contest. We look forward to cooking up more “classic” Chinese takeout recipes from her!

Serves 4 as part of a multi-course meal, or 2 to 3 as a single dish

6 ounces ground pork or beef
1 tablespoon peanut oil
2 teaspoons minced garlic (about 2 cloves)
1 teaspoon minced ginger
2 scallions, white and green parts chopped
2 tablespoons chopped Sichuan preserved vegetable (optional)
1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
1/2 teaspoon salt, or salt to taste
8 ounces dried Chinese egg noodles
1 handful dry-roasted peanuts, finely chopped

1/4 cup chicken stock or water
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon Chinese sesame paste or tahini
1 tablespoon Chinese black rice vinegar, or substitute good quality balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons chili oil (adjust according to your tolerance of spiciness)
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground Sichuan pepper

1. Cook noodles of your choice according to instructions on the package. Transfer the noodles to a mixing bowl.

2. Mix all of the ingredients for the sauce together and toss with the noodles.

3. Heat a large wok or skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat the base and sides. Add the garlic, ginger, white parts of the scallions, and optional Sichuan preserved vegetable and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the meat and stir-fry until the meat is a little crispy on the outside and no longer pink. Add rice wine to deglaze the pan. Season with salt to taste. Turn off the heat.

4. Add the noodles into the wok and mix well with the cooked meat mixture. Spoon onto a serving platter and top with chopped scallions greens and chopped peanuts on top to serve.

Recipe adapted from Appetite for China

Google & Innovate

15-year-old Jack Andraka discovered a new diagnostic tool for pancreatic cancer. It would only cost three cents and take five minutes. Most astonishingly, it has a 90% success rate – much higher than any existing tools. Jack takes us through his incredible journey in the following TEDx talk:

The ability to discover, to innovate lies within everyone. And we fortunately live in an age where information is at our fingertips. Take advantage and make a difference!

Are You a Valentine’s Consumer?

Reports indicate that Americans spend $20 billion on Valentine’s Day! Stimulating the economy?

We often remark that Hallmark made this holiday to boost sales. But it seems the food industry is getting a lot more profits – from fine dining to boxes of chocolates. Thanh and I have been together for five years, but we aren’t heavy Valentine’s consumers. We prefer home cooked meals and homemade cards. And I dislike sweets. I’m only guilty of adoring flowers. :P

But Valentine’s isn’t just a day for romantic partners. Remember when we were young and all our classmates became our Valentine? Those little cards and Hershey’s kisses distributed across the entire school. We also want our teachers to be our Valentine, particularly the teacher’s pets? :P And now, increasingly common is the “trend” of treating our pets as our Valentine. I wonder why we can’t extend the loving spirit to ourselves? Why not treat Valentine’s as a day to pamper ourselves – take a walk, do yoga, draw a warm bath, read a good book, watch a romantic comedy, splurge on your favorite things, and indulge in chocolate. Celebrate yourself! Because after all, you can’t say “I love you” without the I. :)