Medicinal Magic and Magical Medicine: An Interview with M3 David Elkin [Episode 207]

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Our guest today is a fourth year medical student at Stony Brook who graduated from UC San Diego with a bachelors in Physiology and Neuroscience. Nothing too unusual there for a medical student. However, things start to get interesting, maybe even enchanting, when we learn a little about his hobby: magic. He has been performing magic since middle school. He performed at the well-known Magic Castle in Hollywood and at parties and events in the LA area. He retired from performing magic at age 20, but by then had founded MagicAid. Let’s learn more about that initiative now. Welcome, David!

Can you tell us a bit about your background – where are you from? [1:25]

I’m a fourth year at Stony Brook. I grew up in LA, and did my undergrad at UCSD.

How did you come to medicine? [1:55]

I actually had a pretty circuitous path. Since a young age I knew I was interested in science and medicine, but I wasn’t sure in what capacity.

I was actually a dance major my first three years in college, and then switched to physiology and neuroscience in my fourth year. After graduation, I worked in entertainment (casting, etc.) and in tech, before applying to med school.

How many years were you out of college before coming to med school? [2:58]

I graduated in 2011, and took three gap years. I took the MCAT my senior year and applied to med school in the last year of my MCAT eligibility.

How did you get into magic? [4:06]

My mom would buy me magic tricks when I was a kid. And I had a magician perform at my Bar Mitzvah – and I was hooked!

I had a group of friends in middle and high school who would play card games and do magic. Later I auditioned for membership in the Magic Castle.

What’s MagicAid? [5:30]

It’s dedicated to relieving stress and anxiety for the pediatric population (in the hospital setting) through performing magic and teaching them magic. We call it “magic therapy.”

It started when I was in high school. I was volunteering as an orderly at a hospital. I saw a girl crying in her room – she was anxious about an upcoming surgery. I had a deck of cards on me, because I often carried cards to practice magic tricks. I spent time performing magic for her, and she completely forgot about her surgery.

I went to my supervisor and asked if, in addition to my other volunteer duties, I could spend time each week performing magic for the patients.

How has MagicAid grown? [7:30]

One of the nurses on the peds floor nominated me for a “cool kids” segment on the local ABC news. And later I was invited by the head of Magic Castle to be on his innovation committee.

But it wasn’t until I started med school that I revamped it and started performing magic for kids at Stony Brook Hospital – and training other med students and healthcare providers to participate as well.

We now have 60 med students trained to perform magic.

Are the participants all from Stony Brook, or are you branching out? [9:50]

Right now, all from Stony Brook. But we’re getting a lot of media attention (we were featured on the NBC Nightly News), and interest is spreading.

Looking back at your med school application process – what was the hardest part for you? [11:20]

The essays – you have to write a lot! The personal statement is challenging – edit after edit, revision after revision. And every school has their own secondary essays. But there’s some overlap in the secondaries.

What was the most memorable interview question you received? [12:25]

“Can you do a magic trick for me?”

I did magic at most all of my interviews – except the MMI.

What do you like best about Stony Brook? [13:40]

I really like the faculty. They’re really supportive and have helped me develop Magic Aid. I’ve developed really close mentoring relationships that have helped me, not just with school but with life issues.

Is there anything you would change? [14:17]

There’s a new curriculum, the LEARN curriculum, and I’m in the first year, so we’re kind of the guinea pigs. The preclinicals have been shortened from two years to a year and a half. So that’s been the most frustrating part – but I know it will get smoothed out with more iterations. And I’m trying to give feedback to help the transition: I’m on the tech curriculum committee (part of the curriculum change is including more tech – everyone is issued an iPad).

What are your plans and goals now that you’ve finished your clinical rotations? [16:00]

Rotations are a year long – I finished in March, and just took Step 2.

I’m going to a conference on child life, to work on MagicAid.

I’m planning to apply to emergency medicine, so I’m going to do some away rotations in emergency medicine.

Where do you see your career going? [17:20]

Emergency medicine. I do really like pediatrics. But I want to be able to help anyone – I like knowing a lot of things. And career-wise, ER will allow me to continue to develop MagicAid as well.

Was there anything that surprised you about your rotations? [19:00]

How subspecialized medicine has become.

I watched some procedures for interventional cardiology – there’s experts for every sub-sub-sub-specialty. There are so many career paths in medicine.

I found I liked everything, so I think EM is a good choice.

What’s next for MagicAid? [21:00]

We’re building a board of directors – including Justin Willman, who is a prominent magician (and host of Cupcake Wars).

We want to expand to other med schools and hospitals – we want to work on how magic therapy can relieve stress and anxiety in kids pre-op. We also have ideas for OT – magic can be important for fine muscle skills and dexterity. And we’re interested in the potential for autism – how performing magic can help kids with autism.

Any plans for adults? [22:10]

We’re mostly focused on kids now, but I have been doing magic with adults. We may be interested in working with the geriatric population or working with veterans.

Any tips for med school applicants or med students? [23:10]

For applicants: there’s no perfect recipe for getting into med school. Do what you enjoy doing. I didn’t do entertainment and tech because I thought it would get me into med school – I did it because I wanted to do it. Do what you’re passionate about, and that passion can differentiate you.

For current med students: don’t compare yourself to others. Everyone has different ways of student and different resources. Don’t compare yourself to others, do what’s best for you.

In choosing a specialty, it’s OK to take into account lifestyle and salary.

Make time for your hobbies outside of med school.

Click here to listen to the show!Related Links:

Magic Aid
David Elkin at Stony Brook
5 Step Guide to Successful Medical School Personal Statements

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