Last summer, 8 UConnn medical and dental students bicycled 3,500 miles across the US as part of our #Be1of110 fundraiser for Mental Health Connecticut’s 110th anniversary. The Rob Dibble Show on 97.9FM ESPN Radio in Hartford invited one of the student cyclists, Taylor LaRese, on the show alongside MHC’s Suzi Craig to talk about the ride, and mental health in the medical profession. To listen to the interview, click below:
The following text is a transcript of the above audio file.
ROB: Some medical and dental students flew across the country to Seattle. Suzi Craig’s the senior director of strategic partnerships and policy at Mental Health Connecticut and Taylor LaRese is a medical student at UConn. They join us now Kia of East Hartford hotline.
And ladies, first of all, thank you for what you have done. I know this is the 13th year that medical students have biked across the country to support different charities. Let me start with Taylor LaRese. You’re a medical student at UConn. How difficult was the ride? And what did you encounter along the way?
TAYLOR: First of all, thank you so much for having me and getting to share my experience with you. This was a challenging trip mentally and physically, but it was really amazing and it was the generosity and kindness of other people and the motivation of raising money for this amazing cause that really was a great motivator.
BEN: Talk about the cause. Exactly what were you guys raising money for and why did you choose that?
TAYLOR: This year we picked Mental Health Connecticut. Like you said, this was the 13th year that medical and dental students have done this and we realized looking back at all the previous charities that were chosen, none of them really touched on mental health and we thought as future providers, this is such an important aspect to touch upon, both for our future patients and for ourselves as future providers. So, we ended up doing some research and finding Mental Health Connecticut and all the wonderful things they do right here in Connecticut to better the mental health of Connecticut residents.
ROB: Suzi Craig is senior director of strategic partnerships and policy at Mental Health Connecticut. And Suzi, tell our listeners how dangerous it is and how many medical students die by suicide more than any other type of student.
SUZI: The fact that among students, medical students are more likely to die by suicide is really telling. The reason for that — some reasons are known, some reasons are not known — but burnout is something I’m sure Taylor can speak to in the healthcare field and something that our care providers at Mental Health Connecticut can also speak to. Burnout is pretty high. Also, when you’re a caretaker, it’s easy to think only of others and not take care of yourself. It’s little known that this is an epidemic in the medical field, but it’s something we’re trying to spread the word on.
BEN: When did you find out about it? When was this put in the forefront for you?
SUZI: It was the cyclists that brought it to us, when Taylor and her teammates came to us and said, “We really want to do this ride” and donate all the funds to Mental Health Connecticut and they were sharing the stats. They were really concerned about their fellow students and they were really concerned about their field. So it was something that wasn’t even on our radar until the cyclists brought it to us.
ROB: September is National Suicide Prevention Month. This goes to Taylor: How stressful is being a medical student?
TAYLOR: It can be extremely stressful. As Suzi mentioned, you’re really focused on taking care of other people and with the crazy schedule that medical students and physicians have, you oftentimes get put to the end of the list. So making sure that you take the time to focus on yourself, whether that means you go to the gym or watch a TV show that you enjoy or any of those things is really important. Even if that means taking an hour away from your studying, which is really hard to do. Ask any medical student.
BEN: So, let’s talk about riding your bike across the country. Did you have any Forrest Gump moments where your hair is really long, you stink, but then you see all these beautiful parts of the United States that you never get to if you weren’t riding your bike?
TAYLOR: Yeah, the farthest west I’d ever been before this trip was Florida, if that counts. So seeing the country was actually incredible. It did actually feel like a Forrest Gump moment. I think the last week going through the Berkshires, I definitely was like, “I think I’m tired, I’m going to go home now.” It was absolutely beautiful. Every day that passed didn’t seem very long. The trip actually went by really, really quickly, but again I think that was just because of the amazing things that we saw and just the amazing people that we got to interact with, so it went by in flash.
ROB: Taylor, as far as mapping out a trip across the country from Seattle back to Connecticut, that sounds kind of daunting. I know that you set up host families and things like that along the way. How were you able to do that? Was it students at UConn? How did you put the whole thing together?
TAYLOR: Luckily, since there have been so many previous years and previous students who have done this, some maps have been handed down to us from the Adventure Cycling Association. They put out what’s called the Northern Tier Map. We pretty much stick to that and once we get into more populous areas, we can rely on things like GPS coordinates and things like that that will help navigate us.
Even the hosts that we stay with, it was really nice because they would be like, “Oh don’t take this road. There’s construction” and things like that or,”That has a really narrow shoulder.” So, you realize that there’s so many little nuances to navigating even places to eat, if you’re doing an 80-mile day, you have to make sure you’re going to pass by some kind of a town or someplace that you can get water as well and food. It’s a really kind of a day-to-day planning. You have your kind of global plan or maybe a week goal, but I really tried to plan two to three days in advance at the very most.
BEN: Suzi, what about you? What were some of the highlights for the whole entire thing? Putting it together, and then getting it finished. What were some of the highlights for you?
SUZI: I wasn’t actually on the trip. I was watching from afar, comfortably from my couch. Cyclists were busting their tail across the country. It was really just – my heart was with them the whole way. They have some amazing stories to tell of their adventures and really tough weather days. I think in talking with them, what I think is amazing just the similarities between what someone goes through with mental health challenges — and Taylor can speak to this obviously directly — the challenges you had to face in front of you. You had that hill coming up and you have to go through it no matter what. The hill’s not going to have any give and it’s not going to come to you. You have to push through it.
So, all the mental challenges that they had to go through to overcome and just get through the ride I think is just so amazing. And I think they each came out the other side a different person.
ROB: Give us the website. How can people keep on helping this cause?
SUZI: Yeah, so real easy. It’s mhconn.org/UConn. Any money that’s donated will go directly to support the UConn cyclists’ fundraisers and support Mental Health Connecticut’s wellness program.
ROB: Taylor, Suzi, thank you so much for being our guests today and hopefully come in the studio or come to Margaritas, we’ll buy you a drink. You both definitely deserve it. Thank you girls. Take care. We’ll take a quick break, we’ll come back. Live from Margaritas…