November 2014 archive

Throwback circa 2008. I recently came across a very candid reflection I wrote during the summer following my sophomore year of college and thought I would share. I had just completed the Ruth and Vernon Taylor Fellowship, a summer program that enables select Macalester students the opportunity to explore the work of multiple healthcare professionals in various clinical settings to compare questions of interest as the students discern whether a career in healthcare is right for them. For me, it proved to be a momentous occasion and a truly life-defining experience.

For as long as I can remember, I have always held one desire very close to heart: to help others in need. The older I get, the more I realize just how many ways there are of doing so. Medicine would act as the perfect medium. But in order to practice medicine, I would have to take very challenging science classes, spend countless hours studying and preparing for the MCAT. Then I would have to go through the whole application process yet another time, not to mention the actual going to medical school part, which would consist of even more studying, loss of any hope for a social life, and the acquisition of the inescapable smell of cadavers filling every orifice. Only then, after four years of additional schooling, three years of residency, followed most likely by a few years of specialization, would I finally become a doctor. Long story short, it takes too much time and effort to utilize medicine as my choice medium for helping others. Sure, I have what it takes to become a doctor. I am gifted intellectually, am driven and passionate, meticulous, perfectionistic, and somewhat obsessive-compulsive. But just because I have what it takes does not mean that I therefore have to become a doctor. I should not have to sacrifice a significant percentage of my life in order to help others; there must be an easier, yet satisfactory, way of doing so, one that takes less time and effort on my behalf.

I hate to admit it, but this was the actual conclusion I had reached midway through my summer fellowship. By that time I had shadowed a gynecologist who owned his own private and highly exclusive clinic. I had also spent several hours at the county hospital, working in the emergency room, high-risk clinic, and in the labor and delivery ward. While I thoroughly enjoyed my time spent witnessing the miracle of life, at a mere five inches away, spending time with doctors who possessed more passion and compassion for all patients they encountered, I still convinced myself that the time and effort that these doctors had to sacrifice far out-weighed any good feeling or experience that could result.

I held tightly to this reasoning as I walked up to the University Medical Center. I was to spend the last few hours of my fellowship in the Pediatric Oncology-Hematology unit and in the Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplant unit. While my first day began dwindling away, so too did my grasp on my previously tightly-held reasoning. By the time I arrived home, my outlook had completely changed. And I realized just how selfish my reasoning had been. Here I was, healthy as can be, dictating how I was to spend my time and deciding that, while I wanted to help others, it took too much time to be a doctor. Meanwhile, kids my age and younger were cooped up, sick, in aesthetically displeasing hospital rooms, putting their lives on hold for something that was completely out of their control. And they had no say in the matter; they were being robbed of their own time and their own life and they couldn’t do anything about it. And yet, I sat there thinking that I didn’t want to become a doctor because it took too much time. I sat there, privileged beyond means and yet didn’t want to help these kids, these peers of mine, because I would have to sacrifice too much of my own time.

Well, turns out that time is now the sole reason why I want more than anything to become a doctor. If I can spend my time so that others no longer have to be robbed of their own, I would not be losing anything; but rather, I would be gaining more than I could ever hope for.

I want to make a difference in this world. And I want to do so by providing others with the life they deserve. I don’t want anyone, young or old, to have to put their lives on hold for something they cannot prevent, when I have the opportunity to prevent it. And more importantly, I don’t want anyone to have to suffer alone. Medicine is my choice medium for helping others and I am so grateful to the Taylor Fellowship for allowing me to finally see the path that is before me.