Explain why you want to go to medical school.
Midway through the meeting, a troubling thought emerged: Could it be?
It was a clear afternoon in June 2014. I was attending clinical rounds of the Pediatric OCD Program as a research assistant in Dr. S’s lab. As she read one particular referral letter detailing the patient's symptoms and background, it began to dawn on me that this anonymous young man was one of my former classmates whom I had not heard from in two years. While Dr. S discussed treatment options for his psychiatric disorder, which was caused by a brain tumor, I felt overwhelmed by disbelief, compassion and helplessness. His misfortune also brought within me a deep sense of urgency; I desperately wished I knew how to help him overcome his condition.
I had joined the lab with a passion for science and an academic interest in mental disorders, but my classmate's story motivated me to consider medicine for the first time. Two years later, two of my close friends also confided in me their experiences of mental illness, and I came to realize that my desire to help others would not be truly satisfied by research alone. I wanted to serve patients more directly, and to see things from their perspectives. Since then, volunteering at SickKids Hospital has only further enhanced this conviction, especially after I witnessed an episode of absence seizure in the Epilepsy Monitoring Unit.
My patient that evening was a talkative young girl, whom I visited in her hospital room because she was tethered to a computer by EEG leads. My presence gave her father a much-needed break, while I entertained her with conversation and board games. We were halfway through a game when she suddenly became quiet, and her brain activity changed from irregular ripples to a synchronized tsunami. Alarmed, I asked her for her name and if she was alright. Getting no reply, I marked the event, reported the incident to her nurse, and sat by her in anticipation of her recovery. My heart was thumping, but my anxiety could not have been close to what she must have felt after her first episode.
It was a profound experience, not only due to the empathy I felt towards my patient, but also because of the emotions I saw in her father, who appeared in the doorway minutes after she recovered: his surprise and relief upon hearing the news, and his deep love for his child. I also recognized the unique burden of brain disorders, since they can alter qualities so essential as consciousness and personality. However, I was most touched by the reward of seeing their smiles when she said "thank you", with the knowledge that my action, however small, brought them one step closer to finding the source of her seizures.
Such personal encounters steadily guided me towards the path of medicine, in addition to the scientist I have always wanted to be. After discovering my fascination for the brain in first year, I have explored diverse areas of neuroscience research. I delighted in mastering techniques for probing the brain's functions, and paid careful attention to their limitations. I also learned to embrace the failures and hard work behind each finding, humbled by what little I know and how much there is to learn. But despite my enthusiasm for science, I often found myself missing human interaction; I also felt distanced from the future patients who may benefit from my studies, wondering how my results might translate into actual treatment. By then I had examined various healthcare professions and specialties, but I learned the most about being a doctor by shadowing an anesthesiologist at Sunnybrook Hospital.
Throughout my observership, I studied Dr. A’s professional yet caring attitude during the brief patient interactions before and after surgeries, and admired her small actions that helped ease the anxieties of patients entering the operating room. She also showed me the responsibilities of different professionals, whose collaboration was highlighted during a skin-grafting surgery.
Dr. A had anesthetized the patient and the surgical team was moving him into a face-down position, when the monitors started beeping a low oxygen warning. I heard an exchange about airway obstruction and sensed the tension in the room, but my nervousness was short-lived. A minute later, the team had already reverted the patient back to supine position through a rapid series of decisive, coordinated action. This remarkable event made a deep impression on me and reminded me that in addition to empathy and expertise, teamwork forms the basis for physician-patient interactions.
As I helped push the last patient into the recovery room, I understood the all-encompassing role of a physician, as well as its physical, mental and emotional costs. Yet despite the challenges, I was never more convinced that medicine would be my profession, and that I would thrive in helping others through dedication and continuous learning. From the unforgettable introduction of my classmate's case to the insightful conversations I had with Dr. A, my experiences have impelled me to learn more about medicine, and to commit to a life of service as a physician. For healing is not only a battle to be won, but also a journey to be traveled together.
About the Author:
Ann's Path to Medicine:
Ann is a medical student at Boston University. This blog post is based on Ann's personal statement, answering the question of "why medicine", a challenging question for all applications to medical schools.
When Ann is not learning about medicine, she is busy drawing and painting. She recently finished illustrating for a 100-page storybook for children!
You can book a session with Ann to learn more about her path to medicine, enhance your application, and practice for your medical school interview.