Less Than Zer0

“They think that I’ve got no respect, but, everything means less than zero.”–Elvis Costello

How I became a doctor July 26, 2010

Filed under: El Paso,Global Health,medical school,Medicine,Public Health — Kate @ 9:51 pm

When applying to residencies, we must write yet another personal statement, which really isn’t personal at all. There are tons of rules/suggestions to follow for the best possible response from residency directors. Since I couldn’t get the idea of an actual personal statement out of my head, I wrote it down for the sake of clearing the desk for my “real” personal statement.  Here is the scrapped, but incredibly personal & honest statement I won’t be submitting:

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to travel, to see wild places, to experience new things.  Social Studies and Geography were among my favorite classes. The motivation we all talked about in medical school admissions interviews, that desire to “help people,” developed much later than my wanderlust.  As a teenager, I had a sense for the suffering of others in the world, but it was religion and seminary students in college who taught me the concepts of social justice and structural violence.  When I applied these new ideas to my education and career options, there was soon little doubt that my medical training would culminate in some type of healthcare for the underserved.  Missionary kids were easy to find in pre-med classes.  I eagerly sought stories from their childhoods and when I could, stories from their parents, seeking a way to integrate my new principles to my earlier ambitions.

Near graduation, I faltered.  Did I really want to be a doctor? Was I smart enough? Could I handle the rigor and responsibility of medical school?  I failed to turn in most of my secondary applications, and blundered through the few interviews offered.  My doubt must have been clear to every admission committee.  Not going to medical school gave me time to think.  What did I want to do? While teaching MCAT prep courses and serving cappuccinos to students with more singularity of purpose than I possessed, I decided to approach social justice and world travel more direct ly: I applied and was accepted into Tulane School of Tropical Medicine & Public Health.  My first classes were to start late August 2005, but Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans the weekend before and I suddenly found myself drifting, again.  This time I soon found direction in a temporary enrollment to the University of Texas School of Public Health that eventually became permanent.  I felt at home in the Texas Medical Center, where it seemed as though everyone I met was studying and researching ceaselessly to improve the quality of health and life for people all over the world.  I was tempted to stay and pursue a Ph.D in Epidemiology, but at my colleagues’ and advisors’ urging, re-applied to medical school.  Texas Tech seemed like the perfect combination of familiarity (situated less than hundred miles from my parents and hometown) and the exotic—my clinical training would occur in El Paso, probably the closest U.S. approximation of the areas where I hoped to someday practice.

The first two years were a shock—I expected to share even more in common with my medical school classmates than my graduate school friends, but instead found myself immersed in an incredibly diverse group of people (almost all of whom were surely performing better on tests than me.).  Most were doggedly dedicated to a cause of their own—curing diabetes in this century, repairing the faces of burn victims.  I struggled to find common ground.  I rarely discovered someone who had heard of Paul Farmer, or who spoke of social justice, and began doubting my pursuit of medicine all over again.

But when clinical training began in El Paso, suddenly everything changed, again.  I love learning the practical aspects of treatment, from scut work to interview skills. We meet such interesting patients! We see the “classic” presentations that we were taught rarely occurred! This is why I wanted to be a doctor.

My renewed interest led to more focused studying, rewarded by happier exam grades.  I began to puzzle out how to best use my background and my strengths in making a specialty choice.  I considered psychiatry, family medicine, and med-peds, but kept returning to pediatrics.  Where else can one find patient, optimistic doctors as a matter of course, a natural emphasis on preventive medicine, and such a large proportion of infectious disease cases? I attended a conference last Spring, and a speaker reminded the audience how most global health problems disproportionately affect pediatric populations, and of the shortage of qualified pediatricians internationally.  My path was set.