Only four more days remain before I fly off to the American University of the Caribbean to begin my medical training. The past few days I have been feeling calm and reflective as I trace back the events of the last four years to find a conclusion to yet another chapter in my life. How did I get to where I am now? How did I get into the world of medicine?
The truth is, growing up, my impressions of medicine were not the best. As a doctor’s child, I did not see my father much, much less played ball with him, and I hated the taste of medicine. As a rebellious teenager, I never seriously considered my father’s field. Instead, I pursued architecture in college, because of my love for drawing and my vision of a beautiful society. During my first architecture class at Washington University, Professor Lorberbaum taught a bold idea. “Architecture can save the world,” she said. “It has the power to bring life back to the cities, conserve the environment, and improve people’s health.” I was inspired. The next three years, I fought obesity, diabetes, and declining fitness in every project, replacing convenient shortcuts for pleasantly winding paths to encourage walking. My proposal for Clayton Market was so well received by my professors that it was exhibited and documented by the school. It seemed like my life was set for the design arts.
However, during the summer before senior year of college, something happened. I was helping out at our newly-opened clinic, Macon Pediatrics, when an eight-year-old boy stepped onto my scale. Weighing three times his peers, he was severely obese. He had so much potential ahead of him, and yet his life was already at risk. I soon realized that although the pedestrian-friendly cities I imagined myself designing in the future may make the environment more suitable for physical activity, no design of mine could ever help him and his family as much as the direct care and guidance of a doctor. Looking back, I realized how fortunate my own upbringing was. Having a doctor at home taught me how to eat healthy and take care of myself. I was treated immediately whenever I awoke with fever. Looking ahead, I want to give this kind of care back to my community as my family has given to me, truly fulfilling my vision of a beautiful society.
After receiving my degree, I enrolled in the premedical program at University of Georgia. My experiences in research, work, and volunteering during these years have strengthened the skills and values I need to practice in the future, and have convinced me that medicine is indeed the right path for me. During my first year at UGA, I volunteered for Athens Regional Medical Center where I led patients into pre-operation rooms, prepared them for surgery, and assisted their families. The hospital is a place of contrasting emotions. Some patients worried as they awaited surgery, while others joked around with me. I soon learned that my greatest responsibility was to keep a stable, positive attitude, and always be sensitive of their emotions. Often, a simple smile or comment is all that it takes to make people feel more comfortable for surgery. Although my clinical tasks were limited, I felt more enthusiastic in becoming a physician as I realized I can be not only a healer, but also a friend during the difficult times in another’s life.
Afterwards, I began researching in the Department of Cellular Biology under Dr. Fechheimer. For the next three years I observed Dictyostelium cells under fluorescent microscopy, noting the effects of lithium on protein aggregates found in Alzheimer’s patients. I learned to observe thoroughly and take all evidence into account in designing subsequent experiments. My observations suggested that lithium may be effective in helping the elimination of the protein aggregates, having implications in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.
In 2009, I began working in the UGA Lab Animal Facility, treating mice. In many ways, they were my first patients. I felt their abdomens for abnormalities and applied diphenhydramine to dermatitis lesions, being extra careful around the eyes. I noted behavioral changes, and performed procedures that required manual dexterity such as tagging ears or collecting tissue samples for genotyping. Seeing severely injured mice touched me, and I never gave up on treating even the sickest mouse. I felt rewarded when they improved. If curing a small mouse can bring me such joy, the reward for curing a person must be extraordinary.
That summer, I volunteered with pediatrician Dr. Lopez, feeling closer than ever to medicine as I took vital signs, conducted lab tests, and administered vaccines to children. I learned to ask questions thoroughly to determine which tests to give before the patient sees the doctor, and I loved entertaining the kids so they feel less stressed during these tests. As the majority of patients were Hispanic, I used Spanish extensively. Seeing the demanding volume of patients, many of whom travel over an hour just to see a doctor who accepted their insurance or spoke their language, I understood the great need for doctors in medically underserved areas. Working here reconfirmed my determination to bring health care closer and more accessible to the people living in such areas, just like how my family brought health care closer to me.
With all the exciting experiences I had, from Alzheimer’s research, to giving vaccines, it is hard to believe that only five years ago, my impressions of medicine were not the best. But over the years, I gained a fuller picture of medicine and a better understanding of my own ideals and motivations. Growing up with a doctor has helped me in ways I did not realize before, and I want to make others feel just as fortunate. Today, four days before I head off to medical school at the American University of the Caribbean, the most important items I will take with me is not my favorite pair of scrubs or my handy laptop computer, but the experiences I had over these last four years in pre-medicine. With the values I gained– sensitivity, thoroughness, and dexterity – I am optimistic about what lies ahead. After my medical training at AUC and beyond, I want to return to my home state of Georgia and serve the needs of the rural northeast, declared a medically underserved area by the HHS for many years. For me, medicine is the perfect opportunity to make a difference in the community by being a healer, mentor, and friend to individuals like the eight-year-old boy at Macon Pediatrics who helped me realize my true dreams.