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In 1979, in the Soviet city of Odessa on the Black Sea, a young man confronted a problem that would forever alter the course of his existence. This 17-year-old Jewish man, who wanted most to become a doctor, was denied the possibility of admission to medical school because of his religion. It could have been an end to a dream.
I was that man. My determination to become a physician, and my parents’ support of that ambition, turned our lives upside down. We applied for a visa to leave Russia; while we waited, my parents and older brother were not allowed to work, and all of us were followed by the KGB. When we finally arrived in America in 1980, we had to make our way to Seattle without funds, friends, or command of English. My father, who is an engineer, was reduced to working as a plumber, while I began each day at 5 a.m. unloading trucks. Life was a struggle, but we were all sustained by a dream: my goal of studying to become a doctor.
Within a year of my arrival here, after attending night school to learn the language, I was able to obtain a job as an X-ray orderly at a local hospital. In this position, and later as an admitting aide, I was able over a period of three years to learn much more about American medicine. I had extensive contact with patients, doctors, nurses, and administrators and found I was able to relate well to each group. I saw suffering, healing, death, and all of the other constants that make up any hospital environment. I had an opportunity to observe surgeries, from mastectomies to hysterectomies and bypasses, and to see firsthand the importance of positive doctor-patient interactions. I was fascinated by everything I saw and became more convinced than ever that I could one day make my finest contribution as a physician.
When I first entered college, I had enormous problems with English, especially scientific terminology, and my GPA was an unremarkable 2.84. However, as I mastered the language, my grades steadily improved; in fact, in the last three quarters I’ve earned a 3.8 GPA.
Beginning in 1984, I worked as a volunteer in the autopsy room at my university’s pathology department, amassing more than 500 hours’ experience. Just as the hospital provided me with a chance to observe diagnosis and treatment, the autopsy room gave me a chance to find out what goes wrong, what causes death. In that room it was possible for me to see death, smell it, touch it. I prepared organs for examination by medical students as well as assisted in autopsies and cleaning up. I was even awarded a highly sought-after scholarship in recognition of my work. . . .
I first became interested in medicine in high school, when I sat in on my brother’s medical school lectures and later accompanied him on hospital rounds. My commitment to becoming a doctor, and my excitement over the prospect of being able to serve others in this capacity, is what has driven me and kept me going in the face of so many obstacles since my departure from Russia. Now, with my goal in sight and so many recent experiences reaffirming my passion for medicine, I know that all of the dedication and sacrifice have been worthwhile. I am eager to begin my medical studies, eager to meet the challenges I know they will present.