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Some pre-medical students have known that they would become doctors ever since they picked up their first toy stethoscope. Others have had a singular catalytic event that changed their career goals forever. The origins of my own desire to become a physician have been less dramatic, but equally sound. As a child, whenever someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I answered with a rainbow of possibilities, including fireman, policeman, musician, and of course, doctor. Being a doctor appealed to me because doctors seemed smart, responsible, helpful, and — in some vague sense I could not quite define — “cool.” They cured the sick and fended off nasty diseases. They discovered new treatments and dispensed old remedies. They eased the dying process, even occasionally pulling patients back from the dead. It seemed like they could do just about anything.
As I grew older, I gained experience that shaped this childhood assessment of a doctor’s job into a more realistic perspective; the more I learned about research and clinical work, the more confident I became that I want to be a physician. In high school, I discovered that I excelled in the sciences. My aptitude and interest grew simultaneously, fueling each other in a sort of feedback loop. I was thrilled to realize that the biology, chemistry, and physics classes I enjoyed so much were fundamentally related to medicine; I could both satisfy my love for the basic sciences while helping individual patients as a “cool” doctor. I decided that I wanted to be a physician who also does basic science research.
Later, in college, I reaffirmed my affinity for research in the field of chemistry. Not only did I find the subject matter fascinating, but the process itself also captivated me. I liked setting my own schedule, learning at my own pace, and designing my own experiments. Some of my electives helped me to consolidate my interests: my physiology class, for example, gave me an exhilarating introduction to the vast and ever-changing body of medical knowledge. In order to cover a wide spectrum of information, the class was taught by six professors, each with a medical degree, and each with his or her own specialty. I found this class especially rewarding because it allowed me to understand the ways in which my own body works, which I can apply to the diagnosis and treatment of specific diseases.
Throughout high school and college, I satisfied my interest in clinical work by volunteering in a hospital. Despite my rigorous academic schedule, I always looked forward to the few hours I spent each week in the adult or pediatric emergency department, helping the staff in any way I could. I spent time with patients who were awaiting treatment, and observed physicians as they constantly made important decisions and directed other staff members. I came to greatly value this personal interaction with staff and patients, and this chance to catch a first-hand glimpse of the unique responsibilities of physicians.
I unexpectedly had the opportunity to gain additional perspective on the doctor/patient relationship during Christmas break, when I seriously fractured my left humerus from arm-wrestling gone awry. I was rushed to the emergency room, where an orthopedic doctor treated me. My left arm was immobilized for a long time and I suddenly discovered my new limitations; among other problems, I found it extremely difficult to wash myself or sleep in a comfortable position. My compassion for patients, especially the chronically ill and disabled, increased exponentially. This experience was also a clear illustration of the value of good medical care; I was very thankful for the availability and expertise of my doctor.
I cannot pinpoint my determination to become a doctor to an epiphany at eight, but the steady string of experiences I have accumulated so far leads me to believe that the most solid decision is that which is based on both gut feeling and careful deliberation. I believe there are three ways to gain insight into the field of medicine: as an observer, a patient, or a doctor. I’ve had experience as the first two; now I am ready and eager to achieve the last.
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