The first time I realized my passion in medicine was through a young girl. “Put on the scrubs,” the Psychiatrist told me as we entered the sterile hospital room of a sixteen-year old girl. I stood next to the doctor as she talked to the young girl whose face and body was so completely wrapped in gauze it would have been difficult for her to cry. “Will my skin go back to normal?” she asked. The physician answered honestly that she couldn’t know for sure, that even though the flesh-eating bacteria that deprived her of her skin were gone it could leave scarring, but there was always hope. Watching their exchange I thought back,“As an obese high school student I had spent years of my life struggling with my body image.”
As an obese student, in March of 2008, I in all my plus sized glory took the stage in a one-piece, blue swimsuit and heels in front of family, friends and a couple hundred strangers at a pageant. Looking at this young girl, I remembered the years I didn’t value my body, let alone appreciate the fact that I had skin; this brought back memories of my own journey to appreciate the body I was in.Being a great physician is about more than having a strong understanding of disease, but also about being able to relate to and comfort people in some of the most difficult and most vulnerable times of their lives. My desire to learn more about the field I am in awe of is what fueled my decision to shadow a Psychiatrist.
Eager to obtain as much experience in the medical field as possible, I decided to volunteer at the Berkeley Free Clinic. My experiences interacting with patients and observing procedures helped solidify my attraction to medicine. I will never forget how it felt to sit with the first client that told me they were considering suicide; they were a student, like me, at the time struggling with their realities. Without a medical degree I could provide them with a space to listen, an assessment of their potential to harm themselves and a set of steps that would help me protect them and others. Working through this with someone was the most rewarding experience I have ever had volunteering. One year later, seeing this same person healthy and happy showed me the power of listening, connecting, and providing steps for someone could make a difference. Having lost members of my family to suicide it was difficult to sit with someone while battling the urge to jump up and protect them from themselves, but powerful to be able to apply what I’ve learned in my personal and professional life to help them create a better future.
After completing my undergraduate degree, I wanted to gain experience in the medical field and wanted to apply the skills I learned in medicine. I landed a position working at a Lesbian friendly, non-profit Sperm Bank; and, working at a Sperm Bank was unlike any previous clinical experience. On the first day that I walked into the office, I was unsure of what to expect. A rush of questions ran through my mind: Is this the right job for me? Will I be effective in helping these women? Will I enjoy what I do?
A couple of hours later, these questions were largely forgotten as I shadowed a donor health history and listened to why he wanted to be a donor after having been the child of a donor himself. Soon afterwards, I was discussing the legalities of sperm donation, shadowing the genetics counselor as she analyzed a four-generation health history and looking at tiny sperm swimming through a microscope. By the end of the first week I realized how much I could aid women in the creation of their own families traditional or otherwise, and the importance counseling, listening and patiently explaining can be for a client. I realized how much I enjoyed the whole experience. Teaching women first-hand how to take charge of their fertility was empowering, and asserted that the medical field was for me. People can be empowered to take charge of their healthcare and their lives and giving them more knowledge and resources can empower them. Sometimes it takes working at a lesbian non-profit sperm bank to really understand what empowerment can mean in healthcare.
I have come to see medicine as my ultimate education and career goal, the culmination of my experiences in public service, shadowing physicians, and serving as a resource to women and families has made me realize my dream lies in practicing medicine. In many ways, my heart never wavered from that small hospital room with that young girl, her skin disorder and compassionate doctor. Becoming a knowledgeable, caring, responsible physician who others trust is without a doubt a challenging and arduous journey; yet, I am excited, because it is the most worthwhile journey I will have ever embarked upon and I embrace it with the same passion as every patient, clinical study and volunteering opportunity I have had to date; it would be an honor to study medicine with doctors and mentors who exhibit the same passion for medicine.