I never planned to arrive at this moment: the moment I applied to medical school. It was a dream my mother often held quietly for me while simultaneously encouraging me to find my own path; a dream born from a wish she once had for herself, but was unable to fulfill. Her parents could only afford to send her brothers to school, and had hoped that their daughter would instead be better suited as a mother and wife, married to a man who could provide for her.
As a medical secretary, she worked for many physicians throughout Boston, in several major hospitals. Through the stories she would tell me of the physicians she worked for, I received my first glimpse at what it meant to be a truly great physician; and also, perhaps equal in its importance, what it looked like when one had lost their way.
As the product of a medical secretary and Belmont Firefighter, I was given the unique perspective of medicine early on, and in two variations of immediacy. The first as sudden loss, such as when my father often came home from work, visibly shaken from a call the night before; and the second as a slow, subtle exit: the occasional passing of a dear friend, discovered by my mother only after questioning the patient’s first missed appointment in several years of being with the practice. I learned throughout my childhood that medicine is more than a profession. The practitioner of medicine, regardless of their position, be it firefighter, medical technician, secretary, pharmacist, or physician, is one who is there to carry others along when they are least able. A position that is a tremendous burden as much as it can be an immense triumph. It was clear to me early on that at the heart of medicine was ultimately love, determination, and compassion; and yet I sought no part in it.
I entered college without any clear plan of who I wanted to become. I sought various aspects of the things that I was most interested in, but none fit the ambiguous plan that I felt I was pursuing. It wasn’t until after I married my husband that I realized what it was that I had been searching for throughout my college career. Each of my interests in college so far had only been a piece of the life I had long envisioned for myself. I studied political science due to an inherent desire to help and defend others in need. I pursued environmental science to learn how everything is connected; and I found a home in English Literature out of a desire to both give back as a teacher, and learn as much as possible. To combine these interests into the singular pursuit of medicine then seemed an organic progression. The decision to become a physician was not one of divine intervention; it was a slow, progressive understanding: a calm acknowledgment of the type of person I knew I would become. I wanted to travel, I wanted to help people by making a direct impact, I wanted to learn, and I wanted to teach.
Through the teachings and anecdotes that my parents would often share, and in my experiences throughout my undergraduate career, I have slowly started to learn and realize the tremendous reach and influence that medicine can have on the quality of life of an individual. In his book, The Emperor of All Maladies, Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee describes the interconnectedness of medicine as the balance between our desire to understand nature, and the development of technology in an attempt to control it. “Medicine, then, is fundamentally a technological art; at its core lies a desire to improve human lives by intervening on life itself” (462). Medicine is quite possibly the best intermediary not only between man and nature, as Mukherjee suggests, but also serves as an intermediary between men. Regardless of one’s race, religion, background, or political leanings, medicine reminds us of our inherent commonality. In a world where politics and greed fuels divisiveness, medicine reminds us of who we are; and that we are all entitled to the same quality of medical care, because we are all fundamentally the same.
It has taken my lifetime for me to commit to the idea of medicine as a career: to use medicine as a way to give back to the global community through continued education, medical care, and advocacy; but now that I have made the decision to pursue medicine, I realize now, that this was the path for which I have prepared my entire life. In short, I fell into medicine as Neruda fell in love: slowly, and then all at once.