Natalie’s gaze met mine and I knew she was silently asking for help. While she looked around the room of balancing bodies in search of guidance, I quickly examined her form and said, “Press the sole of your right foot into your left thigh to level your hips with the floor.” Natalie immediately reacted to my instruction and found balance on her left foot. In these moments, I can offer the most support to my students because they are actively listening for guidance. A tiny adjustment can become an invaluable lesson that protects from injury or offers a new body awareness. Just as these small moments can transform a student’s yoga practice, they can also have an immense impact on a patient’s healing and experience with healthcare. Practicing yoga has allowed me to develop the ability to communicate with empathy and promote holistic patient care.
I experienced this impact during my own recovery as a patient when I had two concussions a month apart. The symptoms of my first concussion lasted a week, however, the symptoms of the second lasted five months. Since I did not see weekly improvement as my doctors expected, I became increasingly frustrated, scared, and anxious and I began to question whether I would recognize normalcy again. I often felt mistaken for having such concerns because my doctors assured me the symptoms would subside. One particular doctor validated my emotions and discussed how I might return to feeling normal again through small daily adjustments. He listened to my concern about the rate of my recovery rather than attending to my physical symptoms alone. This empathetic understanding of me as an injured person helped reduce my anxiety and heal as a whole person. Instead of waiting for symptoms to resolve on their own, I persistently worked towards recovery by instilling small daily adjustments through exercise and sleep as my doctor advised. In this moment, I understood that a doctor is more than a prescriber, but is also an educator and mentor. Just as my yoga students know to trust the action of my hand on their back to align their pose, as a doctor I would want my patients to trust my passion for teaching and biology to guide them through complex medical decisions. As a caring listener, I would coach patients through medical battles and remind them that recovery doesn’t always come easily, but requires effort—just as my doctor did for me.
My experience as a patient has allowed me to better support my family members currently battling cancer and illness today. My family’s struggle with cancer started before I was born, so I have always been familiar with illness. Still, growing up I was too young to offer any emotional support to five close relatives who I witnessed lose their lives to cancer. Additionally, I have watched my mom battle breast cancer and undergo numerous treatments for trigeminal neuralgia. When my mom told me that surgery did little to alleviate her facial pain, I realized I would need to support her during attacks of pain likely for the rest of her life. While I could not offer her help to relieve her symptoms, I understood how powerful being present for her was. Through the progression of her condition, I have learned how important it is to have a doctor that will both educate patients about medical treatments and accompany their patients as a mentor through the entire course of treatment. Since I now have my own experiences as a patient, I more easily identify the anxieties that my mom, uncle, and cousin have during their current treatments. I have always wanted to understand the biological mechanisms behind cancer in my family and ways to treat it. This great desire to understand and treat cancer drove me to biology and fueled my desire to apply to medical school. Gaining more personal experience in medicine, my aspiration has evolved from an initial hope to alleviate suffering, into an aim for all patients to be recognized as whole persons with full lives outside of their symptoms.
By volunteering at [name of hospital], I have been able to translate this idea into more personalized patient support. During one of my shifts, I built rapport with a patient and learned she was nervous to undergo surgery because she was more afraid of leaving her dog alone overnight than of the surgery itself. I helped her arrange dog care and she was immediately relieved and could focus on her own surgery and recovery. I was happy to remove one of her stressors because I knew without acknowledgement, it would have a toll on her healing. By listening to the patient’s concerns, I learned that holistic care involves asking whole life questions and paying attention to every detail a patient chooses to share.
Having been both a patient and a teacher, I have experienced the importance of paying attention to brief moments that can offer great transformation. Just as in yoga where a small adjustment can pay big dividends and protect from injury, so can attention to detail, both medical and personal, as a physician by healing and preventing illness in patients. I would use transformational moments to gain patients’ trust and ensure they feel cared for. To my mind, being a doctor means being a mentor, educator, and empathetic listener for patients in moments of their uncertainty.