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When I was young, I wanted to be just like my father. He was a brooding accountant I never saw for more than an hour each day because he would leave the house early and come home late. I sat with him in silence on the couch while he sipped his beer, commenting indignantly on the underperforming hockey team he was watching on TV as if he was the coach. He was a large, bulky man with an intimidating, awe-inspiring presence. He never scolded, praised, or even acknowledged me most of the time. If he spoke, it was only because he needed something from my mother. As I got older, the veil of importance I always viewed him with began to lift – the smoke in front of my eyes swept away in a cold gust of wind. On my 16th birthday, he gave me the only advice he would ever give before he died: “Son. You can do anything you want in this life. Just don’t do what I do.”

By then, I’d recognized that I was on a completely different path in life and that I was at no risk of becoming my father or in any way doing what he was doing. His gift for me that year was a book written by an emergency room medical doctor about what he’s proud of and what he regrets during his forty professional years. There were many stories about how he failed to save a patient, or the opposite, about heroically rescuing someone from certain death. The irony of that book now collecting dust on my bookshelf is that shortly after it was gifted, my father ended up in an emergency room. He was one of those patients that the doctor couldn’t save.

I was done skimming the pages of a book trying to find answers for what had happened, desperately trying to reconcile a fate that had already been sealed. I needed to take action. I took a cab to my local hospital and asked if any volunteer opportunities were available. The next day, I started in the emergency department welcoming patients, liaising with families, and escorting patients to exam rooms. The range of circumstances and abject emotions that I witnessed filled me with a sense of duty, obligation, and connection. These people in need were entrusting me, and others, with their lives and well-being. I couldn’t take that for granted.

During my undergraduate studies, I became increasingly interested in learning more about preventing emergency room visits. The research study I joined was designed to build on our understanding of preventative health care behaviors that lower the risk and frequency of emergency room visits. We discovered that there was a significant interdependency between efficacious preventative health behaviors and access to accurate health information. The conclusion I drew was that one of the ways we can prevent critical care situations is to improve the promotion of health resources.

I joined the food science club at my university to become part of the solution I thought was the most viable. Learning about the needs of the food industry gave me a better awareness of consumers' nutritional needs and health literacy. I was struck by the concept of sustainability and how it’s used to derive healthy dietary patterns. I also learned that many nutritional incongruencies contribute to an increased mortality rate in many parts of the world, even in our own communities. I think about how my father would still be around if he’d taken better care of his health and if he was aware of how he could’ve turned his life around.

As I’ve witnessed, there’s an almost endless array of factors that can lead to emergency room visits. I believe you have to admit that there’s a problem before a solution can be sought. When my father told me that I ought to choose a different path in life than the one he chose, it took some time for me to realize what was right in front of me: that I wanted to become a medical professional. The experiences I’ve had in volunteering and research were merely interests that eventually turned into a desire to serve society as a doctor. My father’s passing was a wake-up call. I realized that tomorrow isn’t a promise, it’s a gift. Still, this doesn’t stop me from dreaming about a future in health care when the gift of tomorrow is even better than the gift of yesterday.

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