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I wasn’t supposed to live past the age of 25. Growing up in a neighborhood where drug use was commonplace and crime rates were high, every young person could see what their future held every day on the walk home from school. Plenty of kids stopped going to school altogether after a while. I was one of them. I dropped out of high school, and I got to work on wasting my few remaining years. If I was going to die young, I wanted to make the most of it.

Life had other plans for me. Just shy of my 25th birthday, I was driving with my best friend in the passenger seat. It was dark, and I wasn’t paying attention when I made a left turn. A truck collided with the passenger door. When I woke up in the hospital, I thought my friend was gone. We both survived, but the collision changed the course of both our lives. My friend turned to painkillers to help him cope with the pain that was now a permanent fixture in his life. And when painkillers weren’t enough, he tried heroin. I watched my friend go down the road of addiction, back and forth between quitting and relapsing. He died before the age of 28. As I watched my friend be taken away by the same disease that had killed so many others I knew, I decided not to let my future be decided for me. I went back to school to get my GED, and then I applied to community college, still unsure what I wanted or what I would do.

While I was working as a porter at the community hospital—my small way of giving back to the hospital staff and doctors who had helped me after my accident—I met the EMT who had wheeled me, unconscious, through the hospital doors. He was happy to see me doing well, and when I mentioned I was attending community college, he let me know about the EMT course available at the college. I signed up, thinking that as an EMT, I could do a lot more to help other kids like me who needed someone to care at the worst moments of their lives. While I trained and worked as an EMT, I made the transfer to my state university to complete my prerequisites and earn my degree. I was proud of my accomplishments over the last few years, but I was still unsure what path I should take. The many years to get my education and training had been motivated by my desire to make something of myself, but I wasn’t sure what that was just yet. The memory of my friend still weighed heavily on me, too.

As an EMT, I saw the ugly moments of drug addiction, but I also witnessed moments of hope whenever we were able to help someone. But I always passed off my patients to the doctors, to the counselors and social workers. I explored opportunities to work as an addiction counselor and began volunteering at [Health Clinic] to work with addicts and recovering addicts. The time I spent as a counselor was fulfilling, and I felt I was doing right by my friend’s memory, but I missed using my skills as an EMT. I enjoyed the work of an EMT, yet I wanted to do more than respond to calls and pass off the people I helped to others. So, I decided to apply to medical school. I knew as a doctor; I wouldn’t need to pass anyone off. I would be able to use the skills and training I had learned to help people like my friend who were in pain and struggling. I would be able to help people like me, who had to go through a horrific event and learn to come out the other side.

It is important to me to honor my friend’s memory, and to remember the person that he was, and not just as another victim of addiction. But it’s also important for me to honor myself, and the decision I made to change the future that was predicted for me. I hope as a doctor I will be able to help others like me to take charge of their own futures and find healing in their lives.

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