I was born and raised under a very different education system in Taiwan, which focused on rote memorization and obedience. Starting in middle school, we were taught to be competitive and grades were seen as the key to success. However, I believe social interactions and diligence can be equally important for individual success. Although I did not enjoy memorization without understanding, these practices taught me to be self-disciplined, which benefitted me when I decided to grasp my chance to come to America alone in the ninth grade. Initially, I struggled with the language barrier, but I developed a routine of studying and practicing English with the help of my new friends. With their encouragement, I was able to start thinking critically and seeking help when necessary.
I didn’t consider pursuing medicine until my senior year of high school. I felt powerless seeing my uncle, whom I loved and lived with throughout high school, on his deathbed, diagnosed with terminal esophageal cancer. It was excruciating to watch him helplessly ask, “Why does it feel like there is a hard stone in my stomach?” His question echoed in my head. If I’d had an answer at that time, maybe he wouldn’t have been in despair from not knowing. I want to become a doctor because I want to earn the right to give those like my uncle the answers they need, instead of standing by and watching, powerless to ease their suffering.
Although the thought of going into medicine crossed my mind, I also understood that it is a large commitment and there are other ways to ease suffering than becoming a doctor. I decided to pursue a degree in biology to equip myself with the knowledge I sought. The more I learned about the human body, the more interested I became. Being curious about the mechanism of remodeling and development of the musculoskeletal system, I decided to join Dr. Reness’ lab at Purdue in 2016, where I studied the role of perlecan on developmental cartilage. I encountered many obstacles in my research, such as finding contamination in our chemicals for a genotyping procedure or a better way to standardize our qPCR primer test. However, that did not stop me from going to the lab on the weekends to repeat the same experiment over and over again. My curiosity in exploring the unknown connection between behind two seemingly unrelated materials drove me to continue my work in research. Without a better understanding of the communication between different systems, we cannot understand the effectiveness of treatments. I want to understand the mechanisms behind treatments in order to assist patients in choosing the best treatments.
It is not just medical knowledge I seek; I also value human interaction. Around the same time, I decided to try volunteering with SouthernCare Hospice, where I was with many patients with differing needs. I helped my patients through talking to them about their families, by bringing their favorite snacks, or just watching television together. Even if it was for only one minute, I hoped the comfort I brought my patients could help them forget about their physical pain and enjoy the last moments of their life; at least, that was what I wanted for my uncle. Research is important in medical discoveries, and it can alleviate a person’s pain, but it can’t give people comfort when they are on their deathbed.
This experience made me realize my passion for direct patient care, but it also helped me realize that medical school is necessary in order to provide better care for my patients. The variable mental state of my second patient was a significant factor in the quality of our interactions. The first time we met, he told me “You are powerless!” Although I knew he was probably under the influence of medication, I still could not imagine how helpless he must have felt to say this. I tried to help by steering the conversation towards his family, but it didn’t work. Instead, I tried to let him finish what he needed to say first, then I would talk to him about other subjects, like the weather or sports. I hoped my companionship could help lessen his burden, but there were times when my ability to help was limited. This challenge helped me realize that going to medical school is necessary for me to offer more than I currently can, with professional training providing options for dealing with patients in this state.
I decided to become a teaching assistant for two laboratory courses at Purdue in the fall of 2017, realizing that teaching duties would force me to improve my communication skills. I wanted to relate more to my patients’ stories and to be able to steer the conversations in a positive direction. Before I became a teaching assistant, it was hard for me to actively engage in conversations. I was taught not to interrupt and follow elders’ commands since I was young, but I also lacked confidence as a non-native English speaker. Because I was afraid of making grammatical errors, I became a quiet person. I wanted to change that, so I began actively approaching my students instead of waiting for them to ask questions. When I did this, they became less intimidated and more willing to talk. This experience helped me realize that I should always be approachable, so others will be willing to ask for my help when they need it. I want to become the kind of doctor that patients can approach honestly and openly.
I came to America, leaving my parents and friends behind, to grasp my chance at a better future. I believe this chance is now in front of me. Medicine is the only path I truly desire because it satisfies my curiosity about the human body and it allows me to directly interact with patients. I do not want to miss this chance to further hone my skills and knowledge, in order to provide better care for my patients.
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