Sao Paulo, Brazil. The noisy and bumpy ride as we rode through the pot-hole filled street always jolted me awake, letting me know I was close to my grandparents’ house. The road was symbolic for the neighborhood’s neglected state, preventing buses from reaching not only my grandparents’ street, but that of many elderly neighbors. One day, I woke up to my grandfather carrying a large bag of concrete on his back and watched as he spent the day covering the pot-holes one by one. Through this and many other actions, my grandfather instilled in me the significance of being a “person for others,” and enacting change with a hands-on approach.
I always knew I wanted a profession in which I could apply that same type of compassion to make peoples’ lives better, but it was my curiosity for the fundamental workings of the human body that incited my interest in medicine. In high school, I became fascinated by how small molecules were behind the biophysical interactions that gave way to complex physiology. I soon sought my first shadowing opportunity, with an orthopedic surgeon. Dr. Bidin didn’t just look at patients’ symptoms; rather, he considered people as a whole, including their hobbies, to determine a treatment that fit their goals. When it came time for surgery, he soothed their worries by explaining the procedure multiple times, using metaphors and analogies. That summer, my view of doctors changed: I realized they are not only providers of medical knowledge but also of assurance and relief. This dedication to others’ well-being captivated me, as it mirrored much of what I had seen in my grandfather growing up.
Eager to be in contact with patients again, I spent my first college summer volunteering at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. I soon met a Brazilian family who had come to the U.S. seeking a life-changing surgery for their daughter Rosa, a six-year-old girl with cerebral palsy. Much like when I arrived in America, they spoke little English. Their struggles navigating a foreign system were reminiscent of my own immigration to America at thirteen. My transition to this country had been the biggest challenge I ever faced, and made me particularly sensitive to others peoples’ struggles. During the next few months, I made sure to serve as their guide to American culture, easing interactions with the world around them. I was thrilled to be a small part of the complex team of specialists providing Rosa’s care. Most exciting of all, I got to see Rosa take her first unassisted steps in physical therapy. On my last day, her parents gave me a heart-felt thank you. I will never forget that moment: more than other things I had insofar accomplished, this was what I was most proud of. I knew then that if I became a doctor I’d help families, just like them, in ways beyond just providing comfort.
While spending time with patients was rewarding, my role in research satisfied my intellectual thirst and allowed me to further my current scientific knowledge. First, in Dr. James' lab, I assisted graduate students in advancing the understanding of copper transportation in a cell. Later on, during my internship at Pfizer, I created a platform to systematically decrease monoclonal antibodies’ viscosity, thereby optimizing their formulation for injection into patients. Knowing that my work was contributing to improving others’ lives was an indescribable feeling. Yet, these experiences assured me that medicine was the best fit for me. Doctors, like researchers, also hold the responsibility of solving current health puzzles, but with a more direct role on patient care.
Lastly, my love for teaching consecrated my desire to pursue medicine. With Dr. Biden, I had learned that doctors are, at their core, teachers: be it educating their peers, patients, or the community at large. My four years of experience as a calculus tutor, followed by my time as a Peer Lab Assistant (PLA), showed me the importance of tailoring communication to teach effectively. As a PLA, I found various ways to make complicated topics in biochemistry more digestible. I became captivated by the challenges that teaching science posed on my own understanding of the material, and by the challenge to spark appreciation for the material among students. Working with a student outside of class, I witnessed his excitement after he grasped the role of pH on the conformation of hemoglobin, and how ideal this mechanism was. This brought me back to my shadowing experiences: doctors too must be able to effectively communicate complex concepts to diverse audiences.
The day I saw my grandfather with the concrete bag on his back, he wasn’t just repairing holes: he was providing his community access to public transportation, and helping connect them with the rest of the world. His actions may have been small, but its consequences were far-reaching. Although my grandfather lived in an impoverished neighborhood, he dedicated his life to making that of those around him better. I see medicine as the best catalyst to combine my quest for knowledge with my drive to help others. I look forward to continuously learning, innovating, educating, and -- perhaps most important-- touching other peoples’ lives, just as my grandfather did.
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