“Just stitch me up and put me back in the game”, I recall thinking from the side bench as I cradled my injured knee and watched my hockey team fall behind in the season opener. The sound of goal horn blared as the opposing team swooped in with another goal. The season’s first game always felt momentous, tantalizing me with life-altering potential, only if I gave every ounce of my focus and determination. However, as the seasons progressed, I came to realize that the sum of experiences over the championship had a far greater impact than that first game’s outcome. This observation has also held true outside of hockey. When I consider the question, “why medicine?” I am unable to provide a single life-altering moment that colored my conviction. Instead, my experiences volunteering at CAREERS, the Mustard Seed, and doing research at the Cumming School of Medicine gave me the opportunity to challenge my preconceived notions about what a commitment to medicine entailed. I believe medicine is a holistic practice that must take into consideration the whole individual, a practice that necessitates that disease pathophysiology be informed by the individual social contexts.
During my last summer of high school, I embarked on the CAREERS: Next Generation medical internship. I spent that summer fascinated by what I learned, going home each night to read up on the disorders I had come across that day. Yet, the most profound knowledge didn’t come from textbooks or Google searches— it came from interactions between the physicians and patients. I still remember the detailed elements of the compassionate care I observed: doctors holding patients’ hands, listening attentively to their stories, and allowing them to engage in their own medical decisions. This is where I learned the true meaning of patient-centered care.
Through this placement I met John, a 28-year-old man admitted to the hospital for an exploratory surgery. In the operating room, his gastric tumor’s shape and metastases prevented a curative surgery, and John was declared terminally ill. Observing the surgeon delivering the sad news, I vividly recall John turning to his wife and then glancing back at us: “Is there any way you made a mistake? Perhaps you mistook my case with another patient’s?” His eyes searched the surgeon’s face for any semblance of an alternative fate. I found myself doing the same. A sense of shared vulnerability and despair filled the room, between the surgeon – who was forced to confront medicine’s limitations; myself – as I succumbed to the feeling of helplessness I sought to mask; and the patient – whose days were now numbered. It was on this day that I committed myself to pursuing medicine. Perhaps as a physician I could minimize the feeling of suffering, despair, and helplessness that was present in that room.
While attending the University of Calgary, I started working at the Mustard Seed Homeless Shelter; an experience I hoped would inform my views on the social determinants of health. I mentored residents in effective job searching techniques as a means of reintegration into society. Working with an at-risk demographic allowed me to appreciate the impact of health inequalities on residents. I specifically recall Aria – a young resident who had resigned to substance abuse due to poor social and family support. After finally getting a job that allowed her to build a supportive social network, Aria felt empowered to recover from her addiction.
To further navigate the multifaceted ethos of medicine, I started research at a Pediatric Neurology lab at the Cumming School of Medicine. I was given the opportunity to spearhead a translational research study on Infantile Spasms. My goal was to re-establish a rodent model of the disease that could help us find a cure. The next year was a period of persistent trial and error as I tweaked and re-tweaked the methodology. To gain a better understanding of the disease, I spent time at my supervisor’s clinic interacting with infants who suffer from Infantile Spasms. I understood then why we did research: because of the possibility that all this failure and hard work could one day alter the course of those babies’ lives.
Medicine embodies a hard science, but it is ultimately a profession that treats people. I have seen firsthand that medicine is not a “one-treatment-fits-all” practice, as an effective physician takes a holistic approach. This is the type of physician I aspire to be: one who refuses to shy away from the humanity of patients and their social context, and one who uses research and innovation to improve the human condition. So, when I rethink “why medicine?”, I know it’s for me – because it is a holistic discipline, because it demands all of me, because I am ready to absorb the fascinating knowledge and science that dictates human life, and engage with humanity in a way no other profession allows for. Until the day that I dawn the coveted white coat, you can find me in inpatient units, comforting the many John’s to come, or perhaps at the back of an operating room observing a mitral valve repair – dreaming of the day the puck is in my zone.
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