"Good afternoon, this is DJ Anna, and you're listening to Impact 86.9 FM!" After I silenced the mic and the music began for my listeners to enjoy, I'd think ahead towards the next song and banter. Every Thursday, I would create this private world with my listeners by controlling volume, answering calls, and taking requests. Although I couldn't see their reactions, I could feel them indirectly through their calls and requests. I gained confidence in my choices and learned to effectively communicate with the public. In this way, DJing strengthened both my listening and my leadership abilities, two skills I will need in medicine. As a leader, a physician must develop a relationship with patients so that their knowledge can be trusted and effectively communicated with patients. Developing a radio personality was an unintentional and notable precursor to my understanding of this relationship. Consequently, I sought opportunities to further develop these skills, as well as research and other experiences that reflected critical and empathic thinking.
I never would have imagined that my on-air radio experience prepared me for an oral presentation on the molecular mechanisms of Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria responsible for Lyme disease, at the University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum (UURAF). For this presentation, I had to condense two years of research into a ten-minute talk for a large audience. Simplifying difficult topics in the same manner that I would for my patients, I explained how the immune system acts as a "security system." I continued by sharing my evidence-based research about how a particular bacteria works in a simplified and relatable manner. I engaged with the experimental and communicative side of medicine by developing my research and then verbally delivering my findings.
Seeking to understand how communication was used clinically in medicine, I was fortunate enough to shadow my father, a psychiatrist, and observe how careful he was with his words and mannerisms when interacting with patients. I became attuned to how he communicated effectively even without words. His use of non-verbal communication appeared just as essential as his verbal communication. For example, when a patient would begin to express their feelings, he smiled reassuringly, which served as his acknowledgment and empathic response. This reminded me that a large part of medicine is effectively listening to the patient, not simply asking questions and developing a diagnosis. In another instance, I witnessed my father supersede a language barrier with a patient (despite the presence of a Spanish translator) by interpreting the patient's facial and hand expressions. I realized that treating patients must transcend cultural boundaries, and a physician must develop cultural competence on both a verbal and a non-verbal level. My time spent shadowing reinforced my desire to pursue medicine. Observing psychiatric patients over time not only shaped my views on doctor-patient interaction and the influence of treatment on a patient's wellbeing but also helped me realize how sociological factors influence the approach a physician will take with a patient. Although psychiatry requires establishing a good rapport in order to deliver an appropriate treatment, it can also be applied in emergency situations.
While communication and research skills are important, they are just pieces of a larger puzzle. A physician must also be decisive and have the confidence to act when it matters most. I experienced this when I was in a situation with a friend who was going into anaphylactic shock. I received a text from her stating she could not breathe and she thought she was having an allergic reaction to a food she ate. I ran to her dorm and found her wheezing. Without hesitation, I called 911, found her EpiPen, and proceeded to guide her use of it. While in the ER, I realized my decisive action and communication skills potentially saved my friend from death. That night, as I waited for her to recover, I reflected on my own instinct, which allowed me to stay calm during an emergency and prioritize someone else’s life. While I had been purposefully building competencies for myself to become a competent physician one day, I felt reassured that I had the ability to stay calm and act decisively in a time of need. Ideally, actions represent a person more than words, and for me, this experience solidified my intention to study medicine. I saw my potential to further hone my skills with time and training and apply them to a diverse range of patients.
When I signed up to be a live DJ, I didn't know that the oral skills I practiced on-air would influence all aspects of my life, let alone lead me to consider a career in the art of healing. I see now, though, the importance of these key events in my life that have allowed me to develop excellent communication skills--whether that be empathic listening, reading and giving non-verbal cues, or verbal communication. I realize I have always been on a path towards medicine. Ultimately, I aim to continue to strengthen my skills as I establish my role as a medical student and leader: trusting my choices, effectively communicating, and taking action for people in need.
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