Saturday, July 28, 2007

Choosing medicine

The work week ends with the realization that if I were only practicing medicine that would be busy enough, but my life is full of other things. At home there are people waiting (or not waiting because they grew tired of waiting) to begin the weekend. I am usually the last one out the office door on Friday afternoon, not because of a patient, since they like to get home early also , but because of the fact that my medical practice is more than just caring for patients. No one cautioned me about how crazy life would be when I applied to medical school.

A few months ago my oldest son asked me why I went to medical school. My reply was "That is a good question." Yes, I explained, I put down those standard answers on my application: "I love people and hate money." No I didn't say it like that but that is what I wanted the admissions committee to believe. I had not yet realized that they had been in my shoes at one time.

While I thought about my answer with my son's wide, seventeen year old eyes staring at me, I realized I wanted to find the truth and tell it to him. "Well," I began, "I worked in a research lab when I first got to college and I was no good at it." A true statement: I was only smart enough to keep the glassware clean and in the proper place. I thought a moment more. "Next I was a teaching assistant and even tutored the non-science majors but I didn't care for that either." I could only remember one student who even pretended to care about what I had to say.

"Between my junior and senior year in college I worked in a nursing home," I continued. It was the last available job in my home town that summer. I fed and bathed patients who could not do these tasks for themselves. I assisted the nursing staff and of course since I was only there for three months I found that the most difficult patients were on my schedule every morning. Tammy, Roberto, and Florence are three patients I still recall. There are a dozen more faces that I remember clearly. Florence and I had the same birth date separated by 67 years. I realized that for the other orderlies and aides, this was the pinnacle of their medical career. They laughed when I said I was going to medical school. Not in a hurtful way. They were full of realism. Nursing school had been a dream for a few of them but any higher educations was beyond their economic reach.

Everyone at the nursing home liked me and guess what, I liked them too. At that point in my life it was the best job I ever had. Despite the fact that I was young and inexperienced I felt a bond with those caregivers. I found I actually enjoyed being with people who were sick, old, paralysed, lame. I felt useful. I loved all of them. And they were grateful for my care. From the experience of that summer job my career was born. I returned to college in the fall with a goal and I never looked back.

When my acceptance letter to medical school arrived the following winter, my premed advisor called me in shock. "I have a letter here that says you have been accepted to Well Known College of Medicine." I had the same letter and the truth be known I was in shock myself. I suspected then what I know now. While Professor Premed Advisor got credit for my acceptance into medical school, the patients whom I cared for and the orderlies and aides that I worked with that summer are the people who were responsible for my success.
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