Challenge and Vulnerability

One of the earliest signs of my passion for medicine came when my grandma was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I learned to be comfortable in a hospital environment from an early age. I was quickly exposed to the fragility of life when my grandma was in hospice care and gained an appreciation for the complexity of medicine. My parents, two tax accountants, could also tell I was healthcare inclined when I was eight and printed out no smoking signs and photos of black lungs to encourage them to quit smoking because I was “concerned with the state of their lungs.” My fascination is rooted deeply, but it has now blossomed into a multifaceted passion for scientific inquiry and challenge.

Coming in to volunteering with hospice, I was very uncomfortable and overwhelmed. I wasn’t sure how I would manage being a companion to a stranger in such a vulnerable circumstance. Not knowing the person, I was unsure how I could be their ally and best support them. I felt uncomfortable and continue to feel uncomfortable approaching my patient, however I have grown to accept this discomfort as natural part of being a hospice caregiver. I still feel challenged to reach my patient in a meaningful way.

However, I like a good challenge. I believe what distinguishes a challenge from a standard problem is it forces vulnerability, as it is a risk. I have been fortunate enough to choose most of my challenges. I have taken on tasks from learning opera, auditioning for solos, competing in Irish Dance, and being a double science major. Taking on a variety of challenges has made me put myself in a range of vulnerable positions. This has taught me empathy for the inadvertent challenges that are not chosen in life, such as mental or physical health issues. I believe medicine absolutely fits who I am because it combines my constant yearning for academic challenge, fascination with the complex human being, and desire to serve.

However, there is one specific moment where I took on a challenge in medicine that I perceive as failure. I perform research in aging and memory and I often work with elderly people who are cognitively and physically healthy. When I went on my first hospice visit, I presumed that my knowledge of aging and memory would translate to the ability to work with elderly people with memory deficits. Naively, I was shocked when the memory-impaired couple I went to visit thought I was there to separate them and started crying. I failed to be humble and recognize that knowledge cannot equate with experience, as through experience knowledge gains meaning.

My passion for scientific inquiry, drive for challenge, and desire to know my patients makes me inclined to serve what I perceive are two of the most vulnerable patient populations, children and the elderly. Both populations have unique medical issues and perspectives on life that will challenge me to learn from my patients.