Former President of GMT - University of Texas
Last night I was working on my Texas A&M secondary application and one of the essay questions was:
"One of the essential qualities of the clinician is interest in humanity, for the secret of the care of the patient is in caring for the patient." Discuss briefly how you would fulfill this commitment as a physician. (250 words or less)
One of the hardest things about applying to medical school is to be able to put everything you want in 1 page, half a page, one paragraph. Gosh, and it definitely was one of the biggest challenges for me, considering I'm known for NOT writing short e-mails. I wished I could write non-stop until I run out of thoughts, but in the world of applying to medical school this is far from being true.
During our first clinics in the mainland, we went to several "Fincas" where you would see endless banana plantations. We would set up our clinics in humble churches, with beautiful people always waiting for us to treat them. We started seeing patients at around 8:30am and usually leave whenever all the patients were seen by one of the students and doctors...around 6...sometimes even until 730pm. After a long day, we started getting ready and packing up everything to go back to the hotel. I remember I was helping out with the pharmacy when one of my friends told me that a patient was looking for me. Even though we were done seeing patients, I decided to sit down again and see if there was a way I could help her with her problem. She had a sad appearance on her face and she was shy at the beginning because she didn't know how to start. "I was diagnosed with HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) and I'm scared my children will get infected." I explained to her that this is an STD and delicately started to address the issue of the probability that her husband might've infected her. GMT staff will go over this during the orientation...it is a very different culture in Central America, and one of the things that is very shocking is the extremely high number of men that cheat on their wives because "it is ok for them", however, women could never think of doing the same thing because of the very serious consequences. I knew that maybe her husband had infected her with the HPV, and I wanted to see if she was aware of that first by asking her if she had had sex with another man. In addition, I mentioned that her children were in no risk of getting the virus and the treatment options. I consulted this information with Dr. Wil before actually telling her everything. We were not going to be able to help her physically because we didn't have the technology to offer cryotherapy.
When I was giving her all this information, I perceived that she already knew the answers to her questions. She wasn't surprised or shocked when I said it was an STD and I didn't really notice she was paying too much attention. When you keep eye contact with a patient there is a way of knowing this and I felt there was something else that she hadn't said. I approached to her and slowly asked if there was something else she wanted to tell me. I was right. "I have tried to kill myself and now I don't know what to do. I don't want to live". I didn't expect this answer, and I realized that drugs or a prescription were not going to make her feel better. She was looking for someone that would be able to listen, and for some reason she felt that I was going to be able to do that.
I talked to her and I try comforting her... helped her find meaning in her life. I saw her cry, but I also saw her beautiful smile after she listened to me. I felt I gave her the best medicine she needed. I was able to engage on a human level with my patient. I was not "la doctora", like they called us in Panama, but also a friend. This is one of the many reasons why I've fallen in love with medicine.
I understood that the greatest satisfaction of practicing medicine is to exercise those humanistic qualities that our patients most want and need in their physician; kindness, personal warmth, empathy, compassion. Practice compassion, people...share their distress and give them relief to their physical and also emotional suffering. Form a personal bond with your patient regardless of your ability to speak Spanish or not. Use an interpreter, use your eyes, use your hands, and your smile. Even in situations where we can make little apparent medical difference, offering a patient our compassionate presence means that we learn something of who this other person is, and of what it means to be human. Compassion means "to suffer with", put in practice this important component of the doctor-patient relationship. Don't be scared of feeling; feel happy because you were there to offer the best care possible. We must never forget who and what we are and whom and how we serve. Rabbi Harold Kushner once said "Caring about others, running the risk of feeling, and leaving an impact on people brings happiness." It is a different type of happiness this time, because it's not about you, but about them. Everyone was already in the bus and waiting just for me. It was already 7:30pm. Before I left, she gave me a small picture of herself and said good bye. She gave me a hug and told me "Que Dios la bendiga", which in English means "God Bless You". I keep that picture in my wallet to remind me that sometimes there is no chance of curing disease, but there's always an opportunity to comfort a patient.
Practice the type of medicine you've always dreamed of. This is your opportunity. Learn as much as possible, but also take time to practice the art of medicine. Give your chance to feel how gratifying it is the most beautiful profession. Remember their smiles, their laughs, their words of gratitude.
Hold on to these thoughts and remember why you are sacrificing so many things to become a doctor.
To my GMT'ers, good luck with your trips!