A Glimpse into the Heart of a Physician

Editor’s Note: This is a series of real-life essays written by physicians for entry into medical school and into residency. We hope that by sharing these, those who are not physicians will have the opportunity to see the why and know a piece of our hearts. We also hope that those who are physicians will be inspired and touched and helped to remember why we do what we do- the meaning behind our work. Copying these will constitute plagiary.

The Perfect Shot

Inside the frame of the 35mm lens is me, exiting the Family Care Clinic of Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center (DDEAMC) and basking in the sunlight of that Wednesday afternoon. Before the shot is captured, the lens has to be perfectly focused to catch the sheer joy on my face. As the shutter opens and closes, the camera will forever preserve a moment in my life that I will never forget: when I confirmed my calling in life to care for others. In March of 2014, I was given the opportunity to shadow a family practice doctor during his clinic hours at DDEAMC. Over several weeks, I was able to see many different types of patients, from a woman who was eating in her sleep, to a two month old with a cleft lip, to a COPD patient who refused to stop smoking.

What these patients had in common was that I wanted to help them – all of them – and I knew that if I could do this for the rest of my life, it would be a blessing.

What took years of struggle and tribulation all came into focus on that Wednesday.

I have a passion for photography, particularly with a fixed lens. Being unable to zoom forces you to compose your shot carefully, to change your position or distance from the subject, to put forth more effort to translate the image you see in your head into something that can be shared with others. I’ve visualized myself as a doctor since I was eight years old. I read Gifted Hands in the second grade and was in awe of Ben Carson. I still am. In inner city Baltimore, medicine is not an aspiration that many children have or see to fruition. I thought that I would become a doctor until I was sixteen and began thinking about college applications. My mother, a nursing tech at various hospitals in Baltimore, raised my younger brother and me on her own. My father, a registered nurse, routinely avoided child support until he passed away in December 2002.

Realizing that college was not an option, I was forced to refocus, adjust my position, and change the composition of my future: I joined the United States Army in July 2002.

My time in the military pulled me out of myself. I was a small, quiet, reserved girl who rarely voiced her feelings or opinions. Throughout my Army career, I led hundreds of soldiers. I mentored and developed a soldier to represent the National Capital Region in the Army Best Warrior Competition in 2012. I added an Army-wide capability to provide metrics on cutting edge technology. I deployed, sweating for months on end while providing 24-hour aerial coverage to troops on the ground via top secret drones. I was a voice and representative for victims of sexual assault and harassment, training hundreds of Soldiers on military policies. I learned about myself: how to lead, and more significantly, how to follow; how to pick myself up and start over after the death of a soldier; how to motivate and inspire others to accomplish missions they thought were impossible. In ten years I grew from a meek girl to a respected leader and mentor – yet my picture was not complete.

The desire to heal, my dream to be a doctor, was still in my head. I needed to make it real.

So I decided to separate from the Army: it was an extremely difficult but necessary decision. I turned down my promotion and promising career to make my idea come to life.

While I’ve always wanted to practice medicine, I never thought about what I could really do for people until I began shadowing at DDEAMC. I had always loved the mechanics of the human body – fetal development, compensatory responses to noxa, the intricate and delicate balance that is gene regulation and expression – but I was completely divorced from the human aspect. Being a doctor became something more than simply solving medical mysteries and diagnosing biomechanical problems once I was able to see the patients. The symptoms are no longer faceless puzzles, but names, personalities, and families.

In the coupling of science, empathy, mystery, and passion, I have found the subject for my image: people in need.

I learned on that Wednesday that there is no medicine without a patient, and a patient is much more than words on a chart. As a doctor, I will combine my academic enthusiasm for human machinery with an empathetic bond with others. In so doing, I will make connections with my patients that not only help me to treat them more completely but will also reinvigorate the doctor-patient relationship.

In fixed lens photography, you cannot create the best shot without recomposing, refocusing, and sometimes relocating. In order to give myself the best chance at creating the image that I have in my head, I did all of these things with my life. I realized the reality of my life in Baltimore and put myself in a position to make my dream come true through military service.

The Army served to frame out parts of myself that did not fit the mold of a leader and mentor while keeping values and attributes within me that drove me to excel.

Finally, when my dream overshadowed my potential success, I refocused and enrolled in college. I would love to put all of this together and become a doctor worthy of mentoring and developing future doctors – a position in a teaching hospital would be an ideal picture for me.  I am now ready to share my image with the world. The vision of myself as a doctor is the perfect shot.