Why medicine?

Friends, it’s been a rough week. The election really threw me off and I’m still in a stage of denial. Given the past week’s events, I want to take a moment to reflect on something unrelated to politics and something positive.

One of my favorite parts of Emory’s curriculum is what we call the “Patient Interview.” For every module we study, we have a patient interview during which an Emory physician brings in a patient who has a condition relevant to the unit we’re studying. The physician interviews their patient in front of the class, the patient describes what it’s like to live with their disease, and we are allowed to ask the patient questions. It’s a good reminder as to why I spend the large part of my day on my butt instead of outside exploring. This week, a patient came in to talk to us about living with a genetic condition called Fabry disease. It’s a condition that affects many systems. The patient said during the interview, “finding a doctor who was interested enough to find out what’s wrong with me was the most important thing.” And even if we don’t know what’s wrong, at least be willing to try different things.

This seems to be a recurrent theme. Early in the year, one of our professors disclosed that he has an autoimmune condition. When he was a graduate student at MIT, he became extremely sick and bedridden for 8 months. He visited so many doctors, but no one could figure out what was going on. He finally found a doctor who told him, “I believe you. I don’t think you’re making these things up. Let’s find out what’s going on.” And that doctor tried everything–all sorts of tests. Things that no one else invested the time or effort to do. And this doctor found out what was going on. As our professor told the story, he started crying. He told us that this one physician gave him his life back. It gave him the energy to get back to his PhD. While he was sick, his then girlfriend broke up with him. When he got better, he was able to start dating again. He met his wife. He now has two sons. He said through tears that the reason he has this beautiful family and life of teaching is because this one doctor cared enough to try everything to find out what was going on.

One of my fears is that as the years progress, I might lose my sense of curiosity and my passion. I fear becoming a jaded physician. You hear about doctors getting burnt out. A calling turns into a job. When do I get off my shift? When can I go home? These anecdotes are reminders of why it’s so important to care. They’re reminders of why we’re in this profession and reminders that as physicians, we have the ability to change lives. Already, as a medical student, we’re given the privilege to listen to patients’ personal stories and health issues. It is scary how much people trust the white coat. (Even the short ones.) So I guess I want to end this with some notes to future self. Future Kristie, keep your curiosity. Keep your enthusiasm. Keep your trustfulness. Keep your drive to find the answers and to take the extra steps to read about new research or rare diseases. If something doesn’t work, try and try again until you find something that does. Always care about alleviating pain and suffering and always provide the best care you can for your patients because it is an honor and a privilege.

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