Medicine Personal Statement
My interest in psychology and sociology started very early, so naturally I enrolled in several courses about these subjects; to say that the content was eye-opening is an understatement. I learned that every individual’s attitude and behavior is molded by nature or nurture (or both) and that these factors are often not controllable.
A joke passed around by my classmates was that once you take a psychology course, you forget how to be frustrated in social situations and instead begin to calculate the numerous complex factors that result in negative emotional outbursts. To be able to envision that everyone has a story that led them to a particular point comprises my idea of “having perspective.” Possession of this trait generates more rational and well-calculated opinions, thinking patterns, and actions.
Several of my colleagues practice emergency medicine in the same department as my father. They often express the frustrations of working with nurses who lack patience and empathy and applaud my dad for having those virtues. In high-stress environments such as the ER, one form of competence is through emotional regulation in response to any situation or patient.
The work experience, and more importantly the patient experience, is much smoother when the healthcare team is empathetic with the critically ill. Empathy and patience are fostered by having perspective, and this explains why admissions committees consider perspective to be an important attribute.
Speaking of my dad, he practiced Ayurvedic medical surgery in India, but his was a story of poverty once he moved to Canada. My parents had low-skill labor jobs in Edmonton, but the birth of my older brother made him realise that raising a family in such unforgiving circumstances was no way to live. Despite resistance from extended family members, he moved to Toronto where he simultaneously worked and attended Ryerson University to become a registered nurse. He eventually came back to Edmonton and after I was born we moved to Texas so he could work in the ER of Valley Baptist Hospital.
Very much in part to my dad’s mental fortitude, I had a childhood that would foster success. I was enrolled in a variety of extracurricular art and athletic activities and wasn’t forced to be academically inclined. However, the straight A’s, an invitation to the Gifted and Talented Program, and possessing a 16 year old’s reading comprehension at the age of 8 made it clear that academics was my talent. My parents then encouraged me to think about medicine as a career. My dad was a hero to me, and considering that he is a former surgeon and current nurse, the prospect of a medical career enticed me.
Overall, I’ve probably spent half my life dreaming about medicine. However, I became fascinated with exercise science in high school and thus chose to major in kinesiology with the intention of becoming a physiotherapist. Exercise and studying about it were alluring activities (to be honest though, I love studying just about anything), so physiotherapy seemed like a great career choice.
I eventually drifted back to medicine after my cousin became a sports physician (opening up the possibility of combining medicine with exercise) and also with the sudden onset of a life-altering neurological disorder. The disorder still doesn’t have a diagnosis (initially misdiagnosed as anxiety) but it is amazingly controlled by sympatholytic drugs. However, before we found an effective treatment method, it took a rather severe toll on my life and in the process taught me about suffering.
I now intimately remember growing up in Southern Texas during the tragedy of 9/11. As a child, I wore a turban and experienced harassment born out of pure ignorance and irrational fear. I also recalled my year living in Michigan where I attended a school populated by minorities and witnessed first-hand the effects of poverty, a situation not too dissimilar from my parents’ before I was born. For most of my life, I’ve been financially privileged and forgot about the more painful trials.
My experiences as a child, and my experience now living with a chronic condition are important parts of my character because they give me perspective. They remind me that humans are actually out there suffering, many to the point of physically and mentally breaking. It’s one thing to learn psychology in a purely theoretical context, but it’s another to live it, to personally understand what molds human behavior, and this perspective provides for me a powerful sense of empathy.
It’s likely that a physician will live a privileged life much like I have lived. That’s perfectly okay, but it’s unacceptable to forget the perspective of a patient who is suffering. Judging one’s suffering is also a fallacy as it is a personal sensation with very few quantitative identifiers.
Corroborating with this, health is defined by the WHO as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Physicians are the face of healthcare and as one I will be given the power and responsibility of managing all forms of suffering. I would want nothing less, as my own suffering gives me the perspective needed to be driven and competent in such a remarkable position.