Reflecting periodically on why you chose medicine as a career may help you to reconnect with your passion and rekindle the joy of serving patients.
Like med students around the world, this spring I suddenly transitioned to online courses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the courses I signed up for was an online elective, “Exploring Professional Identity through Art.” I never expected how life-changing the class would be. I took this course at the time in my life where I felt, as a person and a med student, I had lost my sense of purpose in pursuing medicine. For the past two and half years in med school, I had felt constantly overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work and focused so much on passing my exams and trying to stay on top of my studies that I lost sight of the bigger picture. In this state of mind, I began “Exploring Professional Identity through Art.”
We started the course with a written assignment, “What does it mean to you to be a physician?” I reflected on my “why”— why had I decided to become a physician? This question led to another question—what did I want to accomplish as a doctor? I hadn’t dedicated any time to thinking about these questions since college, when I applied to medical schools. Reflecting on them now, as a rising fourth year med student, I started to remember my “why” and to rediscover my purpose.
Throughout this arts-based course we were asked three simple questions about works of art or poetry—”what’s going on in this picture?,” “what do you see that makes you say that?,” and “what more can you find?” It was amazing how someone else would point out something that I had completely missed in studying the same picture or poem. Similarly, in medicine, it’s important to recognize that a clinician doesn’t see the full picture when they first meet a patient. This exercise highlights the necessity of teamwork and collaboration to consider different perspectives on patient care.
During my internal medicine clerkship, Dr. Scott Wright emphasized to our care team the importance of observation. When we cared for a patient who had experienced an unprovoked seizure, we observed that his wife, who had witnessed the seizure, was traumatized by the event. This led us to focus on ways to support her by involving a social worker and giving her a phone number to directly reach our team. After the patient was discharged, we visited their home. While she was still shaken, she was very appreciative of the care they had received. In medicine we’re rightfully taught to focus on the patient but sometimes forget about their loved ones who can be profoundly impacted by their family member’s illness. With the questions, “what’s going on in this patient encounter?,” “what do you see that makes you say that?,” and “what more can you find?,” we can see things that may have otherwise been ignored and provide better care.
While I knew that the professional self and personal self are intertwined and inseparable, this really hit home for me when I realized during the course that the development of my professional identity was transforming my personal life. I learned so much about myself that my relationships with myself and my loved ones improved. I began finding myself again.
I became interested in medicine after losing my father to a car accident in Nigeria and experienced the challenges of finding a hospital for emergency care. I aspire to live in a world where situations like these are no longer a reality. The class helped me find my passion in healthcare again, which allows me to focus on moving forward on my path.
“… you will love again the stranger who was yourself.”
On the last day of the course, we reflected on the poem, “Love After Love,” by Derek Walcott. The line, “you will love again the stranger who was yourself,” perfectly captures this journey of self-discovery and self-love that the class enabled and empowered me to embark on. I’m still on this journey, but I feel like I have my life back again and have the power to shape it how I want. Taking this class helped me start on that journey and I will forever be grateful.
I’d like to acknowledge the course director and group facilitators, Drs. Meg Chisolm and Heather Kagan for their encouragement and support writing this piece, as well as Philip Yenawine, Kaitlin Stouffer and Margot Kelly-Hedrick, and fellow classmates Katie Fomchencko, Laura Pugh, Barry Byrant, Vignesh Sadras, Neel Koyawala, Harisa Spahic, Joon Boon, Barbara Dietrick and Eilrayna Gelyana. I’m grateful beyond words to each of you for making this experience so valuable and for creating a safe and supportive environment for personal and professional growth.