My father died when I was seven years old. I was told that the cause of death was pneumonia and that was the end of the story or so I thought. It was not until years later after my first semester in college that I discovered a key element to his story. Pneumonia was only secondary to his primary cause of death, AIDS. This single but most important detail cascaded a number of questions. How did my father contract HIV? Why was my mother involved with him? How was it that I am here and healthy?
Uncertain on how to proceed from this, I spent most of my undergraduate career participating in a multitude of student organizations, volunteering in community projects, and even studying abroad in hopes to find rhyme or reason to my familial circumstance. Though personal inquiries of my father were still left unanswered, I found a temporary but resonating resolve through these acts of service. Whether it was building homes in Tijuana or producing a fashion show to fund student scholarships, I relished opportunities to extend my energy and ideas with others towards a larger, more productive goal. Utilizing my talents to create something tangible, while also formulating this interconnectedness with people developed this zeal within. By my senior year, I received the prestigious Senior Oceanids Award for my involvement in community service.
Motivated by this means of charity, I decided to work at Pomerado Hospital in order to make use of my skills in a new medium that is patient care.Working with patients learning to walk again after surgery; teaching a patient how to hold a spoon after a stroke - these simple tasks illustrated for me the subtle but relentless ways our bodies work towards healing itself every day. I saw firsthand the power that comes from a mobile body. Mobility produces functionality; functionality begets autonomy and without this, quality of life is greatly compromised. I realized thereafter that I wanted a life devoted towards enhancing the condition and quality of one’s life was in the role of a physician.
Moving to Boston, working at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, volunteering at Massachusetts General Hospital and ultimately, enrolling in the MA in Medical Sciences program at BUSM; all were substantial to my professional and personal growth. However, none was more meaningful or impressionable to me than my time at AIDS Action Committee as a hotlines counselor. People called with general questions of HIV/STD transmission, while others spoke of scenarios of some possible exposure to a sexually transmitted infection. More often than not, calls were less concerned with physical ailments and more so for support as a caller waits for her test results or another discovers he is HIV infected. I became accustomed to consoling others through my words and realized that despite the information I could provide, it was my approach on how I spoke to them that made our conversations most productive. I had to assess what their main concern was, understand the expectations of that caller, and then fulfill those needs exclusively through dialogue. I would imagine each caller as a patient; probing for some solution to a certain, health-compromising predicament, and my voice was the only means of treatment. In the past, my ideas and my hands created the environment conducive towards helping others. This time, however, it was my aptitude to audibly observe the needs of another that produced a positive outcome. What was difficult about these anonymous callers was that for that brief moment I was on the phone with them, I would imagine that I was speaking to my father. This was the closest I have worked directly with the community my father was a part of, and with each case I would catch myself saying the words I wish I could have said to him. Saying the words like, your diagnosis does not make you who you are. Viruses are not bias upon your sexual preference. You are not alone, and you are surrounded by those that love you and care for your health.
Looking back on college, I questioned the reasons why my father died the way that he did. I realized now that my attempts to rationalize his death does not, unfortunately, change the outcome. It was in his lack of presence that I discovered my purpose in service, in the medium of patient care, and now in hopes, in the role of a physician. My father is my constant reminder of how valuable a life is, and how unfortunate it is when that life is compromised or shortened in such inopportune ways. My uncle, a physician for decades, told me that the eyes and ears of a clinician were the tools that direct accurate diagnoses and ultimately, better treatment of care. Understanding these details of the human body is imperative to become a doctor but the ability to mobilize this information in an advantageous way for the patient, using those skills of keen observation and effective communication, are as equally important if not more to become an influential caretaker. I want to use my talents to prolong, enhance, or at minimum withhold pain from a life through my words and actions. I am conscientious in cultivating these skills -- seeing, hearing, speaking truth -- and practice their mastery every day, so that I may be the physician I know I can become.
N.b. A draft to my personal statement. Copy this, and I will kill you. Love, elle