Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Living out our personal statements

"Money, Family Medicine and You." That was the name of a talk for medical students I attended last month at the Massachusetts Academy of Family Physicians Annual Meeting. During the talk, the speaker challenged us to examine whether the vision for medicine that we had written in our personal statements for ourselves and for medical school admission panels still rang true now.

For someone like me who is a 4th year medical student at the twilight of my lengthy medical school education, my personal statement for medical school admission was something I hadn't thought about for a long time. I went home that night and spent some time searching for my personal statement and re-reading it. In it, I had written passionately about my dad's fight with cancer while I was in high school and my subsequent desire to accompany patients and families during their struggles.

I challenge all health professionals out reading this blog whether a current student, resident or physician:
  • What did you write about in your personal statement?
  • Are you still living true to the vision and the passion you wrote about then?
  • Why or why not?
Studies have shown that medical student empathy drops throughout medical school with a huge plummet in 3rd year. This sounds counter-intuitive when one first hears this - how does it make sense that when students actually start seeing patients every day they become less compassionate? However, given today's stressful medical education environment, it comes as no surprise. Students live from one exam to the next, are scutted out and pimped by residents and attendings, and work long hours in the hospital and clinics. In the midst of this chaos of 3rd year, students are expected to make decisions about specialty choice.

I watch the 3rd year medical students, one class below me, struggle with these decisions now. Some students have known from day 1 of medical school that they want to do pediatrics or neurosurgery, while others are still juggling a number of different specialty choices. When that decision is made, the next and equally (if not more) challenging decision looms: where to apply and what one is looking for in a residency program? My advice would be to take a step back, take a deep breath and look at the reasons why one entered medicine in the first place. Look at your personal statement. Who did you want to be then?

True, you may be making less as a family physician then you would as a cardiothoracic surgeon or an ophthalmologist, but your income will still be among the top 10th percentile of the general population. Even as a resident, you will be making more than the average American household individually! Are our motivations driven by financial incentives, peer pressure or prestige/pride? Or are our motives driven by true concern for those we serve and work with each and every day?

Our society needs compassionate and caring physicians who stay true to their own personal visions and dreams. Are you still living out the vision in your own personal statement?