Editor’s Note: Medical school applications are up 18% compared to last year, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. The spike is due at least in part to the many roles physicians have played during the pandemic. As noted by National Public Radio, admissions officers have started calling this the Fauci Effect because National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci, M.D., and other physicians have inspired young people to pursue careers in medicine. Accordingly, we asked our new physician bloggers who inspired them to become doctors. Here is what they shared.
I remember waking up early on Saturday mornings when I was 12 to go see patients with my dad. He volunteered once a month at a health clinic in downtown Baltimore that served the city’s Spanish-speaking population. He would bring his own equipment — a slit lamp and a large machine called an autorefractor — to the health center. There was always a line of people waiting when we arrived.
I’d sometimes help with interpreting, but often my father would assign me to run the autorefractor, which would give an assessment of the patient’s visual acuity. The patients were mostly from Central America, few spoke English and most were undocumented. After completing their diagnoses and treatments, my dad would offer deeply discounted surgery on a later date to those who needed it.
The selflessness my father displayed earned him the Distinguished Citizen Award for Community Service from Maryland’s governor. In addition to my father’s volunteering, his practice was one of the few in the area that accepted all forms of Medicaid and cared for uninsured people, despite the potential financial loss. He sometimes came home with a piece of artwork or a food item from patients who couldn’t pay for their care and instead offered a gift of their talents. He recognized the dignity of each patient and the fact that they all deserved equal care, regardless of their ability to pay.
Volunteering seemed like a chore to me at the time. Little did I know that my father was planting the seeds of serving the Spanish-speaking community in my mind and heart. He never pressured me to go into medicine, but what I witnessed through his example was that one person can truly make a difference in the world. It’s precisely this type of disposition to sacrifice and service that has inspired so many aspiring doctors to apply for medical school in 2020. I am fortunate that my father has exemplified this in his 40 years as a physician because it was his example that inspired me to venture into this great profession. I can only hope that I can be that same type of light for others.
Luis Garcia, M.D., York, Pa.
As a clinical assistant professor at the Boston University School of Medicine, I am looking forward to the class of 2024 starting next year. As noted in the NPR story mentioned above, our applications are up 27% (12,024 applicants for about 110 seats). Associate dean of admissions Kristen Goodell, M.D., said applicants are seeing the medical community through the lens of the pandemic and thinking, “This is a way for me to make a difference.”
Indeed, that same desire is what brought me to medicine. After completing medical school, my father emigrated from Egypt, where he had seen first-hand the programming of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine’s Global Health Program, led by Albert Kuperman, Ph.D., and the ongoing work AECOM was doing internationally.
I was fortunate during my medical school application season to have an interview with Kuperman that was fascinating, engaging and formative. His story and vision, taken in the context of how my father experienced AECOM’s international work, is one of my first memories of finding medicine to be an ideal path to create lasting improvement in peoples’ lives.
By the time I applied to medical school, I had a Master of Science degree in public health. Almost all the medical schools I applied to had global health departments. While I was at Harvard for my master’s, I was fortunate to learn from and work with Paul Farmer, M.D., Ph.D.; Joia Mukherjee, M.D., M.P.H.; and Jennifer Leaning, M.D., S.M.H. They framed how I wanted to practice medicine — social justice at the center, public health as a system and patient-centered compassionate care. I continue to go to them with questions about my practice and career path.
As an educator, I include issues of social justice and equity in my teaching. I speak French, Spanish, English and some Arabic, and use them all in my interactions with patients. I continue to work on global health projects with Partners in Health in Chiapas, Mexico, and Move Up Global in Rwanda.
For applicants who are embarking on this journey to create positive change using evidence-based medicine and patient-centered care — we are waiting for you impatiently! There are projects, patients and systems waiting for your imprint, and attendings are excited to work with you.
MaryAnn Dakkak, M.D., M.S.P.H., Boston
I was fortunate to shadow two physicians while I was in high school in Houston. Both were specialists employed in large, private, hospital-based health care networks. The interventional cardiologist had gone to my dream medical school, Baylor College of Medicine, and sent his children to the Kinkaid School, Houston’s premier prep school. The neurosurgeon had just purchased a Porsche, his second, as a birthday gift to himself.
Out of either clairvoyance or a naïve attempt to be unique, I wrote in my college personal statement that these niceties were inconsequential to me.
Although I’m grateful for those early exposures to health care, it was the volunteerism, service and sacrifice made by other doctors that inspired me during several international humanitarian trips I made during college.
As a child, I told my grandparents and aunts in rural India that I wanted to return as a grown-up and help people there. Two decades later, pandemic notwithstanding, convenience and comfort define almost everything I eat, wear and do.
Living abroad doesn’t appeal to me anymore. In residency, I realized the opportunities to serve right here in my hometown are endless. Our county health system almost exclusively sees uninsured patients, who are frequently undocumented, lack stable housing and employment, or otherwise have limited health care choices. Every day, I receive countless thank yous from patients while working alongside nurses who go beyond their job descriptions without lofty incentives.
Even with a hand-me-down Honda from my parents and a public-school education likely for my future kids, I feel just as privileged as those first physicians I met. I am physically, financially and emotionally safe in my role as an academic primary care physician. And patients, students and residents appear to tolerate my musings, to boot.
Arindam Sarkar, M.D., Houston
On a good day, Wayne could wheel himself to the elevator for our patio chats about home decor while he enjoyed a smoke. On a bad day, blood would pour from his gums, preventing him from eating. To me, he was a friend while I was an undergraduate volunteer. To others, he was a hospice patient with AIDS. Wayne could hear any song, pick up an instrument and play the tune. He was a skilled writer and well-versed in ancient religions and science, among other things. Wayne also weighed in at 80 pounds, had a chronic cough and skin lesions. We spent our time together chatting, playing chess and watching movies. We planned for the future, wrote songs for the present and rarely spoke about his disease.
Wayne and I once discussed where we would donate a million dollars. He chose the Red Cross because he couldn’t donate blood. Growing up in the ’90s, I was inundated with information about AIDS and the global pandemic. I heard all the facts, watched the documentaries. However, to sit with Wayne and hear about the challenges he faced as a patient with AIDS was heartbreaking. I was awed by the emotional and physical strength he had to make people around him laugh while he was suffering.
When I first met Wayne, I was frustrated that science could not cure his disease. However, health care — in the form of supportive physicians, nurses and friends — still helped him have a meaningful life and gave him dignified care. I told Wayne I wanted to be a physician to provide hope and comfort to people who really needed it, to help people in their lives by being a partner in their health. He said he knew I would be a great physician. I try to live up to his expectations.
Many physicians have inspired and supported my journey in medicine. But when I really think about why I wanted to be a doctor, Wayne comes to mind. He taught me good lessons I still use. Don’t give up hope. Love others, even if they don’t do the same. Truly listen. And lastly, an illness does not define a person. Even if it changes your life, it doesn’t change who you are.
Natasha Bhuyan, M.D., Phoenix
Doctor meant caretaker. When my mother had migraines, I would take care of her. I’m not sure what care I provided as a child because I was barely able to see into the fridge, but the effort was there, and she would call me Doctor.
I wanted to make people feel better when they were hurting. It is not surprising that I chose family medicine. But who inspired me? I can’t think of just one individual.
My father shares stories about my sister and me getting our checkups at home with a family friend who was an internist. We were fortunate that neither my sister nor I needed much medical care as kids. My idea of a doctor was one that was built at home each time my mother called me one when I brought her water or some other small item a child would use to try to take away owees.
I think we make the decision to become doctors over and over again. In doing so, we inspire each other. Each obstacle is a checkpoint asking us if we are certain of our path. Getting into a good college and being sure it would be paid for was the first challenge for me. (I would also list all college calculus, organic chemistry and physics courses as evil gatekeepers.)
Then there was the MCAT, both times.
Applying to medical school the first time, and the year-long decision to try again a second, successful time.
Every. Single. Day. Of. Residency.
Feeling the true weight of human life, death and health on your shoulders for the first time as an intern changes you forever.
And here, in the comfort of life as an attending, the COVID-19 pandemic reminds us all again of our honor and responsibility to try and make people feel better when they are hurting.
Natalie Hinchcliffe, D.O., New York
There were four key moments or memories that influenced my decision to be a family physician.
The first was the positive memory of my family doctor as a small child and how I loved going to the doctor. (But then again, I think I’m weird in that respect.)
The second memory was watching a football game in middle school. An unfortunate event occurred, and the ambulance crew had to jump into action. I remember being enamored with the idea of responding to an emergency situation and having the potential to save a life. I remember telling my mother I wanted to drive the ambulance. She looked at me and asked, why not become a doctor?
“You’ll be able to impact far more lives and prevent illness and injury as a physician rather than just treat it once it occurs,” she said.
The third event happened while I was training to be a lifeguard at age 15. I found myself more enamored with the first aid and CPR physiology section of the manual than the ability to swim and save a drowning swimmer.
Lastly, I met a family physician in a medical tent while competing in a triathlon. He asked me what type of medicine I wanted to pursue. As I began describing my ideal practice — a mix of all ages, preventive health, broad scope with procedures and health policy work — he said, “It kinda sounds like you should be a family doctor.”
The rest is history.
Alex Mroszczyk-McDonald, M.D., Fontana, Calif.