Monday, January 15, 2007

Why I chose Medicine, Or Why Medicine Chose Me

Medical School Personal Statement

Tolle, lege; tolle, lege” (Latin: pick it up, read). These simple words from a mysterious source prompted St. Augustine’s conversion from a directionless youth to a man of singular purpose. They resound throughout the history of the West, and they have not been lost on me. I could swear I heard those same words as I sat in the garden of the restored thirteenth-century Austrian monastery where I was studying during the spring of 2003. The book before me was not St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans but instead a simple medical-school catalog. In a paroxysm of enthusiasm, I studied its contents and there found the answers to my questions.

During that spring I was grappling with what I should do with my life, a not uncommon phenomenon among undergraduates. Since the age of fifteen, I knew that I wanted to be a doctor (Latin: “doctus,” learned) of some sort. I intended to study for a Ph.D. in philosophy or theology and then teach and do scholarly work. It had never occurred to me that I might instead become a “medicus” (Latin: physician). Yet when the possibility dawned on me, I knew I had found my path.

Obtaining a Ph.D. always made sense to me because it would allow me to indulge in the activities I love: teaching, researching, and writing. However, I began to wonder whether it might be true that the healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. If this were so, then it seemed that the world may need medical doctors to care for the sick more than doctors of philosophy to teach undergraduates. While the latter task is certainly important, I realized that caring for the indigent and suffering was both more fulfilling personally and the vocation to which I am called.

Inspired by this insight and hoping to view the medical profession objectively, while also connecting as closely as possible to patients, I enrolled in classes to become a pastoral-care volunteer. In this role, I have been able to converse deeply and personally with patients regarding their fears, pains, and frustrations. I have witnessed firsthand doctors’ and nurses’ care for patients and the individual patient’s response to that care. This experience—and certainly the stern exhortations of a few patients—has taught me that a physician needs to be more than a scientist; he or she must also, and primarily, be a human being. The doctor must consider not only how a disease presents itself in a subject but also how the subject experiences a disease, with all its life-shattering consequences. I intend to be a physician who listens to, touches, and sees primarily a suffering human being and only then diagnoses and treats the underlying cause of the distress. My pastoral-care experience has taught me how to listen to patients, an invaluable lesson in “bedside manner” for a physician hopeful. However, more than that, it has taught me how to deal with illness “humanely,” an ability I will take with me into medical school where I will learn to grapple with illness “scientifically.” Volunteering has served to affirm my decision to become a doctor. Put more boldly, my volunteer work has ignited in me an insatiable desire to provide medical care to patients like those I have met in my pastoral-care duties.

My resolve has been further strengthened by my work as a Chester Scholar at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio. This competitive internship collates the clinical and research aspects of medicine. As a Chester Scholar, I have had the opportunity to witness numerous surgeries. I have shadowed physicians in every specialty from anesthesiology to neonatology to psychiatry. In research, I have studied human fetal membranes in an NIH funded lab, working one-on-one with my preceptors John Moore and Deepak Kumar. During these months, I obtained a panoramic view of life in a teaching hospital, an unparalleled opportunity, I am told, even for most medical students and attending physicians. Here I have found even more reasons to pursue medicine, the most important of which is that I truly enjoy even the quotidian activities of physicians. In my eyes, even the mundane is not mundane for a doctor.
When I ask myself why I want to be a physician, a bewildering number of answers comes to mind. Among them are the challenging education it requires, its awesome responsibility, the exciting prospect of lifelong learning, the satisfaction of helping others, the trust and honor with which a physician is regarded by his patients and the community, and even perhaps the purgatorial test affectionately known as the “application process.” Certainly, aside from the last, these are most people’s reasons for becoming a doctor: they are tried and true. These reasons are undoubtedly my own, but in no way do they have the character of banality. Rather, these reasons impassion and animate me every day to fulfill my goal of becoming a caring and learned physician. In fine, while St. Augustine is universally venerated as a Doctor of the Church, I deeply hope that I will be remembered as a doctor of medicine, but only after I am first remembered as an exceptional and magnanimous human being.


  1. The first step to writing an essay is to decide on a theme. You can talk about the qualities you have that could make you a successful medical professional in the future.

  2. The first step to writing an essay is to decide on a theme. You can talk about the qualities you have that could make you a successful medical professional in the future. surgery personal statement