The “everyday” of being a medical student often was a blur of faces, charts, names, procedures, exams, patient history-taking and the nervous fumbling of remembering which way the stethoscope earpieces face. In the daily task of learning medicine, at times it was difficult to remember the ideals that inspired me to pursue medicine in the first place. However, sometimes fate has a way of reminding us what is important in life, and the reminder is not always subtle.
I knew I wanted to pursue a career in medicine during high school. Medicine had always appealed to me because it combined my love of biological sciences with the ability to truly serve people in need. During my senior year I attended an informational meeting at Drury for high school students who were considering a pre-med major. I chose to attend Drury because of its well respected pre-medical program and welcoming faculty. During my time at Drury I was fortunate to be surrounded by a multitude of professors and staff who always encouraged me and supported my pursuits both in my academic studies and community service. I became involved in the Summit Park Leadership Community and experienced firsthand the impact I could have not just helping one person, but benefitting a whole community. Our group project encouraged healthy food choices and emphasized the importance of physical exercise with school children in an underserved area.
During my third year in medical school while living in Joplin, Mo., I was reminded in a more profound way what it means to serve others. On May 22, 2011 at 5:30 pm Joplin was struck by an EF 5 tornado. At the time I was working at Freeman Hospital, one of two major hospitals serving the Joplin area. The tornado passed over my home. It’s difficult to recall all of the details but certainly I remember the fear I felt while taking shelter in my small bathtub as the house around me was severely damaged, with part of the roof gone and walls torn apart. One of the few things I can recall clearly is stumbling in the dark through what was left of my home while being pelted with hail and cold rain from the missing roof, which seemed to shock me back to reality. Unlike many in Joplin I emerged from the storm physically uninjured but with little more than the clothes on my back. At that moment I had never felt more helpless in my life. I was without a plan, a course of action, or shelter. Never before had I truly understood what it means to feel desperately in need. As I stood outside in the storm wondering where I might find safe shelter, the cry for help from an elderly neighbor trapped in her home made me realize that my medical training had given me the ability and skills to do something more.
Flagging down a passing car, I accompanied my neighbor to the Freeman Hospital Emergency Department. I quickly made sure my neighbor had a place to stay in the lobby. I donned a pair of scrubs given to me by a triage nurse who recognized me from working in the Emergency Room. For the next 12 hours I worked alongside the skeleton Sunday evening hospital crew consisting of a few residents and attending an auxiliary staff. Under partial power and emergency lighting I sutured lacerations, applied pressure to bleeding wounds, assisted attending physicians with running codes, and triaged patients. Sometimes all we could do was to provide comfort as supplies ran out. There were too many images of suffering that night to describe and none I will forget. I was strongly affected and forever changed by caring for those frightened and wounded people. I realized that as a doctor I could become a healer for others and a source of comfort to those truly in need.
Because of that experience, I believe I now have deeper compassion for patients and a stronger desire to become the doctor I had dreamt of becoming before I started my path to medicine. I hope to continue this passion as I take my next step in my medical career. I recently graduated from Cox Family Medicine Residency and my practice is based at Cox North Hospital, which is just a stone’s throw from where I began my medical career at Drury University. I chose family medicine because of its broad knowledge and skillset that allow me to practice medicine almost anywhere and treat patients from pregnant mothers, to children, to the elderly, both inside and outside the hospital.