Falling in Love With Medicine
by Kendall Wills, C'19
With sweaty palms, excitement, and a brain brimming with chemistry facts, I entered the automatic doors of the enormous Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. My arrival was not as seamless as planned as my sense of direction is sub-par at best, but I was eager to meet my mentor, Dr. Clark Files, in person. Standing in the hospital lobby, I knew that this was a once in a lifetime experience and that I had to soak up every moment. After I introduced myself, Dr. Files took me on a brief tour of the hospital. It was in this moment that I realized its vast, maze-like structure and that I would likely feel comfortable navigating my way only right before my internship came to a close. The majority of my first day consisted of meeting many new faces and waiting in the seemingly unending line of students to get my ID badge. It concluded with an exciting discussion regarding my role as an intern and with the forecast of interesting procedures, research, and clinic visits, I was prepared to take on the experience.
I eagerly reported for rounds in the Oncology Critical Care Unit to discuss the prognosis of the admitted patients. The unit was newly built and equipped with top-of-the line technology needed to care for the sickest of the sick. My first patient encounter was unforgettable: an older man ridden with cancer looked at me with fire in his eyes as he laid helplessly in the hospital bed. I could tell that he was a strong, healthy man at one time in his life, and it was in that moment that I realized the importance of patient dignity. A situation such as this is an incredibly delicate one, as the patient fully relies on the medical professional to heal and provide them with comfort. As a curious student passionate about the beautiful connection of science and medicine, it is easy to get lost in the “case” and neglect the importance of empathy and compassion required to provide proper care. The patient not only relies on the physician for physical wellness, but emotional wellness, too. Often, patients come to the hospital with no support network, and it is the responsibility of the physician to make them feel comfortable and to give them the emotional strength to battle the malady.
Frequently, patients in the ICU experience memory loss and confusion in regard to the sequence of events that occurred throughout their stay. While it is unlikely for these memories to return, the patient is usually updated on their experiences from their physician, friends, or family. To aid in alleviating any emotional trauma, a physician and medical student collaborated to propose an ICU Patient Support Network that would allow survivors of the ICU to meet with each other to discuss their experiences in the hospital as well as events leading up to or after their stay. During the meeting, a young man openly discussed his battle with drug addiction prior to his hospitalization and his discombobulated memories of the ICU. It was incredibly humbling to listen to his story and witness the gratification that he had toward the medical professionals who cared for him. He claimed that he was eager to share this story openly and honestly with other ICU survivors as it could potentially help them understand that their hospitalization does not define them. This was a learning experience not only for him, but also for myself and the other physicians in the room.
During my internship, I was fortunate to explore the connection between basic science research and patient care. My research was focused on investigating the relationship between DNA methylation and Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome. The mechanism and cause of ARDS has been in question for years, yet is crucial to understand, as many patients in the ICU suffer from its debilitating symptoms. I have gained an immense appreciation for clinical related research, as it provides results relevant to the pool of patients under the physician’s care, and the ability to move from lab bench to bedside is useful in providing answers directly to the patient and the patient’s family. I also greatly enjoyed utilizing my knowledge of chemistry to aid in understanding my research and know that these newfound skills will be incredibly useful to me in the future.
These experiences have provided me with such a sense of purpose and direction regarding my future. I can confidentially claim that I will strive for a future in medicine as a physician, and have been humbled by the intelligence, drive, and passion of the medical students and professionals that I have had the privilege to meet. I have fallen in love with medicine even more than I could have possibly imagined by being brave enough to ask questions, take on new experiences, and explore the field. I could not be more grateful for this incredible opportunity and am eager to continue pursuing my dream.