Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Thank You for the Money

Dear Members of the S----- Family,

It is with deep gratitude and appreciation that I introduce myself, a second year Yale medical student and one beneficiary of your Dr. S----- Endowed Fellowship Fund.

I have always felt that I had medicine in my blood. My mother’s mother Gertrude was a nurse, caring for sick children right up until she died of late-diagnosed breast cancer at a very early age. Although my mother was just four when Gertrude died, she inherited all of her mother’s compassion, strength, and endurance, qualities that would serve her both in her self-chosen profession as a nurse and in her family as a single mother. From the day I was born, my mother shared with me her wonder of the human body, her compassion for the human condition, and her curiosity and fascination with the world at large. For most of my childhood, my mother was the Director of Nursing at a nursing home in my hometown of Lakewood, NJ. It was there, where I spent many an afterschool afternoon playing Big Band hits of the 1920s on the rec room piano, that I had my first medical encounters. Indeed, seeing my mother at work inspired me to be a healer and care for patients like she did. But as much as I wanted to care, I felt a passionate desire to cure. By the time I was seven, I knew that I wanted to go into medicine. Your generosity has helped make it possible for me to live out this lifelong dream of becoming a physician.
Dr. Chase, our Dean of Education, tells every incoming class two important things on their first day of Yale Med. First, he says that although it’s true that over the next two years we will be expected to acquire 10,000 new vocabulary words and 500,000 new facts, the crux of learning medicine actually lies in mastering stories—from the story of how DNA is replicated to the story of how a patient became an alcoholic. Then, he hits new students with a second profundity—that “50% of what we teach you over the next two years will be proven wrong in 20 years,” followed by the real kicker: “the problem is, we don’t know which 50% is which!” These two concepts have, I realize now, been the major lenses through which I have experienced my medical learning and shaped my own visions for a future career.

Like Dean Chase, I see how easy it is to get caught up in the details of medical minutia and miss the forest, or patient, for the molecular trees. As a history of medicine major in college, I went beyond the atoms, cells, and individual organisms of my premed basic science classes to explore how our current medical system is just part of the social, economic, and political web of this historical moment in America, which is then part of a global network of cultural beliefs about illness and healing, all of which are part of an intellectual lineage that spans all of human history. At Yale Med, I have continued to be interested in the history of medicine, participating in the student-run Nathan Smith Club; and although I haven’t made any final decisions, I see myself most likely going into a primary care field like family medicine or pediatrics that will enable a whole-person approach to patient care and treatment. This year, I am one of the coordinators of the Family Medicine Interest Group, and I also helped to put together a primary panel in October to give students the opportunity to learn about the different options in primary care from top Yale clinicians.

As for that 50% that will be proven wrong, the bulk of my extracurricular time in medical school has been devoted to promoting education and awareness of complementary and alternative medicine, both at Yale and in the national medical community. Last year, I helped to establish the newly created Yale Integrative Medicine Student Association by bringing in speakers like Dr. Shu-Ming Wang, a Yale pediatric anesthesiologist who researches and practices acupuncture for post-operative anxiety and nausea. We also held the first annual Science of Stress Day, which included a lunchtime wellness fair with massage, yoga, and other free demonstrations, followed by an evening panel of physician experts discussing their research on the pathophysiology of chronic stress and the physiology of stress-relievers like meditation and self-hypnosis. This year, our group has begun a biweekly student-run journal club with members from the medical, nursing, and public health schools. Other fall semester events we have planned include (1) the first Yale Circle of Healers retreat, a daylong event for medical students to learn skills and strategies for promoting health and wellness in themselves and ultimately their patients, and (2) a campus-wide screening of “Supersize Me” and the formation of a student-faculty action group to address the need for medical students to be better educated in the impact of nutrition on health and disease. I am also acting as the national student coordinator for the EDCAM project, a NIH-funded grant to the American Medical Students Association for the creation of pilot programs in Complementary and Alternative Medicine education at medical schools.

Finally, in order to get away from all of the cerebral exercises of medical education, I enjoy singing with the Ultrasounds a cappella group, running in East Rock park, visiting my family, and hanging out with my classmates (an extraordinary bunch!) when I’m not in class or studying. I hope this gives you a glimpse into my life, the amazing opportunities I have been able to enjoy by being at Yale Med, and thus the impact that your contribution has made in my life. Thanks so much!

Rachel Summer Claire Friedman


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