Reflections Of A Harvard Undergraduate Premedical Student

Sometimes it feels as if the path to becoming a practicing physician is a path of deferral. As a premedical student and sophomore in college, I have seen my peers engage in a variety of activities that are required for medical school but are not directly applicable to life as a physician. My colleagues have reviewed physics for the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test), studied the nuances of organic chemistry, and adopted leadership roles by managing large organizations and events.

As a premedical student myself, I am often tempted to think of life as a physician as the final attainment of a routine that matters. Finally, instead of focusing on how to fulfill particular requirements and prepare for a standardized examination, a physician can find treatments for patients and help make scientific breakthroughs. Instead of being attuned to the competitive nature of an application process, a physician is able to reflect on how to best relate to their patients with care and empathy and how to best work with other members of their health care team.

However, when I ask physicians for advice or insight, they often describe how the practice of medicine is not as ideal as premedical students might project it to be, and has its challenges just as the premedical experience has challenges. For instance, an emphasis on efficiency makes it difficult for physicians and other health care professionals to adequately spend time listening to their patients. The commercialization of the medical field can also make work difficult, and even disillusioning, for physicians.

Understanding these realities provides a new perspective for premedical students: an awareness that the practice of medicine is imperfect. Students should expect to be faced with imperfections, such as timing constraints and a frustrating inability to listen fully to patients, during their later years as a physician. Armed with this knowledge and perspective, premedical students know more about what they can expect, and perhaps even change, in the field of medicine.

They can also face the path to medical school with a fresh perspective. Because I have realized that the practice of medicine, like the premedical experience, contains elements that do not directly relate to becoming a better physician, I am less frustrated by the process. Instead, I am more focused on how to make my premedical experience translate into a learning experience that will help me become a more engaged physician.

More deeply, health care professionals' efforts to fill in the gaps of modern medical practice inspire me and resonate with my idealistic impulse to contribute to the medical field. I hope to be involved with medicine because I hope to help others restore their health, whether they are struggling physically, emotionally, or spiritually. Although a major component of doing this as a physician is of course providing medicine, I am also interested in less traditional ways that health care providers can facilitate emotional healing.

Health Story Collaborative is one such example. By providing a space for patients to share their stories with others, Health Story Collaborative creates a sense of community. Patients who are hesitant or unable to leave their homes to attend a support group can still participate. Moreover, some patients may prefer the opportunity for privacy while bringing up uncomfortable or distressing topics with others. Health Story Collaborative also provides more opportunity than a support group for less spontaneous conversation that can more accurately reflect the nuances of a patient's experience. Patients spend time discussing and crafting their narrative with a physician, and the final written or audio transcript can capture more of their experience than quickly delivered thoughts.

Efforts such as Health Story Collaborative provide patients with emotional comfort, and also broaden the practice of medicine. By facilitating such efforts, physicians can do more for their patients and feel less constrained by the medical field's commercialization and haste. They can more deeply understand the patient experience, and become more empathetic and better prepared to provide advice that is relevant to specific challenges that patients face. This inspires me as a premedical student and indicates that the practice of medicine is more meaningful and more involved than I could have expected.