April 2018

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Sapling
By Christopher Conlon, M3

Some days are easy

Ground is soft

Sun radiates warmth

Cool breeze sweeps over

 

Some days are hard

Snow piles up

Grey clouds reign

Wind whips ice crystals

 

Pliability is key

More bend, less break

 

On every tough day

Tomorrow is a new day

I will bounce back


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Differences and Advocacy
By Shalin Shah, M1

A few weeks ago I was cruising up I-45 on my way home to North Texas suburbia when my car’s transmission suddenly blew out. I swerved to the shoulder, pulled my brakes, and contacted AAA. A blur of flashing cars zoomed past me as I waited on the side of the highway, alone and stranded. Forty-five minutes later, a portly white man named Ricky with a grizzled beard arrived to tow my car home and give me a lift for the remaining forty miles of my journey. 

After I hopped into the truck and thanked Ricky for picking me up, we introduced ourselves to each other and began making conversation.

At first it started like most conversations with strangers—“Yeah, it’s like ‘Sha’ as in ‘Shaman’ and then ‘lean,’ Sha-lin.”

“India?”

“Yeah—my parents are from there.” 

But after a few sentences of small talk—Ricky started using vulgar language to make derogatory accusations about another race. 

I was caught off guard. My spine stiffened into the worn, musty leather of the truck’s passenger seat. My mind raced—“Wait, did he actually just say that? I just met this dude and I’m trapped in this truck with him for the next hour. Do I say something? I should. But he’s giving me a ride. I can’t just sit here and tell him what he said isn’t cool—can I?”

I’m not sure if I made the right decision, but I decided to keep my mouth shut and pivoted to another topic of conversation. 

I realized the ensuing ride home would be the most one-on-one time I’ve spent with someone who comes from an entirely different background than I do. Though we were both Americans speaking English, Ricky and I were cut from different cloth—culturally, socially, politically, educationally, generationally—you name it. We were out of each other’s respective bubbles. 

Desperately wanting to avoid an uncomfortable hour-long ride home, I figured the best way to build a bridge and find some semblance of common ground was to rely on a simple, yet infallible, communication strategy—be interested, ask questions, listen. 

For the next hour, Ricky ended up telling me about all of his problems—his frustration with being underappreciated in the economy, his work forcing him to live off of fast food, his nephew leeching money from him, having to work twelve-hour shifts six days per week to earn $650 weekly without health insurance benefits while supporting a family of four. Though we perceived the world differently, the more I talked to Ricky, the more I saw his humanity and discovered things we had in common. From a mutual admiration for the Red Hot Chili Peppers to shared values on the importance of humor in relationships, Ricky and I found we still had plenty to bond over in spite of the different social bubbles we lived in. Although he initially made a poor, seemingly irrevocable, impression that was likely formed by my own preconceived notions and solidified by confirmation bias, Ricky was starting to grow on me. While I didn’t respect some of his intolerant viewpoints, I started to empathize with parts of his story and shared his frustrations about his working conditions and compensation. 

How can someone who lives and works in a truck for six days a week, making roughly $30,000/year, be the sole income source for a family of four and effectively take care of his health? When you’re forced to live on the road and constantly be on the go, how feasible is it to eat healthy, exercise, and see a doctor for preventive care? 

I questioned myself—if I crossed paths with a stranger like Ricky at the gym, in a waiting line, or in any situation where I controlled whether or not to continue an interaction after a brief negative encounter, would I actually give him the time of day and build conversation? Doubtful.

But how likely is it that a future patient will be like Ricky and say something abrasive or hurtful that gets under my skin and doesn’t reflect my own views? It’s almost a certainty. 

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Though I know it will be trying at times, one of the reasons why I am excited to go into medicine is that doctors have an opportunity to regularly interact with people as diverse as the greater community served. Illness’s debilitating hand touches all—regardless of age, sex, gender, sexual orientation, culture, socioeconomic status, political affiliation, or religious belief. 

Because doctors have the privilege of listening to voices and stories that represent the full gamut of their communities, they also have the opportunity to advocate for policies that can serve as a collective boon to greater public health and to advocate against zero-sum policies that target marginalized populations and contribute to widening health disparities.  For example, when local governments enact public transportation routes that avoid certain neighborhoods, how much harder is it for residents of those communities to manage their health and access a clinic, a pharmacy, or even a grocery store? And how likely is it that someone like Ricky, who works 72 hours per week, would have the means to voice opposition if a similar detrimental policy were proposed in his own community? 

Because it is a physician’s job to protect the health of their patients, it is important to be active and understand the larger structural forces in a community that impact individual health. Physicians can speak up on behalf of marginalized patients to protect them against public policies that trickle down to subsequently harm their health. This includes those patients with whom you may share little in common or even those who may say things that fundamentally oppose your own views. Because time and time again, these people will be vulnerably coming to us seeking help, just as I vulnerably waited on the side of that highway—waiting for Ricky to take me home. 

 

The name and identifying details in this piece have been changed to protect the privacy of the individual portrayed.


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Simple Pleasures
By Iqra Qureshi, M2

Simple pleasures are meant to be enjoyed.

They add color to your life.

But don’t hide the problems you can’t decide

what to do with behind them.

 

You’ll smile for a camera,

but there’s no smile in your eyes.

When asked, you’ll tell me that everything’s fine.

You’ll distract us with small talk:

anything to block

the misery your unresolved problems cause.

I think no less of you today or after it all.

Our friendship cushions our falls:

keeps us grounded, keeps us both standing tall.

 

Let me in then; take my hand,

and together, we’ll wander the corners of your mind.

Who knows what we’ll find?

Take your time;

it’s your story, not mine.

Let’s leave no detail behind

except the ones you’re not ready yet to make sense of.

 

Let’s clean up this mess one step at a time.

Now and always, I’ll keep your vulnerable heart safe from prying eyes.

One pull after another, let’s both untie

these knots that have kept you so stuck.


Feeling Inferior
By Tracey Okwara, M3

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I will admit, when I read about impostor syndrome, it was like a lightbulb lit up. It’s not in the DSM-V, but it described what I have been feeling for years: feeling like the accomplishments I had achieved were only subpar, that I was just waiting to be discovered as a fraud for getting this far in the first place. How did such a prestigious college accept me? What was so appealing about me? I had low self-esteem even before high school, even though I did my best not to show it. As the self-deprecating person I am, even though I tried to convince myself that I was as smart as people said I was, constantly comparing myself to others was a difficult habit to quit.

When I was in the eighth grade, my Pre-AP Algebra teacher had a collection of DVDs for when we had a free period, and somehow, I managed to convince her to let me borrow The Princess Diaries movie on DVD. In this movie, there’s a scene where Mia, played by Anne Hathaway, is told: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” This really struck a chord with me. To this day, if there’s anything I know about Eleanor Roosevelt, it’s that quote. I thought about her words for a while, and I didn’t understand why it resonated with me; it wasn’t as if people were making me feel that way. Then it hit me: The person responsible was staring back at me in the mirror. It was me. I made myself feel this way, because deep down I wanted to do better but felt incapable of doing so.

I somehow survived high school by being a wallflower and made it through to college. All of a sudden, I found myself in a new state with people I didn’t know. Every feeling of inadequacy came flooding back through the metaphorical gates, and I finished my first semester with an abysmally low GPA. Now if you are Nigerian or can relate, you know what that means: disappointment. Not just from my father but in myself.

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At my first medical school interview, I was asked a question that caught me off-guard. I was asked to talk about a time when I was told I couldn’t do something. It took me a while to think about it because once I started my second year of college, I was pretty optimistic about my future. I believed that one way or another, my grades would not deter me from getting into medical school. Then I remembered that I lived my life in a bubble my first year and decided to expand that bubble to the Pre-Health Center to discuss what I needed to do to get into medical school. I talked to the counselor, and he looked over my transcript. Then I heard those dreaded words: “Have you thought about other options?” He continued to suggest that it would be difficult to get into medical school and that I should consider other fields in health. Ouch. Well, that wasn’t what I was hoping to hear. Initially, I was disappointed and upset. Who wouldn’t be? I understand it’s good to be realistic, but I felt like I had made progress. I worked day and night to bring up my grades. I was about to start working in a lab; how did I end up here? So, I took his advice with a grain of salt and here I am, nearing my last year of medical school.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have impostor syndrome. It didn’t just magically disappear. I am, however, still optimistic. I’m hopeful that wherever I am headed, it is meant to be. I didn’t think I’d get accepted into the college that I did, but I was. I was worried that I wouldn’t even get into medical school, but I did. I didn’t think I would make it past Step 1, but I did, even though I ended up with burnout and GERD because of it. However, I’m still optimistic. I’m eternally grateful that I’ve been able to make it this far, and it goes without saying that a lot of support and prayer helped along the way.

The only advice I have for anyone who has remotely related to anything I’ve said thus far is that as you go through medical school and life, don’t let other people’s successes blind you from your own. I used to do that a lot. Just remember that you are not inadequate. You are capable of doing amazing things. There’s a quote from Dr. Seuss that I’ve had in my email signature since college: “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You're on your own, and you know what you know. And you are the guy who'll decide where to go." Never forget that.


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What Comes in Must Go Out
By Daniel Lee, Ryan Surujdin, and Peter Vu, M1s

Knife goes in

Guts come out

That's what surgery is all about

 

Beams go in

Pictures come out

That's what radiology is all about

 

Speculum goes in

Something comes out

That's what gynecology is all about

 

Patients go in

They don't come out

That's what pathology is all about

 

Students go in

Doctors come out

That's what A&M is about


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A special thanks to... 
Dr. Karen Wakefield for being our faculty editor,
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