Why did you apply to medical school? While I’m 100% certain that not everyone did it for humanistic reasons, my experience with my fellow classmates suggests that the majority of people did. Most people enter into medicine with lofty ideals about wanting to help people, giving back to the world, doing their part, caring for others at their time of greatest need, etc. And that is the way it should be! Considering medicine is about treating PEOPLE, it would make sense that you would want to recruit future doctors who are humanistic. Except that saying it out loud or on paper sounds trite – in fact so much so that I was advised repeatedly NOT to write about humanism in my application to medical school. Looking back I regret NOT writing about humanism.
I think what it boils down to is being real. How can you be “passionate” about medicine before you ever work in medicine? Saying that you are is silly (and trite) and just speculation. You are a pre-med and have never been a doctor, never felt the pressures, known the stresses, or understood the challenges of being a doctor. Admissions people can only read about how passionate some naïve pre-med is about something they know nothing about so many times before they start hating everything, especially your application. So you need to be creative and express your interest in a way that isn’t painful to read or you should try saying something else.
I ended up writing about purpose, realism and the irrefutable value of medicine in society for my personal statement. Looking back I think I missed the mark just a little bit. What I was feeling was true but I couldn’t express it. I was trying to convey that my inspiration to pursue medicine was humanistic in nature, but without sounding too…..humanistic. Over the last year and a half the thing that I wanted to say in my personal statement has started to become clearer – partly due to my introduction to the medical specialty Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (which I wrote about here).
Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R) is a medical specialty that is extremely unique. It is the second smallest specialty in terms of number of physicians who are practicing PM&R, its scope of practice is broad, and quite frankly it is not extremely well understood, which is laughable because I think PM&R is the epitome of medicine embodying all the things that medicine stands for. And this is the heart of the matter. Medicine is about human beings, it is humanistic and it is emotional, dramatic, challenging, scary, exciting, happy, sad, and all the other things that humans experience. It is ridiculous to think that medicine is purely tissue, cellular, microscopic abnormalities completely detached from people and their brains/minds/emotions.
PM&R knows this deeply and focuses on the person – body mind and soul – as a principle of healing and rehabilitation. It is well known that a person’s emotional state can help them or hurt them when recovering from a major injury or trauma. It follows then that a person’s emotional state is a part of their health and their disease and needs to be incorporated into their medical picture and treatment plan. PM&R is the only specialty I know where you get to practice medicine, real medicine (prescribing drugs, doing procedures, taking a history and physical, examining patients, ordering scans and biopsies, etc.) but all the while focusing on the patient – their lifestyle, attitude, emotions, family, physical limitations, wants and desires. It is a field of medicine that nurtures the soul and makes you realize everyday that you practice medicine for people and that it is a humanistic endeavor. Maybe the most humanistic endeavor there is.
So, yes, I wish I had written in my personal statement that I want to pursue medicine for people, for relationships, for happiness and for sadness, and for the chance to feel like a human being every day.
Here’s to humanity.
Keep it real