The most important question
Why do you want to be a doctor? Think about that question really hard because it’s going to come up for the rest of your life. It’s going to be on your application essays to medical school, on your interviews, on your dinner table with your parents; it’s going to be a question that you’re asked for the rest of your life from the moment you decide to enter medical school or even do an undergraduate pre-medical degree, as I did.
There is no one answer to this question and through the years, my answer changed drastically. I knew from the age of seven that I wanted to be a doctor and most of my life has been shaped by that decision. But it wasn’t until university that I finally figured out the true reason why I wanted to be a doctor.
I was once a sixteen-year-old college freshman, with a chip on my shoulder. I graduated as valedictorian of my class and I got into the Ateneo de Manila University (which was at the time the leading university in the Philippines). Life could not get any better for an arrogant teenager who had never tasted failure. I was determined to groom myself into someone that medical schools could not refuse. In my freshman year, I researched graduate medical schools, learnt what they looked out for in applications, and talked to seniors. I found three key criteria: academics, shadowing experiences and volunteer work. From there, I began on ticking the boxes on my CV. I made it to the Dean’s List every semester so I could get a Latin Honor when I graduated and began to email doctors and health care professionals to ask if I could shadow them. However, the most difficult part for me was the third component, volunteering.
Volunteering is a commitment
At a SPEED Sparkle Christmas
My very first volunteer experience was with an organization called the Ateneo SPEED, the Special Education Society of the Ateneo. Signing up for projects was the easy part, committing to the project was difficult. At SPEED, the main project was to visit orphanages where children with special needs were abandoned by their parents. Every Saturday, our group would go to an orphanage about 20-30 minutes away from the university and spend the day with the kids, playing games, helping to feed them, or just talking to them. It was difficult at first because we had to meet at 7:30am each weekend would only get back at around 1 in the afternoon to have a debrief session. By the time I got home every weekend, I would be too tired to study. Still, I soldiered on, I was determined to get into medical school after all.
As the weeks went by, I started to get to know the kids a little bit better. They became people to me, people with stories and backgrounds. I began to learn their names. There was Jumbo, who had Down’s syndrome and smiled as brightly as the sun when you gave him ice cream. I found myself waking up with less difficulty in the morning, and I began to volunteer not for my resume, but for the people I had come to appreciate.
It’s okay to sign up for a project because you think it will look good on your resume. But if that is your only reason to do it, it will be really hard to commit because it’s going to take up a lot of time and effort. It would also be a disservice to the people you are helping if you view them as meal-tickets to get into medical school. In other words, when you volunteer, don’t just think of it as something you have to do for a good CV. Think of it as your vocation.
This first experience of volunteering changed me and gave me so much that I eventually signed up as the Social Involvement Head of the Pre-Medical Society, a department that extended medical aid to the community by holding medical missions, blood drives, medicine drives, and setting up programs for community health. For example, we helped the university in packing up relief goods when a storm hit and devastated a community. There were different difficulties – doctors cancelling on missions a week before the scheduled event, having our funding for medicine cut off because the company that promised to sponsor us backed off the deal – but despite the long hours spent planning and in meetings, I enjoyed the work as I was doing something to save lives, even if I was not a doctor yet.
During one of our medical missions
Frederick Buechner put it in the best way possible. He said that a vocation is to work on where your greatest passion meets the world’s deepest hunger. If you do that, you will not only be committed to what you do, but you begin to do it for a purpose which is simply, in the most clichéd of reasons– to make the world a better place with your own skill and passion.
Back to the most important question
So now, when I get asked why I want to be a doctor, I have a ready answer. Because I want to go where my greatest passion, medicine and learning and science, meets the world’s deepest hunger – poverty, lack of proper health care in so many parts of the world, pain and suffering. And all that is because I chose to do volunteer work, which opened my eyes to a world I would never have known if I remained the arrogant sixteen year old that I was.
Because of the exposure I had volunteering in public health, I saw that medicine was more than just finding a cure, but also about making sure that the cure reaches communities, understanding why people won’t take medication, and understanding how the socio-political economy can affect health care, all of which doctors must consider in the effective treatment of patients.
Our medical missions team
Volunteering will help turn you into a doctor who sees patients as people and not just a disease. Medicine at the core is about a giving back, an attempt to make life better for someone, not just getting rid of a disease. Once you have that mindset and commitment, you’ll find it easy to explain your motivations and you’d hold on to that reason in the tough times and be the best doctor that you can be.
By: Pat Lazatin, Class of 2020