Saturday, November 29, 2014

Beneficence: A Two-Sided Coin

"When I grow up, I want to be a doctor because I want to help people!" That's what my fourth-grade self always said when my family members, teachers, friends' moms asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. Everyone always chuckled at my simple response, patting my back with a smile, so it was with this simple statement that I grew older, going through junior high, then high school, and now college. Nothing's changed really; as a matter of fact, I've fortunately found myself being drawn, on my own accord, more and more toward the medical field. But then again, nothing's changed, which means admittedly, I never quite scratched beyond the surface of my aspiration to be a doctor to ask myself "Why?"
At the risk of sounding clich̩, this study abroad experience has been a wake-up call of sorts, opening my eyes and bringing about a new sense of awareness of the infinite aspects of health and medicine. Suddenly, "wanting to help people" just isn't enough of an answer for why I'm choosing to dedicate my life to becoming a doctor. By no means am I trivializing a doctor's respectable dedication to bettering the lives of others, but one thing I've started to understand Рfirst subconsciously and now more assuredly Рis how much of a two-sided coin beneficence really is.
 Going to Nicaragua and working with VIDA, a non-profit organization that provides free clinics to rural communities, certainly illustrated this point for me. On one hand, it was the most fulfilling, engaging, hands-on experience that I have had thus far in my potential future path. I, a third-year college student with only a handful of rushed training hours a day before, had the opportunity to play "make-belief" for three days, fulfilling a shadow of the duties an intern or first-year resident may do for an attending physician in a hospital. I took the patients' medical history, checked his/her vital symptoms (hoping each time that I wouldn't mess up the blood pressure measurement), peeked inside inflamed throats, made educated guesses on what I would have diagnosed, and even explained the prescription medications that the patients received. I silently applauded myself when I was able to determine the illness correctly, and I rattled off the names of prescription medication like the ABC's. We saw patients with a wide spectrum of illnesses – from a potential case of Turner's syndrome to a child's rash caused by holding in her pee for too long.
To say that I learned a lot would be an understatement, because with each patient, I felt myself growing more confident and self-assured about my "abilities", genuinely believing that I was changing someone's life for the better. And let's be honest, who doesn't like that feeling? And after the three days of clinic flew by, I told myself that I'd definitely return because it was singularly one of the most enjoyable and rewarding parts of this program; I got to fulfill my desire for helping people.
Only days later, after talking with other friends on this program, did I begin to see how maybe I was missing an entire side of the story. These clinics, our volunteer-work, and all the resources that we brought were for the patients. The patients that came to see us did so typically because it was a challenge for them to obtain health services otherwise, and many of them had chronic issues that needed to be addressed by a real hospital. Above our sense of accomplishment, we should remember that at the end of the day, it really isn't about us. And while we certainly should not deny any credit we've received, we owe the patients the same gratitude that they've shown us because well, beneficence… it's a two-sided coin.
Katherine Wu

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