What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been
I can’t claim that I’ve always “known” that I wanted to be a doctor. The truth is I’ve wanted to be a lot of different things throughout my life: a farmer, a singer in a chick band, a landscaper, a physicist, and even a trapeze performer. It wasn’t until near the end of my senior year in college that it occurred to me that I’d like to pursue a career in medicine. My reasons for endeavoring to become a doctor were plentiful, but the significant ones were: my eagerness to help people, an enthusiasm for investigation and problem solving, and my propensity for challenges. After I obtained my B.S. in psychology, I went back to college to complete my pre-med classes and began working at a state psychiatric hospital.
The next few years of my life solidified my decision to pursue medicine. I had a degree in psychology, and supposedly had learned a lot about human psychology via my undergraduate classes in college. However, I learned a hundred times more about psychology, medicine, and myself during my three years of employment at the psychiatric hospital.
Because I worked at a state facility, the patient population was much different than that of a private hospital. The patients had severe mental illnesses; many of them were homeless; most of them were hospitalized involuntarily; and they were all from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. In addition, I worked on the acute/admissions unit, which means I was assigned to the most acutely ill patients. In fact, my unit was so challenging that it was usually only considered to be a temporary assignment. Most techs, nurses and doctors requested to be transferred off of my unit after a 6 month period. I stayed on the unit for over 3 years.
As a psychiatric technician, I took the vital signs of the patients, led various group therapy sessions, and most importantly, ensured the safety of all the patients. These were not easy tasks as the patients frequently screamed obscenities at me, physically attacked me and other patients, and attempted to harm themselves. My work conditions were exacting and stressful, to put it mildly; but I found to my amazement that I thrived in this atmosphere. There were certainly times when I felt overwhelmed and drained by the demanding nature of my work, but the majority of the time I rose to the challenge of caring for and helping all of my patients. Some days I came home from work physically and emotionally drained from my shift, but I felt a sense of satisfaction and pride that I had managed to survive another day at the hospital, and potentially helped some people along the way. Every day I would actually look forward to going to work. I had never felt this way about any job before in my life.
Even though many of my patients were chronically ill, and had bleak prognoses, there were always glimmers of hope. Some patients’ conditions actually improved, and they were either discharged or transferred to a more stable unit. I clearly remember one patient who had been particularly ill when he was admitted to the hospital. He was a middle aged man with a very disheveled appearance, who I’ll call John. He was suffering from a severe psychosis after experiencing a traumatic event. John was almost completely catatonic and had not spoken a word for 4 weeks. At first, all of the doctors and staff would frequently attempt to interact with and engage John. However, after months of hospitalization and many different dosages and combinations of medications, John’s symptoms showed absolutely no improvement. I learned that acceding to the prevailing practices is not really my forte. Every day, I continued to go into John’s room and talk to him. I’d ask him questions about his past and would tell him stories about my life. I even told him (what I would consider to be funny) jokes to see if I could cause him to smile. One day, I walked into John’s room with some fresh towels and I asked him where he’d like for me to set them down. “Over there on the chair,” he replied. I had to hold back my shock. I placed the towels on the chair and continued to ask him questions, to which he responded. I sat in his room for over an hour, discussing his family and some of the circumstances that culminated in his hospitalization. After I left John’s room, I told the doctors about our conversation and they were all amazed.
Eventually, John’s condition improved significantly and he was discharged from the hospital. Before he left the hospital he came to thank me for not giving up on him. He told me that he may never have come out of his catatonic state had it not been for me. He felt as though the whole world had given up on him, yet I never stopped treating him like a human being. John’s words left a penetrating impression in my mind. He truly believed that my unwaivering persistence had helped him through a most difficult period of his life. That was one of the moments that I knew I wanted to work in medicine. I had impacted someone’s life on a profound level, and I had done so by merely doing what came naturally to me.
Fast forward 10 years into the future, and here I am, beginning a new chapter in my life. I am now a newly minted doctor and about to begin my residency in Psychiatry at The State University of New York Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York. I attended Ross University School of Medicine, and went through my basic science training on the Nature Island of Dominica, hence the name of this blog. There are many reasons why I chose to attend a Caribbean medical school, and you can read about them here.
I created this website as an attempt to chronicle my experiences as I made my way through medical school. I hope you enjoy my blog, which was an attempt to document all of my encouragements, discouragements, adventures, misadventures, personal anecdotes, confessions, apprehensions, successes, setbacks, contemplations, and meditations. I also have a Photos Section, which served as a visual addendum to my medical school epic.
Thank you for visiting IslandMedStudent.com. This site is intended to be a true reflection of myself: constantly evolving, hopefully progressing, and awkwardly mutating. I documented my experiences because it helped me to understand and appreciate myself, and I am gratified when my words educate, provocate, or inspire others. I’m always open to new ideas and paths of exploration, so please don’t hesitate to share any of your thoughts or suggestions with me.
I hope you enjoy my site.
~The Island Med Student
(Kendra…now a doctor!)