By Joseph Pelli
Embarking on his final year of medical school, Pelli calls on his classmates (and himself) to take a step back and remember the idealism that brought them to medical school in the first place.
Six years ago, as pre-med undergraduates, my roommate and I founded an idealistic non-profit called The Mission Health Inc. As a worldwide Christian community service organization, we have since taken groups of college students and physicians on medical missions to Haiti – both pre- and post-earthquake – six times as well as Kenya, Honduras and Peru.
The idealism that drove us to found Mission Health was the same idealism that eventually drove me to medical school. I’m going to take a leap here and say that most physicians were originally driven to medicine by a similar idealism: the desire to “help people.”
This noble goal motivates students through O-chem, MCAT and STEP I. But now between my third and fourth years of medical school, I have become quite dismayed by how easily and often I seem to forget the grand goals of serving others that were outlined in my personal statement and focus instead on my own responsibilities and lifestyle. The burdens of clerkships, clinic and call have begun to weigh down mine and my colleagues’ once lofty ambitions.
When I ask classmates about their goals for the next 5 years, like me, they launch into descriptions of good residency programs and paying off debt rather than plans to serve a community or whatever else might have been our initial motivation for choosing medical school. And I am just as guilty as anyone else of distraction from my original goals. Thus, as a new school year begins, I have suggested to myself and to my friends that we take a step back, remove the focus from ourselves, and refocus on something or someone
else. I want to challenge myself and my colleagues to recall whatever
it was that initially lured us to medicine and weigh it against what we look to now to drive us into our careers.
On my first medical mission to Kenya, I remember tirelessly observing the doctors who were working with us. I wanted to know everything they knew – from the procedures they performed to the pronunciation of the drugs they used. These were my heroes using the tools of their trade to encourage hearts, heal bodies and change communities. Though I may forget sometimes, I’m writing now to remind myself of the example of my heroes and that the same spirit of service I observed in Kenya can encourage hearts, heal bodies, and change communities on this continent and at this time as well.
Looking away from myself and back on these missions reminds me that primary care is an honor worth investing in, not simply an under-appreciated career decision. I am grateful for the ones who have gone before me on this path and for the dedication that drives their daily walk. Medicine allows me to serve others, but I too often forfeit this joy in the service of myself. As I enter my final year of medical school, I recommit to the joy of serving that I described in my personal statement four years ago – be that service here in inner-city America or abroad in Haiti, Kenya, Honduras or Peru. With this I challenge and encourage my colleagues to dust off their own commitments to outward service as well for “he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.”
Joseph Pelli is a fourth-year medical student at Georgia Health Sciences University and founder and president of The Mission Health Inc. He currently lives with two other medical students in inner-city Augusta, Ga, to practice being a “good neighbor” and work with at-risk children.