Like med students around the world, last spring, I suddenly transitioned to online courses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the courses I signed up for was an online elective, Exploring Professional Identity through Art. I took this course at the time in my life where I felt, as a person and a med student, I had lost my sense of purpose in pursuing medicine. For the past two-and-a-half years in med school, I had felt constantly overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work and focused so much on passing my exams and trying to stay on top of my studies that I lost sight of the bigger picture. In this state of mind, I began Exploring Professional Identity through Art.
We started with a written assignment, “What does it mean to you to be a physician?” I reflected on my “why” — why had I decided to become a physician? This question led to another: What did I want to accomplish as a doctor? I hadn’t dedicated any time to thinking about these questions since I applied to medical schools. Reflecting on them now, as a rising fourth-year med student, I started to remember my “why” and to rediscover my purpose.
Throughout this arts-based course, we were asked three simple questions about works of art or poetry: “What’s going on in this picture?,” “What do you see that makes you say that?” and “What more can you find?”
It was amazing how someone else would point out something that I had completely missed in studying the same picture or poem. Similarly, in medicine, it’s important to recognize that a clinician doesn’t see the full picture when first meeting a patient. This exercise highlights the necessity of teamwork and collaboration to consider different perspectives on patient care.
During my internal medicine clerkship, Dr. Scott Wright [chief of general internal medicine at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center] emphasized to our care team the importance of observation. When we cared for a patient who had experienced an unprovoked seizure, we observed that his wife was traumatized by the event. This led us to focus on ways to support her by involving a social worker and giving her a phone number to directly reach our team. After the patient was discharged, we visited their home.
While she was still shaken, she was very appreciative of the care they had received. In medicine, we’re rightfully taught to focus on the patient but sometimes forget about their loved ones, who can be profoundly impacted by their family member’s illness. With the questions, “What’s going on in this patient encounter?” “What do you see that makes you say that?” and “what more can you find?,” we can see things that may have otherwise been ignored and provide better care.
While I knew that the professional self and personal self are intertwined and inseparable, this really hit home for me during the course. I learned so much about myself that my relationships with myself and my loved ones improved. I began finding myself again.
I became interested in medicine after losing my father to a car accident in Nigeria and experienced the challenges of finding a hospital for emergency care. I aspire to live in a world where situations like these are no longer a reality. The class helped me find my passion in health care again, which allows me to focus on moving forward.
On the last day, we reflected on Derek Walcott’s poem “Love after Love.” The line “You will love again the stranger who was yourself” perfectly captures this journey of self-discovery and self-love that the class enabled and empowered me to embark on. I’m still on this journey, but I feel like I have my life back again.