Sunday, March 16, 2008

The System is Against Me

I was going to blog about how my week kind of sucked, and how it was getting better today. It's starting to get warm outside, which is great! Almost all the snow has melted, and the muddy fields in its wake are also starting to dry up. I had a pretty good small ensembles concert, I was going to help JW-M with his phone interview with China, and then go play beer pong with RZ-F and others. (And this is the part where this post turns into a giant rant that I can't contain for the life of me.)

Then my parents called, and all went downhill. Insert same litany as always. Actually, my dad was pretty civil for a while. Even while he "berated" me for doing so much music in my undergrad when that time could've been used for "more beneficial and productive" things. Then he got suddenly upset that I never call them, and that they must always call me. Well, you know, if you call me 3 times a day once or twice a week, that's more than enough for me for that week. Why should I call you? I don't have any news, good or bad. If I do and I feel you should know, you will know. Sigh.

All the while, I was with JW-M. And we talked afterwards. I'm glad he's like my "best friend" here on campus, because he intelligently puts forth what I think (without me explicitly saying anything), but from another person's perspective so I know it's not just me. We talked about "the system," that is, the med school application process and how it works against someone like me.

So I'm not exactly the "cookie-cutter" med school applicant. I chose to pursue music in my free time rather than devote innumerable hours to hospital volunteering. Not entirely my fault, because I tried twice and couldn't get a position. I did tons of research and actually liked it (for the most part), rather than just doing it to say I did it; I also didn't really get any publications out of my research. I don't have the best GPA nor the best MCAT scores, though I'm solid on both (mediocre at worst, slightly above average at best). While I did major in a science, I also took lots of other courses - foremost Spanish and Chinese.

I feel like my interviews so far have sort of worked against me. Not once was music nor foreign language brought up, two things "out of the ordinary" that I invested significant amounts of time in. But are these two things irrelevant or useless? I'd like to think not. They say ("they" being med school admissions) that it doesn't really matter what you do, as long as you've done something, you've done it consistently for a while, and it's truly what you want to do. Music and foreign language are these things to me.

What's more is that there's a need for primary care physicians in the US right now, as too many doctors go into surgery or a high-paying specialty because that's where you can pay off your debts. I, on the other hand, do genuinely want to be a primary care physician (pediatrician) and don't care for the money. I don't want to be a hotshot surgeon or hotshot anything really, I just want to do what I want to do and help where I can do my best. I seek neither fame, glory, nor fortune, though JW-M and I agree that countless people do.

So why would this system be against me? Why when I do care about what I do, where I truly believe foreign languages are an asset, and where being a decent human being is more than one's grade or MCAT score? JW-M postulates that there are two kinds of people: the ones who've spent all their undergrad working solely towards med school, towards getting that MCAT score or GPA, towards completing the "check list" of activities; and people who do other things to show they're well-rounded and actually human. But he also suggests that the people doing the interview tend to be the former, and not the latter.

It's interesting because there are specific patient care courses and cultural competency courses in med schools now. It's as if the med students going in have never been exposed to another culture or don't know how to properly interact with people. How hard can that be? Where have they been? It seems a little common-sense to me. Apparently, the medical establishment have pumped out too many doctors who aren't human enough to adequately create rapport with their patients, especially if they're from a different background.

I feel poised to be perfect in this arena. I recently read a study where Asian-Americans are among the most dissatisfied with the health care they receive. Hmm, I wonder why, maybe it's a language barrier and cultural differences? I think so and I know I can bridge this. I also know my patient base will be diverse and so if I tackle Spanish, the second most common language in the US, and fully master Chinese, the most spoken Asian language in the US, I've extended my ability to adequately relate to and care for so many more patients. Where's the bad in this?

What's sad is that I hear/read about health care professionals who're all like, "Why should I learn a second language? Everyone should just speak English, or we should just pay for a translator." Well, a translator isn't always around. When I shadowed a doctor near Chicago, I observed him on rounds in a hospital one day. And I overheard nurses and maybe a doctor talking about a patient who only spoke Spanish and no one understood him, and the translator had the day off. So . . . no one else in the entire hospital is competent enough with Spanish to communicate?! I bet I could've been of some use (not that much, but some nonetheless).

JW-M agrees with my sentiment that of all the requirements in undergrad, the foreign language one is the most useful and that the most utility can be gleaned from it. And there are two kinds of people in the world: the kind who've never experienced another language/culture and think everyone should speak their language; and the kind who've experienced another language/culture and see the inherent value in foreign languages. Unfortunately, the US is too full of the former.

The point of this whole not-too-well-constructed discourse is this: my interviews thus far have failed to touch upon that which, I believe, would make me a better doctor than maybe the next guy after me. That I care about patients, that I'm well-rounded beyond the cookie-cutter, and that I see the inherent value of languages and will use them to facilitate better communication with my patients.

If you've read this far, I applaud you. If you've only skipped to the end, I don't blame you. Sometimes, I get OCD about this and I just have to let it out. Blowing steam.


Mike said...

I think, even if just for yourself, you are doing a favor by focusing on music and languages. It makes you more rounded. I can't begin to tell you how tired I am of hearing all of my friends taking on volunteering at hospitals because it is the way to get into med school. Whether it is or not, I don't know, but it seems like everyone does it, so you are doing well to set yourself apart.

My friend is trying to get into med school at UCLA. She started off as a Chem major for undergrad, then changed to Classics (as in Greek, Rome, etc.) She still wants to pursue medicine, but she is taking a different route and hopes that will give her an advantage. She says that a lot of people trying to become doctors aren't the strongest writers, so by majoring in something different, something that requires writing, she can set herself apart. She said that's what all of the admissions people recommended to her, and I would like to think that is certainly the case; it would definitely benefit you.

Being a Spanish minor, I think you know where I stand on the languages- they are important.

Good luck, man!

B said...

Good luck with this whole application process. I decided a while back it wasn't the path for me, but I've seen quite a few of my friends go through it and it does not look fun. I think it's great that you did not simply follow the path that so many others take. And the fact that you have a real interest and are not just in it for the money has GOT to work in your favor. I'm worried that some of my friends will regret getting into medicine because it seems they're pursuing it for the wrong reasons.

W said...

I can feel some of your pain. I agree that the medical system really needs to learn to screen for better doctors not just smarter doctors. And kudos to you for not being the stereotypical asian med school wannabe.

The one thing I've come to believe is that nothing you ever invest time and passion in goes to waste. Everything you learn helps you in more ways than you can imagine, and in times you can't even envision right now.

We college kids have no idea about what adventures life has in store for us. I am not a fatalist... I had never thought that I'd be anything but a Doc but am so glad I have found my true calling: Health Econ/Finance or Health Law.

You're a good, hardworking kid and life will take care of you.But the worry,the paranoia, the anxiety is always gonna be there.