This is my medical school personal statement that I wrote for my application. I wrote about an incident that occurred while I was working the Luray Triathlon last year but didn’t feel comfortable publishing it until now. I’ve since been accepted and will be attending Eastern Virginia Medical School and am thrilled about the future and the beginning of my career in healthcare. So here it is, my medical school personal statement:
For children, health means the ability to play and explore. It means fun at school with friends versus a day at home in bed. Throughout my childhood, this is the definition that health assumed. But with the last breaths of a dying man, health adopted a new reality. Health is life itself; it is the ability to observe and exist on this planet for another day.
I was working a triathlon in the Appalachian Mountains in Virginia in late summer. At the swim finish a tall, large man, wearing just a swimsuit and goggles stumbled out of the water and with help he made it up on the beach to sit on the cool sand. Within moments, he laid down, his breathing stopped and his heart along with it. Knowing only basic life support, I stayed out of the way and let the paramedics take over, but standing just a few feet away, seeing color in his skin, the life still in his body, I believed there was still hope. I remembered a story of another triathlete last year who was revived from a similar situation and this memory brought me hope.
But as the minutes passed by, with the paramedics continuing to pound on his chest to no avail, the hope dissipated. His skin, once the color of the golden sand beneath him, turned to the cool pale gray of the overcast sky above. One of his friends who had come to watch the race walked down to the swim exit looking for him. She quickly recognized his face, frantically shouted his name and with her voice trembling, asked another bystander if he was breathing. With the somber news, her hands cupped her mouth and she fell to her knees, looking at him, tears welling up in the corners of her eyes, and gently called his name and asked him to come back. I thought about his brain, still functioning, trapped inside a dying body, with a dead heart for a pump. I thought, he can hear her, unconsciously. He is still alive, somewhere in there.
The defibrillator registered a flat line and he was declared dead at the hospital. I had never witnessed someone in their last moments. The transition from life to death was foreign to me, limited to stories of strangers in a different place at a different time. I imagined the clot in his artery somewhere, a road block separating life from death; I imagined the oxygen starved tissue wasting away. I imagined his friends and family waiting for the news of his race. I imagined his lonely bike waiting for him, the only one where a vast sea of bikes resided an hour earlier. I thought about his race ending early, his life ending early.
I had already decided to pursue a career in medicine long before witnessing this man’s death. But in the months of reflection after that incident, the superficial, ego-fueled inspirations for the pursuit were replaced by a much deeper, more enlightened sense of our fragility and necessity for medicine. I would love the opportunity to help extend life, whether in quality or duration, from the child who just wants to play to elderly man who wants a few more breaths, from the athlete who wants to return to her game to the teenager who wants to escape the grip of cancer.
Health is no longer the innocent concerns of my childhood. Health is happiness; health is life. Life seemed too fragile to me, too easily taken. A heart beats for fifty-one years but a few minutes of its cessation and the entire body is lost. But something about that fragility draws me even closer to medicine. It inspires me to embrace my own health, and alongside it, it inspires me to embrace the health of others.
Currently working in pediatrics as a medical assistant and lab technician, my new definition of health has been further reinforced. We have brought children back from the edge of life from asthma attacks and have sent children to be admitted for aplastic anemia and leukemia. Having met patients who may not live to be my age, I understand even more what health means and I cherish it above anything else, this ability to breathe, to taste something sweet, to feel a gentle breeze. Simply to experience these things without agonizing misery or a premature finale, that is what I want to create, to foster, and to share.
To me a career in medicine is a chance to provide people with an unfettered capacity to explore and experience life. Whether looking to increase longevity and health of populations, or to enhance the finite moments that we are each granted, all pursuits in medicine are worthy goals. I hope for this opportunity to become an advocate for health, a source of health, and an educator on health, in this country and in those less privileged, from the child’s goal of continued playtime to the elder’s desire for a few more moments in this incredible universe.