Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Why I Wanted to Be a (Medical) Doctor

When I first went off to college at Indiana University South Bend in 2007, I was a pre-med major.  My first semester, I studied biology, chemistry, and mathematics, followed by several more semesters of science and math classes like molecular biology and calculus.  I tried to fit in my general education requirements when I could and ended up staying at school during the summer of 2009 to take a required physics course along with a lab.  I wanted to be a doctor, and during my junior year, I bought study materials and started preparing for the MCAT so I could apply to med school.

I wanted to be a doctor for several reasons.  My whole life, I have always had a fascination with the human body and human anatomy.  I took two trimesters of anatomy and physiology as a high school student and loved it.  When I was about to start my senior year of high school, I applied for a program for students interested in entering the medical field.  The program basically took the place of regular school during students' senior years and allowed them to study medicine at the college level and experience working in the medical field firsthand.  I was so excited when I found out I was accepted.

My senior year was the best.  For the first part of the year, I attended the class portion of the program each morning with about 20 other students from area schools that were chosen for the program.  In the afternoons, I went to the high school for economics and government.  We learned everything in those medical classes - medical terminology, advanced anatomy and physiology, and the tasks a person would need to master in order to get their CNA licensing.  For the second part of the program, we only attended the class portion on Friday mornings and spent the rest of the week in various areas of medicine.

Each student in the program had a schedule and we would spend one week in a particular specialty.  I remember my very first clinical rotation in the program - the radiology department at the hospital.  And that was just the beginning.

Throughout the clinical portion of the program, I spent time in areas like obstetrics and gynecology, the emergency room, the intensive care unit, surgery, the in-patient psychiatric unit, and a home for the developmentally disabled.  Every experience was valuable and memorable, but my favorites were the obstetrics floor in the hospital and the emergency room.  I stood beside a surgeon as he delivered an 11-pound baby via C-section.  I helped with several natural deliveries.  I held babies in their first moments of life.  I fed them in the nursery and administered hearing tests.  I'll never forget helping a scared 16-year-old bring her sweet baby girl into the world.  Childbirth is amazing, and I got to experience the wonder of it at the age of 17.

The emergency room was my other favorite.  The fast-paced nature of the ER was intense, but it also taught me how to work under pressure.  I saw everything during my rotation in the ER - broken bones, heart attacks, children with the flu, bleeding wounds, and much more.  I was even asked to do CPR on a patient once until the doctor realized my hand was in a cast from a surgery I just had two weeks before.  One day in the ER, the paramedics brought a woman came in after a heart attack and I watched as the team attempted to revive her.  She didn't make it and I looked on as the doctors shared the news with her husband and young children. 

I grew up a lot that year.

I fed an older gentleman his last meal during my rotation in the intensive care unit.  I cared for the elderly at a local nursing home.  I sat in on group sessions at the in-patient psychiatric unit.  I helped a group of delightful developmentally disabled adults make arts and crafts.  I helped lance and drain an enormous abscess during my rotation with family medicine.  I helped extract a man and his wife from a car in freezing rain after an accident during my shift with the paramedics.  I helped circumcise a baby on the obstetrics floor.  I spent an entire week observing surgeries in the OR - joint replacements, countless orthopedic surgeries (my hometown of Warsaw, IN, is the orthopedic capital of the world), a breast augmentation, a tonsillectomy, a hernia repair, and much more.  I tried to maintain my composure in surgery when the smell of blood and cauterized fat and bone overwhelmed me.  I took thousands of vitals.  I sat with patients as they received chemotherapy treatments at the cancer center.  I learned about administering drugs at the hospital pharmacy.  I learned about the rarely seen, but extremely important, people and tasks that keep a hospital going - housekeeping, re-stocking supplies, the cafeteria.

Me during my senior year of high school (in 2007) with my gear for my healthcare program.  I loved wearing those red scrubs. 
On top of my experiences with this program, I had some personal medical situations that year that only increased my desire to be a doctor.  My dad was in a serious accident in October of my senior year that almost took his life.  Experiencing his hospital stay, his rehabilitation, and his interactions with his nurses and doctors and therapists showed me the importance of having compassionate, devoted healthcare workers that truly cared about the well-being of their patients and their patients' families.

My brother, Tyler, and I with my dad in 2006 during his recovery in the hospital. 
I also had some medical issues of my own.  I had the first (of four) surgeries in December of my senior year to fix an injury with my right hand.  Experiencing what it was like to be a patient firsthand, in surgery and in therapy, only added to my love for medicine and my respect for the human body.  Plus, I had surgery in the midst of my dad's recovery and while I was middle of clinical work with the healthcare program, so I also learned a lot about time management...and how to do everything one-handed.

My first hand surgery in 2006.  This was after the cast came off and the stitches came out.  It was a painful, but interesting, experience to be on the patient end of things. 
So I went to college to be a doctor, but I never studied medicine during the years I majored in pre-med.  After two and a half years of taking chemistry, biology, physics, trigonometry, calculus, and more, I started to get burned out.  Where was the medicine?  Where was the anatomy and physiology?  (Pre-med majors at my university weren't even required to take anatomy and physiology).  My love of medicine had been overtaken by grueling science classes with long labs that I had no interest in.  If we were going to be doctors, why weren't we studying medicine?

Halfway between my junior year, I knew I needed a change.

I met with my pre-med advisor (who was totally awesome and supportive, by the way) and told her how I was feeling.  She asked me what else I was interested in, and the only thing I could think of was writing.  She told me the university had an English and creative writing program and that I should give it a "trial run."  I was terrified of basically having to start over (could pre-med and English be any different?), but I wanted to try something else I was passionate about.

Long story short, I kept going with English and graduated a year and a half later.  I went on to study English in grad school and I'm about to begin a doctorate program in English.  In the end, I will be a doctor, just not the medical doctor I thought I'd be when I first started out.

I still have a great respect for medicine, anatomy, and the human body.  In case you ever wondered, that's why my blog is titled Anatomy of a Writer - the title combines my two great loves:  medicine and writing.  I still study medicine.  I still collect anatomy books.  And, if you've been to my house, you've seen the French anatomy poster in my office and the skeletal diagram in my bedroom.  I often incorporate medical terms into my poetry and anatomical pictures and diagrams into my artwork.  (My entire grad school thesis was a narrative collage centered around anatomical diagrams, images, and text).   

What can I say?  I've always loved studying anatomy.  (That's a deer heart, by the way).  This was taken during my first semester of college in 2007.
I will always be fascinated by the human body and have a great respect for it.  I learned so much and gained so much valuable experience through my healthcare program in high school and during my years as a pre-med student.  God had me go through those experiences for a reason, and they've only heightened my love of medicine.  But God helped me to get on the path I'm on now.  I love English and I love writing, and I'm beyond excited to begin my doctoral studies this fall.  

I had the opportunity to teach college students for three years back in Indiana and I am going back to teaching college students this fall at Bowling Green.  I love investing in the lives of my students and I no longer feel like I have to be a (medical) doctor to make a difference.  


  1. Wow! Writing and Medicine combined. That is a good combination, and it seems like you already know many things about medicine. Well sometimes we are all like that. We have dreams that we think is what we really wanted but our minds are eventually going to change. Haha! Good luck on your teaching carreer, Kristin!

    Fred Lauing @ Excel Translations

  2. Thanks, Fred! It was a great journey and I learned a lot. I'm happy to be on the road I am with the valuable experiences I gained.

  3. I loved reading your post! I don't make it through whole blogs very often, but I was intrigued and captured by yours. :) I loved learning about your story and your passions Kristen! <3 God Bless

  4. This has inspired my wife and I so much. Our daughter is also really interested in medical school and we have had our thoughts regarding the big move. We feel a lot more comfortable now seeing things from your perspective, thank you for writing this in your blog and was great to see things from a different angle, thanks again.

    Jarrett Ransom @ Dr Wade Faerber

  5. Thanks, Jarrett! I'm always hoping my experiences can help someone going through a similar experience. Thank you for your kind words!

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