Changing Directions . . . Lessons in Surprising Yourself

Posted: May 3, 2015 in Medical School
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Research Graphic

Quite unexpectedly, I have found myself taking a detour in my medical school journey. I will spend the next 2 years on a research leave of absence from medical school in which I will pursue a Masters in Clinical Research through the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan. I will then apply to residency in September 2016 and graduate in May 2017 to start residency in July 2017.

This Masters program, though, does not begin till September this year so I get to spend the summer with my whole family in Elk Grove (Sacramento) California. Anne just joined us from LA after completing a grueling first year in her Masters of Architecture program. I’m extremely proud of her.

I plan to take advantage of this summer to dig into Neurosurgery research. I am currently working on two projects: the first project is based on my research at Kijabe Hospital earlier this year, focusing on hidden costs to families in obtaining pediatric neurosurgical care in Kenya. The second project looks at a rare but significant complication of the treatment for SubArachnoid Hemorrhage (bleeding in the brain). This complication is called PRES (Posterior Reversible Encephalopathy Syndrome) and occurs when fluid and proteins escape the blood vessels and thus cross the blood brain barrier. This is apparently more likely to occur when the blood pressure is high, which is exactly what we want to raise to treat vasospasm (narrowing) of vessels following sub-arachnoid hemorrhage. So this represents a classic medical dilemma: What do you do when the treatment for one condition precipitates another?

I am enjoying this research, but I must admit I was initially wary about engaging in such a dedicated period of study. I was concerned about long hours in front of a computer screen and limited human contact. Unlike some of my other endeavors like medical globe-trotting and teaching Improv, protracted research seemed decidedly unsexy! I miss the clinical scene, but research is striking unexpected chords within me. There is something captivating about seeking unearthed knowledge and adding something new to the literature. Research allows you to share knowledge that can potentially affect the care of millions of patients. Research appeals to the big picture, the “why” of medicine and that is compelling. You see, I don’t think doctors should be let off the hook of being challenged to think big. Yes, medicine is noble and takes a lot of work and that should be acknowledged. But becoming a doctor is only the beginning. Are we thinking big enough? Empathetically enough? Or is it simply easier to hide self-interest under a white coat?

This surprising level of engagement in research led me to wonder what other things I underplay that may, in fact, be meaningful. We decide early on that certain pursuits are not for us and justify that saying “That’s not me” or “That doesn’t fit my personality” but this rationale presumes that we have a complete and accurate perception of who we are. It also ignores the fascinating contradictions that make us human. What happens, instead, if you only decide who you are after you pursue certain paths instead of pre-judging the path based on a potentially imperfect perception of yourself?

You might just surprise yourself . . .

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