An Open Letter to My Brother
Recently, I was given the honor of contacting my little brother, 13 years my junior, to let him know that he would be a part of the Quillen College of Medicine Class of 2020. Since that time, I’ve been thinking of means to encourage him along on this journey and advice that may help him to be successful. While that technique could subsist of sharing books and resources, I know that he has the ability to gain the knowledge needed to be an exceptional physician someday regardless of my input on medical science. However, I want to share in personal experiences that have changed me in immeasurable ways over the course of my three years in medical school.
As many of you know, I was recently inducted as a junior AΩA member and a member of the Gold Humanism Honor Society (GHHS). To know that the folks around me would consider me for such incredible distinction amongst many phenomenal students deserves my endless gratitude. I hope that what I am about to say doesn't detract, even in the slightest, from my appreciation.
As honored as I am by my nomination to AΩA and GHHS, it can’t compare to the honor that I felt when I was able to hand a woman a tissue and give her a hug after she lost her teenage son. I was present in a terrible hour with her. As honored as I am by this, it can’t compare to the precious moment when I was able to coach a new mom during her delivery, see the joy in her eyes, and be the first person to hold her sweet, gorgeous, 7lb baby girl. As honored as I am by this, it can’t compare to the time I spent talking to a veteran when he told me about being sexually assaulted in the military. The amount of courage that I witnessed was absolutely overwhelming. As honored as I am by this, I’m not sure I felt it as deeply as I felt the soreness in my shoulders after a morning of doing chest compressions on a young woman that we couldn't get back. She was younger than me. Her mother’s screams and her husband’s cries will forever echo in my mind. As honored as I am by this, it can’t compare to all the suffering I’ve seen, nor can it compare to the moments when I have witnessed a physician, a student, or a caring nurse ease the suffering of someone else. Believe me, I’ve witnessed an incredible amount of joy this year as well.
I think it is most important to stress to you, little brother, that you don't have to be recognized for anything during your academic or professional career to make a difference by being present in the moment, listening, and caring. Care deeply and listen regardless of accolades or praises because they may never come. I promise you that investing yourself in the lives of others is worth it each and every time. Be the person that hands someone a tissue, be the person to let another cry on your shoulder, be the person that doesn’t always have an answer. Simply listen and allow yourself to feel the magnitude of that which you are given the both the privilege and the burden to witness. Patients will someday expect to benefit from your wisdom and guidance. As you will soon notice, the wisdom and guidance that you will need on many occasions cannot be taught in a science book. Please appreciate and cultivate those skills by taking ownership of your education.
This year, my third year in particular, has been harder that I could have ever imagined. You will have to effectively deal with and learn from hundreds of personalities all while being emotionally, physically, and mentally exhausted at times. During this, you can look for role models that you wish to emulate. I hope that you find an abundance of these folks the way that I have.
When you go home on a particularly difficult day, don't be afraid to cry if you need to and draw strength from any source that you can. You aren’t being selfish. When you look over at the attending physician running a code on a kid and you see them fighting back the tears because they know what’s going to happen, keep that strength and compassion forever in your mind.
I can’t say for sure that I’ve helped a single person this year but I’ve engaged myself and sought out ways to make a difference. Seek ways to help at every opportunity. Again, no one has to know but you. On the flip side, you never have to laugh at mean jokes or join in conversation that is demeaning to a person. Notice I said “person” and not “patient.” I know it’s not always possible or appropriate to do so, but do we use language to separate “us” from “them?” Any of us could be any of them at any given time or it could be our family instead. How do you choose to talk about people? I trust that you’ll always let respect and love be your guiding lights. Hopefully, it’s not something that you ever run across but a calm and respectful, “I don't feel comfortable with this conversation” says a lot. It shows how high you set the bar. Never be scared to set the bar so very high.
If you notice that a classmate seems angry, detached, exhausted, or whatever else, be compassionate with them too. You never know what they may be going through outside the clinic or classroom, all while seeing/doing/dealing with the above. Can’t you pause to understand that they may need help too? Even as youngsters in medicine, we are all adults with adult problems and issues that arise and that should be acknowledged.
I know that you’re a person who empathizes deeply with people, but realize it’s a double-edged sword at times. Be prepared to ask the people that you know, “am I strong enough to do this?’ Also listen when they say, “yes.” And if you don't have someone to talk to when these situations arise for you, call on me because I realize that this 3rd year life isn’t easy when you truly invest yourself in it.
I see how much I’ve grown during my time here and it amazes me. I appreciate every encounter that I’ve had with folks and what it’s taught me. My sole wish for you is that you hold on to your compassion and empathy and cultivate it with each experience that you have in medicine. Along with that, I hope that you change. I hope that this experience transforms you and makes you a better and stronger human. You’ll be the doctor who sees people in the clinic as more than patients with diseases and you’ll understand the multi-dimensional person that they are beyond the environment in which you see them.
If all this sounds like too much, you can choose not to invest yourself. You can become stagnant in your professional and personal growth. You can see only the surface of each problem and analyze the medicine behind it. You can still pass your classes and rotations but you will have squandered away an opportunity to be great. Little brother, I know that you’d never choose this route, you’ll take the harder road, the one that pushes you each day to become better and I’m proud of you for it. I can’t wait to see how you grow and mature and I hope that I can contribute to your success as you travel this journey as my colleague, as my friend, and as my family. Regardless of whether or not you are recognized with honors at your graduation or barely making it through without any accolades, I know in my heart that if you invest yourself, I’m going to be beyond proud of the man that I hood on graduation day. Welcome to the Quillen Family.