Civil war, suffering, poverty and death are things that most Americans, will thankfully never personally experience. Before I was fourteen, I had endured all four. I was born in Dushanbe, Tajikistan and lived through half of a civil war, coming to America with my family as the devastation continued in my homeland. As I made my way through the streets of New York City, a fourteen-year-old in a land where I didn't know the language, my family and I began again.
My degree choice, like my life, has been molded by my experiences. The events I've been caught up in created whirlwinds of emotion which you either survive or are crushed by. While I carry my scars, I am stronger because of my past. My father contracted cancer while I was getting my BS in biology. I was there when he was diagnosed, I recall his treatments, and our elation when the cancer was defeated. It was very clear to me: my feet were firmly on the path to becoming a doctor.
My education goes well beyond those of my classmates. While my classmates were enjoying their weekends off, I was keeping my education alive by volunteering at a local high school as a tutor in biology and chemistry. When summertime came, my classmates were vacationing while I was volunteering at a nearby hospital. I managed my time between my undergraduate studies and full-time work to help alleviate the financial difficulties of my family during the harsh times of emigration and my dad's cancer. My education continued as I worked in the immunology laboratory at XXXX University, studying under Dr. XXXX. I was very fortunate, as XXXX has one of the only bio-safety level 4 (BSL-4) laboratories in a university setting in the United States. The work wasn't simply routine: I studied autoantibodies, using the Western blot technique, performed DNA extractions, PCRs, cloning and ELISAs. Dr. XXXX helped me to think critically and encouraged me to work independently. The situations created in the lab allowed me to problem solve and to use the knowledge I have gained in the classroom.
After graduating I began working in a doctor's office, where I began to learn to work with patients, and how an active practice works. I was given a variety of responsibilities. Interviewing patients tested, proved and strengthened my social skills. Taking blood pressure, dressing wounds and executing other procedures, like an ECG, with the doctor's approval, allowed me to become more confident and strengthened my desire to enter the medical field. I met people of many different backgrounds, and found I could relate to them all. Experiences such as these are rarely encountered in the classroom. While students are advised to seek out real life experience, it is not mandatory. I cannot help but wonder how students can grow and mature in their fields without experiencing something beyond the classroom.
Our ambitions, our dreams, and our future are the things that keep us moving forward. I cannot go forward without thinking of those in need; it is in my blood, and drawn from my experiences. I often hear of places like my homeland where governmental subsidies do not or cannot reach, and others where they fail to scratch the surface of need. In others, the divide between the rich and the poor determines diagnostics, treatments and medicine.
The events that I witnessed in Dushanbe, the ugly truths, are now locked away, buried beneath a facelift ten years in the making. I have stared at a truth few can bear. I know that I will never forget the past, but these tragedies have not crushed my spirit or my will. There is no doubt in my mind that my future is in helping people survive. Hunkered down, twelve years old in a war-torn country, trying to purify water by boiling it on a little electric burner, I felt helpless. But I will never again be helpless to help.