Too young to volunteer in a hospital yet too old for summer camp, I was determined not to idle away my first summer as a high school student. Undaunted and striving to help my community, I inquired about our local nursing home. My grandmother refused to enter the brown building with me, unable to interact with residents who were ailing and terminally ill. With persistence, I toured the facility with my father and decided to volunteer. The residents who were so debilitated that they would never leave the care of the nursing home really moved me. It was amazing how the support of the medical staff and family members created an environment that allowed residents to live an enjoyable life. I will never forget one resident in his early thirties who was paralyzed from the waist down, unable to live as most young adults. I would run into him on the elevator almost daily. My encouraging words and energy as a young person often brightened his day, and in return made me feel very joyful to serve. It was quite extraordinary to know that such a small gesture could positively impact someone’s life. From reading stories to assisting the professional staff with exercise routines for the residents, the experiences I had there were life-changing. It was then that I realized that my life would be most fulfilled working directly to improve the lives of others as it relates to medicine.
With a strong interest in clinical medicine, I continued my studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) as a biology major and a Meyerhoff scholar. I embarked on several projects within the disciplines of immunology, cell biology, genetics, and vascular biology. These research projects gave me an indescribable experience as a participant in the discovery process and new found appreciation for biomedical research. I was ready to work in the hospital and wondered how various scientific discoveries were being used in medicine. To answer this question and gain first hand experience of life inside a busy hospital, I began volunteering in the shock trauma resuscitation unit at the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) in Baltimore. On my first day as a volunteer, I was a bit nervous, unsure of what to expect. However, once I suited up and walked into the shock trauma room, I knew medicine was the profession I was meant to pursue. Through my work, I witnessed the 9medical staff working tirelessly to stabilize and care for patients who had experienced car accidents, stabbings, and other forms of trauma.
I will never forget walking into the shock trauma room to find a crying mother and grandmother as they saw their son and daughter severely injured from a car accident. As I looked into the next unit, there was a middle-aged woman who was recovering from a stab wound. Walking away from her unit, I could hear her call “Miss….Miss, can you help me?” I didn’t know what she wanted, but I quickly turned to talk with her. She wanted her food heated and the nurse’s assistance. Although I could not physically interact with her, I felt like a part of the medical team---working to ease suffering and serve those in pain. The most striking incident occurred one Saturday morning when I walked into the resuscitation unit and saw a pool of blood surrounding the rolling bed of one patient. The doctors and nurses tried everything possible to save his life. However, they were unsuccessful and he died. I watched the reactions of the staff as they silently covered his body and rolled it away. It was then that I realized that one day I would be in a position to save someone’s life. I immediately thought about the family of the deceased patient. Most importantly, I understood the important role that I must be prepared for in helping families deal with such a life tragedy.
As I was walking back to the locker room, I started to reflect on the joy I got from volunteering in the hospital and mentoring community kids, combined with my passion for science. I knew at that moment that I would love working as a physician who could not only heal and alleviate pain, but who can educate and innovate. The opportunity to change even a fraction of the lives of those in a city or underserved country is quite amazing. With the untimely death of various community members due to the advanced stages of cancer and the higher incidence of human immunodeficiency virus infection in minority women, I am inspired to join the struggle against deadly diseases and sickness. As I continue to strive for more, I can remember a quote by author Anna Eleanor Roosevelt: “When you cease to make a contribution, you begin to die.” I not only want to treat patients in the clinical setting, but am driven to improve the treatment and diagnosis of life-altering diseases through public health research. Without reservation, I want to make this contribution.