From being a lab rat to exploring public health in Ghana, I have sought to expand my vision of what the practice of medicine entails and experience diversity. I grew up observing the trust and respect my dad earned as an internist who started his practice in a trailer in rural Georgia. I admire his ability as a diagnostician to help not only his patients but also anyone who
asks for information about health care issues. My dad has been on call every New Years Eve for as long as I can remember and is dedicated to helping his patients anytime, day or night. Inspired by his dedication, I chose biomedical engineering as a major with my own goal of joining the medical profession and becoming a doctor.
As a biomedical engineering major, I had many opportunities to learn about the medical field, but I had never experienced a new culture and health care abroad until I traveled to Ghana. My trip had many highlights including morning rounds in the fevers clinic at Korle Bu teaching hospital. The fevers clinic houses mostly AIDS patients in a decrepit building, secluded from the rest of the large teaching hospital. The patients in this clinic were in their own clothes, provided their own food, and some did not even have bed frames. I was amazed when rounding how the doctor walked from room to room quickly gathering information, leading an informative discussion and moving to the next patient despite the adverse conditions. Everyone in the room respected her and trusted her skills: two attributes I would like to gain by becoming a physician. After morning rounds, we met in the doctors’ lounge for questions and answers. This was the first time I had been in a doctors’ lounge since I was a kid waiting for my dad on his Saturday morning rounds. Not surprisingly, the doctors’ lounge was dark, with old furniture and no air conditioning or computers similar to the rest of the fevers clinic. Despite the differences in aesthetics, the environment was the same as the one I witnessed as a child. The physicians were confident in their skills, optimistic about patient outcomes, and dedicated to the patients’ well being. I found myself envious of the doctors, just like I did fifteen years ago when I was a kid listening to medical jargon as doctors dictated charts and discussed patients.
The attending we followed in the fevers clinic also reminded me of an oncologist I shadowed at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. A patient who was recovering from ovarian cancer had unfortunately developed breast cancer and was reluctant to submit to
genetic testing as recommended. I could see the fear in her face and hear it in her voice; it was the first time I felt uncomfortable in a medical setting. The patient's daughter tested negative for high risk genes, but the Physician’s Assistant (PA) was having trouble explaining why the data was meaningless without her mother’s test results. After listening to the private discussion of the PA and the oncologist outside the exam room, I was worried about the conversation that was going to follow. However, the doctor walked into the exam room, comforted the patient, convinced her to proceed with genetic testing, and scheduled the surgery. I was impressed by the oncologist’s ability to educate the patient on why genetic testing was necessary in this situation which comforted and assured the patient who was in a difficult position. The oncologist’s confidence and composure was mirrored by the doctor in Ghana, both of whom were capable of handling difficult situations and appearing to have no fear.
These opportunities and observations reminded me why I am determined to study medicine and justified my dream of becoming a physician. They also demonstrated differences and similarities in health care between the two distinct cultures allowing me to observe diversity first hand. It is the confident, well respected physician who has the ability to communicate methods of prevention and treatment to patients from different backgrounds that will have the most impact on his or her patients. A physician that can work with a diverse group of individuals will be most effective in healing.