Wednesday, August 15, 2007


Call Me (Im)Patient

Let me introduce myself: My name is Alexandra Sowa, I am twenty-four years old, and although I have only one year of medical school beneath my short white coat, I am absolutely ready to be a doctor. Forget second year - bring on the wards, the patients, and the title of “Medical Doctor!”

Before you assume that I am some cocky, over-zealous second-year, please give me a chance to explain.

When I was a little girl, waiting in line at the grocery store with my mother, an older woman cooed at me: “My, you are a pretty thing. How old are you?” Without missing a beat, I replied: “I am a sixteen-year old, trapped in this five-year-old body.”

I genuinely thought that the years I spent under five feet was some sort of cruel mix-up (I am now 5’6", just in case you were wondering). Don’t get me wrong - I had a wonderfully happy, fairly normal childhood. (I say fairly normal, because my mother was a bit of a hippy and didn’t believe in feeding me processed sugar. I didn’t know what a cookie was until kindergarten). I just wanted to move forward and do the next exciting thing. While some might argue that childhood is exciting, ask yourself this:

Would you rather learn how to drive a car or play in a dirty sandbox?
Although I was young, I was not stupid. Driving a car = fun. Playing in a dirty sandbox = not fun.

This has always been a problem of mine. When I was in 8th grade, I decided I was bored with middle school. So, I did as any logical thirteen-year-old would do: I opted to home-school for a semester and enrolled in classes at the University of Delaware. Without ever having set foot in high school, I decided I was already over it. I wanted to high-tail it to college.

Although some might label me with a “too big for your britches” syndrome, I don’t ever think that I’m too good for my current situation. Rather, I’m just so excited for the next stage that I can’t stand the wait.

This summer, I have been exposed to some amazing stuff at NYU Medical School, ranging from beautifully complicated reconstructive procedures in the operating Room at Tisch Hospital to profoundly moving physician-patient interactions in the clinics at Bellevue hospital.

And let me tell you: I am in love. You know the feeling – the weak in the knees, butterflies in the stomach, can’t stop smiling – type of love. Sadly (especially for my grandmother), I am not falling in love with a man, but with the profession of medicine.

This may seem counterintuitive, considering I have already committed years of my life to pre-med classes, MCAT studying, medical school interviewing, and last, but definitely not least, an entire year of medical school.

However, while immersed in the culture of medicine this summer, away from the books, the cadavers, and the stress, I discovered that I actually want to be a doctor – not a make-believe, far-off in the distance doctor, but the real deal.

I recently read Treatment Kind and Fair: Letters to a Young Doctor, by Dr. Perri Klass, a pediatrician at NYU, and came across a passage that made me realize why my revelation was so delayed.

“Medical training is transformative, I promise you that when you come out of training, you will in some sense divide the world into doctors and non-doctors, and you will identify as a doctor.”
Although the five-year-old in me secretly wants to simply fast-forward a few years, I finally understand that medical school is not just about knowledge, but about transformation. In the past year, I have transformed from a girl who wanted to be a doctor to a girl who is actually becoming one.

is a column that discusses the humor, heartache,and humanity of becoming a doctor. Alexandra Sowa is a second year medical student at NYU School of Medicine.


John said...

Dear Alexandra,

"Before you assume that I am some cocky, over-zealous second-year..."
Why would anyone assume that? Because you have always felt you were the smartest one in the room? Because you will continue to feel that way when it is just you and the patient in the examining room?

Your title, 'Call Me (Im)patient', is cute, but the blog shows a real
lack of understanding of the doctor/patient relationship and the basic understanding that
a physician is there for the patient...not the other way around.

To give a little more prospective: some synonyms for impatient are hasty, impetuous, precipitate, and sudden. These are the vary words that I would hope a school of medicine would use to weed out prospective doctors before they get the chance to prove, weather it is true or not, that they are smarter than the patient.

I am sure you are very intelligent, but your writing indicates that you are very interested in the science but do not have the grasp, or concern, of the big picture and never really will.

Perhaps you would be better suited for research and not have to IMPATIENTLY deal
with the health issues of a real PATIENT.

Note: I have managed my Type I diabetes for almost 23 years and heart,
kidneys, eyes, feet, A1C, etc, etc...all exceptional.
Which means, I have experienced, studied, and managed the disease close up
for some 197,000 hours (22.5 years x 365 days/year x 24 hours/day).
Yet, I continue to run into and am always amazed with medical know-it-alls
(usually have MD after their name and exhibit the same blind sided enthusiastic 'attitude' that you are so proud of), that think they know how to manage the disease I HAVE (along with the
other real life issues such as 16 year marriage, three kids, two bachelor’s degrees, etc) better than I have done and am doing.


John K.

alexandra sowa said...

Dear John,

Thank you for interest in my blog post. I am sorry to hear that you have had negative experiences with physicians in the past. If you take another look at my post, perhaps you will understand that my title is a play on words, and not a declaration of a desire to prove myself "smarter than the patient."

Thank you for your opinion - I will carry it forward with me, and hopefully, it will help me to be a better medical student, and eventually, a better physician.

Alexandra Sowa

Kari said...

I beg to differ, John.

I am a high school teacher, and before I began teaching, I felt the same passion and zeal that Alexandra feels for medicine. I wanted so much to begin teaching that I skipped getting a master's degree, even though it would have meant a higher salary for me, because I was in a rush to get into the classroom and begin my calling. In retrospect, I'm glad I didn't, because a master's in education would have been a waste of time and money for me--after teaching for several years, I discovered my real passion is in counseling, and that's what I plan to go back to school for eventually.

I have seen many idealistic young teachers begin the profession, and most of them have the same wish--they want to jump into the classroom not just to share their knowledge, but to learn more. I knew that, even with a degree in English Literature from a top California university, I didn't know everything there was to know about teaching English. But I couldn't wait to learn more--about teaching, about my subject matter, and about my students and their lives. The whole time I was in school, all I wanted to do was fast-forward to that moment where I'd be able to get into the classroom and have autonomy over what I taught and how I taught it. All I wanted was to meet the young minds charged to me and fill them with the same passion I felt. All I wanted was to make a difference.

That passion has been tempered somewhat as I head into my 6th year teaching (a defining year, I think, as roughly half of all teachers quit within their first five years.) I've realized how laughable it was for me to think I'd have autonomy over what and how I teach--that, in these days of high-stakes government-mandated tests, such autonomy is a myth. I've realized that I'm getting young minds who have been raised societally to believe that education is as much as a chore as paying taxes or jury duty--something to be avoided when at all possible. I've learned that those people who go into teaching wanting to make a difference are often the first to leave--pushed out by administrators and teachers' unions who only want the status quo, and expect students of the 21st century to learn in the same ways as students of the 19th century, who feel their authority is challenged by those who dare turn their back on the sacred altar of tradition.

Despite all these things, I'm still teaching, and I plan to for the foreseeable future. I went into teaching because I love learning, and I love the opportunities it gives me every single day to expand my understanding of the world and the generation that will someday run it. I don't profess to know even a fraction of everything that I need to know to do my job. I don't claim to know more than the veteran teachers with whom I work.

But I don't think that's where Alexandra is coming from. A true idealist, which she strikes me as, has a passion for medicine not because of what they can bring to their practice, but what they can learn from their practice. I'm fortunate to have found such a physician, and am even more fortunate that he's not only my physician, but also a personal friend, whose own children I have taught in my classroom. We've exchanged skills, and while society may value his more than mine based on dollar amount alone, the fact that both of us are in our professions to learn rather than simply to instruct make us both worthwhile.

So John, quit being so skeptical about her motivations and intentions, and try to consider what her real motivations and intentions might be. Maybe she can't wait to meet you to learn about the grasp you have on your disease, and through you, learn more about treating others not as fortunate to have your insights.

Anonymous said...

Very well written.

While there will always be critics out there, I for one enjoyed that read.

Keep your head up and your eyes open, this is a world of possibilities.