Kirsten Devin, Medical Student
University of Kansas School of Medicine-Kansas City Campus

El corazón, o coração, the heart. Apart from learning this word in three languages, I have also studied it as a vital organ governing the cardio-pulmonary circuit of the human body. While I may have learned to appreciate the value of this intricate vascular system in anatomy lab, I must admit that my genuine understanding of the heart did not come from prodding in a cadaver. In fact, what I have learned about what it means to have “heart” is something that cannot be taught in any language, by any lecture, or by any PhD. As the heart circulates our blood in a beautifully complex path through our body, so has my life’s path taken purposeful turns in pursuit of medicine.

I have identified myself as a truly uncommon medical student. Rather than coming from a conventional Pre-Med program, I studied Spanish and Portuguese to travel. Rather than attending medical school afterwards, I completed a year of service through AmeriCorps in a clinic for the uninsured. It is through these atypical experiences that I gained the aforementioned “heart” for service. Feeling overworked with a difficult population and supported only by a modest stipend and food stamps, compassion fatigue set in during the middle of my term and I evaluated the question of whether I was “born to be a doctor”. Each day spent with patients attempting to improve their health- educating on medications, illness, the effects of lifestyle, and yet no matter what I tried, the positive results always seemed short-lived.

Around this time a Kenyan woman came in for a health screening and was assessed as anemic and at risk for diabetes. I entered to find the woman expressionless and glazed-over, a look that I assumed to be apathy. Wondering if anything I could do would have an effect on this patient, I listened to her story. I learned that her mother had recently died from complications of diabetes and that she had traveled to the clinic from an hour away so her abusive husband would not know she was seeking care without his consent. It was at this moment I realized I had been missing the point. This patient did not need to be educated on her medications, diet and exercise, or scolded for skipping appointments. This patient needed someone to listen and hold her hand as she wept over the issues she was fighting alone, issues that she could not bring anywhere else.

Perhaps not everyone was born to be in healthcare, but humanitarianism dictates that we were all born to care for each other. Many medical ailments are deeply rooted in personal lives, family and financial situations, fear, hope, and hopelessness. The transformations I have seen in patients have had little to do with the medications they took, and everything to do with their motivation and confidence to pursue meaningful lives. Healing is a path to fulfillment of service and gratification, of selflessness and happiness, and to me this is everything we are born to do.