I am a cancer survivor. After much thought, I offer this as an explanation for the year I was forced to take off, and all that I have learned in that time period. In October 2007, just as I started ERAS 2008, removal of a simple ‘mole’ from my occipital scalp soon turned into a diagnosis of stage IIIa melanoma. The next number of months was consumed with two surgeries, CT scans, PET scans, daily trips to the hospital, self-injections of Interferon, and contemplating nothing but cancer through it all. During that time, I gained valuable insights about health care systems, physician-patient relationships, and the ramifications of the treatments we recommend to our patients. However, contrary to what many told me during those months, I did not need to experience illness to become a more compassionate physician. Understanding the impacts of illness on an individual’s life does not need to be experienced to be understood. I went into medicine to treat each patient with dignity and each illness with the clinical acumen that I have acquired through medical school and will continue to acquire through residency and a lifetime of practicing medicine – this I did not learn from experiencing cancer.

However, there is much I have learned from having lived through cancer treatment. Most importantly, I have defined the disease; the disease has not defined me. I am still the same person I was before being diagnosed. I have learned this holds as true for every other patient as it does for me. Every person burdened with the diagnosis of an illness, be it acute, chronic, or terminal, incorporates the disease into their every day, and, in short, continues to live life. Although I am still not fully able to verbalize all the lessons and ramifications that the past year has had for me, I have learned that permitting every patient to live as full a life as they can is just as important as treating their illness.

During my year in treatment, I had time to reflect on my motivations in medicine. I believe that the ability to stabilize the acutely ill patient, coupled with the knowledge of treating and managing the vast array of diseases found on the medicine floor, creates an incredibly effective physician. The emergency room is often the front line of medicine where the full spectrum of illnesses and injuries must be treated. Emergency physicians must therefore not only maintain a broad medical knowledge base and skill set, but also have the flexibility and the calm to stabilize acutely ill patients. In Internal Medicine doctors must manage co-morbidities such as diabetes, COPD, and heart failure, while treating the present complaint. Combining internal medicine with emergency medicine gives physicians the calm of working under unique time constraints as well as the capacity to understand the long term treatments. These practitioners are invaluable assets to the medical profession.

My eventual goal is to deliver international medicine. I therefore strive to find a residency program that not only teaches medicine to trainees, but also trains them to effectively deliver health care to diverse populations. A combination IM/EM residency is ideal for me. It will not only hone my medical skills, but also improve my ability to care for patients in a manner that appreciates their cultural perceptions of medicine. I believe this is just as important as learning the pathophysiology of diseases. I look forward to the day when I can work alongside the health professionals that I have witnessed improving the world, one patient at a time – one life at a time.