My initial plan at Berkeley was to study engineering; after all, I thought, excelling in science is what got me there. But it didn’t take many credits toward my nuclear engineering major before I realized that I needed more than math to live the life I wanted. My first step towards becoming the doctor and therapist I am today was switching out of the engineering department to become a religious studies major. Turns out I use what I learned studying the world’s religions way more than the computer language Fortran.
On my first day of third year surgical rotation, I was volunteered to tell a women I’d never met that she had breast cancer. Why me? I speak Russian, and the surgeon was running low on patience. That day I learned that most of medicine is a form of translation. And that many doctors hide behind medical language so they won’t have to confront patients at a personal level, like I had to do with the Russian woman. I realized that there is no greater service a doctor can offer than honest and genuine communication.
This emphasis on communication is the defining aspect of my career as a doctor. I didn’t become a physician on the day of graduation from BU; I instead became one the day I told a loving family that their mother, and wife, was going to die, and there was nothing that anyone could do about it. I’ve been practicing for 15 years, and that’s still the pivotal moment in my clinical development.