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Why I Practice Medicine- Dr. Jeremy Levenstadt

This is a story I want you to remember. It starts on an average note with an apparently average young boy by the name of Richard who lives in Guyana, South America.  At first sight, Richard resembles many other boys on the developing side of the world.  While on a medical mission in Guyana, I had the privilege of meeting Richard. He had wispy chocolate brown hair complimented by an insightful, yet inquisitive gaze.  A gaze that yearned to understand why his angelic smile would not endure indefinitely? For all his external regularities, internally Richard was not like the average child. Richard was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect; a hole in his septum. North Americans would regard Richard’s life as simple, but first impressions can be deceiving.  I was surprised and scared when I witnessed Richard turn blue and pass out while carrying out a mundane chore.  I soon learned that Richard has only one year to live, and I then desired to learn more about Richard.

I sat down with Richard at 7:00am on the day after I saw him collapse and spent the next three hours teaching him about the importance of reading, and the joy that education can offer the human mind. Discussing the situation with Richard it was clear that his family resented him for not being able to carry out the daily chores. I spent a great deal of time with them, explaining Richard’s disability. This information seemed to help the family cope with the challenge that they faced, and helped Richard feel less alone. Experiencing the impact and power that education and compassion could have in his life, made just as great an impact on mine.

If Richard were born in Canada his defect would have been fixed weeks after birth. But Richard was born in Bartica, Guyana. Now Richard is no longer with us.

The power to fix the health problems that afflict the world does not reside in any one person or government. Worldly solutions arise by empowering the peoples of the world. Medicine, even in some small way, medicine aids in this empowerment by increasing the quality of life for our global community. Richard’s life taught me the importance of the need to universal access to medicine. More importantly, Richard taught me about the power of medicine. Medicine has a power that transcends the books we study or the articles we cite. Medicine is the vehicle for our actions to be felt on a one-to-one personal level all across the globe. I know the power a doctor has to help a patient because I have seen first hand that a compassionate doctor can offer so much more than palliative care for terminal patients. I have also witnessed the healing aura a doctor can bring to a family. I saw first hand that an empathetic doctor, a genuinely benevolent doctor, garners so much more respect and trust than one who is not. I know this because of a life-changing event that caught me by surprise last year. Without warning, I was diagnosed with a disorder known as Crohn’s Disease. This is an autoimmune disorder of chronic inflammation in the intestine. In coping with the immediacy and intrusiveness of this condition, my own physician reaffirmed my passion for medicine. His own care and respect for me gave me a glimpse into my own future and the doctor that I know and want to become.

It was my interaction with him at Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal where I realized two vital principles about becoming a physician: 1. Simple acts can be great acts. Simple acts of respect and kindness, like knocking on a patients door before entering can make the patient feel so incredibly special and important. 2. People entrust their lives to doctors. This is one of the only professions where people lend themselves, literally, to the mind of another human being.

Being a doctor is not a profession. It is a privilege. People are giving you their lives and it is up to you to try to ensure that someone is around to see tomorrow. To me, having a person entrust you with their life is the greatest privilege anyone could ever earn.

The reality is that the many lives that doctors touch every day are never even aware of what has happened. But that is ok, because a good doctor finds satisfaction in the selfless, quiet, and humble deeds that they provide on a daily basis. As the weight of illness is lifted from a patient, there is a great weight lifted from the doctor as well. Physicians not only have a direct impact on the health status of their patient, but more importantly, saving a life ensures that a son grows up with a father and a mother can have children. Ensuring someone’s survival also ensures the survival of generations to come, not to mention all the people they touch along the way.

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