I started as an undergraduate student in a PharmD program. Yes, I was studying to become a pharmacist. Hindsight is 20/20 and so I realize now that I probably couldn’t have maintained the career choice without some endorsement from the AMA or other powerful organization that healthcare teams are required to prescribe whole foods as medicine. However, even prior to this realization, I had an intuition I wanted to do more. Some say, “a calling”. Whatever one calls it, there was no other option. I distinctly remember the very train ride to New Jersey from Boston (where I went to undergrad) that I had MCAT prep book in hand and decided to take the exciting jump to calling my mom to deliver the news. ”Mom, I think I want to be a physician.” I only added the ‘I think’ in there to buffer what I thought was to be a huge shock. What was most surprising was her lack of surprise. Hindsight is 20/20 and so I known now she was in on this little secret “calling” before I was onto it. Moms (well, the moms like mine) always know best. I’m sure my stepmom had a similar reaction when she heard the news because she was the first to ask me back in high school why I wasn’t interested in becoming a doctor. My dad probably knew, too, but I am his “little girl” and I’m sure there was some aspect of concern (out of love) for my transferring out of a secure, 6-year doctoral program with a gauranteed, well-paying job only to sign up for a long hard road of uncertainty and hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt. Hindsight is 20/20 and so I now acknowledge these reactions as representative of the pride my parents have for me, and the gratitude I have for their support. I’m sure I can speak for dad’s hindsight in that it wasn’t all that bad of a transfer and only cost him some of his hair and high blood pressure reads.
Now, anyone who knows me, knows that when I get a goal in my head… watch out world!… I will make it happen (sort of like my passion for starting up this blog). From the moment of acceptance based on my mom’s reaction, there was no stopping me. I got off the phone, jumped right into the MCAT studies and by Monday was drafting my self-nomination for president of our school’s pre-med chapter of the American Medical Student Association (AMSA). Don’t worry; I’m not all that nerdy because once I became president I made our first fundraiser of selling “What would House do?” t-shirts. Oh, wait, that probably doesn’t help the nerd factor. Ok, I know you’re wondering, what’s the point of this whole story? In order to explain that I need to go back to that period of time when this mini-house (with a little better bedside manor) was first pursuing her mission. Running for president of the pre-med club meant I had to know the organization I would represent. When I logged onto the AMSA website to find a Humanistic Medicine (HuMed) Action Group. This group emphasized actions and projects related to medical humanities, student wellness and integrative medicine.
By the end of the semester, I was standing president of the club and further, had been selected the national pre-med rep for the HuMed action group. This position required me to travel to regional and national AMSA conferences. Through these I learned more about the medical humanities. Hindsight is 20/20 and I now find myself an avid writer, a “rookie” to the medical humanities, despite being introduced years ago.
The medical humanities are a home for the art of storytelling. Though there are numerous outlets for storytelling, writing is the main way members of the medical community share novel hypotheses for etiologies, prevention and cures of diseases as well as maintenance of health. Medicine based in medicine must also be based in sound scientific research. This can only be assessed by documenting, not only the patient’s story, but the clinical findings, the proposed hypothesis, the purpose of inquiry, the methods of assessment, the results of analysis, the discussion of the significance of the findings and the conclusive take home message for propelling the field of medicine forward even more. In modern day, documented methodology through written word is how research is peer-reviewed, duplicated and shared. It is how to bring bench to bedside. It is how new text is formed for trainees in medical education. Specifically, speaking as a trainee, it is how I can share cutting edge science and medicine with those I hope to touch and help immediately, without having to wait to make that impact for individual patient interactions after graduation, residency or fellowship. In that sense, the medical humanities help me live both in my passion and in the moment. I engage in the medical humanities, beyond storytelling, to convey the sense and art of inquiry that is crucial to the ever-evolving practice of medicine. Inquiry is my passion. Medical humanities give me a tool to convey it.
Isn’t a recalled story simply hindsight? Perhaps it is the telling of it that brings a sense of 20/20vision to it. There is a reason the word story is in the word history. Storytelling is the art of capturing mini histories. This is exactly what we are doing when we gather histories from each patient we encounter in medical practice.
A few months ago, I was asked by a friend to be interviewed to tell one of my own stories. Hindsight is 20/20 and this squashed my concept of writing being the primary outlet for storytelling in medicine to bring my awareness to the art of oral narrative. I completed the interview, sharing my story of dealing with human suffering through an experience I had guiding a woman in pain through a clinical hypnosis experience while she received numerous failed lumbar punctures.
My friend later asked me how it felt to share such a story. Good question (speaking of inquiries). I suppose it helped me “relive” the rewarding feelings of that encounter in verbalizing it. It gave me some pride that perhaps sharing my positive experience would give something to others that would allow them to have similar experiences. I will say, those feelings were a bit suppressed when I heard the recording. Some may have even been replaced by feelings of embarrassment. Even after getting passed my insecurities of the sound of my own voice, I felt a bit pompous listening to my story as if I was such a great person. No, mother Teresa is a great person. My story was capturing just a small moment. I was so embarrassed, in fact, that I thought I might not want to share it on my blog. But then, just today, Mother Teresa was quoted on the radio station I was listening to; “Not all of us can do great things, but we all can do small things with great love”. Hindsight is 20/20 and I now suppose my modesty was, at least in part, exaggerated. There is no denying I love medicine. I love what I do (and will do). And, now, I love sharing the stories about it, both through writing, and through spoken word.
Storytelling wouldn’t be that, if no one were receiving the story.
Is storytelling more about the past (or hiSTORY), the present (receiving the story) or the future (impact of it)? Each of these aspects impacts the storyteller and the receiver in some way. In clinical medicine, all components are crucial to the care of a patient (what is gathered, what is diagnosed and what is done). Hindsight is 20/20; I believe the past, present and future contribute equally to the importance, and the art, of the humanities (medical and otherwise). So, I pose to you… is hindsight 20/20?