The Personal Statement

What holds every applicant from submitting their application to medical school, dental school, pharmacy school, physical therapy school, etc?  The personal statement.  You’re requested to summarize your life, describe your accomplishments, and detail your reasons for desiring a position in a graduate program in one page.  1300 characters.  Syntax, diction, presentation all have to be perfect.  Flawless.  One mistake could cost you a red mark from an admissions representative.  Applicants to medical school (or any other for that matter) can not afford any red marks. 

So here’s my attempt at expressing myself in so few characters:

Life or Death.  Life and Death.  One word seems to make a tremendous difference not only in the connotations of these two words but also in our attitudes towards them.  Is it a decision to be made- whether to live or die- or are life and death purely two interacting components of the cycle of life?  Physicians, and patients alike, are faced with the two very different perspectives of life and death every day.  Unfortunately, every one of us will experience some form of death throughout our lives but we are all also blessed to know the wonders of life.

I have experienced many accounts of death in my short lifetime including the passing of grandparents, friends, parents of friends, young cousins, and the death of my eldest brother, Robert, when he was seventeen and I thirteen.  Robert’s death had the greatest impact on my emotional, mental, and psychological development not only because of our close sibling relationship but also because I was, at the time, beginning to transition from a child to a young adult with increased responsibilities.  With these increased responsibilities, I felt that my role was to keep the family ‘living’ in our time of grief and sadness.  I took it upon myself to bring happiness to my parents, grandparents, brother and sister, and anyone I came into contact with.  In doing so, I was able to live and let live; I allowed myself to enjoy the little things in life and strived to also bring this joy to others.  Ralph Waldo Emerson wisely said, “Happiness is a perfume you cannot pour on others without getting a few drops on yourself.”  Sharing happiness with others proved to be the best remedy for my own recovery.  Since this experience, it has been my life philosophy everyday to bring happiness, invoke laughter and smiles to all, and in some small way ‘make their day.’ 

I would like to expand this philosophy to improving lives in a medical sense.  I have shadowed doctors, volunteered in hospitals and clinics, and conducted several successful experiments that have enriched, in me, an urgent sense of purpose.  Being able to learn from practicing physicians about diseases, observe doctor-patient interactions, and understand how to not only best care for the illnesses but also the patients, made these learning experiences invaluable.   This past year, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to participate in a Human Gross Anatomy class.  Four other students and I dissected a human cadaver, noted anomalies and variations, and presented the anatomical and histological findings at the Experimental Biology conference in Anaheim, California where we were the only undergraduate presenters.  These combined experiences fostered my love for the sciences and drive to attain higher education in the health field. 

Many physicians have some sort of tragic experience which has shaped their lives and inspired them to enter the health field.  My life-changing experience was the passing of my brother.  With his passing, dynamics of our family also passed.  Through my family’s holistic recovery, I gained a life philosophy which I hope to now apply to a practice in the health field.  If made possible, I would be honored to serve others, as a trusted, humane physician, improving patients’ health yet also reassuring them of my investments not only in their recovery of disease but also in the many elements of human suffering throughout Life and Death.

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“My God, What Evil Is This”

This video is one in a series of the History Channel’s account of The Bubonic Plague.  Not only will reading The Plague by Albert Camus and/or A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe (as well as many other novels written about this time period) present a very real account of the 14th century plague but so, too, does this History Channel depiction.  While the novels describe the every detail of scenes of death, this video provides the visual elements of emotional expression that are somewhat missing in novels.

There always seems to be some sort of ailment in society, whether that affects physical, mental, emotional, or psychosocial health.  In Camus, the plague was, in fact, not a plague in the biological sense but a plague of invasion of troops, exile of familiar comforts, and conquering of the city of Oran.  In the beginning of the novel, Oran is described as “treeless, glamourless, soulless, […] seeming restful and, after a while, you go complacently to sleep there” (Camus, 6).  However, as the rats (or troops) invade the city, death and destruction overshadow the eases of the past and Oran becomes a “huge necropolis” (Camus, 171).  Defoe’s plague is a literal illustration of the chaotic effects of the outbreak of Yersenia pestis in London.  Displayed all throughout the novel are weekly bills which give the death tolls of different parishes.  Also visual is the corruption which seemed to overpower humanity; stealing, cheating, harming were all now common.  Defoe notes that there was a “wicked inclination in those that were infected to infect others” and that “there have been great debates among our physicians as to the reason of this.  Some will have it to be in the nature of the disease, and that it impresses every one that is seized upon by it with a kind of a rage, and a hatred against their own kind-as if there was a malignity not only in the distemper to communicate itself by in the very nature of man, prompting him with evil will or evil eye, that, as they say in the case of a mad dog, who though the gentlest creature before of any of his kind, yet then will fly upon and bite any one that comes next him, and those as soon as any who have been most observed by him before” (Defoe, 167-168).  The good in human nature was suppressed during this time of fear, chaos, and death.  Overcome by selfish drives to save oneself, this period not only brought physical death but also the death of emotional and psychosocial well-being.

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A Monster’s Origins: Inhumanities or Neglect

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley’s 1818 Frankenstein is a nightmarish depiction of the grave consequences to Dr. Victor Frankenstein’s two year project of “infusing life into an inanimate body” (42).  Dr. Frankenstein noted that “[o]ne of the phenomena which had peculiarly attracted [his] attention was the structure of the human frame, and, indeed, any animal endued with life.  Whence, [he] often asked [him]self, did the principle of life proceed?  It was a bold question, and one which has ever been considered as a mystery; yet with how many things are we upon the brink of becoming acquainted, if cowardice or carelessness did not restrain our inquiries” (36).  Dr. Frankenstein sacrificed his education by missing class lectures, his health by not eating, exercising, or resting, and his sanity by disengaging from social environments outside of his laboratory.  Nothing could distract him from completing this experiment but by concentrating so diligently on this creature he failed to live his own life.  Dr. Frankenstein mentioned cowardice or carelessness as being deterrents for success.  Despite his success in bringing the creature to life, he quickly realized that he was thoughtless and ignorant as to what the consequences of this creation would entail.  Horrified with the result, “[he] felt the bitterness of disappointment; dreams that had been my food and pleasant rest for so long a space were now become a hell to me and the change was so rapid, the overthrow so complete” (43).  Dr. Frankenstein neglected his creation or any thought of this project and attempted to return to living a normal life.  Little did he know, his quiet life was about to be turned upside down by the work of his own hands.   

We learn from Dr. Frankenstein’s creature that he has had to overcome trial after trial, on his own in a cold, harsh world.  This creature, nameless throughout the novel but regularly called a wretch, demon, fiend, or monster, was thrown into an unfamiliar world and forced to quickly learn how to survive.  Not only did he accomplish this but he seemed to have learned how to be human. 

 What is it to be human?  There are common physical characteristics (walk upright, have opposable thumbs, use tools, form social groups, share a common language, the capacity to learn) but what sets humans apart from other animals is human nature.   Human nature involves curiosity, eagerness to learn, compassion and sharing, companionship, emotional and artistic expression, nurturing, and love. 

While the creature, who I’ll call George from here forth, physically appears “deformed, […] hideous, […] and filthy,” he has learned to imitate human behavior (59).  The great nature vs. nurture debate argues whether the greatest factor for human development is biological and innate or due to environmental influences.  In George’s monologue, he tells Dr. Frankenstein of the hardships he has endured as well as how he has learned by observing the De Lacey family’s interactions and daily routines.  George never felt loved, was never nurtured or cared for, and in his first hours of life felt as if he were a “poor, helpless, miserable wretch […] feeling pain invade [him] on all sides [which lead him to sit] down and we[e]p” (84).  Despite his immeasurable strength, he was weak and in need of guidance.  Every encounter he experienced with humans ended with the humans fearful and with George both physically and emotionally abused, sent back into hiding.  The compassion and understanding components of human nature were lost with George because of his appearance; “his yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun-white sockets in which they were set, his shriveled complexion and straight black lips” (42).  George manifested compassion and service in saving the young girl from the stream and by helping the De Lacey family by collecting firewood for their stove; yet, he never was shown the same compassion.  He learned language and love by observing the De Lacey family but never experienced love and friendly exchanges, himself.  George told Dr. Frankenstein that his only wish was to have a companion to share his life with and “[o]n you it rests, whether I quit forever the neighbourhood of man and lead a harmless life, or become the scourge of your fellow creatures and the author of your speedy ruin” (83).  The things George wanted in life, friendship, love, companionship, a social body, were things that Dr. Frankenstein took for granted in his two year experiment with George; by refusing to create a female companion for George, Dr. Frankenstein set him on his path of destruction.  George murdered Clerval, Dr. Frankenstein’s closest friend, and stole his companion and friend; he murdered Elizabeth, Dr. Frankenstein’s wife and lifelong love, depriving Dr. Frankenstein of relational love; and George emotionally and mentally damaged Dr. Frankenstein causing him to withdraw from society and lead a life chasing revenge. 

So, who is the true monster in this novel?  George who commits multiple criminal and murderous acts? Or is it Dr. Frankenstein and all of humankind who refuse to demonstrate compassion and love to an individual whose “form is a filthy type of [theirs]” (111).  Both groups caused the other excessive suffering and therefore, the inhumane monsters prove to be Dr. Frankenstein, the scientific mind behind George, George, the source of destruction, and mankind, the source of George’s emotional ruin.

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Experimental Procedure

The Hippocratic Oath:

“I swear by Apollo the healer, by Aesculapius, by Health and all the powers of healing, and call to witness all the gods and goddesses that I may keep this Oath and Promise to the best of my ability and judgement. 

I will pay the same respect to my master in the Science as to my parents and share my life with him and pay all my debts to him.  I will regard his sons as my brothers and teach them the Science, if they desire to learn it, without fee or contract.  I will hand on precepts, lectures and all other learning to my sons, to those of my master and to those pupils duly apprenticed and sworn, and to none other. 

I will use my power to help the sick to the best of my ability and judgement; I will abstain from harming or wronging any man by it.  I will not give a fatal drought to anyone if I am asked, nor will I suggest any such thing.  Neither will I give a woman means to procure an abortion.

I will be chaste and religious in my life and in my practice.  I will not cut, even for the stone, but I will leave such procedures to the practitioners of that craft.

Whenever I go into a house, I will go to help the sick and never with the intention of doing harm or injury.  I will not abuse my position to indulge in sexual contacts with the bodies of women or of men, whether they be freemen or slaves. 

Whatever I see or hear, professionally or privately, which ought not to be divulged, I will keep secret and tell no one.  If, therefore, I observe this Oath and do not violate it, may I prosper both in my life and in my profession, earning good repute among all men for all time.  If I transgress and forswear this Oath, may my lot be otherwise” (Hippocratic Writings). 

Why take an Oath? By swearing in front of professors and peers, what exactly are these aspiring physicians promising?  Thought to have been written by Hippocrates, the father of western medicine, the Hippocratic Oath is one that medical students take just before graduation in which they vow to practice medicine ethically.  While The Oath has been modernized and slightly altered, the general concepts are the same.  Doctors promise to help the sick to the best of their ability and judgement, to look to his or her fellow physicians for assistance, to harm no one, to practice only what he or she is trained to, and to respect each patient and his or her confidentiality.  Through their medical training, our doctors prepare to heal diseases; through the development of strong ethics and by taking this Oath, our doctors prepare to not only treat illnesses and diseases but to treat each individual.

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Materials and Methods

Richard Reynolds and John Stone, eds., On Doctoring (Simon and Schuster)

Hippocrtic Writings (Penguin)

Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year (Penguin)

Albert Camus, The Plague (Vintage)

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (Signet)

John Gunther, Death Be Not Proud (HarperPerennial)

Margaret Edson, Wit (Faber and Faber)

Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony (Penguin)

The experimental procedure includes:

1. Reading the materials

2. Evaluting medical, social, political, economic, and religous principles of the time period

3. Reflecting on these evaluations in the form of blogging

4. Including additional thought provoking material when appropriate

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Introduction

The purpose of this experiment was to evaluate medical visions in specific literature pieces.  Results were obtained through thorough reading of the material, critically thinking about the concepts presented in the material, and reflecting from a twentieith century perspective.  It was hypothesized that not only would the medical practices of the time period become apparent but also that social, political, economic, and religous practices would be manifested in the literature allowing both the culture and civilizations to be evaluated.

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Abstract

This experiment examined medical visions in literature with the purpose of evaluating these visions from a twentieth century perspective, referencing the medical, social, political, and economic situations of the novel’s time period, and including creative inferences.  The test consisted of blog entries, reflections from the literature cited in the Materials and Methods section of this report.  Eight novels from different historical time periods were thoroughly read and the embedded medical influence was considered.  Results showed that there is an abundance of medical visions in these literature pieces which reveal the public view of disease and illness, the relationship between physicians and patients, and health of specific time periods.

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