fostering the humanistic practice of medicine publishing personal accounts of illness and healing encouraging health care advocacy

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fostering the humanistic practice of medicine publishing personal accounts of illness and healing encouraging health care advocacy

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New Voices

A Daughter of Vietnamese Refugees

Editor’s Note: This piece was a finalist in the Pulse writing contest, “On Being Different.”

I am a daughter of Vietnamese refugees.

I wear my identity so proudly that I often reflexively lead with this when, as a medical student, I’m introduced to colleagues, professors and supervisors. It is my response when asked, “How will you contribute to diversity?”

I feel honored to be different. In fact, when I meet patients who have never encountered a Vietnamese American, and if it feels safe to do so, I happily pronounce my last name in my native tongue.

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The Visible-Invisible Divide

Editor’s Note: This piece was a finalist in the Pulse writing contest, “On Being Different.”

Most days, people don’t see my disability. I don’t generally wear a brace or use a wheelchair or even crutches.

“I would never know that you’re in constant pain,” a kind professor once said. “When I see you, you’re always smiling.”

“You don’t look sick,” friends always tell me.

I’m twenty-three. I want to be like my peers, but for me, every day is a balancing act—literally.

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The Sounds of Inclusion

Editor’s Note: This piece was awarded an honorable mention in the Pulse writing contest, “On Being Different.”

The whir of a drill. Loud smacks from a hammer. Tools scrape and scratch the floor as they’re shuffled across it.

To you, these may seem like the sounds of nondescript carpentry work; maybe a remodel happening in a neighboring apartment. But as I sit at my desk in my medical school’s laboratory, listening to that carpentry symphony two lab benches away, I hear the sounds of inclusion.

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Being Different: My Struggle and My Motivation

Editor’s Note: This piece was a finalist in the Pulse writing contest, “On Being Different.”

When I was in elementary school, I was bullied by my peers into believing that being different was bad.

I grew up thinking that speaking my mind was undesirable if my thoughts didn’t mirror those of others. To my peers, liking the “strange” foods of my parents’ Haitian cuisine, such as tripe or oxtail, was weird. I wore my older brothers’ hand-me-downs, which led to incessant teasing at school.

Although I grew up in Brockton, Massachusetts—a mostly Black, Haitian and Cape Verdean town—much of this negativity came from kids who looked like me.

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Black in Medicine

Editor’s Note: This piece was a finalist in the Pulse writing contest, “On Being Different.”

I was a third-year medical student, anxiously waiting for our morning conference to begin and quickly reviewing the questions that might be asked.

I had stepped into the conference room full of residents a few minutes prior, timidly asking if this was the correct location. An attending physician I’d met only once confirmed that I was in the right place and directed me to the front row of seats. As I sat down, I realized that I was the only medical student present. Fighting the urge to bolt from the room, I pulled out my mini notebook.

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My Homage to Palliative Care

As a medical resident, I found there was something about working on the hospice unit that gave me the urge to wander, to slow down; to put away my stethoscope and truly connect with those around me.

Perhaps it was the peaceful, almost hypnotic melodies of the in-house pianist lulling me in a trance-like state, awakening my curiosity. Her music floated sweetly through the halls, following my path as I drifted, lost in reflection. Perhaps it was the towering windows looking out on the lush garden; on many afternoons, I’d gaze through their panes, watching the soothing winter downpour. It was my own personal sanctuary amid the pervasive atmosphere of grief and loss that hung over all.

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Code Switching: Gravel Against Stone

Editor’s Note: This piece was awarded an honorable mention in the Pulse writing contest, “On Being Different.”

As a medical student, I have a habit of lowering my voice an extra octave when I speak with patients, preceptors or even my own primary-care physician. I like to imagine my voice as gravel grinding against stone, my raspy “whiskey voice” melting away any hint of my queer identity.

In these moments, I’m keenly aware of the way I walk and stand, the firmness of my handshake and the content of the small talk I make. There are no lights, no curtains or stage, but I am nonetheless performing.

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Too Everything to Fit In

Editor’s Note: This piece was a finalist in the Pulse writing contest, “On Being Different.”

“Our next one is a new patient who’s here to establish care,” said my family-medicine preceptor, perusing the patient’s chart.

Great, I thought. Seems like this visit will be pretty simple.

My preceptor entered the exam room, and I nonchalantly followed. Then I locked eyes with the patient—a short, middle-aged woman with bronzed skin and a teal-colored headwrap: a hijab.

Too Everything to Fit In Read More »

My Superpower

When I was six years old, my parents and I learned that I have type 1 diabetes.

As I grew up, revealing my diagnosis felt awkward and burdensome. Whenever I was in a public place and checked my blood sugar by pricking my finger, I often had to explain my illness to others, which led to unwelcome questions. To avoid this, I developed a habit of mentioning my disease swiftly, as if pulling off a Band-Aid.

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My American Dream

I came to the US ten years ago, barely sixteen years old, with no family or friends here. I saw myself as a lone traveler—an immigrant woman on a journey to the American Dream. I now realize that, along the way, I was also reaching out to others who could help me adapt, acculturate and navigate this new terrain.

I was born and raised in Nigeria, one of a family of eight.

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The Toll of Caring

Maybe I can adopt her?

This thought awakened me from my sleep. Earlier in the day, I had treated a little girl, Carla, who was brave enough to tell me about the horrible abuse and neglect she’d suffered, and whose skin and bones were ravaged with injuries that silently told the same traumatic story. Recalling these details, which I had carefully documented, I understood that I’d fulfilled my professional role, but wondered if I could do more.

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Imposter Syndrome

According to a 2020 study, up to 82 percent of people experience imposter syndrome at some point in their lives. For some, the experience is fleeting; for others, it may hover in the background for a long time without ever being identified. That was the case with me.

Not many girls living in Pakistan get the opportunity to chase their ambitions as I have done. I was fortunate that my parents were more progressive than many: They always emphasized the importance of a woman’s financial independence and made sure I embraced every learning opportunity. When I decided to pursue medicine, though, they were hesitant, knowing that it would be a long, bumpy road.

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