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One Person at a Time

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

By medical-student standards, I’m old.

While it’s increasingly common for applicants to take one, two or even three gap years between college and medical school (usually to do research or engage in an activity to be featured in their application), taking ten years off, as I did, is unusual. I fondly refer to this hiatus as my “gap decade.”

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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

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Hot Water Cures (Almost) Everything

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

If, like my parents, you had immigrated across the world to America with only $200 to your name, feeling hesitant to speak whenever you needed something for fear of people doubting your intellect, you might develop a certain degree of wary self-reliance.

My parents have had to fight for everything they’ve achieved here, including voices that would be heeded despite their accents,

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A Phony Heterosexual

In my first year as a premedical student at the University of Rochester, I began working as an EMT (emergency medical technician).

I enjoyed the work, but my interactions with patients were necessarily fast-paced and fleeting. In September of my senior year, I explored a different side of medicine by volunteering at a local hospice house; there, engaging with patients and hearing their stories over time was a critical element of care.

Among the hospice

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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

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No One Left to Save

“Do you want to call time of death?”

I stared up at my resident Hassan, shocked by his question. My stethoscope was still pressed to the elderly patient’s emaciated chest. Her agonal breaths, those last shallow breaths the body takes before death, had ceased. Only silence filled my ears.

Hassan smiled at me. I knew that he was offering this to me as a reward for all my hard work, but still, I was stunned.

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As a third-year medical student, I was two weeks into my trauma-surgery rotation when my resident casually called me “disposable.” I wasn’t offended—in fact, the word perfectly described how I’d been feeling. I also understood that it was no reflection on my performance; rather, it was a commentary on medical students in general.

Surgery was the first rotation of my third year—and, now that the COVID pandemic was winding down, it was also my first

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Fear of Flesh

Sometimes I wish that skin and bones didn’t exist. Of course, that would be impossible—the skeleton is the scaffold for our bodies, while the skin is the insulation for vital organs such as the heart, kidneys and bowels. Without our skin and bones, we’d be mere piles of goo on the floor.

Bones are too complicated, for the simple reason that there are too many. As a first-year medical student studying anatomy, I agonized over learning the grooves and prominences where the muscles originate and insert into the bones. I always struggled to find these so-called bony landmarks on our simulated patients.

And flesh…the skin is even more

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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

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Music and Medicine

It’s the end of a long day on Internal Medicine Ward H (“Hey” in Hebrew) at Soroka Medical Center, in the desert city of Be’er Sheva, Israel.

I’m a third-year medical student at the Medical School for International Health at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and this is the floor I’ve been assigned to for my six-week internal-medicine clerkship—my very first clinical rotation.

My fellow students and I wrap up our responsibilities for the day

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Invisibly Different

Editor’s Note: This piece tied for first place in the Pulse writing contest, “On Being Different.”

“That seems like a dumb way to die.”

“Why would anyone choose to do that to themselves?”

I hear my medical-school classmates pose these questions as we learn about how an acetaminophen overdose can cause painful, fatal damage to the liver. How each metabolite can tear apart a liver cell. How it takes hours or even days for the full extent of the overdose

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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:

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