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My Grandmother – The Catalyst Of My Medical Aspirations

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I grew up surrounded by the thick, vibrant tropical forest of Northern India. Bright marigolds in full bloom swirled around me and my feet cushioned by soft moss. I can still hear the nightingale sing and feel the humidity sticking my body to my clothes. The origin of my medical aspirations started as a child. It was my grandmother who was the catalyst.

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My grandmother was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Out of nowhere, she would start to dance in the night and bang the door; the only way we could help was to tie her down for her safety until the doctor arrived. I felt useless and baffled and scared, not knowing what was going on or what could I do to make it stop. What the doctor did that day seemed to me to be magic.

I found the doctor’s ability to empathize with my grandmother, elicit her trust, treat her with compassion, and operate with medical expertise inspiring, which sparked my interest in the medical field. Seventeen years after watching that doctor help my grandmother, I am striving to emulate him. I want to work towards building medical equity. I believe that the level of care that the doctor provided to my grandmother should be universal, particularly in disadvantaged communities where I have rarely witnessed that level of care.

I was raised in a country where healthcare is considered a privilege for most, and my experiences working with the underserved in the United States further solidified my desire to work in disadvantaged communities. As an undergraduate at UCLA, I volunteered on a project for Skid Row where I witnessed many heartbreaking. I saw the lack of nutritious food available to the homeless on Skid Row, mere miles from five-star restaurants, health conscious food stores and abundant fresh food markets available to Los Angeles’ elite. It was time for us to go after serving food to nearly 300 people on Skid Row. I remember as we were walking to our car, I saw a woman sitting on a blanket, talking to herself, kept shaking her head saying “No” again and again. That picture troubled me for days. It reminded me of the times when my grandmother used to act out like this. I wish there were something I could do to help her, like how the doctor in my childhood helped my grandmother. Like, Mel, the organizer of the Skid Row Project, started this organization to help this community by making sure that hundreds of people do not go to sleep hungry and is leading to make a difference in this community.

After getting to know the individuals on Skid Row, I saw that the immense difference in access to resources is why specific communities may never reach their potential. Not only the individuals on Skid Row require nutritious food, but are also in the need of proper health care. I learned that some are dealing with serious physical illnesses and mental disorders – that if addressed – can give them a second chance at life. Individuals on Skid Row cannot all be generalized into one definition of ‘homeless,’ rather that they are individual human beings with names and stories that needs to be heard. After speaking with them, it is my commitment to myself that in the future as a physician, I would also serve this community by organizing free health clinics/ screenings that would give some of the individuals in this population, a chance to return their life to normalcy. I learned the importance of taking the time to hear a story before thoughtlessly labeling someone with my own version of what happened to them.

In my desire to do more for underserved communities, I decided to work with communities that hit near home too with Dr. Grewal in Bhagat Puran Singh Health Initiative (BPSHI). I met many South Asian immigrants who were unaware when it is an appropriate time to seek medical care. Working closely with Dr. Grewal inspired me to follow in his footsteps. I thoroughly enjoyed engaging in a dialogue through which I was able to obtain a full medical history and any other information pertinent to the patient’s visit. I met an elderly woman who mentioned that she had not visited a doctor in over 15 years. This patient’s testimony made me appreciate how her community does not realize how important it is to go to the doctor regularly and the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. I saw firsthand how language and cultural barriers of being in the United States have left many members unaware of their resources and lacking the information to understand the basic changes they can make to live a healthier life.

I learned to ask myself one question: “What can I do to ease the difficulties a patient is facing?” I truly believe that being a doctor encompasses much more than being intelligent and achieving expertise in the field. It is also about a genuine drive to make a difference in another’s life. My decision to pursue medicine is strongly cemented in my work and volunteer experience as a first-generation college student. From the moment of when that doctor magically healed my grandmother to my work with patients, my decision to pursue medicine grows stronger. This career will allow me to build upon my understanding and love of science and human nature while making a personal impact on the lives of others by providing compassionate and comprehensive care. 

09 March 2021

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