I was an undergraduate visitor at a medical school. One morning walking across campus I looked up and noticed my sidewalk was coming to an intersection and I was inevitably going to come across a man in a white coat. I did what any introvert would do, I slowed down to let him get to the intersection first and I looked down to avoid eye contact. If I walked slowly enough, I figured we would avoid walking past each other and could happily continue on our separate ways. Imagine my surprise when the man stood waiting for me at the intersection, smiling. Of course, he was a neurosurgeon. Of course, he wanted to know what I planned to do with my life. I told him my story and explained that I was confused about my future plans. I shouldn’t be confused he told me. He could tell exactly what I really wanted to do and encouraged I should do it. Before leaving me the stranger looked at me, pointed to his head and said, “the brain is the most mystical organ. It is the only organ that can transgress two realms, the Earth and one day God’s realm.” Pointing to the sky, he continued “He gave us this gift, our brain, and I never cease to be amazed by the wonderful things I can do through medicine.” He smiled and then he walked away and we went our separate ways.
“Relative deprivation” is a term coined by Samuel Stouffer. According to Malcolm Gladwell, “Stouffers point is that we form our impressions not globally, by placing ourselves in the broadest possible context, but locally—by comparing ourselves to people “in the same boat as ourselves.” Our sense of how deprived we are is relative.”
The city of Loma Linda is one of the more affluent cities in the Inland Empire in CA, it is notorious for the healthy habits and good health of its residents. If you walk across the 10 freeway from Loma Linda into the city of San Bernardino you enter one of the poorest cities in CA and severely affected by health disparities. Last night I sat outdoors at a friend’s parents' hill top residence watching shows on an overhead projector overlooking a beautiful night view of the cities of Loma Linda and San Bernardino. Why not engage in this pleasant experience since “we can” was the inside joke of the night. Today, I found myself at the Al Shifa clinic in the city of San Bernardino. It is a free clinic where physicians volunteer their time in an attempt to meet the health care needs of the underserved population in the area. As a medical student you obtain an incredible amount of hands on experience, because there is so much need.
As I finished my clinical experience for the day I sat in awe at the sharp contrast between the two neighboring cities. Growing up my experiences paralleled that of the people of the city of San Bernardino yet I am blessed with the opportunity of an educational experience like those at the top of the hill. How lucky am I! How lucky are we! How lucky are we as medical students to have the opportunity to engage in a medical education and some day use the knowledge we gain to bring healing to all parts of the globe: the top and bottom of the hill. Stouffers idea of relative deprivation came to mind. We have a tendency to compare ourselves to those in our present situation or those who are doing better than us. This makes it easy to dismiss the needs of those people upon whom life has not smiled too kindly. It is therefore my hope that all medical students be aware of the blessing that it is to be in our position. So that one day when we student doctors get to “the top of the hill” we will not turn a blind eye to the needs of those stuck in the valleys, but that we will try to meet the health care needs of underserved populations with a compassionate heart simply because “we can”.
About a year ago I caught a flight midway across the country with only my carry on, a checked bag, and $1,400 dollars in my bank account. With friends and family left behind in CA and no permanent place to stay in Ohio I engaged on the most epic adveture of my life, medical school. Despite all the sleepless nights and the overwhelming feeling of "I have not studied enough" I would not trade it for the world. The Boonshoft School of Medicine has been like a secret gem that I was lucky enough to discover and I know with certainty that I could not be at a better medical school. One year down, three to go. M2 here we go!