As early as my first month in medical school, I am recognizing the continued influence of my completion of the Shepherd Poverty Program and especially of my internship experience on my education. The summer of 2008, I was lucky enough to spend my days with Dr. Maslansky, his medical and social work staff, and his patients at Bellevue Hospital's Methadone Maintenance Treatment Program. Two years ago, I was finishing my poster to present at the closing conference and struggling to make sense of the emotions that kept me, for once, short of words. I couldn't think of what I might say to an audience of peers and faculty that would adequately represent my patients. People who had generously shared their stories of isolation, hopelessness and infrequent but treasured triumph with a stranger who had not had enough time to fully earn their trust deserved at least a great presentation. I wanted to get it right, I wanted to make my friends at W&L understand my friends in Bellevue, I wanted someone else to feel the urgency I felt when I thought about their pain. I ended up gluing patient artwork to a black poster board and giving my talk from PowerPoint slides, feeling like an ineffectual communicator.
Now I see there was no way to fit my summer into a 15-minute talk and that that was never the point. It has been two years, and I still feel like I am working on my presentation; I have given it countless times, to friends, to teachers, to my family, to medical school admissions officers and most often to myself, for my own benefit, to remember. I like to think about the patients I came to know, about their surprising resilience and optimism in the face of terrible odds, about how much they trusted the ‘Doc' (Dr. Maslansky) and depended upon that trust. I think how all I experienced amounted to a gradual dissolution of my own prejudices about addiction and more broadly about the life paths of others. I use my memories of Bellevue's patients on a regular basis to remind myself why I came to medical school in the first place and to keep me focused on the inspiring people who will continue to shape my future by being part of my past.
After coming back from my internship, their inspiration reminded me to seek out opportunities to better understand poverty and its devastating effect on a person's health. With a classmate, Cristin Quinn, I attended the Remote Area Medical Clinic in Wise, Va., and experienced the flip side of the urban poverty I had seen in New York as we watched people from several surrounding states flock to a fairgrounds to receive the only medical care they would receive that year. Again spurred on by our encounters with these new patients, Cristin and I tried to strengthen and develop the ties between Rockbridge County's Free Clinic and the W&L student community.
The impact of my encounters with people at Bellevue, in Wise County and in our own Lexington, Va., has not dulled even now that I am no longer at W&L. I continue to wish for more insight to better understand the circumstances and experiences of people I met and to be prepared to most effectively and resourcefully help patients I hope one day to serve. In pursuit of this goal I am currently enrolled in public health master's classes at Case Western Reserve University as an addition to my medical school curriculum at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine. I am happy and feel lucky to have had such enlightening experiences during my undergraduate years that continue to motivate me and direct my current medical education.
Andrea Hanick interned at Bellevue Hospital in 2008. She is currently a student at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio.