Nearly all of the Huang fellows have been struggling with a single question since they stepped foot onto campus — should I be a doctor? Typically, our internal debates have consisted of concerns about working hours, salary, debt, dissatisfaction with the U.S. healthcare system, and worst of all, Organic Chemistry. However, Dr. Ray Barfield, brings a new perspective to being a doctor, the profoundly humanistic and vulnerable side to a profession that seems deeply rooted in hard science.
“When biology does not tell us the next step, the answers come in the form of stories.” At first we were all confused by this statement, but as Dr. Barfield continued with his lecture, its meaning was illuminated. Sometimes, being a doctor is about listening to the patient; the ideas they have about death, relationships, and the existence of God when they are face-to-face with their own fragile mortality. Being an oncologist, Dr. Barfield is able to recount hundreds of these moments, but more than memories, he views them as learning experiences that he can apply to his daily work.
As one particularly wealthy patient was dying, he began to question his decisions in life and what mattered. His sons did not know him. He was with his third wife and had not been kind to the first two. “A man fails sometimes… a man fails. I should probably talk to my sons, check in with them.” That was what was most important at the end of his life.
A doctor’s purpose is to help the patient in any way he or she can, including easing their transition to death. From this story, his understanding of the fear and sadness that this particular patient was experiencing allowed him to be emotionally available and guide the conversation in a way that that put his mind at ease. This story taught us, as eager premeds, that our role is not only to provide the best pharmaceutical treatment, but to be truly present for the patient and listen to them because that can be the best medicine.
Another impression that Dr. Barfield left with me is the privilege of being a doctor. To be a doctor is to be someone so trusted that a person would put their faith in a complete stranger to inject, slice, and drug them with the faith that they will be made better. To be a doctor is to be with someone in their most vulnerable, emotional state and to be looked upon as a healer, confider, and ultimately a guider to a better life. To be a good doctor is to “be aware of people, to be capable of seeing past the science you do to see the people it affects,” says Ayoolah Balogun, 2018 Huang fellow. Being worthy of this privilege takes enormous responsibility that cannot be taken lightly and should never be forgotten.
Should I be a doctor? Am I worthy of this privilege? I need to take a long, hard look at myself in the mirror before I make my decision. But I now know with certainty that if I do decide to become a doctor, it will be for the right reasons.
Daniel is interested in biology and global health. After graduation, he plans on pursuing either an M.D./M.B.A or a PhD/M.B.A. and work in the microbiome industry.