Why I’m going into primary care medicine in an HPSA

On Tuesday, I found out that I have been accepted into the NHSC scholarship program. This means that the government will pay for the remainder of my medical school, and in return I’ll spend at least three years working as a physician in a federally designated under-served area. Of course my wife and I were ecstatic.

To have my schooling paid for is an extraordinary privilege, and as with all privileges, I wonder whether I deserve it. Only within the past few years have I been involved in community projects and service. I know many, many of my medical school friends who have done more meritorious and more service-oriented activities than me. The best I can say for myself is that I wrote my essays and my application as honestly as I could. If they chose me, it wasn’t because I made stuff up! I have a hunch I was chosen mostly because I’m from a high-need area, and I’d love to go back. Whatever the reason, I’m excited. I look at this not so much as a recognition of my merit (I don’t have much), but as a challenge to work hard, serve people in any way I can, and make certain I’m a “good investment.”

Anyway, I wanted to post something today, so here is a slightly-modified version of my application essay. I think it’s fitting for this post:

I was 17 when I first considered working as a physician in a medically under-served population. My friends and I had driven to central Idaho to go backpacking. When we were driving down a dirt road in the forest, a small fallen tree glanced off the side of the truck and lacerated my friend’s neck, throwing him to the floor of the truck. He was injured and we were scared, but it took us nine hours to get him to a medical facility. The first physician’s office we found was closed, with a sign on the door saying the physician came only once a week.

My initial idea to become a physician faded as I considered a career in physics, but I decided to become a doctor when I realized I wanted to work with people. It’s hard to describe why I’m interested in primary care medicine in particular. I’ve always been interested in pretty much everything—I’ve gone from physics to biochemistry to medicine–so the type of knowledge required in primary care is very appealing to me. I’d much rather learn a little about everything than a lot about a few things. I want to see a lot of different patients who have a lot of different problems. But I’m perhaps most excited because primary care physicians are needed, and I want to be needed in my career.

Over the past few years, I’ve become more interested in medically under-served populations. During one summer, I trained as an EMT-B near my home to gain some experience before applying to medical school. I remember one call on the ambulance where we spent two hours round trip to pick up a lady and take her to a city where she could get medical care.

Having grown up in a rural area, I’m interested in serving rural populations that need physicians, but I’ve also spent the last six years near the city. For about a year before I started medical school, I helped out at a free clinic for people without insurance. The clinic was about an hour away through traffic, so I only made it once or twice a month to volunteer, but I’ll always remember pushing the gigantic rolling files of paper medical records—a very physical reminder that even in urban areas, there are a lot of people without adequate medical care, whether because of language or economic barriers.

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