Anatomy of a BETA

jessica-blog-2BY JESSICA FAIZ, BETA

BRONX LEADERSHIP ACADEMY 2

4.25.13

“In order to be an effective doctor, you need to be a teacher.

These words came from an admissions officer at New Jersey Medical School (NJMS) who spoke to a group of twenty-three tenth- and eleventh- grade students from Bronx Leadership Academy II (BLA2) last week. Hearing them prompted me to reflect in a new way on the relationship between two of the most important things in my life: medicine and teaching.

When I received the call from the NJMS Dean of Admissions in December relaying my acceptance, I was ecstatic. Within a matter of seconds, our conversation veered – as they always seem to do when you’re a teacher – toward my students. I told the Dean how one of my students waits for me after class to ask about what she can do to become a doctor. I told him how big my students’ dreams are, yet how little they know about what they need to do to achieve their goals – things like learning to come to class on time and developing good study habits. His response was inviting. He asked, “Why don’t you bring them for a tour?”

With the support of my fellow BETA, I followed through. We asked interested students in our geometry classes to write a paragraph about why they would benefit from a trip to NJMS. We received a range of responses that left me extremely excited to give my students the opportunity to leave the Bronx, get a glimpse of life after college, and really understand what it takes to be college-ready.

One student wrote about wanting to be an oncologist since her sister was diagnosed with a brain tumor when she was very young.  Another shared that his mother had been a nurse in Bosnia for 18 years, and he found what she did in the health care field to be interesting. Others were still unsure about their intended fields of study, but wanted to see student life at the graduate school level.

When we arrived in Newark (after a subway ride, a PATH train, and an NJMS shuttle!), we toured the school, spoke with a group of first-year medical students, and heard a presentation on dentistry from the Dean of Admissions at the dental school. The highlight of the trip for many was viewing a cadaver in the anatomy laboratory. The medical student leading the tour held up a human heart and gave a mini-lesson on its structure, and how one would observe signs of disease. I was impressed by our students’ articulate responses to his questions, replying with facts like “the aorta brings oxygenated blood to the body.” Our visit to the anatomy lab also prompted interesting discussion on the process and ethics of donating a body to science.

The day ended with a Q&A session with a panel of medical students from various backgrounds, who outlined the timelines of their medical careers. The students were shocked to realize it could take up to seven years after graduating from college to become a certain type of doctor. They asked the medical students thoughtful questions, like “how can manage raising a family and going to medical school?” One medical student ended with a take-home point: “If you want to do this, it will be difficult. But you have to set your mind to it, and it will be well worth it.” On the train back to the city, I was pleased to see that my students were returning with a more complete awareness of the importance of academics and a growth mindset on the long road through the medical field, and into higher education in general.

In a few months, I will be moving on to medical school myself. There’s no question that my time as a BETA has hugely impacted the way I’ll approach my future career. As a BETA, I am fighting cycles of inequality in New York City. And as a doctor I hope to do the same. Everyday I witness broad public health issues at work in the Bronx, from a student asking why they should invest in healthier foods when they can get a free soda to constant sick days setting a student behind in class.

And while my pre-med background has proved surprisingly helpful as I navigate these types of situations, I’m realizing more and more that to be a doctor, you do need to be a teacher. As an Emergency Medical Technician, I put my instructional communication skills to work every time I sensitively articulate for patients why they need to be brought to the hospital.

And just like my students, my patients surprise me every day. My time at Blue Engine has tested and strengthened my ability to suspend judgment and connect with all types of people on a human level. I have formed close relationships with students of backgrounds very different from mine, not unlike the relationships I hope to form with the patients I will someday treat. Thanks to my students, I am committed to never being limited by preconceived notions about patients, never underestimating their conditions, and always listening – truly listening – to their stories.

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