I first started to understand the value of the dollar at the ripe age of 12 when I craved a shiny Macbook computer. My parents, who embody hard work and grit, took this as a learning opportunity for me, for they were not about to cough up the $1,200 for a laptop that was nowhere near a necessity for me at that age. After all, the typed essay requirement for sixth grade barely surpassed one page. How on earth would I earn what seemed like a lifetime of savings to me at that time?
That’s when I had a lightbulb moment! I printed out flyers advertising my newfound babysitting business, hand-delivered them to every house in my neighborhood, and waited, just waited, for the phone to ring with a new business deal . . . I mean . . . someone who needed a babysitter. My burgeoning $10-per-hour babysitting business had me counting out my dollar bills and coins (I would stack pennies in 10-cent towers!) at least twice a week, until I finally held my chin high and walked into the Apple store empty-handed, but left with something that I, myself, had worked for and made sacrifices to obtain. Yes, vetoing Friday night sleepovers to watch my 5-year-old neighbor and realizing that Good Humor Chocolate Eclair bars from the ice cream truck were not worth $2.25 anymore were sacrifices to me at the time. Little did I know that these concepts of hard work, sacrifice, and saving money would reach a much bigger scale in the coming years.
My early interest in numbers, finances, and risk-benefit ratios fueled me to enroll at the University of Pittsburgh on a track to become an actuarial scientist. When I barely passed Calculus 2 yet could not get enough of the Biology gen-ed I was taking, I realized I was less of an actuary and more of a scientist at heart. This career path change brought to light another financial conundrum—how would I front the $5,000 to go on the six-week medical service trip to Cochabamba, Bolivia that piqued my interest? That’s when I sought out the highest-paying student job, which also happened to have the lowest consumer satisfaction rating: I became a proud Pitt Telemarketer, calling alumni and asking for donations to the university. The money I saved from this job helped finance my experience in Bolivia, where I volunteered at an outpatient clinic for malnourished children and solidified my desire to become a doctor.
It was in Bolivia that I saw and experienced resilience, heartbreak, and the value of accessible medicine. I took a crying baby to the dentist for the ulcers in his mouth but could not understand the treatment instructions because I did not speak Spanish or Quechua. Knowing that the United States is a multi-cultural country in its own right, I thought about how I will prevent this frustrating and debilitating barrier for my future foreign-language-speaking patients. It was this language barrier that allowed me to realize how a smile and good eye contact serve as universal languages—forms of communication that I plan to use with all patients and families, regardless of the languages spoken, to make them comfortable and at ease. In Bolivia, I witnessed some children being visited by family every day and others who had never been visited once during their two-year stay. As a doctor one day, how can I cultivate a family-centered environment for my patients? How can I make them feel safe and seen? Volunteering in Bolivia is when I first learned of marasmus and kwashiorkor because there were multiple babies who had these nutritional deficiencies. When I am a practicing physician, how will I make an impact in the communities that I serve to help ensure that nourishing meals are as accessible as possible?
In the poorest country in South America, I watched individuals work tirelessly seven days a week selling potatoes and produce, each with a smile on their face and repeatedly saying, “Welcome to our beautiful country” to me. Witnessing this prompted me to ask myself how I will ensure that I show up for my future patients with a positive attitude and fully engaged in their care, regardless of any potential hardships going on in my life. In Bolivia, I was able to connect with and deeply care for people who each had a unique story, of which I was able to listen to, appreciate, learn from, and help. I believe this opportunity to see, understand, and support human beings is the beauty of pursuing a career in medicine.
As a current medical student, I face new financial challenges. Three days into starting medical school, lightning struck the apartment I just moved into, igniting a fire that decimated the building and burned all of my belongings. Although devastating at first, I soon realized the bright side of the situation: my roommate and I were alive. In order to attend medical school, I need to take out nearly $300,000 worth of loans, in addition to my undergraduate loans. However, with the medical student workload, I do not have the option to save money through babysitting neighborhood children or telemarketing. The bright side is, I am working hard toward a career that I love to ultimately be able to assist others to be healthy enough so they, too, can continue to do what they love.
As anxiety-inducing as taking out hefty loans each year is, I often remind myself of my why. I think of my father, who woke up as a child on Christmas to “I owe you’s” under the Christmas tree. He, along with my mother, worked every day since turning 13 to save enough money to go to college and eventually provide for three children. I am honored to have inherited my dad’s blue eyes, my mom’s laugh, and both of their work ethics combined. I am reminded of my why when I think of the children I held, fed, and administered medicine to in Bolivia and how they inspired me to gravitate toward pursuing a career in pediatrics. I realize how each patient, EKG, and lab workup I see is someone who may be healthy or very sick, who is giving me the precious gift of learning. I remind myself how a career in medicine is a long-term investment financially but, more importantly, an investment in myself and in my future patients.
As Nelson Mandela said, “There is no passion to be found playing small, in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” I aspire to live a big and meaningful life in which I take positive risks and approach challenges with grit and the confidence that I will overcome them. I practice the lessons of sacrifice, goal-oriented mindsets, and appreciating the invaluable parts of life that saving money taught me at a young age now as I study to save lives.
Going into the field of medicine is not a career choice; it is a life choice. It is a choice of lifelong learning, advocating for patients, and helping individuals live to their fullest potential. That, to me, is priceless.