Reaffirmation During Times of Ambiguity

Rachel M Turner MA, MS

Tulane University School of Medicine, MS2


April 28, 2020

Houston, Texas

As a young impressionable child, the first time I made the connection between my dad’s white coat and the way he spent his days in it forever changed the way I perceived what before was simply my father’s work attire. This seemingly insignificant association became the most constant and perhaps most influential factor in my decision to pursue medicine, because it opened my eyes to the opportunities available to make a positive difference in this world. As I matured, that white coat began to take on different meanings. Throughout my adolescent years, the white coat represented ambition—a symbol of hard work and its rewards. But now, the white coat represents a broader idea. It represents a connection between science and the human condition, and most importantly my burning desire to be a part of that powerful connection.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary states that medicine is “the science dealing with the maintenance of health and the prevention, alleviation, or cure of disease.” However, for me this definition is too finite and simple. There is more to medicine than what defines it. The field of contemporary healthcare is increasingly shaped by the realization that social, environmental, personal, and structural factors are just as essential as basic biological processes to understanding a patient’s illness and suffering. Through COVID-19, the nation is seeing just how deep health disparities run. There are clear discrepancies between different socio-economic groups when it comes to housing instability, food insecurity, social isolation, and prejudice and discrimination. Ultimately, already-marginalized populations, including people of color and low-income communities, will witness disproportionate disruption to their lives. As future doctors, it is imperative that we recognize that one’s health is a product of their interactions among biology, genetics, behavior, relationships, cultures, and environments. 

This pandemic really hits home on why I wanted to be a doctor in the first place. Simply put, I want to help others. However, I find myself in constant limbo trying to balance studying and contributing where I can during this time. All you have to say is the word STEP 1 for any medical student or physician to understand the rigorous emotional and mental time commitment that comes with preparing for this exam. “Everything else can wait.”  Never in a million years could I have imagined a pandemic would happen during my dedicated study block. Some would think it’s the perfect scenario. All you should be doing is studying, and now that’s really all you can do. But for me COVID-19 has challenged my ability to keep my head down in the books for 8+ hours every day. I constantly think how could I be so upset about the uncertainty of an exam, when there is so much uncertainty about the lives of thousands. While my STEP 1 exam date has been delayed due to Prometric closures, I consider this to be a minor problem.

While I am eager to help, I recognize that where I am in my medical education limits that. I applaud my current institution, Tulane School of Medicine, and other medical students around the country for thinking of innovative ways to help. From creating and collecting PPE to assisting those populations most at risk, such as elders, with essential needs. There are ways for us to get involved. While we as medical students will continue to contribute where we can, I admire and appreciate all healthcare professionals on the frontline.

Thank you. Thank you for the sacrifices you make, your dedication, and your courage. 


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