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Ophthalmology Residency, British Doctor

During my clerkship year of medical school, I decided that I wanted to approach every specialty with an “open mind.” The curiosity about internal medicine attracted me, but so did the “operate” mentality of surgery. Before, and during undergrad, I spent quite a bit of time cutting hair. Hair-cutting was therapeutic for me and something I loved doing—something that helped me to learn how to stay present, stay focused, and stay still even when the hands were moving, even when the body was engaged in maintaining hand-eye-coordination and good depth perception.  A little later, I was fascinated to find out that the first surgeons in England were also barbers—the “barber-surgeon.” I wanted a specialty that would fit my inquisitive personality and my love for operating. When I was on my ophthalmology rotation, there was something about ophthalmology that made me get up a little bit earlier, try a little bit harder, read a couple more pages for pleasure, and research for a few more hours. I reflected on these signals a lot because I knew what I was experiencing was the psychological concept of “flow.” When one reaches this state of “flow,” whether it is in athletics, in studying, in playing music, in operating, etc., it is as if time stops, you become incredibly attentive, and you are, as they say, “in your zone.” During my rotation, when standing and observing microsurgery, when manipulating the slit lamp, or viewing that “other world” of the back of the eye, I felt this concept of “flow” as I would often on the dance floor or while cutting hair. Time stopped. Excitement filled. Yearning developed. This confirmed that ophthalmology, with its emphasis on diagnosis and providing definitive treatment, would most align with my curious personality, my desire to make use of my talent, and my resolve to establish meaningful patient-physician relationships.

In addition to the technical and surgical skills that Ophthalmology offers, I am unquestionably attracted to the field because it allows me to practice and share a whole different set of skills with my patients—the skills of giving a listening ear, a comforting touch, or soothing words. The practice of meditation, which we engaged in during our Mindfulness in Medicine group in medical school, has been intellectually stimulating and personally gratifying—it has allowed me to observe, to be a better listener, and to view life through a different lens. I remember one evening when I was at the surgical center talking to a patient who would soon undergo a full-thickness cataract transplant. There was this uneasiness, this subtle look of fear on the patient. She would not fully make eye contact. She had her hands folded and twiddled her thumbs. After asking what we needed to ask, the resident and I went back to see the patient before her surgery. We learned that there was more to this patient than the operation we would perform. She was a mother of three beautiful kids; she used actually to fly planes at one point in her life; her favorite food was chicken tikka masala (coincidentally, it was my favorite as well); she was scared about someone operating on her eye, and that fear had begun to suffocate her lately. We simply listened. We acknowledged her worries. The hug and thanks we received from her reaffirmed the importance of working not only with our hands but also with our character. The best part was after having such a powerful connection with her, as an ophthalmologist, I would be qualified to operate on her. I did not have to refer her for a procedure.

My central goal in life is to find meaning, purpose, and a sense of feeling authentically connected with those around me. The thing that often gets in the way is shame and fear; fear that if people find out about my flaws or see them, I may not be worthy of connection. I felt that way for a long time after receiving my Step 1 score. I felt this “excruciating vulnerability.” However, after extensive internal reflection, I confirmed what Dr. Brown alluded to in her years of vulnerability research: I found that vulnerability gave me this sense of courage—the courage to be imperfect, to be human. I, along with the faculty and residents I worked with, deeply feel my Step 1 score does not represent who I truly am and what I am capable of accomplishing. I can list several reasons why things did not go the way I expected, but I think what is more important was acknowledging that Step 1 humbled me. It allowed me to embrace vulnerability fully. This exam, which, at one point, made me feel vulnerable, has, since then, made me paradoxically confident, ambitious, and relatable. All in all, my personal experiences, educational training, and patient interactions, coupled with more innate themes of my curious personality, allow me to bring to the table a drive that is more than a score; a courage that, as Dr. Brown states, is a “birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”

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