Monday, April 11, 2011
Socially Impactful Medicine
Hey, fellow Brownies! I'm a little surprised it's already reunion time and I feel a bit like the constant student. Realizing that I'm almost 28 and haven't made a "real salary" yet (and won't for another year and change) made me think, "What the hell have you been doing? Get a job!" Then, the part of me that actually makes decisions for me said, "Whatever. There's always time to work." And I have been doing something.
After graduating, I moved back to Chicago and started writing my medical school applications. I hooked back up with a private tutoring gig I had before I came to Brown (yes, I took a year off before college. And after. And another year during med school. How Brown-y of me) and got to work with an internal medicine doc at Cook County Hospital (of ER and Chicago Hope fame) doing tobacco, drug, and depression screening in his primarily poor, West-side-of-Chicago clinic. I had life-affirming experiences sitting and talking with the very people I wanted to meet about the very life difficulties that made me want to be an ally for them.
After flying all over the country looking for a medical school, I landed at Yale (which is just about as Brown as I could find in a med school with its own Open Curriculum equivalent, no rankings, and focus on helping the med student find and nurture their own strengths). Like Jen Bauer, I wanted to keep my educational philosophy close to my Brown heart (weird image? oh, well. I'm sticking with it). The last four years have been a long and awesome process of learning, discovering a love for medical education, and finding my calling in medicine.
Third year of medical school was the best year of my life. I experienced over and over the resilience of people and the incredible charge I got from being there with people at powerful junctures of their life as the steady and gentle young doctor. I got called "doc" for the first time and got scared when I found out what that really meant. Then, I slowly got used to the idea and started to really like it. For those of you who I haven't seen in a while, you might be surprised to know that I considered a career in plastic surgery. The ability to work intimately with the way that people interact with the world and heal that person-world interface when it is hurting is what compels me most about medicine. Hand and facial traumas were some of the most moving cases I was a part of during third year (delivering babies was amazing, too). After letting things marinate during a year dedicated to research, I decided on a career as a psychiatrist. The draw of the complexity of contemplating the mind-body connection, the ability to act as the healer of a foundering mind and how far-reaching the consequences of that healing are, and the broad scope of practice in psychiatry trumped everything else. That and the open possibility of continuing to do policy-driving research.
My research has been oriented largely towards criminal justice systems, but generally focuses on hard-to-reach at-risk populations. I have been working for 3 years on a questionnaire assessing correctional administrators' attitudes towards substance abuse treatment programming. I have run the thing from soup to nuts, and have been collecting the data from it for the last 4 months. Hopefully, the data we generate will go up the ladder at the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and have some positive impacts on how funding is targeted towards treatment programs. I've also been working on a review of HIV prevention measures in US criminal justice settings.
I have also been working (with another Brown alum and Yale med student, Jake Izenberg '08) on a project based in Ukraine evaluating integrated health care systems for HIV+ IV drug users. The implications of that project are really exciting because the HIV epidemic in Eastern Europe and Central Asia is largely injection drug use-driven and if we can figure out a good way of delivering preventative health care to at-risk groups, we can really have an impact on the rising tide of HIV in this vulnerable region of the world. I lived for a month in Ukraine this summer (and visited Chernobyl! THAT was crazy...) while doing that work and would love to go back.
Radioactive bumper cars in Pripyat, the town closest to the reactors that blew
Side of an apartment building in Kyiv. You can kind of see the hammer and sickle, blue, in the middle of the mosaic.
In between all that, I have been finding time to play a little music here and there, do art projects, and write. There's an online journal called Atrium that I've been an editor for since its days as a print entity. Give it a gander if you're interested: www.atrium-magazine.com Anyone who's doing medical writing or thinking about medical things should submit!
I miss Providence, though. I'm lucky to be able to get up there to visit sometimes and I think about moving back. Seriously. I can't wait to see you all again! For many, it's been far too long. I am so excited to hear what everyone's been up to!
Lots of love,