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What have I gotten myself into?

When applying to residency programs at the end of medical school, all applicants have to produce a personal statement. Now that I am on the other side of the interview chair, I can tell you that they always tend to basically say the same thing – “I want to be a doctor because being a doctor is great, and I like your field of medicine because it is great too.” I had a professor in college who always praised me for my ability to tell a story, so for my personal statement I did just that, but it was about running rather than about being a doctor. Below is my personal statement from my residency application, and I choose to share it because I think it provides some insight into my drive for success through my first experience in Boston:

“What have I gotten myself into?” I must say this to myself before every marathon, but it pains me to think about the twenty-six miles I am about to run. My stomach turns as I hear those words beaming over the loud-speakers, “Five minutes till the start of the Boston Marathon!” Thirty minutes ago, I was struttin’ my stuff – absorbing all of the looks I received wearing my Mizuno uniform. Now that I’m standing footsteps from the starting line, I can’t think about anything except how far away I am from Boston.
My watch reads 28:38, and I’ve been hitting my mile splits for the first five miles right at pace; but for some reason I have just not opened up. My stomach is still turning and I have that feeling of something dying in me. At mile six, I feel my throat burning and I can’t hold it back – I’m throwing up – and there’s still twenty miles to go. I back off the pace just a little and press on. I try to focus on the other runners, concentrating on picking them off one by one. Within no time, I’m throwing up again. “There’s no way I can hold it together,” I say. The next three miles become increasingly painful. My temples pound, my vision blurs, and I can feel myself dropping back. Mile ten, my watch reads 57:20, and I can’t do it. I break down and I stop. I’m sick, and the sweat is pouring off my face. I cannot separate my sweat from my tears as they coalesce into a puddle. The runners that pass by, whom an hour ago admired me, are now gazing with discontent.
It was just two weeks ago that I received my first Mizuno team uniform. I felt empowered by my newly found “Elite Status;” I do not feel so empowered now. In fact, I feel unworthy. I try to justify an acceptable reason for dropping out, but I cannot. After ten minutes of sulking, and being frankly embarrassed and disgusted with myself, I came to the realization that I represent the Mizuno Company and I am better than this. Sick or not, professionals don’t quit – and today, neither will I. I rejoined the race. It took everything I had not to stop again. I concentrated on each person in front of me, I counted every footstep I made to keep my cadence steady, and I dug deep in order to hold it together. An hour and thirty-five minutes later, I became the 86th person to cross the finish line.
Boston was just one race for me, but it represents one of the greatest emotional and physical struggles that I have endured. At that time, I believed my race to have been a true struggle. Having worked with patients suffering with cancer, I now see my experience in Boston as a more trivial test of self-drive and motivation. Still, I liken fighting cancer to the struggle of completing an endurance challenge like a marathon. Cancer patients are tested not only physically, but emotionally as well. They experience many of the same anxieties and pains as marathon runners, only cancer patients must endure their symptoms much longer than a measly two and a half hours.
I have always viewed cancer to be a fascinating disease, and felt very passionately towards the patients suffering the disease. In a way, I feel like I understand some of what they are going through. As such, I cannot see myself working in any field except Oncology. My dilemma has been finding my own niche in one of the Oncology fields. After rotating through the medical and surgical fields, and attending the various tumor conferences, I found myself most interested in the treatment of cancer using radiation.
My interest in Radiation Oncology stems from the fact that the patient population entails everyone who suffers from cancer. There is a mix of patients with newly diagnosed, treatable diseases and those living with advanced or recurrent disease. I believe I have the personality to coax such fragile patients through treatment, or likewise help them cope with the progression of their disease. I also have the self-motivation to excel in such an innovative field. Considering Radiation Medicine relies on the current technology for treatment, physicians need to be committed to continuing education and training. Radiation doctors see multiple similar cases having atypical presentations, different extents of disease, and disease for which standard treatments do not exist. This field thus has tremendous potential for research; and in performing research, I am allowed the opportunity to not only assure patients receive the best treatment available, but also potentially advance the treatment of cancer in general. I want to be a Radiation Oncologist because this is an innovative field, one which will require life-long learning, continually test my interpersonal skills, and provide the opportunity for research.
My experiences in Boston, with running, and the transitions that I have made have prepared me for the leaps I will make as I continue my medical career. With each time I have excelled, I have learned from my misconceptions that life does not become easier. As I mature, I attain more responsibility and have more commitments. I have experienced the delicate balance required in finding time to run competitively, and hence taking time away from my wife, my school, and in actuality, my sleep schedule. I acknowledge the hard work and continued dedication that are essential to ascend career levels, and believe I will relive the same realizations with my medical training that I have with running. My biggest challenge so far has been meeting the expectations that people have of me simply by wearing a Mizuno logo – which I venture to say will be much like wearing the MD logo. When that day comes, I want to be working in a field that I love and feel passionately for like I do my running, and Radiation Oncology is that field.

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