Editor’s note: Friday is Match Day, when the National Resident Matching Program tells medical students where they are going to be continuing their training. So it’s a very big deal in Philadelphia, the “city of meds and eds.” This week, soon-to-be graduates have been sharing their thoughts on reaching this milestone. This is the final column in the series.
The moment my mother found out she was having triplets, she knew she would have to move to America. She was a successful banker in Nigeria, but knew physicians in her town could not handle such a complex birth.
Within days, she flew to Nevada where my father was doing academic research, leaving everything she knew behind. She felt terrified and alone -- until she met her pediatricians.
In 1992, my siblings and I became the second set of triplets ever born in St. Mary’s Hospital in Reno. Physicians came from all over the west coast to oversee our care, from the many intubations and ultrasounds to the countless X-rays and blood gasses. Due to my mother’s pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes, both my identical twin sister and I were small for gestational age, with my sister just over 2.5 pounds, while I was about 4.4 pounds. Our brother was bigger, but persistently hypoglycemic. My sister stayed in the NICU 18 days longer than my brother and me.
The neonatologists sat with my mother day in and day out, explaining the most complex concepts to her and making sure she understood every aspect of our care. They built her trust to the point that she was hopeful, not fearful.
Through stomach aches, ear infections, strep throat, and our teenage years, pediatricians were always there to help. My mother loves to tell the story about the time my twin sister, older sister, little sister and I all had chicken pox. Can you imagine being a mother of five kids all under 12 and having four sick at the same time?
Because we weren’t allowed into the office given our infection, our pediatrician came out to the parking lot all gowned up, examined us, gave my mother recommendations, and administered a vaccine to my healthy twin brother.
I always knew I wanted to be a pediatrician.
But actually doing it? Becoming one? I just had no idea.
Getting into medical school was hard enough, then mastering all that material in the first two years was a major pain. But it was really on my hospital rotations, in my third year, that I truly realized this was going to be even harder than I thought.
The combination of skills, knowledge and compassion needed to care for premature and sick babies, and the dramatic range of medical and social circumstances I encountered—how would I ever be able to handle all of this?
I struggled with uncertainty and self-doubt. I felt I wasn’t strong enough or capable of being a lifeline for children. I worried I would never create the kind of bonds with my patients as my attendings all had. The way my mother spoke about her pediatricians, I couldn’t help but doubt if I would ever be that kind of person.
What got me through was thinking about my mother. I knew I would encounter patients with mothers like mine, and I needed to shape up.
In the NICU, I took time to learn and explain every treatment plan to scared families. On the floors, I sat with families from all walks of life. I calmed a little boy with severe asthma who was hysterical with a panic attack, and let his mother know everything would be all right. In the clinic, my most rewarding encounter was assuring my patient with muscular dystrophy and her mother that she could expect normal sexual development and intercourse.
I began to realize that maybe I could become a pediatrician. Not just any pediatrician, but a good one! I realized I could not possibly become a super hero like my attendings overnight. But working hard every day was the best thing I could do for myself and for my patients.
What I learned through my own childhood, and have reinforced in medical school, is how a pediatrician can be a pillar in a growing family’s life. I’ve also learned that being a pediatrician takes stamina and constant flexibility.
My advice for anyone tackling a career in medicine—especially in pediatrics—is to be human and treat your patients like family. Be the kind of doctor who sits with families, listens and explains. Be the kind of doctor who would even treat patients in your office parking lot.
Give your patients a chance to trust you. So many people are as scared as my mother was. No matter how scared you are, remember that being human is the most important part of being a doctor. Now that I truly understand what’s involved in being a pediatrician and what the potential can be, I can’t wait to get started.