August Essay Contest First Place

First Place: Alison Chan

"Take me back home!" my grandmother demanded. Perplexed, I stared back at her before realizing that, for the third time that day, she'd forgotten that she already was home. I was in 8th grade at the time and did not understand thatMa's confusion and memory loss were symptoms of Alzheimer's; even my grandfather and mother thought Ma's forgetfulness was simply a part of aging.Our worry and frustration over her increasing dependency revealed to me as a young child how disease physically and emotionally affects both patients and their families.


Witnessing the immense care Ma required inspired me to learn more about early detection tools for Alzheimer’s. During my first year of college, I joined a lab to study how retinal imaging technology could be used as a noninvasive means of diagnosing early Alzheimer’s. I was humbled in realizing my work had the potential to help patients receive treatments sooner or to allow families to prepare for their loved one's care in advance. But while I hoped my research could benefit patients in the long-term, I wanted to do more to make a direct difference in individual patients’ lives.


Volunteering at hospice helped me develop the skills to make this difference. Each patient encounter was a lesson about the role of compassion and sensitivity, and I dedicated myself to making patients' last days as peaceful and comfortable as possible. On my first day volunteering, I saw that some patients were accompanied by spouses or siblings, but many others were alone; it became my goal to provide these patients with companionship and dignity. My most memorable encounter was with Mr. H. He desperately wished to spend his final months with his family in Minneapolis, but his doctors did not recommend long hours of travel. I did my best to provide comfort in place of his family by listening patiently to his stories as he led our conversations. When Mr. H revealed his fear of dying alone in an unfamiliar hospital room, I recognized the power of human presence as I sat quietly with him while he slept or offered a hand to hold. It was through this experience that I discovered a sense of purpose in communicating with patients and building therapeutic alliances.  


As a child, I dreamt of reversing Ma's cognitive decline and relieving my family's stress; as a college student, the pursuit of this dream led me to discover a passion for medicine. Though I briefly considered pursuing a PhD to study biomarkers for neurodegenerative diseases, my experiences in the lab and asa hospice volunteer underscored that a career as a physician would satisfy my desire to be at the forefront of research while applying the latest findings to treat patients. In the past four years as a medical student, I have had the privilege of working closely with research mentors to identify eye markers for systemic disease and participate in the care of a wide spectrum of patients.These experiences are a constant reminder of my initial motivation to become a doctor, and I could not imagine a different career path.

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