Monthly Archives: July 2013

Saturday Morning Advice

One of my favorite things about Saturday mornings is waking up late to a steamy cup of coffee and some good reading material. No matter what I have planned for the day, I like to start my weekend with a few moments of solitude. I look forward to it, knowing the familiar comfort of the coffee aroma and the feel of my big leather desk chair as I settle in. A creature of habit, the pattern is always the same; I open my laptop and check the latest MedPage Today journal articles, followed by the Health pages of the Washington Post. Of course, once you open the Pandora’s box that is  looking at an online newspaper the web of linked articles sucks you in with enticing taglines you didn’t even know you had to read.

This morning I stumbled upon one article that I found particularly absorbing- “How to live your life: Advice from an American student who was killed in Egypt.” The article includes a letter Andrew Pochter, a 21-year old college student from Chevy Chase, MD, wrote to a young boy he mentored at an at risk summer camp. The letter was sent before Andrew’s untimely death in Alexandria, Egypt where he was killed as a bystander during an anti-government demonstration. His letter appears below:

Dear Justin,

Hello how are you man? I can’t believe it has been a year since camp. I am sure you are wiser, taller and smarter since I saw you last. Please accept my apologies that I will not be there for the graduation ceremony. Right now I am in Alexandria, Egypt teaching English to young students who are around your age. They all speak Arabic so learning English as a second language is quite difficult. But they are all really intelligent, just like you! You would really like the Arabic language, you should check it out!

Egypt is hazardous right now because the country is feeling the consequences of a enormous political revolution. I lose electricity and water all of the time but that’s okay because I have many Egyptian friends to help take care of me. When I am in trouble, they take care of me and when they are in trouble, I always take care of them. Good friends do not come easily but as a rule, I always appreciate the good deeds people do for me even if I don’t know them well. What is most important is that I am trying to do my best for others. I want to surround myself with good people!

I did not come up with this personal philosophy on my own. Without thoughtful and caring people like you, I would probably be a mean and grumpy person. Your kind heart and genuine character serve as a model for me. I hope that you will never stop your curiosity for the beautiful things in life. Go on hikes in forests, canyons and mountains, go fishing, research wildlife, and get out of city Life if you can. Surround yourself with good friends who care about your future. Fall in love with someone. Get your heart broken. And then move on and fall in love again. Breathe life every day like it is your first. Find something that you love to do and never stop doing that thing unless you find something else you love more.

Don’t blame others for their mistakes. It makes you weak. You are a strong man who does not need to be weighted down by people who only complain and say negative things. Speak with conviction and believe in yourself because your personal confidence is just as important as your education.

I wish I could be there to say my congratulations but I know that it wouldn’t change much. You have earned it. Hopefully one day you will hang up this diploma next your high school and college diplomas as well.

Try not to forget me. If you ever need anything, just email:

Best Regards.

Your Friend,
Andrew Pochter

Andrew’s unbridled, passionate voice–that of a young person who has not forgotten to care–reminds me of the simple truths we so easily forget. I see a lot of myself in Andrew’s voice. His compassion, curiosity and hopefulness should be aspirations for us all. As we get older and responsibilities of work, family, the daily chores of life and disappointments begin to weigh on us I find it refreshing to be reminded of the approach to life I had at 21.

To quote Thomas Swift, “may we live all the days of our lives.” And may those days be filled as much as possible with kindness and good. Thank you Andrew for the reminder.

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Four weeks from today I will have just finished my first day of medical school orientation. To borrow from the imperturbable Donald Draper, “our biggest fears lie in anticipation.” On the surface, I know exactly what to expect–the work load, the incessant studying, the fast pace, the competition to get into top residency programs–yet what scares me the most is perhaps not knowing the person I’ll be in the end. The person I will unavoidably morph into in the process.

In, “Not An Entirely Benign Procedure, Four Years in Medical School,” Dr. Perri Klass writes,

What I would like to say, looking back, is this: medical school changed me. If you are thinking of going to medical school, or are actually in the process of doing so, know that it will change you. If you love someone who is going to medical school, expect changes. That is not a bad thing, by any means, and it could perhaps be argued that any serious training changes you. I watch medical students and residents now as they move from year to year, and I can see them learning and growing, and I can see changes which reflect growth in confidence and competence. But as these changes accrue, we lose touch to some extent with our old perspectives and even our old personalities. That’s part of the reason I think there’s value in reading the stories that were written while the training was actually happening–and it’s also part of the reason I encourage medical students now to write about their own experiences, to set down pieces of perspective that will remind them of who they were and why they wanted to do this.

Perhaps that is part of the reason I started this blog. To capture the journey. To witness, in slow motion, the change in my point of view. If you asked me today, why do you want to be a doctor? My answer is this:

1. Knowledge. I am thirsty to learn. Few things bring me greater pleasure than knowing that in four years my mind will possess (at least in some limited fashion) the content of hundreds of years of study and research on the human body. I want to know how we work. How to fix us. How to prevent disease and to stop it in its tracks. I want to have the skill of healing.

2. Challenge. I thrive on obstacles. The bigger the better. When I am pushed to perform I find happiness. I am not content simply being. The challenge of getting into medical school contained the happiest years of my life to date (this also coincided with dating and ultimately marrying my husband, so there may be some happiness overlap). I have never worked harder than I did the last three years, and I have never felt more driven–alive. I believe medicine will grant me enough challenges to last a lifetime.

3. The above two reasons are rather self-serving. So for the sake of not being too obvious, there is the great pleasure of helping people in need. That goes without saying. I want to leave, in my own way, some benefit to the world for having had me as a resident.

I wonder how my answer will change. Will I look back and recognize the ardent, eager, enthusiastic self I am today? I hope so. I have come  across many doctors who have lost the spark and motivation that brought them to medicine-replaced by cynicism, fatigue and for some, even boredom. Their passion chiseled down to complacency. They warn me, the money is not as great as they say. The politics suck. There is less emphasis on the patient–and more on paperwork and numbers. I suppose every job has its downsides, and the art is not to forget the happiness it could bring you. To not lose one’s self.

May I always be as hopeful as I am on that first day.


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