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How Family Influenced My Decision to Pursue Medicine

With no more than some wrinkled Burmese currency in her pocket, my mother was buried under a mounting column of distress and helplessness. As an immigrant from a small village in Myanmar, she struggled to find a financial foothold beyond the laborious, fruitless work of a busgirl. Despite our economic burdens, however, my mother was still able to instill within me the sense of fulfillment in giving back to the underserved community through her own actions. Serving the underprivileged with a grateful heart became the backbone of my childhood as I volunteered every week to prepare and provide free meals to those less fortunate than myself. My experiences with assisting the impoverished provided the foundation for who I am today, igniting my passion in giving back to communities I am a part of and to those who need it most.

Recent years and events have only cemented my ambitions. I recall a deafening silence as my parents exchanged glances with one another and myself as if they could not speak. After what seemed like an eternity, I locked eyes with my father, only to see a trail of tears trickling down his face. I remember the words with a pronounced vividness, “Your mother has breast cancer”. An endless surge of harrowing thoughts flowed through my mind as images of my aunt on her deathbed, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer, battered my mind. The despair worsened as I thought about my other aunt, who passed away earlier, and her bleak battle with breast cancer.

Times were undoubtedly difficult and chaotic, but at least one thing was made clear – giving up on my mother was not an option. This opportunity called forth the authentic compassion that I had been exerting all of my life, except now, there was a lot more at stake. While learning to adjust to the newly imposed rigors of college, I had incurred a new set of both financial and familial responsibilities. As a result of this event, I took it upon myself to learn more about my mother’s condition.

Because my mother could not speak fluent English and my father was constantly working to combat the recurring, expensive costs of treatment, I had to commute multiple times on a weekly basis from Riverside to Los Angeles in order to take my mother to her radiation treatments and appointments. Being a translator granted me an active role as my mother’s caretaker and imparted extensive understanding of the patient’s perspective in healthcare. But this was not enough. While these displays of support were sincere and heartfelt, they were not as practical as I would have hoped in dealing with the consequences of her prognosis.

In the midst of my undergraduate career, I decided that the best way to better understand my mother’s condition was to explore careers in healthcare. The Clinical Care Extender Internship Program provided exposure to a variety of team-oriented roles that were integral in delivering effective healthcare. The patient-focused care given to the underserved by the faculty at the Riverside Community Hospital inspired me and further affirmed my desire to combat health disparities amongst the underprivileged. Additionally, to support my family financially and become more well-versed in the plights of breast cancer patients, I specifically took on a job as a medical scribe for Dr. Coleman, a breast cancer surgeon whom I still work with to date. It was at this point that I realized what I wanted to do.

Seeing Dr. Coleman instill a long-lost sense of positivity in distraught patients that come into her office resonates with me because I see a bit of my mother in those patients. The way in which she delivers gentle, empathetic, and thorough care, whether it be through emotional support or pragmatic advice has allowed me to see a bit of myself in the role of a healthcare provider. Thus, this experience has not only taught me more about breast cancer, but has given me insight into a career where I could passionately instill the core values I acquired during my upbringing. But wanting is one thing, taking initiative is another.

Therefore, the reason why I decide to pursue medicine is to hopefully one day deliver empathetic and compassionate care to the underserved. Although my mother’s breast cancer and the resultant challenges were trying, they provided a source of inspiration for me to pursue the opportunities that allowed me to become a better caretaker while crystallizing my ambitions for the future. My mother stands today cancer-free, and this more than anything convinces me that if I take initiative in something I am passionate in, I can achieve the results that I hope for. Thus, I will impart the knowledge and experiences I need to fulfill my goal of becoming an effective physician who caters to those who are underserved, much like my own mother.

About the author:

My name is Sandra Wong. I am a Breast Cancer, oncology and endocrine medical scribe in Orange County, California. I graduated UCR in psychology and am planning on pursuing my double master's degree in biomedical sciences and medicine. I aspire to become an Internal medicine physician and be a voice for Women empowerment in the underserved community. Also, I enjoy fitness, working out doing exercises ranging from Muay Thai to Cardio Kickboxing. Exercise has become my outlet for relaxation and it keeps not only my physical form healthy, more importantly, it keeps the mind emotionally strong.