Our second essay contest winner was a medical student who made their submission an AMCAS-style personal statement. It serves as a great example for an effective personal statement and we thought it was a good read overall!
||Read Our First Essay Contest Winner: Considerations Before Applying to Medical School||
Four-letter word for “dignitary.” The combinations surge through my mind: emir? agha? tsar? or perhaps the lesser-used variant, czar? I know it’s also too early to rule out specific names – there were plenty of rulers named Omar – although the clue is suspiciously unspecific. Quickly my eyes jump two columns to the intersecting clue, 53-Across, completely ignoring the blur outside the window that indicates my train has left the Times Square station. “Nooks’ counterparts.” I am certain the answer is “crannies.” This means 49-Down must end in r, so I eliminate “agha” in my mind. Slowly, the pieces come together, the wordplay sending my brain into mental gymnastics. At the end of two hours, I find myself staring at a completed crossword puzzle, and as trivial as it is, it is one of the greatest feelings in the world.
As an avid cruciverbalist, I have a knack for problem-solving. In college I had fallen in love with another kind of puzzle: organic chemistry. While some of my peers struggled with its complexity, the notion of analyzing mass spectroscopy, IR spectrums, and H-NMR to identify a specific molecule invigorated me. In my biology classes, the human body was an amazing mystery to me. Intricacies such as hormonal up- and down-regulation really pulled at the riddler in me; I was not satisfied until I understood the enigma of how the body worked. Graduate school at Columbia was an extension of this craving, and I chose a thesis topic that would attempt to elucidate the sophisticated workings of neuro-hormonal balance peri-bariatric surgery.
In non-academic settings, I also pursued activities that would sharpen my intellect. To me, the act of teaching was a form of problem-solving; a good teacher finds the most effective way to convey information to students. So I accepted the challenge and taught in both international and domestic settings. In church, I assumed leadership positions because it forced me to think critically to resolve conflicts; and in lab, I volunteered to help write a review on the biological mechanisms of weight regain. It was exactly what I loved: isolating a specific human phenomenon and investigating how it worked.
I believe medicine and puzzles are in the same vein. After participating in health fairs, working at a clinic, and observing physicians, I understand that pinpointing the exact needs of a patient is difficult at times. In a way, disease itself can be a puzzle, and doctors sometimes detect it only one piece at a time – a cough here, lanugo there. Signs and symptoms act as clues that whittle down the possibilities until only a few remain. Then all that is left is to fill in the word and complete the puzzle. Voila!
Actually, it is not as easy as that, and inevitably the imperfect comparison falls through.
I distinctly remember a conversation I had with a psychiatric patient at Aftercare. He had just revealed to me his identity as Batman, and he also believed he was Jesus. During downtime in-between tests he decided to confide in me some of his dreams and aspirations. He swiftly pulled out a sketchpad and said confidently, “When I get better, I’m going back to art school.” Any doubts stemming from his earlier ramblings vanished at the sight of his charcoal-laden sheets filled with lifelike characters. “They’re… really good,” I stammered. I was looking for the right words to say, but there are times when emotions are so overwhelming that words fail. I nodded in approval and motioned that we should get back to testing. Those next few hours of testing flew by as I ruminated what I had experienced. After working 3 years at the clinic, I had been so caught up in the routine of “figuring out” brain function that I missed the most important aspect of the job: the people. And so, just as the crossword puzzle is a 15×15 symbol of cold, hard New York streets, a person is the polar opposite; patients are breathing, fluid, and multi-dimensional. I have come to love both, but there is really nothing I want more in the world than to see a broken person restored, a dream reignited, to see Mr. Batman regain sanity and take up art school again. The prospect of healing others brings me joy that surpasses even completing the challenging crosswords in the Sunday paper.
This is why I feel called to a life in medicine. It is the one profession that gives me the opportunity to restore others while thinking critically and appreciating human biology. I am passionate about people, and medicine allows me to participate in their lives in a tangible, physical way that is aligned with my interest in biology and problem-solving skill.
The New York Times prints a new puzzle each day, and so does the Washington Post, USA Today, and the list continues. The unlimited supply of puzzles mirrors the abundance of human disease and the physician’s ongoing duty to unravel the mystery, to resolve the pain. A great cruciverbalist begins with the basics of learning “crosswordese,” a nuanced language; I am prepared to do the same with health, starting with my education in medical school. Even so, I am always humbled by what little I know and am prepared to make mistakes and learn along the way. After all, I would never do a crossword puzzle in pen.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ProspectiveDoctor.