My journey to medicine was not catalyzed by the admiration of a family doctor or brilliant surgeon. Rather, it was quite the opposite. Growing up, I never had a relationship with a physician. In fact, I was scared of going to the doctor. With my mother legally disabled and my father a traveling salesman, our lack of insurance often meant that a doctor’s visit put less food on our table. At fourteen I witnessed the effect of withholding care firsthand. My father, delaying a visit to the dentist, suffered from a badly infected tooth abscess. His infection ultimately spread to his blood, where he came within inches of death. Despite being a veteran and attending yearly appointments at our local VA Hospital, having previous dental care, and working hard to maintain good health, he found himself at the brink of what could have been the end of his life.
My father’s experience is just one example of modern medicine’s paradox: we have the ability to prevent extreme morbidity, but because of a lack of access, these treatments are often administered weeks or months too late. When I began as a medical student, I truly believed that if we just managed to improve access to care, then our problems would be solved. Everyone would receive the right care, at the right time, and situations similar to my father’s would be less common. I spent years ‘sharpening’ my toolbox, studying Public Health at Johns Hopkins and building skills in strategic planning and population health as a consultant for the sole chance to become a physician that opens doors for those lacking access. I believed that this path was enough.
But, I was wrong.
I’ve learned that creating efficient pathways to accessing care is just the beginning; we need to create systems that work to promote quality care once the patient is in the door. Patients are not guaranteed high quality and safe care. We need strong communication, humility, understanding, and a built-in organizational infrastructure that fosters a safe medical environment. We need staff that have the cultural sensitivity to understand and deliver care to a population that is often very different from ourselves, and we need to be ready to recognize our own faults and commit to improving them, one day at a time.
The reason I am so emboldened by the mission of the Telluride Experience is because I believe that we, as young health care providers, are at a crossroads of opportunity. We are young enough to not be ingrained in the status quo, and energetic enough to seek out new opportunities and learn with open hearts. I am ecstatic to join the student and faculty leaders at the Telluride Experience because I’ve learned that my toolbox of skills is not nearly sufficient to complete my goals. Access is just one part of preventing unnecessary morbidity and mortality, and I recognize that more work must be done to become a leader and advocate for the underserved. I hope to use this opportunity to not only grow emotionally and academically, but to also spread what I learn with those I work with and care for here in North Carolina.