Q: How does participating in outside activities benefit you as a physician?
I always encourage medical students to nurture a passion outside of medicine, be it playing a musical instrument or writing poetry.
If you welcome something you are passionate about into your life, you will become a happier person. This will make it easier for you to give of yourself to your patients and your colleagues. Being competent at something difficult, like playing Chopin or writing sonnets, will give you self-confidence, a core of inner strength that will sustain you at difficult moments in your career.
When writing poetry, I allow myself to experience emotions of all stripes. Rather than hastily brushing aside a negative emotion, I try to analyze its antecedents and its consequences as clear-sightedly as possible. For me, creative writing is an exercise in envisioning what ifs: What if I were an 80-year-old woman living with chronic pain? What if I were a 17-year-old boy who cannot remember what life was like before he was diagnosed with cancer? This cultivates empathy: for example, when performing a bone biopsy, I feel more attuned to any pain my patient might experience on my procedure table. This makes me more attentive to the important duty of managing the patient’s pain.
By Jenna N. Le, MD, radiologist at Montfiore Medical Center, Bronx, N.Y.