Letter to a Young Doctor

Thursday was our final day of Introduction to the Profession, a course which had us shadow doctors, interview patients, “save” simulated patients, discuss professionalism and cultural competence, and work through clinical cases and meet the real patients afterward.

During the last hour, we were asked to write a letter to our 2014 selves reflecting on what characteristics and attitudes we want to retain, as second-week students, over the next four years.

Dear Me,

I hope you’re healthy.  I hope you’re well.  I can barely imagine the changes you will undergo, the people who will change your life, the experiences that will leave their indelible imprint.  As I think of what the next 48 months will bring, questions flood my mind.  Do you still cry at the drop of a hat?  Did you keep your sense of poetry?  Of imagination?  Of empathy?  Does the idea of taking care of a human being still terrify you?  Are your arteries clogged with four years’ worth of frozen dinners?  (Please learn to cook!  And find time to zumba!)  But most of all, are you happy with the path you’ve chosen and with what lies ahead?

Today I sit and think I know myself well.  I am a layperson’s layperson.  I call heart attacks “heart attacks” and not “myocardial infarctions.”  I have been outside the white coat more than I have been in it, and I still associate with patients.  I sometimes mistrust doctors, I don’t consider medicine a monolithic profession, and “medical culture” is still foreign to me.  I worry that as my classmates and I grow closer through emotionally and mentally demanding experiences, we will become acculturated–part of a profession that has its rewards and excitements, no doubt–but part of a culture that also encourages a divide between provider and patient, healer and healed.  I fear that I will succumb to the mantra, “They don’t know what we go through, what we see.  They don’t really understand.  They don’t get it.”  I hope I don’t see the world as a “they.”

I recognize my personality quirks, and I welcome changes in behavior, especially with patients.  I am shy and unsure, and I hope I can grow into the role of physician.  I don’t expect to eliminate unsureness, but I do hope to act within the bounds set by it.  I hope growth comes as I learn more about my likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, and frankly as I learn what is realistic and what is not.  Will I still want to be a hematologist/oncologist or a neurologist/psychiatrist once I work in the fields?  What and who will lead me to make my specialty choice–and what will I research, and who will I teach?

I hope I am knowledgeable, and I hope I am responsible.  I hope I still sometimes look in the mirror, see my white coat and scrubs, and wonder what I did to earn this incredible privilege.  I hope I am still humble, and I hope I am still awestruck.  I hope to never have an ego the size of Jupiter.  I hope to keep reflecting, and I hope to keep writing.  I hope I have dilemmas, because if I don’t, I am colorblind.  I hope to sometimes be mystified, but not to be paralyzed by indecision.  I hope always to keep options for my patients, and to never dismiss one or reach a dead end.  I hope I maintain close ties to my old life, and I hope I have the patience to explain to my family and friends what I experience.  I hope I act nicely, and I hope I am not faking.

I want to keep the passion and the drive to become the best physician, the best researcher, the best writer, the best teacher, and the best person I can be.  I hope I find love, in whatever form it may take.  And… I just hope.

I wish you all the best, and I’ll see you in four years,
Shara, ’10

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7 Responses to Letter to a Young Doctor

  1. tina says:

    Good luck Shara!

  2. Anonymous says:


  3. Vera Finkelstein says:

    Hi Shara,
    I heard this letter read on the CBC’s White Coat, Black Art back in August, 2010. My granddaughter, Paige, was just entering her Freshman year at MIT with the hope of going to (Harvard?) Medical School when she graduates. I found your words so poignant that they stuck with me. I really wanted Paige to read your letter. I finally got around to contacting CBC last evening and was pleasantly surprised to get a reply, sent by them at 5:25 AM this morning, with your blog. I am now forwarding it to Paige. I think it should be required reading for every incoming medical student, and perhaps, more importantly, routinely reread by every practicing doctor! I haven’t read any of the other entries on your blog yet, but will.
    Best of luck to you. You sound like the kind of doctor I would want!
    With appreciation,
    Vera Finkelstein

  4. Shara Yurkiewicz says:

    Hi Vera,

    Aw, this just made my day. Thanks so much for the kind words; I really appreciate it. If your granddaughter is still interested in medicine (and I hope she is), tell her if she has any questions I’d be happy to meet or speak with her. I’m just a few miles away!


  5. Paige says:

    Hey! I’m Paige! Nice to meet ya!
    You and my grandmother are so sweet :) Yep, I’m studying chemical engineering and biology at MIT now. At the moment I’m also studying to become an EMT too. Maybe I’ll see you in an ED one day? We usually drop patients off at TCH or Mt Auburn, but MGH is the level 1 trauma center, so sometimes we drop a few off there as well.

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