Helen Thomas: David O. Hough, MD Endowed Memorial Award Essay

When future doctors apply to medical school, they are asked to write a personal statement for their application. In this essay, these future doctors try to explain what is so special about them that they will go on to become competent, caring, passionate healers for their patients. It must be inspiring to read these essays- thousands of earnest, intelligent people who hope to make people’s lives better; to heal them. Almost four years ago I was one of those people, and years ago so was David O. Hough.

Every medical school applicant has their own idea of what it means to be a healer. Some focus more on communication ability, others on excellent test scores or experience in the medical field. It is the job of a medical school then to shape these earnest young people into healers. MSU CHM does this in a very deliberate way; from day one we were introduced to the “bio-psycho-social” model of medicine, in which the patient is viewed as not just a physical body, but also a mind and a member of a greater social structure. Introducing this model early and reinforcing it throughout the four years of medical school helps to create the well-rounded, compassionate physicians that we so need in this medical culture.

It is difficult for medical school applicants, especially those with little medical experience, to visualize how their outlook on healing will change as the progress through their medical career. It is part of every medical education to see tired, jaded, cynical doctors that are many years and thousands of patient interactions removed from when they wrote their personal statement. It is also part of medical education to work with true healers: doctors who always take an extra moment to connect with a patient, who ask a patient how they are doing and truly listen, doctors that dedicate their careers to the underserved and needy.

A great medical school like the College of Human Medicine can go a long ways toward creating a true healer by selecting the right students and educating them in compassion. The decision to go the extra mile for every patient is an individual one, however. When faced with a difficult, complicated, or especially needy patient, a healer makes the decision to see the situation from the patient’s point of view. In a busy primary care office or hospitalist service, this decision needs to be made dozens of times a day.

There are great healers in all specialties of medicine, but many people gifted with the spirit of the healer choose to go into family medicine, a specialty based on lifelong healing relationships. Family doctors have been leaders in the evolving health care field, helping to create new health care models that are based on primary care and a medical “home” for healing. These changes have been instrumental in improving quality and access to care for millions of patients. I have been blessed to work with many great family medicine healers that give their time and energy every day to make things better for their patients on the local, state, and national level.  As I begin my residency in family medicine, I will keep these excellent examples in my mind as I strive to become the doctor I wrote about in my medical school personal statement.