Why Sharing Your Medical School Story is Important

This semester, as I endure the long but exciting application process to medical school, I’m taking an upper-level English writing class that is appropriately titled “Writing in the Community.” This course is designed to liberate stories, both within ourselves and within our community. My community placement choice is with Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, and I hope to have the honor of connecting with pediatric cancer patients to share their stories and give a voice to their fears, joys, worries, and smiles. I think there is immense power in telling stories, especially as I peer into my future career where I will meet people daily that have interesting and important stories to share. One of the reasons I chose to become a physician is to meet people from every background and every situation and get down and dirty with them in their biggest fears, mistakes, worries, and concerns. To get to this point, though, I must be able to effectively share my story and even more importantly, listen to someone else’s story. In a society that is fogged up with noise from ourselves, social media, and a busy schedule, taking the time to stop and listen is an often-neglected skill. In this class, I’ve learned that to tell someone else’s meaningful, honest story, I have to tell mine. Everyone has a story to share, even if it is buried under layers of image maintenance and self-preservation or behind the huge load of things we have to do. Our patients will have their own stories, and it may be helpful for them to know a little of our own. I really believe your story deserves to be told. Here are a few ways to get started on articulating your medical school story:

Make a list of key moments in your life, ones that have broken you or built you up. Jot down dialogues, phrases, people, and places that have somehow shaped your life to this point. If there are too many, narrow in on a specific part of your life that should be disclosed.

Choose a narrative you want to focus on. This may not be your entire story, but it is the part you want to give a voice to the most.

The practical stuff: Start writing. Don’t worry about grammar, syntax, structure, or elegance. Just start putting your thoughts on paper (or into a Word document).

My suggestion: find a cozy, comfortable place that is free from distractions. Put on some music; a quick search on YouTube for “best songs for writing” will equip you with a plethora of options. My favorites are funky jazz music or fantasy music. Some people like wordless pop or classical, it’s your preference!

Write early and often. You don’t have to create a 1000-page narrative, or anything close, but keeping a record of the moments you think are important to shaping who you are can transform your perspective. Taking ownership of your story gives you control over past mistakes or situations that have traveled with you for years.

Share your story. Maybe not now, or ever if you’d prefer to keep yours private, but there is serious power in connecting people in vulnerable, honest ways. Our patients will want to know us on a human level and often our stories are riddled with imperfections, mistakes, and heartbreak. Articulating your story may be enough, but I hope you find redemption in taking back your narrative in a simple but powerful way. Happy writing!

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Mary Barber

Mary Barber studies Chemistry and English Literature at Belmont University in Nashville, TN. An average day for her includes running from microbiology lecture to having discussions on the writings of Nabokov to designing experiments in the lab – she says it’s a little crazy but always fun. Her passions (currently) include studying cardiovascular disease caused by cancer therapies, writing, and monthly dates baking cupcakes with cancer patients. One day when she grow up Mary hopes to be a physician researcher, treat patients with heart problems, write books, and do yoga every day.