Connecting with patients

Puja Panwar, a fourth-year Texas A&M College of Medicine student, explains how she found her passions and niche in the world of medicine
September 25, 2019

Q: What type of medicine do you want to practice and why?

A: I am applying to internal medicine, with the hopes of pursuing a hematology-oncology fellowship! Like most medical students, I remember walking into my third year with an open mind and a hope to find out where I “fit” the best in the world of medicine.

Initially, I started my third year in psychiatry, and I loved learning how delicate and skillful you need to be when taking a medical history. Next, I went to family medicine, which gave me a misplaced sense of confidence—that was quickly corrected—when friends called me for advice about anything from a bruise to high blood pressure. When in surgery, I gained a skill for reading a team’s vibe and figuring out what tiny or big things I could do to make the team stronger. During my OB-GYN clerkship, I felt the importance of vulnerability and trust. When in pediatrics, I learned how taking care of a patient includes understanding their family and social background. After experiencing each of these specialties, I realized I wanted internal medicine. I believe it is the epitome of all of the things I learned and loved from each field. I can do these things every day with every patient.

As for the hematology-oncology specialty, I find the field dynamic and hopeful. Every year, research and discoveries push the field forward. I cannot wait to see what we learn in the next five or ten years. Furthermore, some of the most touching encounters I’ve experienced in medicine have been between the physician and patient in oncology, particularly during end-of-life discussions. I think these discussions are an art. In a way, the field of hematology-oncology is what my idea of medicine had always been.

Q: Why is a representation of women in medicine important? What inspires you to be a woman in medicine?

A: The body of health care is richer with more diverse perspectives. The more women in medicine, then the more representative the medical community becomes of our society. The more representative, the better we, as a health care community, can connect with our patients.

In general, both male and female physicians should work together to get rid of paternalistic attitudes that are still present in medicine. We need to honor the license and training itself. Both male and female physicians need to be an active part of this change by challenging old concepts. I want to be a part of this community and change. As a woman, I have unique insight into building new opportunities for upcoming female medical students and mentoring girls through a historically, yet changing, male-dominated field.

Q: What obstacles have you faced, if any?

A: I have been very lucky. I have excellent friends and supportive mentors. My parents only ever pushed me towards finding something that would make me happy and something that would let me contribute to society. So far, I am spending my life doing just that.

I have never felt discriminated against in the hospital or workforce. Occasionally, I get mistaken for a nursing student by patients or hospital employees, but I have never found the mistake offensive. I know it happens to female medical students a lot. It is something that I will pleasantly correct every time until the diversity of our health care workforce is so transparent that it would be silly to automatically assume the gender of a nurse or physician.

Q: What accomplishment do you consider to be the most significant of your career to date?

A: One of my favorite memories during medical school is my time as the 2017 chairman of the board for The Synapse, the College of Medicine’s student-run humanities newsletter. During our year of leadership, we created new ideas to engage the entire school. As a result, we pulled the most website visits per edition that The Synapse had ever had!

My time on the board inspired my interest in editing, and, since then, 39 classmates have asked me to review and edit their personal statements for their residency applications. Every time someone reaches out to me, I am surprised and honored that they see my leadership and passion. My love for editing is the foundation of my dreams to become involved in leadership on editorial boards of major academic or humanities journals.

Q: Based on your own experiences, what advice would you give to girls who want to pursue a career in medicine?

A: Do not do anything passively. Passion helps you push forward during a long hospital day or through your reading out of pure interest, even when you are tired. Be passionate about finding weird hobbies or getting involved in leadership positions within the medical field, because then you will build your community of support.

Medicine can be tough, and sometimes it can be made tougher when you compare your work-life balance to that of people post-medical school or even within their residency. However, oh my goodness, do not let that comparison hold you back. Find ways to create your work-life balance. Ask for help. Find a female physician to connect with you. You can do it, so do not be afraid to try.

— Mary Leigh Meyer