Curiosity and servitude: A medical student’s journey

Medical student Mikaila Singleton speaks about her decision to enter medical school and the inspirations that keep her going
February 13, 2020

What inspired you to become a physician?

My decision to pursue a career in medicine did not happen until the beginning of high school. Namely, my science courses ignited a strong curiosity early on, and I was left wanting to know more.

Although the initial spark was critical in exposing me to science, my passion for serving others has been ingrained in me since I was a young girl as my servitude started in church. Therefore, it’s important to note that although my curiosity in science guided my decision to become a doctor and major in biomedical sciences during college, my passion to serve had a much greater influence. So, when I transitioned to college, I got the chance to not only serve, but serve in medicine. I found I felt complete when volunteering at the hospital; it was at the hospital where I was able to fulfill two halves that made me whole. My experience encountering many health care professions through shadowing and volunteering left me wanting to come back over and over again. It was not only the medical knowledge I was seeking, but the opportunity to comfort patients at their lowest, to give them hope and to assure them they were not alone in the process.

A few years ago, in my early years of college, my grandmother suffered from serious health issues. Her diagnosis did not come until many weeks later. Although at the time I had only completed freshman biology, I would try to piece together her symptoms as if I knew more than the physicians—but who was I kidding? It was through that process that the spark grew brighter. Over time, a dedicated physician finally figured out what was wrong with her. This was personally meaningful because all I wanted really was for her to be well.

Sometime after, as I was progressing in college, I was thrilled to keep volunteering. It was there my decision to pursue medicine continued to thrive. It is rewarding to watch the therapeutic response of patients when caregivers meet their physical, spiritual and emotional needs. Each patient I met allowed me to walk with them on their health care journey. Though I could not physically treat their pain at the time, the support I was able to offer was just as important. Each time a patient walked out emotionally and physically better, it was as if I had completed this mission alongside them.

Simply put, there are many reasons that I was inspired to become a physician. Initially, it was the amazing teachers in high school who ignited my interest in science. Then, it was all the physicians who treated my grandmother and the health care providers who allowed me to shadow them. Lastly, it was all the patients who opened up to me and allowed me to help in any way I could.

Who are your role models?

According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, a role model is defined as “a person whose behavior in a particular role is imitated by others.” I would not do this question justice if I only talked about a select few people, because I believe everyone I encounter was meant to be in my life for a reason. Whether it is my church encouraging me to read my bible and observe servitude, my family showing me how to encourage others or physicians teaching me humility in a healing profession, the number of people who carry important qualities worth modeling is endless. There are so many role models I encounter each day, and I hope that I will continue to recognize them as I go through life.

Why is it important to have a diverse representation of medical professionals?

Medicine is rapidly changing, and so is our patient population. To meet the needs of our evolving patient population, we must actively work to change representation in health care. According to 2018 estimates, African American/black individuals make up 13.4 percent of the population of the United States. However, according to a 2018 article from U.S. News and World Report, only 6 percent of physicians and surgeons are black. Simply put, the physician population does not accurately mirror the population of black individuals in the United States. Without adequate representation, we have nothing. Patients are more receptive when they feel they can identify with the medical professionals treating them. To fully represent our patient needs and be an advocate for them, it is important that we have competence in medicine. To have competency, we have to diversify our thinking. To diversify our thinking, we have to evolve in every way possible.

I believe the greatest medical professionals can come together and achieve the greatest impact when we combine our differences and cultures. In the end, the reason we signed up for medicine is not for personal gain, but to provide comfort and care to people of all backgrounds, regardless of race, sex, gender identity or other factors.

Why is it important for a medical school to honor and celebrate Black History Month?

We should always celebrate black history—it should not be confined to 28 days of the year. I believe that we should look around each day and remember the figures in history who have paved the way for us to succeed. We should not only remember them one month out of the year but remember them in all that we do. Medicine encounters a diverse population. If it were not for some of the many prominent African Americans who said ‘yes’ when others said ‘no’ and defied the odds when the odds were slim, I am not sure many of us would be here, and medicine would not be as diverse as it is now.

It is important that medical schools set the example and help educate our youth about the journey of many African Americans throughout history. In doing so, I believe it will inspire our youth. No matter the circumstances, if those before us could do it, then we can too. Hopefully, many years down the road, those youth who were inspired by history may become a part of it.

What is a current hurdle you face as a medical student?

I think there is a consensus that medical school is a rewarding, but long and trying journey. For me, the last few months of medical school have been rigorous. I am amazed at how much we all have been able to learn in such a short time. Yet, I believe one of my biggest struggles is internal. Imposter syndrome sets in early on in medical school. Although everyone including myself has worked very hard to get to medical school and is succeeding in medical school, imposter syndrome still finds a way. I know the aspirations I have to be a great doctor to my future patients, but, for the time being, I constantly feel the need to prove to myself that I am where I need to be. This syndrome is contagious and has affected many of my peers. With acknowledgment and proof that the perfect medical student does not exist, I know that we are slowly eliminating this syndrome. It is something that does not go away overnight, but something I am constantly trying to improve. This will only get better with time.

What piece of advice would you tell people interested in pursuing medicine?

My advice would be to pray and do not give up. Medicine is hard, and it will push you to new limits. With that said, trust your capabilities, surround yourself with people who bring the best out of you and create a positive atmosphere.

What is something you live by?

Matthew 5: 14-16. “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds.”

This verse inspires me so much, and I hope it inspires others to spread their light in any way they can because we all have a light waiting to shine.

— Mary Leigh Meyer

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